Friday, February 29, 2008


We've been watching a lot of gritty films recently, mostly because those are films that garnered attention for male actors this past year.  Tonight we watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - a poetic Western where the audience must suffer with the misery of betrayal.  The brutality in the movie is not abundant, but what is there is accentuated by the blunted, pure force of guns and bullets that had not yet been refined to weapons of stealth and sexy-precision.  Guns sling slugs that pound more than they stab.  Gaping wounds result and blood pools instead of trickles.

On Monday, we watched Daniel Day-Lewis' powerful role in There Will Be Blood, which - as you could well predict - has its own fair share of pooling crimson and buried bodies.

Now that you think we're very morose around this house, let me just say that we saw Eastern Promises a few weeks ago.  And I was definitely in favor of the Coen's taking best picture for No Country for Old Men.  

All of these are great gritty movies, but where would they rank along with some of the other classics?  What do you think?  What movies come to mind when you think of gritty, white-knuckle drama?  Here's my top ten (in no particular order):

1.  The French Connection:  Gene Hackman's pretty much pissed off at the world in this one, and I would be too if I had to be a tough street cop with the nickname "Popeye".  This movie - along with Steve McQueen's Bullit and Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry films - defines gritty, especially given the matter-of-fact cinematography Hollywood was in love with throughout the late 60's and 70's.  Guns echo over whole cities.  It seems that Hollywood was determined to cast the chaotic cultural clashes of the 1960's by reframing the Western genre within urban jungles.
2.  Collateral:  I just love this movie.  Set within Los Angeles, this Michael Mann film made a star of Jamie Foxx and allowed people to see another side of Tom Cruise.  The grittiness of this movie is set early on when a hired-assassin (Cruise) drops a man two stories on top of a cab.  Throw in a great car wreck, close-quarters shootouts and Vincent (Cruise) as a walking wound by the end of the film, and you've got true grit.  Mann mixes all gritty motifs:  Samurai culture, Westerns and Cop Drama.    Interesting note:  Javier Bardem appears briefly in this film as the shadowy, super-cool, Mexican drug king, Felix. 
3.  No Country for Old Men:  Yes, that is the same Javier Bardem who walks around Texas as some form of menacing death known as Anton Chigurh (be it person or power we know not).  This movie highlights two other key pieces of gritty movies:  terse and tense speech and the agonizing "bandage your own wounds" scene.  Ouch.
4.  Dirty Harry:  Come on, this scene pretty much defines gritty ... once again, notice how much elements of Cowboy/Western movies come out in the cinematography.  
5.  Unforgiven:  This relatively modern Western starring Eastwood and Morgan Freeman also includes Gene Hackman.  "Any man who doesn't want to get killed better step on out the back."  Here's a key scene
6.  The Departed:  I don't know anyone who saw how this one was going to end, but you knew from the beginning this Boston mafia movie would end with plenty of shooting and some double-crossing.  Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio show off some of their own grittiness against some seasoned tough guys.  And, in the end, someone ends up taking a bullet between the eyes - no mercy, no hesitation, just the cold reality of death and life, losers and winners.
7.  Tombstone:  Any movie that starts out with a reckless, vile group of outlaws gunning down a bride, a groom and a priest has got to be gritty.  But, if you think the bad guys are iron-guts, just wait until the fury of justice is unleashed through Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer).  
8.  Chinatown:  This is why I never visited Chinatown, never mind all the scary Hello Kitty merchandise!  Basically the same substance of those other gritty-city dramas, this film also has a bit of film noir mixed in to add mystery to the mayhem.  Still, the ending (a regular punch to the gut) tilts the scale over to true grit.
9.  Road to Perdition:  You don't think of Tom Hanks as being a man of grit, but this surprising film sets Hanks in mob-infested Chicago at the beginning of a new century.  This movie highlights another common gritty theme:  good guys have to wade through crap - becoming viciousness - in order to release others.
10.  The Untouchables:  Al Capone gives a bat to the head, and a shootout breaks out that sends bullets hurtling past a baby-carriage free-falling down marble steps.  De Niro is Capone; Kevin Costner is Elliot Ness.  Every great American city deserves its own gritty movie, a film that shows what it took to bring order to burgeoning chaos and violence.  Force has to overcome force to subdue a gritty world.  

So, there they are.  My top 10 ... although, don't kill me if I change my mind by morning.  At least give me the honor of a duel.

What are yours?



I have been reading Henri Nouwen's Show Me the Way:  Daily Lenten Readings the last few weeks, an on-again off-again discipline.  I stumbled across the following last Thursday: 

“When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth.  And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers.  That means we are not only in the world, but also of the world.  Then we become what the world makes us.  We are intelligent because someone gives us a high grade.  We are helpful because someone gives thanks.  We are likable because someone likes us.  And we are important because someone considers us indispensable.  In short, we are worthwhile because we have successes … 

“A life without a lonely place, that is a life without a quiet center, easily becomes destructive.  When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at our fellow human beings more as enemies to be kept at a distance than as friends with whom we share the gifts of life.  In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us.  In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone.  It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts.  In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared.”  





Tuesday, February 26, 2008


It snowed here again.  Winter is lingering, and my soul is rejecting this ongoing plunge into dying.  The worst of it:  the undying optimism inside my soul that says that things will get better, things will get warmer, which dies daily as soon as I check the weather and see that the there will be no hope for sun or warmth - at least not in any near future that meteorogolists can see.

I did see the sun today, but it was humiliated and veiled, cloaked by smoky clouds.  I saw it at the end of my journey back from Hopkinsville, KY - the place where they mark two torturous events in our nation's history:  a woeful stopping point on The Trail of Tears and the forming place for Jefferson Davis.  I don't think it harsh to call it a miserable place, although I know that is a terrible thing to say of any place.

All of today is amounting to a picture of poverty in my mind.  And, I am ashamed and afraid of that image, as though I have to explain it to my friends or - worse - acknowledge that maybe my life is impoverished.  

I saw a whole living room of garbage upon someone's lawn this afternoon.  Not in Hopkinsville, I am afraid ... in my town, in Owensboro.  The snow was spitting crosswise upon the heap of some family's mismanagement and reckless abandonment.  I hated it.  

Daily I see a town deeply imbedded in poverty - the likes I have not known since the earliest of my own days.  It calls up in my mind the old lumber yard I once knew on 9th street, a voidless realm of emptiness - a building full of ghostly vacating.  Life left it.  I feel like that is what is happening to this land that I now know, not just one building here or one building there, but the whole of the countryside and even the inner core of Owensboro.

The tallest building - perhaps - in Owensboro is a cylinder shaped hotel that has come into disrepair.  It was the beacon of a new Owensboro that never found any compatriots.  It stepped out in a city where many are chiefly concerned about staying in.

Someone recently bought it for under $250,000 - hoping to turn a profit on it somehow.  They will not.  The building is dead and needs to be leveled.  But, instead it stands as a humiliating reminder that there was a time when this city was poised to move forward with our country, and it did not.

Perhaps I sound condemning.  I'm not trying to be.  I'm trying to speak to what I am discovering it means to live where there are more worries about a city dying than there are about dealing with overcrowding and crime.  

I am not immune from it, and that is why it bothers me.  That is part of what it has meant to call this place home for me.  I know there is poverty here.  And what I mean by that is an absence of nourishing, enriching streams that feed a people.  Call it hubris if you'd like - a sense that I know what this community needs when I have not been here long.  But, I don't think that's true.   

Time may tell.  Time will tell.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


The green vinyl cushions on our Craig's list find chair are officially gone!  A HUGE thank you to my mom, who did most of the work: the sad part is perhaps the fact that (with Wyatt in tow) it took both of us two days to complete this fairly simple project.  The fabric is from Tonic Living.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Buffets and More

Anna and I have been dreaming lately - specifically for our house. Consequently, we've been drooling over websites and magazines, including these dandies (the office desk and the coffee table are from and the buffet is from

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New Soul - Yael Naim

Here is the song from the new Mac Air Book commercials

Friday, February 08, 2008


“If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and to myself for a while. But the fact that I am exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences. I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship – and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to do this particular ‘good.’ When I try to do something that is not in my nature or the nature of the relationship, way will close behind me …

“When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless – a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for. That kind of giving is not only loveless but faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love to the other except through me …

“One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess – the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”
Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation

Sunday, February 03, 2008


I am so frickin' excited the Patriots lost. Elated. I think I'm more excited that New England lost this Super Bowl than I am that Indianapolis won last year. Time ... and justice cannot be skirted for ever, New England. You got your comeuppance.


Friday, February 01, 2008

For the Birds

Audobon saw things here, which I haven't seen
until now.
The drastic absence of life
the darting images of snowbirds
to wake my slumber.
Today, hundreds and hundreds of birds -
a jet stream of flyers,
not as many as once were,
still plenty.

There is a white pigeon in the bradford pear,
the lone flowering bud in desolation and trash.
I sought to photograph it,
highlighted against the dark branches and empty gray.
It flew away,
into a higher roost,
with the other birds.

The cardinals and finches.
The exposed beauties.
So cold. So bare.
What keeps them here?