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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 20, 2010

Every Day Is Special

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


Toy Story 3, Fuji Sushi, Southern Lights

Did we really need another Toy Story movie?

Yes.

I admit that my expectations were not high. Remember the third Shrek movie? Godfather III? Superman III? Rocky III?

I should have known that the Toy Story team would buck that trend.

It's not a matter of being as good as the original. Toy Story 3 is better than the original. It taps into the roots of family life. The toys stand in for all the things that children leave behind when they grow up, and in a way they even represent the child's parents.

This movie also shows what being played with means to the toys -- what the experience is like to be controlled by an imaginative child. And it's kind of wonderful. We see it both as a fully realized imaginative game, and also from the outside, as if we were adults looking on while a child plays.

The story was resourceful -- it didn't have that feeling of writers flailing around for an idea that mars so many sequels. We still got the delight of watching toys struggle to find ways to accomplish things in the brobingnagian world of human beings.

But we got something more: We got the human beings.

No, the animators didn't attempt any more realism than before. But the earlier movies brought in the humans at nearly the same distance as the adults in the Peanuts TV specials. They were more background than conscious players in the story.

This time, though, the relationships among the humans and between humans and toys was significant, so the humans came to life as never before in the series. Trying to make us care about these animated humans would have been a disaster in the hands of lesser writers. Instead, it was as if a light switched on, for now we really understood the good that these toys did in the lives of the children who played with them.

In a weird way, though, I found it mildly disturbing when Woody kept pointing to the "Andy" written on his foot, saying, "We're his!" Echoes of the myth of "happy slavery" kept coming to mind (perhaps because I had just finished reading Gone with the Wind). Not that I wanted a toy-liberation movement as in the free-the-house-elf tedium in the Harry Potter books.

And of course we can say, They're not slaves, toys are made so they want to belong to a child. The only trouble is, that's what American slaveowners said about their African "servants." "They love us," the slaveowners told themselves; "God made them so they are fit only to be servants."

No doubt the slaveowners felt confirmed in their belief because the slaves, not being stupid, showed themselves as contented; and, being human and infinitely adaptable, many of the slaves might well have been reasonably contented -- as long as they believed there was no possibility of freedom.

I'm not imposing this issue on a film that is innocent of such a philosophical dilemma -- there's a scene where Woody alone of all the toys insists on trying to return to grown-up Andy. But the others, happy with their new life in a daycare center, decided to stay. It was freedom from the neglectful ownership of a child who grew up and no longer needs to play with his toys.

Woody's loyalty, though, is suspect because he alone of all the toys had been chosen to accompany Andy when he went off to college -- making him in some ways the equivalent of the "house slave" who is naturally more loyal, being more privileged.

Please ignore my weird take on this issue, however. It didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the film for even a split second, and there is no reason for it to interfere with yours.

Toy Story 3 had me laughing out loud time after time; it also filled my eyes with tears and finally had me crying like a baby.

It ran the moral gamut -- several characters who were on the side of evil were redeemed; one was not. But conflict was not really the source of the emotional strength of this story.

Rather it came from the loyalty of the family of toys as they faced destruction, encouraged by being together; and then it came to its climax in the extended sequence near the end when we see the toys being played with -- and the transition between owners being handled with extraordinary grace.

In short, what makes this movie great is not some exploration of the dark side of toy life (though that is certainly present), but rather seeing good people doing good, both as a loyal team and as brave individuals.

And you've never lived till you've seen Mr. Potato Head as a ... well, you've just got to go see the movie.

(There's a 3-D version. We saw the good one instead -- the one that doesn't make me wear ugly, uncomfortable accessories to see a washed-out version that pretends to leap from the screen.)

There has been only one better movie so far this year -- Temple Grandin -- and that was released only on HBO. Toy Story 3 is the only theatrical release so far this year that seemed even to aspire to greatness. And it got there.

*

Just before Toy Story 3, there's a really wonderful cartoon short featuring two shmoos (though I didn't notice any credit given to Al Capp) whose bodies serve as windows on a world that shows their moods and experiences. One of them is featuring a world at night, the other a daytime world. This causes envy and conflict, but eventually leads to reconciliation and mutual tolerance.

It's a very clever movie, except that the writers (or some intrusive executive) didn't trust the audience. I mean, we got it. We understood. But that didn't stop them from having a tedious, smug sermon read to us. I felt like I was being scolded for bullying. But I hadn't bullied anybody, I was simply watching a wonderful, creative cartoon. Why did I need to be punished with a lecture?

When you consider Hollywood's astonishing record of stupidity, collectively and individually, most particularly in recent years, it's ironic that they think we're the stupid ones.

*

It's been a good restaurant week, with an old favorite returning and a new kid freshly arrived from Japan.

For weeks we've been watching for the opening of Fuji Sushi in the Harris-Teeter shopping center at the corner of North Elm and Pisgah Church. It's easy not to notice it's even there -- it's on the north side, where you can't see it from the parking lot in front of the grocery store. Instead you have to drive around the other building as if you were heading for the Bank of America drive-through.

This is not the knife-show style of Japanese restaurant. Nor is it a mere sushi bar. I'm the only one in our family who really likes sushi, but Fuji Sushi also offers a hibachi menu, and that's what pleased us so much on both our visits.

Ever since we went to Tokyo last year and ate some of the finest food we've had anywhere, we've been wishing for those perfect meat dishes. Alas, flying back to Tokyo just for dinner is too expensive, though there have been times I would have braved the jet lag.

Fuji Sushi's hibachi menu does a fine job of providing the flavors and textures of Tokyo. Whether you use chopsticks or a fork, you'll enjoy dipping the morsels of chick, shrimp, beef, scallops, or lobster into the wonderful sauces -- a ginger sauce and a white vegetable sauce, both delicious.

You have to ask for the wasabe sauce, but that's my favorite. (Don't confuse it with the wasabe paste that nearly takes your head off with its hotness; the sauce is relatively mild and very flavorful.)

The waiters are all Issei Japanese -- first generation. But they speak English very well, and if they sometimes have trouble understanding your English request, they summon a member of the staff with more experience. The result is that they have made no mistakes despite my penchant for asking for odd things.

What about the sushi? The simple sushi and sashimi selections come two to an order, and on my second visit I sampled the "tuna," "salmon," "yellowtail," and "white tuna." All of them were delicious and beautifully presented, though the white tuna is bland to the point of disappearing, flavorwise.

Where they really shine is in the "Fu Ji Special Rolls." Many of these selections feature cooked meat rather than raw (if that matters to you). Our favorite was the Golden Dream Roll, which consists of tempura shrimp enclosed in rice and topped with fresh mango slices and a pineapple sauce. I also loved the California roll from the "Cooked" menu.

(Which reminds me -- the last time we went to Asiano, we had a marvelous rice dish served in a hollowed-out half pineapple. Don't underestimate the delicious surprises that come from mixing fruit with rice and various seafoods or chicken.)

Dishes like Fuji Sushi's Golden Dream and California rolls traditionally use seaweed to hold them together, but at Fuji Sushi you can substitute soybean paper or, in some cases, thin-sliced cucumber.

The fried rice that comes as a side to the hibachi orders is delicious. We have learned to skip the soup and salad course -- the salads are made with iceberg lettuce, and who has room for them anyway, when you can fill up on fried rice and sushi if the hibachi meal isn't enough for you?

Those of us who live on the north end of town have cause to rejoice: Within three miles of our house we have two Paneras and Gnam Gnam for sandwiches and soup, Mediterraneo and Positano for Italian food, and for Asian food we have Asiano (fusion) and Fuji Sushi (pure Japanese). Then, for dessert, there's a 31 Flavors, Bruster's, and Gnam Gnam gelato. We've enjoyed living in a good restaurant town for many years -- but now we find ourselves living in a good restaurant neighborhood.

And let's not forget that Southern Lights has reopened in a new location at 2415 Lawndale Drive, in the strip mall just south of the shopping center that includes Target, PetSmart, and Positano. Unfortunately, the only sign is on the awning that faces Lawndale; by the time you see it, you might well be past the entrance. And when you do enter the parking lot from the north, there's no visible sign at all!

Just take it on faith. If you can see the Loco for Coco sign, park and walk around the corner of the building to get to Southern Lights. (If you happen to arrive at a time when Loco for Coco is open, you can pick up your dessert on the way to dinner. Or maybe the truffles or other chocolates will turn out to have been appetizers, gone before the waiter takes your order. I suppose it all depends on your self-control.)

Those who knew and loved Southern Lights at the old location will be happy that much of the same menu and all of the quality have come along to the new location. The old restaurant was a little cramped; now the tables are more widely spaced and you don't feel like you're part of five different conversations with strangers seated nearby.

The service is superb and a bit more formal than before, but they still welcome customers who are dressed for summer. The art on the walls is no longer the delightful gallery from local artists selling their work -- and I'm hoping that they'll find more art pieces for the walls that remain starkly bare. But that's not a complaint -- just a bit of nostalgia for the old place.

If you've never been to Southern Lights, you're in for a treat. The tomato basil soup is perfect; they have a selection of excellent sandwiches, healthy and delicious. Their entrees are ambitious -- and successful. The crab cake appetizer is so good that my wife chose it for her entree on our second visit.

They have a new design-your-own salad feature. You're given a slip of paper with a listing of their ingredients, and for the base price you can choose eight of them -- including the greens and the dressing. Whatever you choose is then prepared as carefully as if it had been a menu selection.

*

Like everyone else who was sentient in the early 1980s, I loved Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker," "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," "Love Is a Battlefield," "Prisoner of Love," and many others.

But I was never a fan -- not in the sense of buying a ticket for a concert or even buying any of her albums. Perhaps that's because I was already married-with-children and blasting rock-and-roll through the house was not a good plan any more. I wasn't a "fan" of any hard rocker till Springsteen.

My point is that I knew that I liked the songs of Pat Benatar that got radio play, but nothing else about her.

That was rectified when someone actually dared to buy me a book for Father's Day. (The consensus in our family is: If Dad would be interested in the book, he probably already owns it.) It was Pat Benatar's Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir.

Co-written with Patsi Bale Cox, the book is in some ways familiar ground: First the singer struggles, then the singer hits big, then the career fades.

But there are differences. Pat Benatar was a classically trained singer who broke her singing teacher's heart when she blew off a Juillard audition to get married to a soldier -- a marriage that didn't last. Another difference is that even though she can swear like a sailor (but does so very little in this book), Benatar never smoked or drank (bad for the voice), never did drugs (she wasn't interested, and saw how it destroyed other musicians' lives), and was faithful to her second husband and has maintained an intense partnership with him through decades of creating their music and raising their children.

Hers is a remarkable and encouraging story, and while much of the book is focused on the frustration of working with selfish, manipulative, constantly-panicked label executives, what I found most fascinating was the way she held on to the values of her upbringing.

In fact, this book is a survival manual for performers who become famous. Do it like this, and you'll still be happy even when the highest part of the popularity curve has passed.

And yes, I've bought all her albums now -- partly because I have to hear what she was talking about as she and her husband, Neil "Spyder" Giraldo, transformed their music over the years.


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