(Publication date:  Feb. 18, 2005)

For a Few Movies More

I heard the other day that East Bay resident Finn Taylor was directing Chris Penn and
a dog named Ruby in “The Darwin Awards,” a film also starring Joseph Fiennes.
They were at Joaquin Miller Park in the East Bay Hills but I wasn’t, and chances are,
neither were you. Why are there never any movie stars around when we go hiking?
Why don’t we run into Clint Eastwood at the El Cerrito Plaza?

They shoot plenty of movies around here, so you’d think we’d glimpse a few big stars
every time we walk to the bank. I mean, this isn’t Omaha. But whenever we read that
Will Smith and Natalie Portman were having dinner last Tuesday night at The Pub in
Kensington, it turns out we were at a PTA meeting. I’m about ready to give up.

One morning my friend Timm did run into Clint Eastwood, and he wasn’t even trying.
Timm was ambling along South of Market where, it turned out, they were shooting
some Dirty Harry. He rounded a corner and ran into a belt buckle. He looked up,
looked up some more, and kept looking up until he came to the face attached to the
head attached to the body attached to the belt attached to the buckle. It was Ole’
Harry himself, and he just smiled at Timm and said, “Howdy.”

I’ve been an Eastwood fan since the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns began
splattering across our screens when I was a kid and Clint was eating cigars and
flapping sarapes with Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef. There was something about this
guy. When he made “Play Misty for Me,” we all found out he played jazz piano. Then,
on top of everything else, he blossomed into a skilled director and won a well-
deserved Oscar for “Unforgiven,” with more to come. These days, I don’t even care
that he tried to sing in “Paint Your Wagon,” or that if he ever read one of these
columns, he’d squint at me and growl, “Why do you use so many words?”

It would be fun to be as lucky as Timm, but Clint Eastwood and I are still strangers. I
went for dinner at his Hog’s Breath Inn down in Carmel one time but he wasn’t
behind the front desk to greet me, and what’s up with that?  He’s never at Zachary’s
in Berkeley when we go for pizza, either.

I guess we can always go to the movie stars’ movies. Clint Eastwood is both in front
of and behind the camera in “Million Dollar Baby.” The critics think it’s the movie of
the year, but several friends told me it’s schmaltzy. That’s kind of a weird Daily
Double, so I thought I’d better take a look. My Clint Eastwood verdict: Still an
articulately taciturn actor, still an extravagantly economical director, older than ever,
better than ever.

I can see why you might think “Million Dollar Baby” is schmaltzy. And I thought I
saw a big plot hole at the end, which I couldn’t stop yammering about all the way
home, to the annoyance of anyone else in the car. But unless you’ve been tipped ahead
of time about the end of Act II, the movie isn’t predictable, and that’s the saving
grace. Well, that plus Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank. And Clint Eastwood.

I don’t think I’ll be running into the big guy any time soon on Solano Avenue, but it’s
probably just as well. I mean, what would I say? Nice belt buckle? And no matter
what I did say, I’m sure it would be way too many words.

Life Is a Movie