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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 24, 2014

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


Draft Day, Morning O's

I gave up cold cereal long ago. At the same time I gave up breakfast entirely.

I know. "Most important meal of the day," yadda yadda.

Everybody's metabolism is different. Everybody's response to sugar highs and sugar lows is also different. When I eat breakfast, I am ravenously hungry at lunchtime, and insatiable at supper. When I skip breakfast, I'm not hungry at all at lunchtime.

In fact, I don't get hungry until around three or four in the afternoon. ("Tea time!" cries my nonexistent British reader.) I can live with a little hunger until we reach an hour -- usually about five or five-thirty -- when my patient wife believes reasonable people can eat a reasonable meal.

That's all to the good. Being hungry for supper at 5:30 means you can usually get a table at the most sought-after restaurants. On a Friday night, we may be completely out of luck without a reservation -- at seven p.m.

But at 5:30, even the most crowded restaurants will usually seat us, as long as we promise to finish up and leave by 6:45. Thus we are able to dine at the trendiest places in LA and NYC, without scheduling a reservation months in advance.

(By the way, we never eat somewhere because it's "trendy." That usually means nothing more than the occasional presence of people we recognize from television or movies.

(My food does not taste any better because Tom Hanks and his family are seated near the door [PF Chang's in Santa Monica a few years ago], so people can see that this is the kind of place where Tom Hanks comes to eat.

(Besides, his table ordered the lettuce wraps, which I find uninteresting, and not one soul had the Dan Dan Noodles. Celebrities are perfectly capable of making food mistakes.)

However, it sometimes happens that excellent new restaurants are also trendy, and therefore hard to get a table at. But at 5:30 p.m., even on a Friday night, it's usually a cinch to get in.

So eating on an old-people's schedule has its benefits.

But back to breakfast, and my lack of it. I swore off cold cereal because I loved it way, way too much. I would eat a whole box at each meal, mostly because the milk and the cereal never came out even in the bowl. I'd run out of cereal and replenish it so as not to waste milk, or run out of milk and replenish it because ...

Oh, whom am I fooling, really? I kept eating because the cold cereal kept tasting good. My favorite, in the olden days: Crispix, Kellogg's answer to the Chex cereals. They stopped making it a while ago, I assume because I was no longer consuming five boxes a week. I hear that it's back in production again, even without me. Bravely done.

I am not going back to breakfast-eating and certainly not to bowls of cold cereal in milk. But when I'm watching television of an evening, it's tempting to snack. Popcorn -- notably Skinny Pop -- has been the snack of choice, but good as Skinny Pop is, after a while you can grow just a teensy bit weary of it.

So as I walked through Whole Foods the other day, I happened to notice a box with a picture of a perky serving of O-shaped cereal in a bowl. Only unlike Cheerios the O's were of several different colors. And the brand name was Whole Foods' own store brand: 365.

It crossed my mind that a plastic cup of 365 brand Multi-Grain Morning O's

might be just the thing to occasionally replace the bowls of Skinny Pop while we watch Suits or The Mentalist or I, all by myself, watch Game of Thrones.

Thus it happened that I, the confirmed old non-eater of cold cereal, paid for a box of O-shaped breakfast food.

Verdict: Oh mama.

The 365 Morning O's are better than Cheerios. Crisp and sweet, they are very rewarding when snacked upon dry. I must leave it to others to evaluate their bowl-of-milk worthiness.

Ingredients? The first four are corn, barley, wheat, and oat flour. Then comes cane sugar. Then rice flour, then brown sugar, then more rice flour, then oat hull fiber, wheat starch, and finally sunflower and/or canola oil.

There's definitely enough sugar to make these O's taste sweet. Not as sweet as Trix, but sweeter than Cheerios. This is not a complaint; it's only an observation.

Decades ago, during the first rush of oat-fiber madness, the makers of Cheerios reformulated them to include way more fiber than they used to have. This was back when I still ate the occasional bowl of cereal. The sextupling of oat fiber in Cheerios had the predictable effect.

When that was my breakfast, for the rest of the day I dared not stray far from the small room with many water fixtures. You see, I already was "regular," and therefore this massive injection of oat bran made me "frequent."

Since Cheerios remained a favorite snack for parents to feed their toddlers at church, I wondered if the fiber content had any noticeable effect on the tykes; since we did not us Cheerios as a snack food for babies, we could not make firsthand observations.

It is worth pointing out that 365 brand Multi-Grain Morning O's are as alimentarily effective as Cheerios. The makers are very proud of their 15g of whole grains per serving, and tout the O's as a "good source of fiber."

This, too, is neither praise nor criticism; it is only an observation. However, for those who may not wish to alter the number of Depends they go through in a day, it is also fair warning.

These Multi-Grain Morning O's are an excellent snack food. Way better for me than, say, chocolate bars or cheese slices, my other favorite non-popcorn snacks.

And if I were ever to go back to eating breakfasts, I would replace my old Crispix with Multi-Grain Morning O's and not feel myself cruelly treated by corporate America.

As an added bonus, Whole Planet Foundation, which is tagged as the maker of 365 Multi-Grain Morning O's, is very package-proud of being involved in issuing micro-loans.

Apparently they discriminate, providing these loans only to women -- God forbid a poor man should need a loan to be able to finance a business that would help him feed his family -- but in this imperfect world I can live with that bit of sexism without calling for a boycott.

The point is that eating 365 brand Multi-Grain Morning O's is not only a delicious favor to your taste buds and a fine supercharger to your alimentary system, but also a means of providing microloans to many an "impoverished woman entrepreneur."

Delicious, healthy, and righteous; a fine combination.

***

I was a football fan, once upon a time. I found Jim McMahon intriguing when he quarterbacked for Brigham Young University and, when he went to the Chicago Bears, I became a Bears fan.

It helped that I lived in South Bend, Indiana, at the time, though I moved to Greensboro years before the Bears' victory in Super Bowl XX in 1986. By then I was more impressed with Walter Payton than McMahon, so I was disappointed when McMahon called his own number to rush for two touchdowns, leaving Payton without any rushing touchdowns in his one Super Bowl victory.

When McMahon faded from football, I faded from football fandom. I faded so far, in fact, that I only realized that the Houston Oilers had moved to Tennessee when it was mentioned in the 2000 Tom Hanks film Cast Away.

I noticed I was no longer a football fan when I found myself falling asleep during Sunday afternoon football broadcasts. That had never happened when I was watching Ditka's and McMahon's Bears.

However, I have not forgotten what it felt like to care about, not just the score, but the actual playing of the game. There were those few years when I really cared about football.

This had been more of a hurdle than you might realize, because I played sousaphone in a high school marching band -- which meant that I went to every game played by the Mesa High School Jackrabbits in Arizona in the 1967 season.

Watching the Jackrabbits play in those days was not conducive to instilling a deep love of the sport. Ours was not an awful team, but it was not a great one, either.

The band, on the other hand, was a state champion. Our coolest shtick was marching to form the first-half score on the field during halftime. Now I look at the fabulous drumline bands shown in various movies and TV shows and I realize that compared to them we were nothing.

But in Mesa, Arizona, in the mid-1960s, our band was almost cool.

Anyway, marching band left me with a deep weariness about football that only Jim McMahon was able to overcome.

Recently, because of various symptoms of dementia (forgetting why he walked into a room, for instance -- something that happens to me all the time), McMahon has joined in a lawsuit against the NFL, claiming that the NFL did not sufficiently warn players of the dangers of repeated concussions.

I'm sorry for McMahon's (and other players') brain damage, and I hope helmets and game rules are redesigned to protect the players better.

However, I also remember very clearly that McMahon was notorious for joining in the helmet-butting tradition of his Bears teammates. The articles I read stressed that team doctors warned them that bumping their helmets together could cause longterm brain damage, but McMahon was one of those who ignored the warnings and continued his participation in this slightly violent form of greeting each other on the field.

My point is this: Even when the players were warned of brain damage back in the 1980s, they did not take the warnings seriously and refrain from perilous activity. So the most valuable thing about McMahon's lawsuit is not that the players might be given money to compensate for negligence by the NFL leadership, since they were plenty negligent themselves, but that the publicity surrounding the suit might alert other players to the fragility of brains that they may wish to have full use of in their fifties and sixties.

All of this is such a long way around to get to my review of Draft Day. I just have to say that I'm not a sucker for football movies. There are football movies that I've loved (North Dallas Forty, The Replacements), but not because of my deep abiding love of the game.

I don't get instantly sentimental and gooey-eyed about any sport. I can, in fact, watch Field of Dreams without shedding a tear. To me, baseball is associated with only two things: continuous humiliation as a child softball player, and unspeakable boredom as a spectator.

Fortunately, Draft Day is not so much a football movie as a movie about leadership -- Moneyball without all the math. And while it helps to know something about the game, the story makes perfect sense without such knowledge, because it isn't about playing football, it's about the poker game of management jockeying to put together playoff-worthy teams.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., who came to manage the Cleveland Browns a couple of years before -- when his father was still the longtime coach of the team.

Then he fired his own father. That certainly gave him a reputation for toughness -- if not outright meanness -- but halfway through Draft Day we find out a deeper reason for his decision to force his aging father's retirement from the game he loved.

This draft day is Sonny Weaver's first chance to put together a team that is truly his own. He is surrounded by critics and distractions. The foremost critic is Coach Penn, played powerfully by Denis Leary. Penn came to the Browns from Dallas, and he loves to flaunt his Super Bowl ring -- but Weaver doesn't take it seriously, since he sees Penn as a caretaker who stepped in to finish that Dallas Super Bowl season, replacing a head coach laid low by ill health.

Draft Day is all about getting the right players for the Browns. All the commentators' choice for number one draft pick is a Heisman-winning quarterback who is as touted as Herschel Walker once was. So when Weaver makes a deal with the Seahawks to get the number one pick this draft day (trading away three future first-round picks), Coach Penn is apoplectic.

The Browns don't need a quarterback, Penn insists. They need a running back. So Weaver has traded away three years of the team's future drafts in order to get a quarterback that the Browns don't need. It's a disastrous mistake.

The team's owner, played by Frank Langella, is thrilled at the first-round pick, however -- that kind of publicity storm is just what he, with his short-range vision, wants for his team.

But Weaver's plans are much deeper than anybody thinks. In a way, Draft Day works like a first-rate war movie, with the hero's winning strategy only coming clear as we approach the end.

The distractions for Weaver are painful ones indeed. His girlfriend, Ali, played by a luminous Jennifer Garner, is also a co-worker -- she's the team executive responsible for making sure the Browns comply with the salary cap.

Getting the first pick in the first round is a disaster for her -- the salary you have to pay for a quarterback in that position is high enough that they might well have to drop other valuable players in order to stay within the salary limit.

But that's not what makes her a distraction. In the first scene, we find out that she and Weaver are lovers ... and she's pregnant.

Even more distracting, though, is the slightly unbelievable plot twist that Weaver's mother picks this day of all days to comply with her late husband's will, and bring his ashes to scatter on the practice field that was named after him.

Naming a field after a coach is a big deal. But to demand, with no prior notice, that on draft day her team-manager son drop everything to take part in a spur-of-the-moment ceremony seemed absurdly unreasonable to me. The fact that she brings his ex-wife (Rosanna Arquette) along rubs salt in the wound.

But the writing in this film (by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph) is deft and smart. Everything comes together to reveal everybody's true character, and this becomes a movie that is truly about Good People Doing Good.

That's my favorite kind of story (I'm pretty bored with Good vs. Evil plots, and with stories driven by evil villains).

And casting Kevin Costner was a master stroke. Costner doesn't have the gift of the powerful speech. His talent as an actor consists of the ability to make dogged determination both believable and endearing.

He gets a hint of a whine in his voice as he tries to explain himself -- but it never becomes obnoxious. Instead, we see him as a good man who gives up on trying to win over his critics, and instead asks them to give him a few minutes and see what he's doing before they condemn him -- or fire him.

Personally, my experience in life is that Field of Dreams is a complete crock: If you build it, they will not come. And the dead stay dead.

But Draft Day is not a fantasy. Sometimes, in the real world, doing the right thing turns out to be the smart thing. You would have done it anyway, but it's such a relief when people call you a genius for doing nothing more than following a gut instinct.

Sometimes, your gut instinct is not only all you've got, it's also good enough.

My wife and I both loved this movie. Jennifer Garner said on Jimmy Fallon last week that Draft Day is halfway toward being a chick flick.

More than halfway, in my opinion. But I love good chick flicks. They're about relationships, and that's what Draft Day is -- a relationship movie. But the romantic relationship between Costner's and Garner's characters is only one of the key relationships. There's the mother-son thing. And the manager-coach thing. And the owner-manager relationship.

But, most important, there are the manager-player relationships. Four of them, actually. All four are emotionally compelling and brilliantly resolved in this movie. What makes Costner's character a good manager is not so much his negotiating brilliance -- his success there is half luck -- but his ability to get a sense of who a player is and what he'll amount to on the team.

Here's where the deep casting of this movie really pays off. Chadwick Boseman as a player named Vontae Mack steals more than one scene, and Josh Pence as Bo Callahan, the consensus number-one-pick, is superb.

There are even throwaway characters that we end up loving: Griffin Newman as Rick the Intern is a delight, and the team employees who watch as Weaver seems to throw away all their work and research on the players up for the draft do a superb job.

This movie is way better than I expected. Indeed, it's better than it needed to be. It joins the rarefied ranks of movies about the world of sports that are worth seeing more than once.


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