Sunday, February 27, 2005


Actually, I can’t really lead off that way. The only
person I think the Oscar ceremony left out was Martin
Scorsese. But I thought Clint Eastwood deserved to
win. Where’s that Barbra Streisand/Kate Hepburn tie
when you need it?

Here’s the article I used to do in Outtakes every
year….the Oscar report.

Best host: Wasn’t Chris Rock. I thought he had lousy
material, and when he had half-decent material, he
shouted it rather than delivering it. And his
spontaneous lines after a significant event fell flat.
He was so insulting to some of the actors that Sean
Penn felt he should apologize onstage to Jude Law.

Chris Rock’s Best Line: “Cate Blanchett was so
convincing as Katharine Hepburn, (that) Sidney Poitier
went to her house for dinner the other night.”
Best bit: Interviewing people coming out of the Magic
movie houses. Collectively, they would give the best
picture award to White Chicks.

Best host of the evening was Johnny Carson, deceased,
shown in a tribute to the former Oscar host. Funny
and classy. Both were lacking tonight.

Best speeches came from the actresses: Cate
Blanchett, in thanking Katharine Hepburn. Brits give
such great speeches, don’t they? If you get bored,
you can just focus on their diction. Hilary Swank:
“I’m just a girl from a trailer park…” who keeps
winning best actress awards.

Best fashion sense: All black. Almost every actress
had on a wonderfully simple, stylish black dress. A
notable exception: one of three of Beyonce’s dresses
was a shimmery, sequined, beautiful blue number.

Classy moment: Yo-Yo Ma playing his cello while the
academy showed those in the industry who passed away
in 2004.

Funny moments: The nominee for Best Live Short was
asleep when his name was called (and his face was on
camera). He didn’t win, fortunately.

Sweetest moment: Jamie Foxx said, “My daughter said
to me, just before I came up here, ‘If you don’t win,
Dad, you’re still good.’”

Most embarrassing moment: Emmy Rossum, 18-year-old
actress/soprano from Phantom of the Opera, tripped on
her long dress as she moved to the podium. But there
were many technical gaffes in this production, lots of
bump! noises off-screen, actors confused about
positioning, and miked voices that shouldn't have

What the hell are they doing here award: Prince.
Glad to see his voice got lower. But get a real
tailor, not Tim Burton. Who were those three women in
the balcony? It took a long time to figure out they
were Sydney Lumet’s family. There were many music
people in the front row, and we wonder why. Why was
Drew Barrymore even on stage? Hopefully it’s her
family legacy, not "50 First Dates."

One actress left out of the whole process: Aretha
Robinson, who played Ray Charles’ mother early on in
the film. She wasn’t even nominated for her superb
performance. The reason printed was that there were
two other women in the film the studio wanted to
nominate. Guess you can’t have more than two good
actresses in a film.

To sum up, this Academy Awards had very few surprises.
Those of us who were pulling for Million Dollar Baby
(read its praises in our movie reviews) were rewarded.
The Aviator didn’t win the awards we thought it
might, although it did win for Best Cinematography,
Costume Design and Film Editing. Great dresses,
wonderful appearances by the acting elite. Movies
applauding movies. Even Marty Scorsese would agree
with that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Aviator Puzzle

The Aviator is a big, gorgeous Hollywood movie about a big, messy Hollywood legend. Leonardo DiCaprio does a bravura turn depicting Howard Hughes from 21 into his 40's. Alan Alda plays engagingly as a creepy, sleazy, slimy, jaded, bought-and-paid-for U.S. Senator. We get to watch Cate Blanchett channel Katherine Hepburn. There are huge, handsome machines of many sorts, and a scary plane crash. Martin Scorsese has done it again: it's definitely a good time at the movies.

So why did I leave the theater feeling a bit flat? I've been thinking about that ever since I saw it weeks ago.

I first remember hearing of Howard Hughes in the late 1950's much the way people talk about Bill Gates, only with a more interesting edge: he was the "richest man in the world" and it seemed to my young ears that there was something scandalous about him. By the time I was old enough to follow it, he was a wealthy recluse no one ever saw anymore, a sort of ghost. After his death, there was a rash of sad information in the press about his mental illness: it was sad and weird, and it didn't fit with the glamorous aura that I had heard in the grownups' voices. Howard Hughes was a mystery, a disconnect, a human non sequitur.

I wanted the movie to connect the dots for me: I wanted to understand how the parts of Hughes fit together, how the director of Hell's Angels wound up living naked in a hotel room, terrified of germs. I wanted a sense of his world, a sense of how the pieces fit together for him.

But that's not the movie I saw; it isn't the movie Scorsese made. For DiCaprio's Hughes, the pieces never do really fit together: mental illness and a glamorous, gifted life are at roaring odds from moment One. There is an attempt to put it together (the cakes of black soap, the opening sequence of Mama's lecture about germs), but that "explanation" hit the only false notes in the movie for me. They are pat, neat, tidy, and absolutely germless.

Perhaps for the person who suffers with obsessive-compulsive disorder to such an extreme degree, the parts of the world do not fit together. Perhaps that was the point. All I know is that I had a very good time at the movies, but when the credits rolled, I felt tired and a little depressed, a bit unsatisfied.

It's a fine movie, a good time, go see it. I can't give it a thumb's-down. But I didn't love it, and I didn't learn anything, except perhaps that when I count my blessings, I should put my ability to touch a doorknob on the list.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Million Dollar Sucker Punch

Protect yourself. Frankie told me, over and over. That's the first rule. But I didn't do it.

I kept my footwork. I worked my feet, shifting my weight onto my left foot when I led with my right. I bobbed my head, just like he said. I thought I was learning well. It was with great surprise -- shock, really -- when that punch hit me flat in the face. My eyes grew wide a split second before. I saw it coming much too late.

"Million Dollar Baby" hit me in a way I never thought a movie could. I've seen some brilliant movies lately, but never lost the idea that I was seeing brilliant movies. At the end of each movie, I would pick up my popcorn box and walk away. I couldn't do that at the end of this film. I sat there, trying to pick up the pieces of reality. Get my feet moving. Leave the theatre, go back home.

It all started with a movie that looked like a movie I might've seen before. Curmudgeonly coach with a heart of gold finally agrees to help the "girly girl" who proves to be better than the men he trained for so long. So you can see why I was unprepared for what happened.

Protect yourself. That's the first rule.

I sure blew that. Just like Frankie.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Million Dollar Baby -- is it immoral?

OK, Linda, since we're doing spoilers this week, I'm going to add something to my review of Million Dollar Baby, because the ending has become the subject of considerable controversy. It was a very brief review, mostly because most of what I could have said about it required ruining the movie for readers, and at that time, it was only showing in theaters here in Los Angeles and in New York. Not fair, I thought, so I was extremely brief.

Now that the film is out, so if a reader in, say, Lieper's Fork, TN is willing to drive in to Franklin or Nashville to see it (hi, Bro!) he or she can see it. And if he or she is too young to drive to the theater, then he or she is probably better off with the spoiler anyway. Consider yourself warned: this isn't just a spoiler, it's a retort to the people who say that this movie is immoral, and I'm going to spill ALL the beans in the process. If you don't want to know, stop reading now. If you have been suckered into thinking that it is a bad movie and morally bankrupt, be my guest and read on. And if you disagree with me, by all means, comment!

The first part of the film is a fairly predictable example of unlikely-but-improbably-talented boxer blooms under the tutelage of crusty ol' heartbroken trainer, and magic results: she's more of a boxer than she has any right to be, and he learns to take risks, for the first time in a very long time. The acting is quite beautiful, the characters are interesting and care-worthy, but as far as I was concerned, for the first two-thirds of the film, the subplots were a whole lot more interesting than the main story. Morgan Freeman's character, Scrap, gave the story its charge, because he knows things he ain't tellin', and from what we see of his actions, we realize he's a pretty smart guy.

Part of the brilliance of Million Dollar Baby is that there are only the faintest telegraphs of the plot twist, visible only in hindsight. The title doesn't signal, the trailers don't signal, and most elegantly of all, the film itself warns you but in such a way that the audience is lulled into thinking that this movie is merely Rocky On Estrogen.

In the Big Title Fight, the opponent fights dirty. Ho hum, right on schedule. And then it happens -- a sucker punch of pure nastiness ends the fight, landing Maggie in the hospital, a quadriplegic on a respirator.

Everything we know about Maggie, up to this point, boils down to a single fact: when that woman wants something, she will do what is necessary to get it, no matter how crazy or self-destructive it looks to an outsider. Frankie (Eastwood) is much more complicated: we know that he is a man who will carry a regret to his dying day, we know he is a man who loves stubbornly and deeply, a man who has already lost one daughter by failing her in some undisclosed fashion. We know he is a Catholic who attends daily Mass, who argues theology with his local priest, and who seeks out the help of that priest when Maggie tells him that she wants to stop living, wants it with the same focus that she wanted to be a boxer, before.

Frankie tries to fight Maggie about her wish, but she is indomitable. It is clear that she'll find a way to die, or make herself a living death, and that she demands that Frankie help her. And in the final scenes, after talking to his priest, after trying every available way out, Frankie goes to the hospital and trades his immortal soul for the love of this unexpected daughter.

And then, the movie pulls back. We know that Frankie's old life ends at the same moment that Maggie's does. He never returns to the gym, and instead we are shown the outside (not the inside) of a roadside diner he and Maggie fantasized about buying together and running together. Eastwood tells us, loud and clear, that the priest is right: Frankie will be haunted by Maggie -- by what might have been -- until his own physical death. The diner is what they passed up on their way to the championship ring. If he's in there at the end of the movie, he's in there without her.

Critics have argued that this is a movie promoting euthenasia, that it says that life without limbs is not life worth living. Here's why it isn't:

1. Maggie is not Christopher Reeves, despite the similarity of injuries. She is a very simple, utterly focussed woman who wanted one thing that she has already had: a boxing career. She believes that life is not worth living without her limbs: she talks about having laughed at an old crippled dog that her father finally put down out of mercy. She wants to die, and she will do the terrible few things she has the power to do to herself in order to die, and it will be awful.

2. Frankie is not Dr. Kevorkian, despite the similarity of methods. He denies this "daughter" the one thing she wants because he believes it is wrong. His career has become one of caring for her. He's clearly willing to go on doing that forever. He tries to interest her in making a life beyond the injury. The hillbilly wants nothing to do with that; she wants to die.

3. Maggie gets what she wants: she dies. Frankie gets what he knows he will get if he goes through with this: he loses his life, too. We have seen him, all along, suffering over the loss of one daughter, whom he failed in some way we will never know. Now we see him choose to give another daughter what she wants, at the cost of his soul.

This film is not a polemic for euthenasia: just the opposite. This is a deeply moral film, and the characters' decisions come straight and true out of their deepest being, and those decisions are on train tracks straight to hell.

People, it's called tragedy.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Butterfly Effect

Warning! Usually our reviews do not contain spoilers, but this one does. DON'T read any further if you don't wish to hear plot details about the film.

2004's The Butterfly Effect attempts a Memento-like feat in presenting a puzzle of time and space, hoping the viewer won't get too frustrated along the way. At the end, much like that film, you're not quite sure what you watched, but you know you're disturbed by it.

Ashton Kutcher, as Evan Treborn, tries a rare dramatic approach in portraying a young man who has a history of blackouts during crucial times in his life. He has never been able to figure out what happened in that time, but all of his childhood friends were profoundly, and negatively, affected by these events. Along the way, a doctor suggests that he keep a journal of what happens every day. When the blackouts suddenly appear after a seven-year absence, Evan goes back to the journals to figure out what's going on.

The "R" rating for this film doesn't tell the whole story, just as "sexual content" and "violence" do not tell the disturbing aspects of this film. I found myself drawn to this film and horrified by it from the very beginning. Evan's blackout scenes contain moments of child abuse, terrible violence, and the inability of a child to change them as they occur.

Evan suddenly finds that, by reading his journals, he is catapulted back into time, back into that terrible moment (and there were several) in his life. He is an adult within the seven-year-old body, and is actually able to make sense of what's going on, finally. He discovers what cripples his friends. The movie is his attempt to go back and change these events for the better. However, at each step along the way, he fails momentously, and even makes things worse. At the end of the film, the viewer isn't quite sure whether this is an incredible time-jumping reality, or all a fantasy in Evan's amazing imagination.

This story is not "Memento." It's actually better in some aspects. The acting is superb, as this young company -- especially Amy Smart as "Kayleigh," Evan's girlfriend, and a rare appearance by Eric Stoltz as the pedophile father of his friends -- have to go through several transformations and come out as different adults, depending upon how their childhood was changed. It's a fascinating evolution. However, because there are too many characters involved, stilted dialogue, and confusion in the many changes, it's a story that defies linear progression. It's tough to keep all the strings straight enough to appreciate the impact of the ending.

If you can stand the objectionable parts of the film (intense violence against children and animals, prison scenes suggesting oncoming rape, and a whole lot more), this is an intriguing movie with a lot going for it. Thumb's up for Ashton's career change.