Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Me and Orson Wells: A Touch of History and a Load of Entertainment

As sunny and warm as last weekend was in Greenville, is as rainy and miserable as this one is. The perfect setting to watch a movie or two. I made my obligatory trek to Red Box yesterday and among my rentals was Me and Orson Wells. I have passed over this DVD on the Red Box selections list for weeks. It sure didn't sound like it had a car chase or a shootout; so what's the point? I mean, I am a guy after all.

If you've never used a Red Box, here are a couple of shortcomings you haven't experienced: The selection doesn't change much week to week or even month to month. If you can't find anything worth renting today, chances are you will be equally disappointed a week or two weeks down the road. I have rented movies I wasn't particularly interested in seeing; but decided that for a buck, what the heck. Additionally, the content seems skewed to cheesy horror and cut-and-slash movies. I suspect if you stumbled across the CEO of Red Box and asked why this is, the response would be that people who only want to spend a buck on a DVD rental like cheesy horror flicks. Maybe so; however, some of us are more mainstream, just cheap.

So for lack of something more compelling, I ponied up a buck and rented Me and Orson Wells. It was one of my better shot-in-the-dark rentals. The pace and dialog made me think that it was adapted from a stage play. It certainly has that stage play feel: very little action, limited locations and manic dialog. I was surprised in my research to discover that this was not the case. It is adapted from a Robert Kaplow novel. (That is now on my to-read list.)

Despite the lack of any real action, it is nonetheless compelling because of the tight direction by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, The School of Rock, The Newton Boys), and the nearly perfect casting of Christian McKay (Who?) as Orson Wells.

Historically sound in its context, the movie is set in 1937, as Wells is launching his Mercury Theater with a production of his interpretation of "Julius Caesar." John Houseman was his business partner and Joesph Cotton a contract player -- both are represented in the film. The main character is 17-year-old high school senior Richard Samuels, who Wells hires to play Lucius after a 30-second sidewalk audition. The film is really a coming-of-age piece about this kid and the week he spends with Wells.

Only 22 at the time, Wells had already established himself as a creative genius and a topflight actor. McKay, who really looks the part, managed to capture the legendary Wells narcissism, energy and bluster.

I know nothing of Zac Effron, who plays Richard, other than he is one of the over-hyped snots in Disney's High School Musical trilogy. I didn't even know I was watching him until the end credits. He did a decent job.

That Richard packed a lifetime of experiences into this one week, is what makes the movie both interesting and fun. On my was-it-worth-a-buck meter, it scored a "you bet!"

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