Author: Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Here are my most recent posts

Ocean’s 8, Gifted And Films On Cable

My wife and I allocate our in-the-theater movie events very carefully.  If it doesn’t look good to both of us, then we don’t go together.  Usually, we wait to catch it on cable. Ocean’s 8 looked good to us.  We have a fondness for caper movies, from How to Steal a Million to $ (Dollars, with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn), from The Thomas Crown Affair (we liked the 1999 Pierce Brosnan version) to The Italian Job (both versions), from The Sting to The Usual Suspects. We watched all the Oceans movies as each came out, and while I deplored the way they didn’t show us what actually happened until a flashback after the climax, it was fun to see a bunch of terrific actors mess around together in the caper-movie playground. Ocean’s 8 promised more of the same, only this time with a cast of women.  The director and co-writer, Gary Ross, also co-wrote Big, one of my all-time favorite movies, and even though he was guilty of the dreadful Pleasantville, I figured he hadn’t forgotten how to do it. But it’s the cast that rules this movie.  The story begins with con-woman Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) getting out of prison on parole, because she was able to con the parole board into thinking she was reformed. She’s met by her friend Lou (Cate Blanchett), who is appalled...

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Deadpool, Talk to Girls, Walking in Manhattan

If you liked the first Deadpool movie – and I did – you will like Deadpool II – and I did. If you hated the first one, then for heaven’s sake don’t go to the second, because everything you hated in the first movie is doubled down in the second. If you’ve never seen either, then make sure you watch the first one before you watch the second, because then you’ll already care about some of the people and relationships. The second movie takes it for granted that you’re already familiar with the people and situations. What else is there to say? The sequel does its job – it reminds you of all the pleasures of the first, brings a few new pleasures to the experience, and it isn’t just the same story all over again. Nuff said. …. Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman get top billing in How to Talk to Girls at Parties, a strange, sometimes repulsive sci-fi romantic comedy movie set in London in 1977. But the film belongs to Alex Sharp, who plays Enn (short for Henry), who is deeply into the Punk scene, along with two friends. For the first ten minutes of the movie, I despised everybody because there was nothing to them but their devotion to the Punk aesthetic, which is to say there was nothing to them. But when, in search of...

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Jann Arden, Solo, Sowell, Barry, I’m Sorry

We were listening to The Blend on Sirius XM while driving home from Washington, DC, last week, and just as we were approaching our house, a song came on called “Insensitive.” I stayed in the car to hear it to the end. I had never heard the song before; nor had I ever heard of the singer, Jann Arden. But I was intrigued because the lyrics had a kind of “You’re So Vain” vibe – which came to my mind because, of course, Carly Simon was a top singer-songwriter in the era when pop music was still being aimed at me. Back in the 1980s, as rap “music” and then hip-hop took over the world, I found myself switching the radio away from current-hit stations to classic rock, country or classical. By the time “Insensitive” came out in 1994, I had realized that in the effort to continue offending each new generation of parents, pop “music” had abandoned anything I considered to be musical. I wasn’t really wrong. But that didn’t mean that, now and then, some pretty good songs managed to slip through. Even some great ones. Good singers managed to have careers. And I never knew it, because those good songs were scattered among stuff that made me want to break the car radio. Or jam pencils in my ears. Anything to make it stop. So I...

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Earth Abides, Life of the Party, Poland

A friend recently mentioned the book Earth Abides as something important in her life, and how she meant to reread it soon. I realized that while I’ve heard about the novel, which won the first International Fantasy Award in 1951 and keeps getting included in lists of all-time best sci-fi novels, I had no idea what it was about or what was so good about it. I was leaving for Europe and had my normal dread of running out of good things to read while traveling, so I bought it from Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle before I left. Then I started reading.  The promotional material sounded kind of like Stephen King’s The Stand, which, before his ill-advised revised edition, was one of his two or three best novels. Here’s the premise: Ish (short for Isherwood) is an American grad student in geography who finds himself one of the few survivors (maybe five or six per million) of a worldwide plague.  Gradually he and a few other survivors create a viable community in the San Francisco Bay Area that Ish hopes will be able to restore civilization. Standard sci-fi, by this description.  But from the moment I started reading, I knew that this book was something special. Part of it comes from the fact that the book was published in 1949, so that the culture that was...

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Gioia’s Ballad, Letters & Lists, When

I know, Americans hardly ever read poetry anymore, and they certainly don’t read narrative poetry – poetry that tells a story. But we listen to plenty of country music that tells a story, and in fact most pop music at least implies a story. So we aren’t complete strangers to the idea of receiving a story in rhymed and metered verse. It just needs guitars. Well, turn on some guitar instrumentals if you must, but I think most readers would enjoy The Ballad of Jesús Ortiz, by Dana Gioia. For one thing, it’s not very long – we’re not talking about the commitment it takes to read The Iliad or Paradise Lost. The story is simple and moving. Unlike most of what passes for poetry today, it isn’t about the poet – either what the poet feels or how cleverly the poet writes. Gioia is simply recounting a true story of one of his great-grandparents, a Mexican cowboy who lived and died on the high plains of the American frontier. Dana Gioia is an interesting guy – a poet who made a living as a businessman until he was appointed by President George W. Bush as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, where he did splendid work. After leaving that office, he returned to his civilian life and published the poetry he had written during his time...

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I Feel Pretty, Mattresses, Idol

Once you get the premise of Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty, you pretty much know the whole movie: Renee Bennett (Schumer) is an ordinary-looking woman who thinks she looks kind of awful but still manages to be happy hanging out with her two best friends, equally ordinary-looking but still hoping to find love. Then Renee gets a bump on the head at a gym and it affects her brain by convincing her that she is drop-dead gorgeous, perfect body and perfect face. Exactly the woman she always wanted to be. She acts out the confidence and joy that this brings her, applies for the kind of job where being gorgeous is a requirement, and, because of her confidence in her own beauty, she’s hired. Nothing that anybody says fazes her. She interprets everything as an affirmation of her beauty; anybody who says otherwise is just jealous. But because she still has her roots in the world of ordinary-looking women, she becomes valuable to the CEO of a cosmetics company – Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams). Avery has a squeaky high voice that makes her sound like a stereotypical dumb blonde, and so she prefers to have other people do the talking. Avery’s grandmother, Lily LeClaire (Lauren Hutton), pulls the strings at the company and is both surprised and pleased that Avery has hired this vivid, enthusiastic, ordinary woman with an...

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Science Books, Tornado, Anthologies

Let’s face it – in the aftermath of a tornado, not everybody can show up all at once to help. If too many people are trying to work on the cleanup, they can easily get in each other’s way – potentially causing as much damage as some aspects of the tornado! And some of us are not physically capable of helping with the actual labor of the cleanup. What good would it be for me to help if, after the first half-hour, I have to be taken to the hospital to recuperate? So while I applaud the many who did plunge right in and help with the clean-up – including helping families find housing and replace lost or damaged items – there are other ways to help, as well. One of the most lasting results of the tornado that struck Greensboro is that three elementary schools were closed for repairs – and will remain closed through the end of this school year. That has put hundreds of schoolkids in temporary or doubled-up classrooms, and many of them are without adequate supplies. Here’s a good way to help. Greensboro’s local Barnes & Noble is partnering with Grimsley High School on a fundraiser for tornado relief. On Wednesday, May 9, Grimsley High is dedicating their annual Summer Reading Bookfair to helping those relocated students. Grimsley has adopted several elementary classrooms and...

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Last Movie Star, Zona, Beet Kvass

The most powerful reviews are not the ones you read. The reviews that lead us to action are the oral critiques spoken aloud by friends. I’m pretty impervious to written reviews, which is ironic, given that I hope people will read my own weekly column of written reviews. But I know that while reviews sometimes help me choose between two equal alternatives, when I have any kind of reluctance to see a movie or read a book or try a restaurant, what pushes me over the edge to give one of them a try is a friend saying, “What are you waiting for? I ate there / read that / saw it and it was wonderful.” Now, I would love to think that some who read this column think of my recommendations as if they came from a friend. More likely, however, is the prospect that just as many readers think, “Uncle Orson is an amazingly accurate guide. If he likes it, I know I’ll hate it; if he hates it, then maybe it’ll be good.” Well, what can I say? If my reviews are useful to you in some way, I am more or less content. I suspect that most readers of this column merely find it amusing to hear about books, movies, restaurants or whatever nonsense I review from week to week, without even considering giving my...

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Good Stories, Hell Divers, Pastwatch

Here’s something that surprised me: I think the contestants in this season’s American Idol may be the best group assembled in any season. The voting part of the season is just starting, so if you start tuning in now, I think you’ll get some very good singers and some smart, helpful judges. …. Back when I was an eager new writer I was trying to figure out what made good stories good. I knew from the start that it wasn’t the manner of writing – it wasn’t the style, no matter how quirky or clever it was. I was especially certain that it wasn’t figured language – metaphors, similes – and it wasn’t some kind of “meaning” hidden behind symbols. Those had absolutely nothing to do with the way the best stories work on readers – they were, I concluded, simply a thing that literature teachers can talk about to fill up class time, because they had no more idea of what made good stories good than I did, starting out. It had little to do with genre, either. When I thought of the stories that had really moved and changed me, the stories I could hardly bear to leave when they ended, they crossed all kinds of boundary lines. One of the first to affect me that way was Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. To me,...

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Gas Station Futures, Family Singing, Blockers

In a recent What’s New Now mailing from PC Magazine, editor Dan Costa made an interesting point. If, in the not-so-distant future, most cars are electric, it might have some unexpected consequences – because most electric car owners generally recharge their vehicles at home. Now, that may be partly because there aren’t a lot of quick-charge stations around town, and as long as you have enough juice to get home to where you invested in a quick-charge setup, it makes sense to power up the car at home. That’s because even quick charges aren’t all that quick. It takes time for the inflowing electricity to make the chemical changes in the battery that will allow it to hold enough juice for the car to run for any serious length of time. So if the home-charging trend continues to be true, that may have a drastic effect on something we all take for granted: the gas station convenience store. Convenience stores originally had no gas pumps. There were probably laws against it. 7-Eleven, the first convenience store I ever saw, really did open at 7 in the morning and close at 11 at night. And while most gas stations sold candy and soda pop, they were all about cars – convenience stores and gas stations had nothing to do with each other. But once 7-Eleven started putting a couple of...

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Garry Shandling, Alex, Inc., Sleep, 5 Books

When we see them from a distance – as most of us do, most of the time – we really have no idea of what kind of person celebrities are. This actor might be wonderful and generous to work with; that one might be arrogant and bossy. This one might be a good husband and father; that one might be his children’s worst nightmare – or a completely absent legend in the family. Only after a celebrity dies do we get much of a chance to find out what kind of person he or she really was. Not long ago I wrote about a Nora Ephron documentary that really elevated my opinion of a writer and director I already admired. And now we have a very good documentary about the late Garry Shandling. Directed by Shandling’s good friend Judd Apatow (who produced and directed the outstanding comedy Trainwreck), the documentary The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling is playing on HBO, which means that for the next few weeks, it’s likely to be in heavy rotation, so you have plenty of chances to see it. In case you’ve forgotten – or you’re too young to have ever known – Garry Shandling may well be the most subversively funny comedian in the history of television. I heard that sort of claim about Ernie Kovacs and Andy Kaufman, but I never cared...

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Straps, Swivels, Wasting Money on Education

If you’ve got a small, light e-reader, like the Kindle Oasis, then you know that there’s no convenient way to grip it if you aren’t sitting up, reading it as it rests on a table or on your lap. If you’re lying on your back in bed, it’s difficult to keep it from slipping through your fingers – and even more difficult to grip it without accidentally turning pages. The solution is the TFY Hand-Strap for Tablets. It’s a three-ended strap that hooks on at the edges or corners of the e-reader. You can configure it however you find it easiest to grasp – or, as I’ve found, to have it grasp you. I just slide my hand under the strap and there it is. These days I’m using my Oasis to read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Portuguese. My vocabulary is definitely growing, but I’m not sure how often I’ll ever use the Portuguese for “broomstick” or “wizard” in ordinary conversation when I’m in Brazil. If I’m ever in Brazil again. But that doesn’t matter for this project: I’m not learning Portuguese, I’m remembering it while increasing my fluency and vocabulary. As long as I can still improve my Portuguese ability, I can make a good case that dementia hasn’t got me yet. Not completely. Really. And as I wrote the word “dementia,” I flashed...

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Tom Chaplin, American Idol, Night School

The Graham Norton Show on BBC America is the best talk show on American TV, in large part because the British understand what makes an interesting chat show. With the American format, one guest at a time has a one-on-one chat with the host. The conversation mostly consists of the host prompting the guest to tell whatever was planned. If it’s a comedian, the host sets up the comedian’s punchlines. If it’s an actor, they try to arouse interest in whatever movie or album the guest is there to promote. We’re used to that. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many times my wife and I have made a decision about going to watch a new movie in the theater because of clips and conversation on talk shows. The Graham Norton Show does all that … and more. Instead of the guests coming out one at a time, most of them come out together right at the beginning. They interact with each other. They converse with each other. And that’s usually the best stuff in the show. Like American talk shows, The Graham Norton Show reserves its musical guest for a slot near the end of the show. And because I watch the show on TiVo, I usually listen to the singing long enough to realize that I hate it or, best case, I’m bored with it. So I fast...

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Food Truck Race, Ice Breakers, Buoy, Craeft

Pronunciation of English words isn’t always easy. There really are solid rules about spelling, but those rules all have exceptions. And it doesn’t help that as spellings and grammar were getting locked down in the 1800s, the clowns who wrote the rulebooks got weird, horrible ideas and now we have to live with the consequences. All the “gh” words – weigh, inveigh, freight, fright, ought, thought, throughout, etc. – at least have some history behind them. The “gh” used to be pronounced (like the “ch” in the name Bach), and it just faded, becoming either “f” (tough, enough) or silent. But when those clowns put the first “r” in February, the first “c” in arctic and antarctic, and the first “d” and second “e” in Wednesday, they condemned the English language to having lots of half-educated people try to pronounce those formerly silent letters. That’s right. Nobody pronounced them as these spelling masters decided they should be written, usually in order to preserve some aspect of their etymology. In a rational universe, they should be spelled Febuary, artic, antartic and Wensday. (And I had a terrible time defeating spell-correct in order to spell them this way – thus proving that people misspell them so often that spell-correct programs are all poised to “fix” them from English into the nonsensical spellings forced on us in the 19th century.) Don’t get...

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The Oscars, Hair, Night Moves, Phenomena

Sunday night, and my wife was getting home from a trip to join with her parents in celebrating her mom’s 90th birthday. Our two daughters also flew from Seattle and Los Angeles to join her, and they had a great couple of days. I’m glad I wasn’t there because I would have spoiled it just by being underfoot. Anyway, my wife flew home Sunday, braving a heavy snowstorm in Salt Lake City that delayed flights. But we always arrange long layovers in Atlanta, so being two hours late meant she only had two hours until her Greensboro flight, which arrived right on schedule. So she got home and gave me an exhilarating report on everything she and our daughters did, and how her mom responded, and all of that. Then we watched one of our recorded episodes of Jeopardy! and scored pretty well as we clicked all our right answers. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that the news was full of who won the Oscars and who said what and who did what, and I realized: I have left the Oscars so far behind that I don’t even know when they’re happening. We used to have big Oscar parties. Maybe we will again. Because I still care about high quality in the arts and believe that it should be recognized publicly. And the Oscars are...

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End Game, Rolf, Anomia, Men Style

Part of the fun of making small contributions to a crowdfund on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo is that it’s a bit of a gamble. If, like any good gambler, you think of every bet as gone the moment you place it, so the only surprise is the happy one when you win, then the process of crowdfunding is almost painless. If the designers find out that their project can’t be completed for the amount of money they’ve raised, then they pull the plug, even though they officially have “enough” donations to go ahead. Some backers get quite angry, but apparently...

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Eternal Campaign, Oscar Shorts, Contributions

Most of my life, the Oscars for short films were about as mysterious (and boring) as the Oscars for editing and cinematography, because I had no idea what they were. When it comes to film editing, now that I know what editors do, I still have no idea how anybody nominates or votes in that category, because you can’t possibly judge what the editor’s contribution to a film might have been without knowing what footage ended up on the cutting room floor. The only movie that I’ve known much about was, in my opinion, semi-saved by the editor, who cut out some shockingly destructive scenes that should never have been written, let alone shot. But the editor could only semi-save it, because there were some almost-as-appalling scenes that could not be cut without interfering with the audience’s ability to understand the story, such as it was. The editor, you see, can’t splice in footage that wasn’t shot. If the studio isn’t willing to spend the money to reshoot a scene, or shoot a new scene, when the film was supposedly wrapped, then the editor can only work with whatever garbage the director shot, trying to salvage something out of it. So the Oscar nominees for best editing should, by rights, be for films that aren’t very good, but they’re infinitely better than they would have been if a good...

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Wanted, Hugh Jackman vs. Everybody

Oh, right. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. My wife and I have never made that big a deal about Valentine’s. It’s a greeting card holiday, right? It’s not something real, like our anniversary. Or birthdays. Or Christmas. Right? Except that I usually do a better job of remembering. It’s not that I ever forget that Valentine’s is Feb. 14. I just forget, constantly, what day it is right now. And what month. My brain is still in January. So why would I be thinking of Valentine’s Day? So sorry, O thou generous and lovely woman who hast tied thy life to mine for all these 41 years. I am blessed far beyond my deserving. I actually have a couple of valentines that I meant to send thee. And wouldn’t flowers have been nice? But thou art surely not surprised. Thou knowest whom thou marriedst. I know, elegant apology and archaic language don’t make up for not having anything there at the house for her on Valentine’s Day. If I hadn’t been in Lexington, Virginia, I could have done something excellent and last-minute in person on the actual day. But I am in Lexington, and she’s in Greensboro. Bummer. …. I did get her a box of her favorite blue-ink pens (Uniball Signo 0.038mm). But there’s no way I could count that as a Valentine’s gift. It’s just too useful. I...

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“Winning” Arguments, Audible, Dude Powder

I’ve known Rusty Humphries for more than a decade now, and I count him as one of my best friends. I suspect, however, that I am one of dozens, if not hundreds, who account him so, because Rusty has a way of earning friendship quite readily. Rusty had one of the top radio talk shows in America when we met, and after having me as a guest on his show, he was kind enough to train me in the art of hosting a radio show. He trusted his training so well that he allowed me to sit in for him when he was obliged to miss the show a few times. I suspect that some of these times might have been manufactured for the purpose of giving me experience. I remember that after the first segment of my first show as guest-host, Rusty called one of the producers of the show to say, “Tell Card that he sounds like he’s on NPR!” I realized, upon hearing this, that I was using the microphone training I had received long before from Stefan Rudnicki, the brilliant director, producer and narrator of my audiobooks. When narrating an audiobook, all my training as an actor was out the window. “Talk into the microphone as if you were speaking to a friend just over his shoulder, so that your voice remains quiet and level,”...

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Shape of Water, How Language Began, Tickling

It’s weird how we can become so concerned about a social problem that we can come up with a new set of rules and then go way overboard in our enforcement – while nothing is actually accomplished in attacking the underlying problem. For instance, we went through a spate of absurd over-protective rules like expelling a kid from school for bringing a plastic knife with his lunch so he could cut up an apple – because, you know, zero tolerance. Or the weird thing that happened in Guilford County a few years ago, when a teenager of my acquaintance, as non-violent and rule-compliant a girl as you could hope to have in your school, got suspended because she had to borrow her brother’s car to get to school. He had left some prescription meds on his front seat, but because they might have been controlled substances, school security officials opened up the car. Warrant not needed because, of course, schoolkids have no rights. In searching the car, they found her brother’s Eagle Scout knife, which she had no way of knowing was there. Still, it was a weapon on campus! Drugs on campus! Bullying is beginning to fall into this category. It’s a serious problem – this aggressive form of social isolation and personal terrorism has made vulnerable children (and adults) miserable and frightened for as long as I’ve...

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Quora, Big Heavy Fantasy Books

I gave up on Facebook during the 2016 election. Weirdly, though, it wasn’t because people were so rancorous. It’s because everybody was so isolated and protective. See, I thought that the idea of Facebook was for friends to have conversations in which they discussed things that mattered to them. And in 2016, it seemed as if almost everyone was proclaiming, in the most brutal terms, just how evil they thought that everyone that disagreed with them must be. But nobody ever posted a contrary view. Nobody ever said, You do understand that there are no facts whatsoever to support your claim that all the evil of our time comes from Republicans, right? You do understand that some people oppose Hillary for reasons other than a deep hatred for all women, right? Oh, wait. I said those things. I didn’t think I was being mean, I just thought I was raising the possibility that we could make our decisions about voting without having to hate a whole class of people in the process. But I kept running into people who said, If you disagree with me, write your views on your own Facebook page, not on mine. Or, if you disagree with me then you’re a troll … not a friend. This all came to a cusp and I realized: Facebook is not a place for ideas or even rational...

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Billboards, Paddington, I’ll Be Me

If you can’t tell by the title that Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is not just an independent film, but one with pretensions to being Art, and if you don’t know that this means that the ending will be frustrating and unresolved, you probably need to find a film-savvy friend to vet your movie choices for you. Because if you want a clearcut resolution of any of the issues raised by this movie, you’re barking up the wrong tree. You’re hunting with a pussycat instead of a pointer. You’re trying to get Lassie to do your trigonometry homework. Enough dog metaphors? So yeah, the ending is more like a fadeout before you reached the main chorus of the song … but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it. In fact, this is a powerful, moving, constantly surprising film. Frances McDormand gives perhaps the best performance of her lustrous career, playing Mildred, a mother who is deeply angry that the local constabulary has failed to make any progress whatsoever in finding the men who raped and murdered her daughter. Driving along a road that used to have a lot more traffic, Mildred sees several old billboards that are falling apart. She stops and looks at the name of the local advertising company that’s in charge of leasing out the signs. An idea forms, and she goes to town to lease...

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Oscar-So-Scared, Darkest Hour

Everybody’s playing Outguess the Oscars, but that’s a pointless game now that the Academy members are terrified that if they collectively don’t nominate enough people of color, their Oscar voting privileges will be taken away, whether they individually voted for nonwhite actors or not. Because of the secret ballot, we don’t know how any Oscar voters actually voted. The ballots are tallied by the accounting firm that sprang forward and corrected last year’s wrong-envelope fiasco, where a wonderful movie about movies, with white actors in it – the usual probable winner – was mistakenly announced as the winner, when in fact the votes had gone where they had to go: to the movie about the struggles of a black, gay character. Moonlight may well have been the best movie of 2016, but what we now know is that it was the inevitable winner because there was no safer vote for the Academy members hoping to preserve their Oscar voting privileges. Did the Academy voters really think that way as they decided how to vote? I don’t know. In fact, the Oscars-So-White whiners could not know how any individual Academy voters and nominators made their decisions in a year with no nonwhite nominees in any major category. They leapt to the assumption of racism, without evidence. Furthermore, the people trying to “remedy” the “problem” were just as bigoted when they decided that...

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Mini Waffle Makers, Vinny, Jedi Redux

Here’s a Christmas gift success this year: Sur La Table offered tiny red waffle irons for something like ten bucks – or less. The price was so low that I assumed half of them would blow up as soon as they were plugged in. Instead, when we made a waffle breakfast for a pair of our grandkids and a niece, the tiny waffle irons worked perfectly. They turned out little round waffles like clockwork; even the littlest child ate two waffles. I pronounce them to have been a smash hit. Too bad that they seem to have been a Christmas-only promotion, so I can’t find them on the website at all; for that matter, since I found them in the Sur La Table in Friendly Center, they might never have been available in the online store. However, they may be the same as the Dash Mini Waffle Maker sold online by Crate&Barrel for $9.99. They look the same, except that the Crate&Barrel version is white, and the ones I bought were red. So if you want to give them a try, why not? Maybe I was just lucky with ours – or maybe these are really well-made tiny cheap appliances … Just remember: If you’re cooking for a group of hungry people, one of these is way too few. Our three waffle makers were barely able to keep up...

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Winning Christmas, The Last Jedi

As we were about to start opening the Christmas gifts on Monday morning, my wife told me that the first gift was for me. It was a small gift box of the sort that is always used in Hallmark Christmas movies – you know, the kind that looks gift-wrapped, but in fact the lid comes right off. In movies, that kind of wrapping serves the essential purpose of letting the package come open instantly, without tearing any paper. That means the scene will move more quickly – not so much unwrapping time – and also, you can keep using the same prop no matter how many takes the scene requires. Nobody has to keep rewrapping it with the same paper. A definite budget saver. But my wife’s purpose was simpler. That package needed to come open easily, because what was inside needed to be refrigerated immediately. She had taken it out of the fridge only moments before, and there was no way it should sit around waiting for me to get to it in the course of Christmas morning. So I pulled off the lid, and knew instantly that my wife had won Christmas – that is, once again she had found a gift so thoughtful, so perfect, that none of my poor attempts could possibly compete. It’s hard to be disappointed at “losing” in such a way –...

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Oasis Strap, Sister’s Keeper, 1994, Albums

I love my Kindle Oasis, especially because it’s so much smaller than the original Kindles – yet has plenty of surface area to show each page in large enough type to be read by old and tired eyes. However, the trick is to hold the thing. It’s just wide enough to be hard to grasp when you’re lying on your back in bed – which is when I do 90 percent of my Kindle reading. And the burnished metal surface wants to slide off my hand, meaning I have to exert actual grip strength to hold up the Oasis. I tried a leather cover. I wasn’t sure how it would attach to the Oasis, because there’s almost no margin around the screen. To my surprise, the cover was partially magnetic. The short side of the cover attached to the back of the Oasis, covering the thin portion that doesn’t contain the battery and computer parts. Then the wider part of the leather cover folded over to cover the screen. It does a lovely job of making the Oasis look cool, keeping the screen free of dust, and then folding back in a triangular way that allows the Oasis to stand up for hands-free reading on a flat surface. Which is great, if I ever read my Kindle on a desk or at a table. But I don’t. Because the cover’s...

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Mighty Trains, Walkable City, Alexa

So we were heading for Barnes & Noble to sign books that were stacked up waiting for my signature, when, to my surprise, we discovered that Barnes & Noble was completely dark. On a Tuesday at 5:15 p.m., that isn’t expected. But then we looked around and realized that most of Friendly Center was dark, except a few lights down at the south end. The power outage included the whole new western end of Friendly Center, too. As my wife and I thought about where to go for dinner – I mean, if you can’t sign books, then of course it’s time to eat – we had to eliminate all our favorite spots at or near Friendly Center. We decided on Osteria, at the corner of Westover Terrace and Mill. But that shopping complex, too, was dark. Thus we discovered that apparently a major trunk line in our power system runs along Wendover – or else these two nearby shopping centers both went dark by coincidence. One happy surprise: At the corner of Pembroke and Northline, where Forum VI used to be, the light was out, and Greensboro drivers were actually obeying the law and treating it like a four-way stop. This is miraculous, because we’ve never seen this at non-working stoplights in the aftermath of snowstorms and ice storms in Greensboro. Usually the people on the “bigger” street treat...

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Geography Quiz, Publishing in Movies, Flags

I love trivia games. Well, I love trivia games except for the sports questions and the celebrity questions, because I don’t follow sports and I don’t read People magazine. I don’t know any of the Bachelors and I can’t name you any of William’s children or anybody that Harry has ever dated, nor do I get weepy about Princess Di. But there are many categories of trivia that I prided myself on, and chief among these was geography. In fourth grade, I memorized the globe as we had it then. Large swathes of British-Empire pink across the fringes of Africa; French green across the Sahara; this was an old globe. As I grew older, I learned the new names of the former colonies – I could tell you what Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia used to be (Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Bechuanaland and Southwest Africa) and what Gold Coast, Dahomey and Upper Volta are called today (Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso). Then I got the Android and iOS World Geography Quiz Game from Atom Games Entertainment. The graphics were terrific, and in the early stages of the game I did very, very well. That’s because the early stages consisted of naming countries highlighted on a regional map, and their capitals. But I was humbled when I realized that I really never had sorted out which Pacific island...

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Pease, Dickens, Finding Santa

I was a pretty fussy eater as a kid. And it wasn’t by choice. For instance, I have very clear memories of sitting at the kitchen table in my family’s house in San Mateo, California, when I was 3 years old. My mother was making me one of my favorite meals, which was a mashed-up hard-boiled egg. Not a deviled egg, mind you. No mayonnaise was added. Just a little butter when the egg was still hot enough to melt it. Some salt. Done, perfect. Except that on this particular day, the egg wasn’t quite hard-boiled. Not soft-boiled, either – the egg white was all perfectly cooked and solid. But the yolk wasn’t that powdery bright yellow of a hard-boiled egg. There were dark patches that were still moist and … it was wrong. With the perfectionism of a child I found that not only was it “not to my taste,” it was completely inedible. It wasn’t a real egg. My mother already knew it, too, because she kind of apologized as she served it to me. “But it’ll taste just the same.” And it did. The trouble was, it didn’t feel the same in my mouth, and I was just coming to know that mouth-feel was probably more important to me than taste, when it came to deciding which foods would make it into my central and nether...

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Christopher Robin, Gratitude, Odor Control

A weird thing is happening to me. At age 66, with one stroke behind me and type II diabetes busily changing my life, I find myself noticing perfectly ordinary things – walking up the front walk to my house with an armful of mail and catalogs, looking at my yard as I back out of my driveway, sitting at our kitchen table playing games with friends, hearing the voice of a grandchild singing a song to her grandma on FaceTime, practicing a tricky passage during choir rehearsal under the baton of my wife, or hearing our friend Christi Baughan’s glorious soprano voice soaring with song – and I’m suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. Not necessarily for that particular event or thing, but rather gratitude for being alive, for having a life that contains so many kind and generous people, good memories and continuing opportunities to accomplish useful things. This is a review column, and it’s the nature of the beast that I will often complain about things that don’t work right or fail to be what they claim to be. But even on my worst day, I’m glad to be alive. I’m glad that the vicissitudes of life brought me to this beautiful city, to my lovely neighborhood, to a climate that allows trees to grow gloriously tall and flowers to bloom all year, with beautiful snow and scary ice...

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Orient Express, Song for Christmas

Murder on the Orient Express is based on one of Agatha Christie’s best Hercule Poirot mysteries, and when it was filmed by Sidney Lumet back in 1974, it was dazzling. Gorgeous sets, a fabulous cast – Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York, and Albert Finney as the vain and brilliant Hercule Poirot. I had read the book years before, but didn’t remember the ending, so everything took me by surprise and at the final reveal, I was blown away. It was one of those movies that stayed with me for years after seeing it. When I heard that Kenneth Branagh was directing ╨ and starring in ╨ a remake of Murder on the Orient Express for release this year, I was saddened. First, because there seems so little point in remaking a perfect movie. Either you don’t change it at all, in which case, why not just let us stream or buy the original version? Or you change it, and every change makes it a little worse. They chose the second option, and who can be surprised? Because my second sadness was this: Only someone as vain as Kenneth Branagh could look at a project like Murder on the Orient Express and think, I know the perfect casting for Hercule Poirot! The greatest...

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Christmas Movies, Kindle Fire, Chinaberry

The Hallmark Channel’s annual “Countdown to Christmas” is already under way, with this year’s new movies debuting on weekend nights at 8 or 9 p.m. Now that there are two channels – the regular Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries – you can choose what kind of experience you want to have. The Hallmark Channel has the sentimental, magical, romantic movies where you know within the first 15 minutes who is going to end up realizing that they love each other more than anything. Hallmark Movies and Mysteries has the three-kleenex movies where genuinely bad things can and do happen, and while these also have love stories and non-tragic endings, you can shed a lot of tears along the way. Now, the fact that these movies are so predictable is not a flaw. This isn’t HBO – not that HBO’s premier offerings aren’t also predictable in their own way. With Hallmark Christmas movies, the audience tunes in precisely because they trust Hallmark to deliver, in a two-hour movie, an ending that can let the viewers trundle off to bed feeling good about the world. I’ve heard some people (who are nowhere near as smart or open-minded as they think they are) say that Hallmark movies are for lonely middle-aged women who keep cats. To which my reply would be: and why shouldn’t that audience segment have well-written, well-acted...

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Blade Runner 2049, Jelly, Onsen Towels

This is the time of year when the movie studios are bringing out their big guns – the movies they think have a chance of doing well at the Oscars. Fortunately, we’ve now passed that stupid season of October, when the studios try to enthrall us with constant horror movies. Outside of the theaters, there’s nothing horrible about October. In places that have autumn, it’s the time when we cool off from summer, when the world turns red and golden, when our thoughts turn to the season of Thanksgiving. Halloween isn’t such a big deal anymore, now that children aren’t free to roam their neighborhoods without parents. It’s just institutionalized begging, and while we try to delight our visitors with their favorite candies (Twix, every year, scientifically determined by letting them pick their own candy from our eclectic candy basket; Twix always disappears first, by a mile), we also avoid scaring them because our favorite candy-mendicants are the little ones, and there’s no pleasure in making 4-year-olds recoil in fear. Why, then, because of this downgraded diabetes-inducing “holiday” do we have to put up with movie trailers, in the theaters and on our television sets at home, that try to scare us? When I go to see a good and intelligent movie, why, during October, do I have to sit through stupid, sickening trailers that go “boo!”? I’ve actually...

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Pansies, Tech Help, Beats Earphones

We’re finally deep enough into autumn that we’re not likely to have many more days with temperatures above 80 degrees. So it’s time for the changeover from the spring-and-summer annual plants, like petunias and coleus, to our winter flowers: pansies. I’m ambivalent about pansies. I have fond memories of my grandmother Parkee taking 4-year-old me and my 1-year-old brother on walks from our home on Canyon Drive in Salt Lake City to Temple Square. During much of the year, there were lots of pansies planted by the marvelous Temple Square gardeners, and Parkee would stop at a bed of pansies and sing, “Little purple pansies dressed in yellow gold, growing in the corner of my garden, old.” She knew the whole song, but my brother and I rarely allowed her to finish, because after you’ve sung to the pansies a couple of times in the four years of your life, you’re pretty much done with that. For many years since then, I’ve thought of pansies as being small and slight (which they are) and childish (which they are not). They’re one of my wife’s favorite flowers, so she rejoices when it’s time to prepare for winter by giving the pansies a month or so to take root and start to grow profusely before the really cold weather. And I’ve come to respect the pansies for their amazing hardiness – how...

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Make It Out Alive, Victoria & Abdul, Spielberg

Those of you not yet sentient in 1980 may imagine that the year was notable for the election of Ronald Reagan, or the Iran hostage crisis, or for the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics, or the census, or Indira Gandhi becoming the fourth prime minister of India, or USC beating number-one-ranked Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 17-16. But for many of us who were adults in 1980, the event of the year was the violent eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18. I was living nowhere near the eruption, but as ash was carried eastward by the prevailing winds, much of it was deposited in eastern Washington, where I had (and have) many family members, and where I was born nearly three decades earlier. So I had particular interest. The scientists studying volcanos did a superb job of predicting the blast, and because of their advance warning, there was plenty of time for anybody who didn’t want to die to get away from the coming eruption. One old fellow who got a lot of media attention was a curmudgeon named Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate, even though his mountain home was quite near to the volcano. After the mountain blew, no trace of Truman or his home were ever found. But he was only the most famous of the people who were...

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Vow, Falling, Paul Simon, Children of the Fleet

Thanks, John Hammer, for your many years of vetting the candidates for local office and telling us the unvarnished truth about them. Readers of the Rhino Times are well aware of your principled positions on the important issues, but what you have never been is partisan.  Though you seem more likely to favor Republican candidates, you are perfectly capable of exposing incompetent, dishonest and stupid candidates regardless of their party – while you give even those whose views you oppose a fear hearing in your endorsement issues, so readers can make up their own minds. I think that in all the years I’ve been reading your endorsements, only once have I gone ahead and voted contrary to your recommendation.  And in that case you were pretty iffy on the candidate I ended up favoring, so it’s not as if I’ve ever found any reason to reject your evidence and arguments entirely. In short: Good work.  Thanks for making Rhino Times one of the best local papers in America.  Maybe the best, but I haven’t read all of them, and besides, I wouldn’t want to embarrass you. …. Old movie discovery: I never noticed the 2012 Channing Tatum/Rachel McAdams movie The Vow, but that’s probably because it would have been hyped as one of those contrived, implausible tearjerker movies that I ignore the way I ignore the kinds of books...

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American Made, Young Sheldon, Good Doctor

When I was a kid, the resumption of new television programs with the new “season” in September was complete recompense for the end of summer vacation. Yes, we had to go back to school, but hey, there were cool new shows. When I was young, that usually meant intriguing new westerns – I remember the debuts of The Rifleman, Sugarfoot, Bonanza, Cheyenne, Have Gun – Will Travel and Rawhide, which provided starring roles for Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford; Will Hutchins; Lorne Greene and Michael Landon; Clint Walker; Richard Boone; and Clint Eastwood and Eric Fleming, respectively. I can still sing almost the entire Rawhide theme song from memory. I remember Micah (Paul Fix), the marshal on The Rifleman, and Wishbone (Paul Brinegar) from Rawhide, and I haven’t even mentioned the most iconic TV western of them all, Gunsmoke. Fall television season was more important than the start of school. More important, when I was young, than presidential elections, which came as an anticlimax later in the season, and then went on hiatus for four years at a time. Nowadays, you’d think the “television season” thing wouldn’t matter anymore. Cable channels like TNT, USA, AMC, HBO, Showtime and others have mini-seasons of six, nine, 10 or a dozen episodes, and they start exactly when the traditional network seasons run out. Instead of the summer being devoted to reruns of...

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Izzard, Kingsman, Brad’s Status, Assassin

If only Trump would just shut up. Theodore Roosevelt called the US presidency “a bully pulpit,” in an age when “bully” was the slang equivalent of “awesome.” The presidency is only a bully pulpit if the people don’t think you’re an idiot. In that case, the twittering presidency is like being in the stocks in the village square. The Secret Service keeps people from throwing fruit or, like, rocks. But lots of people want to, and the more you shout stupidities at them, the more their fingers itch. Ultra-right Republicans have the delusion, shared by the ultra-left, that Trump was the actual consensus choice of the Republican Party. This is not true, was never true. Most Republicans in primary after primary kept voting for candidates other than Trump. The trouble was that for a long period Trump’s most visible rival was Ted Cruz, who was only slightly less repugnant. Trump was elected constitutionally, but with a minority of the popular vote. It is delusional and self-destructive for the far-right wing of the Republican Party to demand that the leadership of the Republican Party set aside their knowledge of how to govern, and instead adopt the ludicrous, mean-spirited, bigoted agenda of the far right and ram it down the throats of the American people. There is some consensus in the Republican Party: a strong national defense, which will be hard...

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Home Again, Do Your Laundry, Yesterday

Home Again was one of two movies my wife and I chose between last Friday. The other was American Assassin. (When choosing a movie to go to, horror movies like It aren’t even in the running. Why should I pay Hollywood for scaring me, when I can just stay home and watch the news?) We had good luck with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and American Assassin looked like it might be as good … or better. And all the promos and reviews for Home Again suggested that it was going to be about a May-December romance ╨ except the woman would be the older one. Ooooh, a twist. I found this offensive, by the way, because when we talk about May-December love stories, we usually mean an old guy. You know, December – nearing the end of the year, so metaphorically nearing the end of life. An old man. But when you flip it, and the “old” woman is an absolutely gorgeous and youthful-looking Reese Witherspoon, we’re not talking about May-December at all. Witherspoon is 41, for pete’s sake, and she has never been more beautiful. And even though Pico Alexander, who plays her initial love interest, has a photo on IMDb that makes him look 14, he was born in 1991, which makes him 26 years old. Fifteen years younger than Witherspoon. That’s not May-December. That’s June-August. No cradles are...

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Third Places in American Life

Why do you have a lawn? No, seriously. Why do you want to have this greensward that you must mow, weed (manually or chemically), water (even in our damp climate) and leave generally unused? Here’s why: English country houses. The wealthy ruling class in England before 1700 was generally dependent on their income from the land. They would collect rents from peasants who worked the land but did not own it. The landlord lived in a large fine house somewhere on his own property, with a clear separation between his household and the surrounding farmers. But the grounds of the house, while they might be well-tended by a gardener, were part of a large working agricultural enterprise. Therefore, large sweeps of land near the house were kept as meadows, with herds of sheep or goats keeping them well-cropped. As the idle rich sought more ways to amuse themselves, this close-cut grass began to be used for various functions. Croquet and tennis, when they were imported from France, were fairly easy to situate on a level stretch of lawn. Garden parties took place on tables and chairs set up (by servants) on the lawn. One of the hallmarks of a great house, as you approached it from the road, was the broad lawn on either side of the trees planted to line the long sweeping driveway. Yes, there were sheep...

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Exploding Yogurt, Two Games, Thorns

The biggest problem with trivia games – even the well-written ones, like Trivial Pursuit – is assembling a group of people to play together. Let’s face it, when playing trivia games many people are at a great disadvantage, at least in certain categories. For years, I’ve had to play Trivial Pursuit with a severe handicap: the Sports & Leisure category. Not only do I know less than nothing about sports (that is, even the things I think I know are mostly wrong), but also it seems as though half the “leisure” questions are about alcoholic beverages, and as a Mormon, I have no idea what liquids are ingredients of various mixed drinks. Otherwise, I do pretty well. So there’s been many a game where my little wheel filled up with cheeses, except for Sports & Leisure, long before anyone else was close. But then I keep dancing around, failing to answer the sports questions, until somebody else fills their wheel and goes to the middle and wins. Even if I get one sports question right, when I get into the middle my opponents only have to keep asking me sports questions and they have plenty of time to catch up and beat me. Then there’s the problem of brain-holes, where some fact you’ve known your whole life suddenly falls out. I remember one game with a group of professors...

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Hacksaw, TrapTap, Lucky Logan, Prager

My wife and I don’t go to the movies very much, for several reasons: There aren’t many movies that are aimed at people like us. You know, grownups. Even the movies thatcouldhave been enjoyable are often very badly written, and when that becomes obvious in the promos, why should we waste time and money going to see them? We can always catch them later on cable to see if they turned out better than they looked in the teasers. There are only two or three movies a year that are more enjoyable than just staying home and watching our recorded shows or playing Ticket to Ride or inviting friends over to visit or just talking. We’re busy. Sometimes, we’re traveling or are completely tied up in local activities during the entire theatrical run of a movie. This is why we didn’t see Hacksaw Ridge when it first came out. We knew the storyline, we like Andrew Garfield as an actor, and we know that Mel Gibson is not only a brilliant director but also one with the courage to show a man of faith unironically on the screen. But those are also reasons why I picked another movie the week that we could have seen Hacksaw Ridge in the theaters. Because I’m such a sucker for a good story – or even a bad one – that I over-identify with onscreen characters. I get too emotional, and if...

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Hitman’s Bodyguard, Quitters and Paprika

We just got back from a late-night showing of The Hitman’s Bodyguard. The reviews on this have been mixed. Our reviews are unanimous: Terrific adventure movie, with a double romance tossed in. Good dialogue, good writing, Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman, an amazing amount of obscene language (half of which you miss if you don’t speak Spanish), and more dead bodies and wrecked, shot-up and blown-up cars than your average movie. If you want to see stuff you haven’t seen before, this movie has a guided tour of Amsterdam, which is a gorgeous city when people aren’t shooting and blowing up vehicles. We loved every minute. Ignore the critics who are too cool for school. …. Watching a few moments of the Kevin Spacey film K-PAX, I happened to see Spacey, playing a man who might be insane or might be an alien, take a bite out of the end of a whole banana and start chewing. If you’ve ever tried that, you know that not only does it taste nasty, you’ve got to have sharp teeth, a strong bite and give the fruit a firm ripping motion to succeed in taking off the end. With his mouth still full (because I sincerely hope Spacey did not swallow the peel), he took a second bite. In case someone thought it was a fluke. Then, I hope, a production assistant or his personal valet...

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Nut Job 2, Conlangs, Taíno

Nut Job 2. I saw it last Saturday. Did you guess that I went because my grandchildren were still visiting us? The squirrel Surly has come a long way since he inhabited those cartoons at the beginning of Pixar features, in which the one joke was his Wile E. Coyote–style way of making desperate efforts to capture his quarry – an acorn – and failing spectacularly. We loved those cartoons. Partly because they were clever, well-produced and funny. Partly because the old tradition of having short cartoons before every feature is one that I miss. There was no profit in those cartoons in the old days. They were really there, I suspect, to allow time for latecomers to get seated before the feature started. But they made movie-going more of an event, a celebration. Even if you were there to see some dark, demented horror flick, the cartoon at the beginning put everybody in a good mood. (That’s right, even the annoying cartoons, like Woody Woodpecker. After seeing one of those, I couldn’t get that obnoxious cackle out of my head for days.) But those squirrel-and-nut cartoons, beloved as they were, had to be turned into money, and that is done by having a feature film. Never mind that the feature film had to be completely different and couldn’t possibly bring the same delight. Audience loved Surly the nut-seeking squirrel, so they had to be...

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Making Movies Despicable, Outer Banks

I wasn’t going to see Despicable Me 3 because, you know, Despicable Me 2.  But we have three grandchildren visiting with us, all under the age of 12. So now I’ve seen DespicableMe 3 and I’m happy to tell you that, compared with grinding your head into a rough concrete wall for an hour, Despicable Me 3 is better.  Which is more than could be said for Despicable Me 2 or the Minions movie.  The saving grace of all the Despicable Me movies is that Steve Carell plays Gru, and Carell classes up everything he’s in. He’s one of the few American screen actors who can do voices – accents, dialects and actual characters. This means that he is especially suited to voice work in animated movies – a branch of acting in which most American actors range from untrained to dreadful.  As a case in point, I recently tried to listen to the audio version of three books by noted performers, read by the authors: Paula Poundstone’s The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness;Kevin Hart’s I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons; and Jeffrey Tambor’s Are You Anybody?  Usually, with a book by a comedian or comic actor or, you know, any actor at all, you expect they’ll be the best or only possible reader of their material.  Why would you ever listen to an audio version of one of Woody Allen’s books, like Without Feathers, if Allen himself were not reading it? Nobody could bring off that mix of...

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Evan Hansen, Musical Groundhog

It’s an odd thing to say, but despite its role as the capital of American left-wing oppression – though Seattle, Portland and the whole state of California are vying for the title – New York City remains the cultural center of the United States.  And even though the days are long gone when Broadway shows were a steady source of enduring popular songs, we still look to Broadway to certify a show as important.  There are ridiculously few new musicals compared to past decades, and now that contemporary pop, hip-hop and rap are supplanting many older musical traditions in Broadway shows, it seems even less likely for a Broadway musical to produce any song that can reach the public consciousness.  And yet we still go to Broadway. Sometimes kicking and screaming, especially when ridiculous comic-book movies are turned into offensively stupid comic-book musicals.  Anyway, a few years back I simply stopped going.  That’s right, a dyed-in-the-wool theater major and play director like me finally realized: Broadway choruses are the best singers and dancers in the world, but with the star performers in the shows borrowed from television, Grammy broadcasts and movies, nearly without regard for whether they can actually act and sing well enough for Broadway, it’s usually better to see a local production after the Broadway hit has had its run. Cheaper, too.  Or, you know, not see it at all. ...

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Candy Bars, Dunkirk, The Big Sick

If you want good brioche, you go to France. Period. Very little that is called “brioche” here in the US is good brioche. For one thing, you mostly see it as a hamburger on a “brioche” bun. If it’s brioche, it isn’t shaped like a hamburger bun. Brioche is also way too good to put hamburger ingredients on it. Hamburger on real brioche bread is like using a matched pair of Arabian stallions to pull a little red wagon. Some foods can be internationalized. Not only is high-quality wine from France, Italy and (in the opinion of some) Germany, Spain, Greece and Portugal available all over the world, but also wines from the same kinds of grapes are produced in California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, China, Russia, Romania, New Zealand and Brazil. Is there anywhere on Earth where you can’t get Chinese food? Delivered? Or pizza? (American pizza is way better than anything sold under that name in Italy. If you go to Italy for the pizza, forget it.) But other foods remain, like brioche, the exclusive domain of a handful of countries. Mexican food, for instance, belongs almost entirely to Texas, California, New Mexico and – no, sorry, not Mexico. What we call Mexican food isn’t what you can expect to see more than 50 miles south of the border. (In Mexico, all the food is Mexican.) May...

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Spidey, Baby Driver, Apes, Cookies

Summer movies are supposed to be huge. The studios bring out their biggest moneymakers in May and June so they’ll have a chance to sit in the theaters all summer long, raking in money. Except that many of the movies the studios counted on simply have not performed. For instance, how could you lose with the Smurfs movie (Smurfs: The Lost Village)? Oh, wait. I forgot that I loathed every moment of the Smurfs on television when my kids were young. I would have paid 50 bucks for the privilege of never seeing it. Apparently I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. On a $60 million budget, it’s barely making that back … and not making a dent in the costs of promotion, which often equal the shooting budget. Baywatch had The Rock and Zac Efron. Seriously, how could it lose? Oh, yeah, it was based on a truly lousy TV show. And there was that little problem about how the promos weren’t even slightly funny or sexy, and if you don’t have either of those, why would anybody go see it? Like Smurfs, it might make back its budget, but it’s still a medium flop. Ghost in the Shell? If it had any promotion, I never saw it. Apparently it wasn’t advertised in places that an old coot like me would ever see it. On a budget of $110 million,...

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Spider-Man: Homecoming, Anne Ursu

When you drive across America with no particular itinerary, mealtimes can fall at awkward moments. Like between Denver, Colorado, and Salina, Kansas. Like westbound between Laramie, Wyoming, and death. There’s plenty to see in such regions. Railroad trains that go on forever. Redrock and then whiterock cliffs, buttes, and crags that gradually melt down to swells in the prairie with an occasional outcropping of stone. Clouds that drift along in neat acrobatic-swimming ranks and files. Distant rainstorms with virga sweeping down from the base of the clouds but never reaching the ground. What isn’t always obvious is information about where to eat in a strange town. When there’s only one Yelp review and it goes on and on about how brilliant the restaurant is, so that one can only assume that the owner wrote it. And there are some places so obscure that Yelp has not yet penetrated the fog. I’ve been daring, as with a very nice-looking standalone restaurant in Kanab, Utah, which has become, in our family lore, the legendary Fly-On-Your-Plate Restaurant. (We paid, left, and ate at a Subway farther along the road.) In the end, when you’re road-weary and eager to get to your evening’s lodgings, you sometimes have to figure, McDonald’s or Subway or Arby’s or some other chain represents a minimum below which they are unlikely to fall. McDonald’s is passionate about quality...

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Schmackary’s, Fragmentary Movies

It was almost funny. Someone had told me that Schmackary’s in Manhattan made the best cookies in America. The store also did wonderful-weird things like allowing people to go online and order a bunch of cookies to be sent to the cast of any show on Broadway. (Maybe they include off-Broadway shows, too. I didn’t check.) It sounded like great fun, but I wasn’t going to send an order of cookies to anyone else before I sampled some myself. My wife and I plan to go to New York to see Dear Evan Hansen, which has been highly recommended by friends. I take personal recommendations of shows seriously, because going to Broadway and spending the money to see a lousy show is a serious waste of time and money. I have found, ever since walking out of a couple of shows so offensively stupid that I felt it was dangerous to my mental health to remain, that Broadway reviewers are not to be trusted, period. But when a good (and smart, and not stage-struck) friend tells me that Dear Evan Hansen is a terrific show, and his plot summary is encouraging, then yes, it’s worth the trip to Manhattan to see the play. But what if we had gone to see the musical Amelie because we loved the French movie by that name? I ordered the original cast album...

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