Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
February 8, 2004
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Thermometers, Barbershop II, and Lost in Translation
You look out the window, the sun is shining. It looks like a bright,
wonderful morning. So you put on comfortable, lightweight clothing, step
outside the door, and ...
Sure, I could put on a bathrobe, go downstairs, step outside the door,
find out how cold (or hot) it is, and then go back upstairs to dress.
Or I could turn on the television.
Or I could open a window ... if they still work, since, as air-conditioning
addicts, we never open them from one year to the next.
I admit I'm lazy. I also don't have the patience to watch the Weather
Channel for however many minutes it takes before they splash the local
So I put up an outdoor thermometer a few years ago. And discovered
that the kind with the swinging arrow was, to put it kindly, unreliable.
Thinking it was just that thermometer, I went to Lowe's and Home Depot
and discovered that in all their displays of analog thermometers, no two of
them showed the same temperature, and the range was as much as ten
Now, I knew about digital indoor-outdoor thermometers, but they all
required that you run a cable out through a window -- and then you had to
find a shady spot for the sensor. We don't have windows conveniently close to
So I bought a couple of wireless digital thermometers, the kind where
you put a sensor outside, which transmits its information via radio waves to an
indoor receiver, which displays the outside temperature and the inside
We set it up with one display upstairs, and the other downstairs, so we
could be lazy on either floor.
It worked great in the summer, though I had to be careful where I put
the indoor receivers, since they couldn't be too far from the signal source.
In the winter, though, the signals kept cutting out.
OK, smart guys, you knew that most batteries stop working when it gets
too cold, but I didn't know that, and nothing in the documentation told me to
get the right kind of battery.
Anyway, this year I gave up. I went back to Lowe's and Home Depot and
found nary a wireless indoor-outdoor thermometer. A fellow at Home Depot
told us they had them in at Christmas but had sold out completely. Maybe
they'd be reordered.
And maybe I wanted one now.
So I did what I should have done in the first place: I went to Radio
They had several models, the difference mainly being the size of the
readout on the indoor unit.
Here's an oddity, though. They sell extra sensors, but not extra
Which means that you can set up a system that tells you the
temperature in the garage, in the back yard, in the front yard, and on the roof,
if you want ... but you can't set it up with a single sensor and two separate
I guess there are a lot of people for whom the temperature differential
between the back yard and the front yard is crucial, but we're the only ones
who ever wanted to have the same digital readout in two different parts of the
The solution was to buy two systems, and then use only one sensor,
which is what I did.
First of all, the Radio Shack instructions stressed the importance of
buying a certain kind of battery for really cold weather. Which I did, and now
we can actually read the temperature when it's below twenty degrees, which it
has been several times this winter.
Second, the signal is twice as strong (or the receivers twice as sensitive)
as the old one, so we had more freedom about where we could place the
Now the system works great.
We saw the first Barbershop movie and loved it, so Barbershop II felt like
coming home. We already knew and liked the characters, and the ambience,
the sense of community, was as enjoyable as before.
In addition, we got a few scenes in the beauty shop next door, with
Queen Latifah at her sassy and glorious best. In effect, these scenes were an
embedded promo for her upcoming Beauty Shop movie -- which we intend to
see, of course.
Unfortunately, though, within the context of Barbershop II, the beauty
shop vignettes never even rose to the level of a subplot. They did no harm, but
they did not advance the story.
Indeed, if you come looking for a coherent story, you'll be disappointed.
There's a save-the-neighborhood plot, but the issues are never made
particularly clear; and (without giving things away) it's never explained why the
outcome of the vote at a city government meeting seems to have been very
important -- except that it had no consequences as far as we could see. Were
people still being forced out of their homes or not?
Other subplots were equally vague about what was at stake. Lots of
flashbacks to Cedric the Entertainer's early years ... they did explain why he
has his chair rent-free, but the love story never rose to the level of
comprehensibility. His long-lost love ... why was she lost? What does it mean
if she comes back?
In other words, the acting is as good as ever, the feel of it is great, but
the writing felt slapped-together, as if nobody thought the movie's structure
So if you haven't seen either Barbershop movie, don't start with this one.
Rent the first -- which is worth owning! -- and then you'll enjoy coming back to
South Side Chicago for a dose of this shop that's at the heart of a real black
community, rather than the standard view of hookers and drug dealers that is
usually shown in movies.
Lost in Translation came out on DVD while it was still in the theaters,
enjoying its little Oscar boost.
If you ever wanted to visit Japan, this movie will cure you. It makes a
week in Tokyo seem like a year in hell.
This is definitely an independent movie. It's called a comedy, and there
are funny moments -- mostly when Bill Murray gets to ad lib charmingly -- but
most of it moves at a glacial pace through bleak scenes of people being shallow
and boring, while we see an alienated man and an alienated woman being
There are people who will laugh all through this movie at the
contemptibility of human life. But I don't like those people.
This is pure undergraduate filmmaking -- as so many independent
movies are -- in which a general air of superiority and ennui is meant to be
taken for intelligence and deep insights. I've seen enough of these (and enough
of this kind of storytelling) to know that what we're really seeing is the
The people of Japan aren't shallow. Writer/director Sofia Coppola is. If
she went to Japan and this is all she saw, then shame on her.
So Bill Murray's and Scarlett Johansson's excellent performances are
almost (though not entirely) wasted on a story that pretends to be wise, but in
fact is faux cool.
Still ... those performances. Scarlett Johansson is obviously playing a
part that stands in for Sofia Coppola herself, only unlike Coppola, Johansson
seems to be alive inside the silent inarticulateness of the character. (Honestly:
At the Golden Globes, didn't it seem like Sofia Coppola's acceptance speech
was delivered by a hand puppet?)
And Bill Murray -- a performer who has irritated me ever since his
Saturday Night Live days -- gives the second finest performance of his
The finest, which we saw only a few days before, was Groundhog Day -- a
movie that proves if you have a good enough script, director, and leading man,
you can cast a dead girl in the lead and still make a great romantic comedy.
Murray and Johansson are so good that even though the movie sneers at
every other person, the experience of watching the film is still enjoyable and I'm
glad I saw their performances.
The fact that Lost in Translation is nominated for an Oscar for best
picture, and Coppola herself is nominated as writer (of what, actually?) and
director, merely affirms that the Academy still can't tell the difference between
substance and affectation.