Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Oscars: Million Dollar Baby

Since I see a lot of movies, I've seen just about every reaction from a crowd. At the end of a movie, I've seen them applaud, cheer, walk out in disgust, laugh until they cried, or, most often, just walk out without really being affected by what they'd seen. As we shuffle forward towards the exit, I listen to their conversations, and usually they talk about the movie for as long as it takes to leave the theater, then it's all about where to go and what to eat, or who to meet; the movie already forgotten.

Not last night.

When the closing credits started running and the house lights came up, the crowd just sat there, quietly stunned and emotionally exhausted. We filed slowly out of the theater, still silent, still lost in the story of Maggie, Frankie, and Scrap.

I was lucky enough to go into this movie without knowing what was going to happen next, and that is the way it should be seen. Maybe later, I'll write a fuller review and deal with the story, but I want you to see it first, fresh; let Mr. Eastwood work his magic unhindered.

And it is magic.

Here's what I will say. It's not surprising the Eastwood is a composer; he makes his movie like composers make music. Just as not every phrase in an accompaniment is necessary to carry the melody, these small embellishments make a song memorable. In the same way, Eastwood allows the movie to progress slowly, using some scenes like grace notes, to deepen our understanding of his characters. These scenes are not strictly necessary to the story, but the movie would be lessened by their absence.

With a cast and crew this talented, it's obvious that the performances will all be great, and they are; Eastwood has a tremendous gift for direction that allows his actors to move beyond the words of the script and become the characters they portray. Morgan Freeman plays Scrap, a retired fighter who helps Frankie run the gym. He also provides the narration for the movie, but this is no reprise of his role from Shawshank Redemption. While there are similarities, Scrap's telling of this story is much darker. He speaks with almost a complete lack of emotion, yet we can hear some emotion that's being repressed in his voice, some monumental regret, tempered by the resignation of having carried too many other regrets. Clint Eastwood is Frankie, and manager/trainer/cutman who owns the gym and manages a fighter from time to time. His character is a riddle we never get to solve, but he's familiar at the same time. It's a role Eastwood has played many times before, a guilt ridden old man not looking for redemption, but offered it anyway. Finally, Hilary Swank plays Maggie, the girl who wants to be a fighter. Her character could be a cliche, the plucky underdog who wants to win, but her performance rises above convention, bringing Maggie to life. Her story is common, but she isn't.

And that's all I'm going to say about the movie for right now. It's absolutely worth seeing, and is my pick so far for the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. Of course, there are still movies to see, but it's going to be very difficult to top this one.

Posted by Rich
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The Oscars

First, my apologies for the long, unexplained, and unexpected absence. Between sending my oldest daughter away to college 6 months early, and the rest of my life, something had to give, and unfortunately, it was Shots.

But now I'm back, with a large storehouse of columns for your enjoyment.

Or as a sleeping aid.

Anyway, as you might have guessed from the title, I'm going to be writing about the Oscars, not just today, but up until the presentations. Why, you might ask, is a political writer and sometimes humorist going to write about the movies?

That's simple. I love 'em.

I've been a movie buff ever since I can remember. As a single guy in the Navy, it wasn't unusual for me to see 3-5 movies a week, not counting the Rocky Horror Picture show every month or so. And it didn't start then; I've been a fan even longer than that. I can remember riding my bike from Crestwood Hills to the Cedar Bluff Twin Cinemas to see Star Wars when it first came out. Heck, I can remember seeing King Kong (the 1976 version featuring Jeff Bridges and an unknown Jessica Lange) along with The Three Fantastic Supermen and The Absent Minded Professor of Walnut Grove all on the same glorious afternoon at the old Kingston 4 theater, the one where they made it very easy to move from theater to theater after you payed for a ticket to one movie.

Man, I used to live there. Any other movie nuts in the audience will remember this spiel they played at the beginning of every movie shown in Tennessee over a period of about 3 decades. It featured some guy with a cheesy voice that sounded like a cross between the dj from the muzak channel and a commercial pilot making his in flight announcement:
The management of this theater, in cooperation with the Tennessee State Fire Marshalls office requests that you take a moment to look around the theater and familiarize yourself with the location of all emergancy exits. These exits have been checked and are clear exots from the building in the event of an emergency. Thanks you for your time and attention.

It still gives me shivers!

So, I love movies.

And this year, I thought it would be fun to see as many Oscar nominated movies and performances as I could, just to see what my picks would be. By the way, I use the term movie because usually any movie that is called a "film" is too pretentious and boring. (Or maybe it's just the people who call movies "films" that are pretentious and boring. I'll leave that judgment up to the audience.) I first got the idea when I heard the nominations announced on the radio. AS I listened to the names of the movies, and the folks nominated, I realized I was already ahead of the game since I'd already seen Ray and Collateral. And I planned on seeing several other of the nominated movies.

So, for the next few weeks, I hope you're as much into movies as I am; if not, well, come back in early March when I'll be talking about something else.


Posted by Rich
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Monday, January 03, 2005

My Favorite Christmas Present

My favorite present this year was not wrapped in bright paper and stored carefully under the tree. It wasn't a new book, or a computer, or the complete extended DVD version of The Lord of The Rings.It was something I couldn't touch, although I could feel it. I don't think the one who gave it to me knows how much it meant to me, but maybe someday she'll read this and will understand.

Before I get to it, I want to take a quick minute to tell you the other presents I got. First, my son gave me a digital tape measure with memory and a voice recorder. For those of you who aren't woodworkers, this might not seem like a big deal, but take it from me, using a regular tape measure often requires three hands and more flexibility than a Chinese contortionist. And if you're trying to take a measurement inside of a cabinet, you have to remember to add in the size of the tape measure, which is usually some weird number like 3 3/8ths, and printed on the side in teeny tiny little letters. And of course, whatever it is you are measuring doesn't come out in eighths but in sixteenths so you have to convert each freakin' measurement you make. And the lock function on the tape measure works about as hard as I would if I hit the lottery. The measuring tape slips through it without slowing down a bit. losing any measurement you tried to make. So now, in order to use it, I have to mark the edge with my thumb, grabbing the tape and trying not to move my thumb while I crawl out from under the cabinet.

It's not a pretty process.

Now if I want to take an inside measurement of a cabinet, I choose interior measurement, zip the tape out, hit the hold button, then get the measurement on the readout to the nearest 16th of an inch.

Not too shabby, although me backing out of a cabinet still presents an unpleasant picture.

My other present was one I gave to myself: The Complete Far Side. I've been over to friends' houses, and some of them always seem to have an art book or two on their coffee tables, and I thought that was really cool, in an arty kind of way. I found a couple of artists who appealed to my sensibilities and purchased some retrospectives, but my then wife said Larry Flynt and Bob Guccione were not artists and made me through those books away. And so my coffee table remained bare of books, housing instead crayons, remote controls, moldy glasses of orange juice (yes, orange juice will mold. It's disgusting.), and a dirty sweat sock no one would claim.

But now, I have the perfect coffee table book. Unfortunately, she got the coffee table in the divorce (I don't like the taste of coffee anyway) so I'm currently storing them on my bedside table, but it is the thought that counts, darn it! As an added bonus, not only do I get to look cool and sophisticated, but I also got a fine addition to my workout routine. Those dadgum books are heavy!

I got a delayed Christmas present when my Volunteers went down to Texas and laid a good old fashioned Tennessee butt whompin' on Texas A&M.

Three point underdog my butt!

I tell you one thing, I was proud as I could be of Rick Clausen, and that's saying a lot coming from me. After Casey left, I never wanted to hear the name Clausen associated with UT football again, and I was very loud in my protests when Rick transferred in. But that young man is everything his brother wasn't. When he got passed over as starting quarterback, Rick could have done what some other high profile athletes have done, and laid back and coasted. Instead, he did everything he could to help the two freshmen get the job done.

Then when it came his time to shine, he stepped up and did his best. It wasn't pretty at times, and he did make some costly errors, but each game saw him improve, to the point where he faced Auburn in the SEC championship and fought all the way to the end. Our starters were routed by Auburn earlier in the season; Rick played us to a tie in the third quarter. We eventually lost, but it wasn't because of poor play on his part. And then on Saturday, he looked like the quarterback we needed all season long. His passes were on target; his decisions were sound. He was a leader on the field. His brother always played for himself; while he may have hated to lose, it was because it reflected poorly on him, not because he loved the team.

Rick Clausen played for the team, and they responded to it. Like Darryl Dickey, who played through a similar situation in the '85 Sugar Bowl (with a very similar result, right 'Canes fans?), Rick Clausen rallied his teammates and worked with them to get the job done.

I never thought I'd say this, but in my book, he's the one to beat for the starting job next year.

But sweet as it was, the Tennessee win wasn't my favorite gift this year either.

I printed up a copy of my columns from the first year I ran this blog and bound it up as a book to give to my mother for Christmas. I spent several hours combing through the archives, looking for a few nuggets good enough to preserve, then created the cover, and printed and bound it for her, an extremely limited edition of one copy only. As my ex-wife said, Mom used to have to pin her presents to the fridge with magnets; now she has to put them in a book case.

Anyway, she loved the book, so much so that when I offered to do a large type edition for her, to make it easier to read, she said no, she wanted the one she had and nothing else.

So how was that a present for me? Well, my daughter started reading through it. She smiled a time or two, and even laughed once. When I asked her what she was laughing at, she pointed to the essay she was reading. It was one where I said I wanted to write like Lewis Grizzard. When I asked why it was funny, she said, "Because I was just thinking about how much you write like Lewis Grizzard."

If I'd had my checkbook on me, I would have bought her a car. And she's not even old enough to drive yet.

Lewis Grizzard was one of my inspirations when I started this thing. I liked the way he wrote about anything and everything under the sun, seeing the simple humanity underneath all the distractions. He could tell a funny story, but his humor wasn't based on jokes, which at their core are often cruel, but on a gentle reflection of our human foibles, and a recognition of his own flaws.

Folks, I'm not swell-headed enough to think that I write as well as Lewis did. After all, he had a couple of decades of experience on me. And to tell the truth, as much as I liked to read Lewis, we have different voices, and I want to sound like me, not him. But if I am beginning to approach his level of mastery of the craft, if I can be as entertaining as he was, then I'm achieving my goal as a writer.

But man, it gave me such a good feeling to hear that from her, especially since she's the critic of the family.

Now, on a personal note, blogging will be very light this week. My oldest daughter was admitted to college from the spring semester, and they didn't tell us this until last week, so we're scrambling to get her moved onto campus. We'll be frantically busy until sometime next week, so if you don't see anything here until then, don't worry; I'll be back.

Posted by Rich
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