Million Dollar Bummer
I'm one of those who make it to the theatre only for the big spectacles, the ones where you need the big honkin screen to fully experience the film. The smaller dramas and comedies are just queued up for DVD viewing as I have a pretty sweet setup and enjoy them more at home, what with the commercials before screenings and people talking on cell phones and (inexplicably) to the screen and such. (Note to theatre owners, one of the secondary reasons I rent movies is to completely avoid commercials.)
It's especially hard to see a tragedy, because - I don't know about you - but I have to be in the right mood to be bummed out by a movie. I remember going to Sophie's Choice back in college, and while it was a very moving experience and a beautiful film, it was the first time a movie kicked me in the nuts that hard. I attended with two buddies, both thoughtful types - but you probably guessed that since they'd gone to Sophie's Choice in the first place. We egressed in silence and went with wordless agreement to a bar and ordered a picture. After a couple cold ones we were able to find words again, and once we dispensed with the usual blah-de-blah about performances and general thumbs up or down (all great, all up), we breached the barrier about the experience. All agreed that, while a great film, no one really wanted to feel that crummy without being consulted first.
So finding a babysitter on a night where you can take being emotionally squashed, and then dealing with the distraction and expense that is the modern movie-going experience just fills me with inertia. Also, we have no theatres where I live; they're a half hour or more away down the highway in Denver. To top if off, the butter-flavored topping provided for the $7 popcorn totally ruins any clothing it touches by leaving an indelible, dark grease stain. We've yet to find a laundry product that removes it, so if you're gonna have popcorn, you've got to be diligent and not get any on you, or wear a shirt and pants that're already ruined, which involves complex laundry scheduling and specific placement within the clothes storage system for easy retrieval. With apologies to China, you go through all of this to be immediately confronted with loud TV commercials that were equalized for the same and sound like someone belching through a bullhorn. Outside of finally moving to stadium seating, theatres have really fucked up the moving-going experience.
Thus, my lovely wife and I saw Million Dollar Baby only last night, and not before the Oscars, as usual. We have a standing rule that we try to see the films nominated for best picture beforehand, but due to the litany above, we didn't make it this year.
I knew what was going to happen in the flick because of the silliness of the culture warriors who are trying to make America over within the rubric of their cramped little mental boxes, who think the fictional exploration of a topic is tantamount to endorsing it. If you are the one person who still doesn't know the overall plot of Million Dollar Baby, I won't spoil it for you here. But I will proceed as if you do know.
I liked the movie, but I don't think it was the shining point of brilliance in last year's movie offerings. It was one of the better ones, but the topics have been done before elsewhere, and done better. I suggest approaching this movie with no expectations, and thus it will be the most rewarding.
Hillary Swank is a good actress, believable, technically adept and so on. Yet, I just don't "feel" her in movies. She's like Tom Cruise in that she always seems like she's trying just a little bit too hard, and thus you always have the meta-perception of watching an actor go through the steps, very brechtian, rather than being convinced she's the character. It doesn't take away from my enjoyment of the movie, but I'm conscious of watching a performance and not in a state of suspended disbelief.
Now Clint Eastwood and, especially, Morgan Freeman do seem as if they are the characters they're playing. Man, Eastwood looks old, though. He conjured the image for me of an angry badger emerging from his hole and snarling at the passers-by who had the temerity to tremor his ground. It works, though. Clint is apparently aware of the roles he fits anymore (well, and always has been). Freeman glides along on that mellow, deep cool he's had forever. He's one of those whose mere presence in a film merits a look.
All this culminates in a fabulous bummer. Good tragedies try to leave you with a little something rather than a dead, oversized cockroach in the corner with a moldering apple lodged in its back. Million Dollar Baby attempts this by showing the heroicness of the Eastwood character, and it almost works. But this is one of those stories were pretty much everything is lost and any redemption to be found is likely to be concocted more by the need of the viewer than there is to be found within the story itself.
If you're in the mood for a good bummer, great acting, and like to see what pulls an Oscar, check it out.