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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
January 20, 2003

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Golden Globes and Three Restaurants

Edie Falco had laryngitis at the Golden Globes, prompting her to give one of the best acceptance speeches ever -- and not just because it was brief.

It's a funny thing, how a minute at a microphone accepting an award gives you a chance to reveal way more about yourself than you ever thought it could. Edie Falco revealed that she has class.

Meryl Streep, on the other hand, revealed during her acceptance of the supporting actress nod, how very much in love with herself she is. These awards come to her now as her due, apparently -- did she appear in a film? Then she will be nominated.

The sad thing is that Streep is one of the most obvious, and therefore worst, actors working in film. There is almost never an honest moment -- you can always see the calculation, the coldness, and the deep, abiding self-love behind every move, every inflection, every expression, every gesture.

The best, classiest acceptance came from Renee Zellweger -- who really is what Streep is only reputed to be. Zellweger disappears into each role. It's hard to find any fakery.

There is only one actress who surrenders herself to a role more perfectly and more completely than Zellweger -- and that's Toni Collette. From Muriel's Wedding to Sixth Sense to About a Boy, the same Toni Collette has never been seen in two movies. She is a different woman each time.

Meryl Streep should watch Collette and Zellweger and weep in frustration because she has never, never given a performance so real that anyone in the audience forgot for a second that Meryl Streep was "acting."

Oh, wait. I must be fair. She was not obnoxious in One True Thing. And she did not interfere with The Deer Hunter.

So why does she have the reputation she has? -- among actors, no less!

Because most actors don't know what good acting looks like. They've taken too many classes. They've hung around with other actors too long. They've forgotten what real people look like and act like and talk like.

Instead, they see Streep "doing an accent" and they think, Wow, it's hard to do an accent, and she's doing one, and she's got all the vowels right. She's so great!

But when an actor is doing an accent well, you don't know he's doing an accent. Think of Gary Oldman, for instance, a Brit who has played Americans so well that on talk shows his American hosts are shocked to hear him speak purest Limey. They didn't know he wasn't a Yank.

Far too often, the reputation for "great acting" goes to the actor who has mastered acting class chops, not to the actor who can give a performance so real that it feels like life.

I even prefer the actors who never really disappear into a role, but still create the emotional life of the character. Jack Nicholson can never really stop being Jack Nicholson -- but if he can't make himself into someone else, he makes the emotional life of each character his own. And they are different from each other.

From the bleak anti-hero of Five Easy Pieces to the scenery-chewing devil of The Witches of Eastwick, from the OCD victim of As Good As It Gets to the baffled old man in About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson gives us a performance that burns with life. It never feels calculated, mechanical, studied. It feels like he's pouring it out like hot oil over the battlements.

*

The most inadvertently self-revelatory speech of the night, however, was not given by an actor.

When Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor III got up to accept the adapted-screenplay Globe for About Schmidt, they could not have done a better job of showing why the movie was so empty of life, so contemptuous of ordinary people.

These two clowns were the epitome of smug elitism. They made it clear that they thought they were smarter than everybody in the room -- smarter than the awards ceremony, smarter than their own script. Everything was all so very amusing.

Except it wasn't. These are a couple of guys who need a serious reality check. It's just writing, guys. It doesn't save lives. And in the case of About Schmidt, all it accomplishes is to mock the lives of people who aren't always looking for a way to seem clever at parties.

*

Gene Hackman is another of those actors who seems almost a chameleon. He's never been a star who could "open" a picture -- but he has such fine control of his craft that he can play anything from the stagey, overdone Lex Luthor to the melodramatic preacher in Poseidon Adventure to Popeye Doyle to the nerdy audio-spy in The Conversation.

He does what each role requires. He seems to concentrate on what the character is trying to do, instead of concentrating on how the character is supposed to look and sound.

And his acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award -- for lifetime achievement -- was just what you'd expect: a tribute to the acting profession, with barely a mention of himself.

Contrast this with Barbra Streisand's excruciating acceptance of the same award in a previous year, and you can't help but see that the way people approach their work reveals something about who they are. The self-adoring yet shockingly needy Streisand gives performances that are marred by these very traits; the generous, other-focused Gene Hackman performs in just the same way.

But that isn't true of actors alone. Actors just get to show it on stage in front of audiences.

You see it every day. At work, the kind of person your boss or co-workers are shows up in the work they do. All your weaknesses as a human being are also your weaknesses in your craft; but all your strengths in your craft are likely to be your strengths in your life.

*

The worst acceptance speech, however, was from Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar, who felt that it was his place, having made a couple of dozen films, to speak for "peace" while visiting a nation at war -- in short, he called for us to give up, to tolerate a world in which madmen have terrible weapons and no one is prepared to stop them from using them to get their way.

That is not peace -- it's war delayed.

The shame of the evening, though, was the round of applause he got from the political wits of Hollywood. It reminded me of the vile moment when the great writer-director Elia Kazan was being honored at the Oscars, and a bunch of "liberals" who weren't worthy, as artists or as human beings, to tie his shoelaces, dared to "protest" against his anti-Communist stance in the 1950s by sitting on their hands during his ovation.

Apparently those who cannot learn from history get the job of making it into a movie.

*

Worst presenter: Sharon Stone. Somebody needs to tell her that (a) she wasn't in Chicago and (b) she isn't Richard Gere. It was Gere who won the best-actor-in-a-musical award (and deserved it!), but Stone wouldn't leave him alone. She kept moving into frame, as if she thought that somehow she could push her way into Chicago and retroactively take the place of Zellweger or Zeta-Jones.

*

The Golden Globes were used as a launching pad for some interesting ad campaigns.

Dr. Pepper certainly had the most different ads -- some of the best and some of the worst. The "Medieval Knieval" spot was hilarious. But the one that parodied the romantic ads in which two people run toward each other on the beach was repulsive. The whole point of the ad is that unbeautiful people not only don't deserve to have romance, but are hilarious when they try. Speaking as an unbeautiful person, I both resent it and dispute it.

I deeply loathed Celine Dion's ad for a Chrysler minivan, in which she exploited her "love" for her family to sell a car; Garth Brooks was no better, showing off his sincerest feelings toward his family in order to get us to drink Dr. Pepper.

The most incongruous sponsors of this glamorous event popped up in the same voiceover leading into a commercial break, as the announcer warned us that the Golden Globes were sponsored in part by Honey Bunches of Oats and Target.

Target wasn't actually all that incongruous. I shop at Target. And I wear a lot of Target fashions.

And to tell the truth, if you dressed only in clothes from Target, you could never look as awful as some of those poor "glamorous" women at the Golden Globes.

Apparently a lot of these actresses have no personal taste; therefore when a trendy designer tells them, "Oh, darling, this is so cutting-edge, you must wear it," they actually believe them.

The tragedy of the night was Lara Flynn Boyle, who may have thought her ballerina outfit would make her look childlike. She was wrong. It just made her look kind of sad.

Though in truth there were a lot of awful dresses. Plunging necklines may appeal to the fantasies of fourteen-year-old boys, but in fact there are only three or four women in the world outside the pages of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue who have the bodies to wear such dresses. None of them are working in Hollywood right now, and those dresses were just embarrassing.

The best dress of the night, on the other hand, was on the magnificent Cate Blanchett, who actually chose a dress that was flattering to her body, beautiful in itself, and as dignified as the occasion required. Naturally, I've heard none of the commentators mentioning her. Apparently if you actually look beautiful, you're not making a fashion statement.

*

The really disappointing thing about award shows is that they have no big finish. My daughter suggested that what the Golden Globes really needed at the end was for everyone in the room to join hands and sing a song together.

*

The worst movie trend of the year: voiceovers. Adaptation, About a Boy, and Gangs of New York all used them -- an actor's voice narrating.

The must unfortunate thing is that in all three of these films, voiceovers were used quite effectively. I regret this because voiceovers rarely work, yet they are usually the first resort of the incompetent writer. (I speak from experience, having resorted to them before I became competent.)

You can bet that because these three scripts are so admired, there'll be a new rash of voiceover-plagued movies in which every step the characters take is dogged by a tedious, redundant, unnecessary, distracting narration.

*

Enough about movies ... for the moment.

After the last performance of Once Upon a Mattress on Saturday night, our entire cast went to CiCi's at Westridge Center for our party. There's no better place in town, I think, for gathering forty people for good pizzas.

When you enter, you pay a shockingly low fee and then can eat and drink all you want. The salad bar actually offers romaine lettuce as one of the choices, and there are several pastas and sauces for those who don't love pizza.

But if you do love pizza, they have a wonderful variety of small pizzas at the constantly replenished pizza bar. Of course they can't offer the extraordinary ingredient list of, say, Pie Works (but you really don't need rattlesnake or alligator on every pizza you eat, do you?), but they offer a good variety of tasty pizza on a crust that's neither too thin nor too thick.

And some of the pizzas were pleasant surprises. Their barbecue pizza was excellent, and I hear that the cheese-and-spinach was also good. I spent most of my time with pepperoni, sausage, and jalapenos, mostly because I'm old enough to need taste intense flavors to make any kind of impression, and young enough they don't yet give me indigestion.

I especially appreciated the fact that they let us come in at ten p.m. on a Saturday night, when things were slowing down -- and they put out a whole new selection of pizzas for us. The place does have a bit of the feel of a teenage hangout -- but it's still friendly to families.

*

A new restaurant a good deal farther up the food chain, but only around the corner from CiCi's, is Steak Street. (Well, new to Greensboro, anyway -- a sister restaurant has been operating in High Point for some time.)

The concept of the decor is that this is an outdoor restaurant -- even indoors. Balconies surround a central courtyard, where live music is occasionally performed. The theme is Caribbean, which ought to be incongruous, especially during a North Carolina winter, but it actually works.

So does the food. They do a credible job of Caribbean flavors on some dishes, and if you choose the day's fish, you can have it prepared in any of several ways, with different seasonings.

I can't tell you about the steaks for which the restaurant is named -- we don't eat beef very often, not when good fish is available.

The "sand dollar chips" are fresh potato chips, and because I also had a shrimp cocktail and refused to relinquish the leftover sauce, I was able to discover that fresh chips are excellent dipped in cocktail sauce.

After two visits there, we've added Steak Street to our rotation of Greensboro restaurants. The food isn't as brilliant as what we've come to expect at Leblon and Mark's on Westover, and there's nothing like the inventive cuisine of Southern Lights, Revival Grill, or Green Valley Grill. But it's a cut above the best of the national chains, and both the food and the decor made us want to return.

*

Ganache has got it right this time. The new downtown bakery/restaurant is well designed -- lots of tables, but arranged so you always feel like you're in a small room -- and the food isn't just a way to mark time until you can get to the incredible desserts.

You can eat lightly if you want -- the sandwiches are good (where else in town can you get wonderful tuna salad on challah bread?), the soups are spicy, the salads well made. (The chicken tempura in the oriental salad is delicious.)

Since it's downtown -- on Elm Street, no less -- parking might be intimidating, but we've had no trouble finding a spot in a church parking lot a block north. I hope they don't mind.


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