Monday, September 29, 2008

The Red Herring: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Accept The Rush Defense

Rush Defense
2008 - 31st, 199.3 (after three games)
2007 - 15th, 106.9
2006 - 32nd, 173.0 (27.6 YPG worse than #31)
2005 - 16th, 110.1
2004 - 24th, 127.3
2003 - 20th, 123.8 (tie, St. Louis)
Average - 21.4, 128.22

Pass Defense
2008 - 2nd, 141.0 (after three games)
2007 - 2nd, 172.8
2006 - 2nd, 159.3
2005 - 15th, 196.9
2004 - 28th, 243.3
2003 - 5th, 175.6
Average - 10.4, 189.58

From 2003-2007, the Colts have averaged 128.22 yards per game given up by the rush defense. In that span, they were no better than 15th in the league in rush defense - and as bad as 32nd. (There are 32 teams in the NFL.) The year they were 32nd, they gave up a remarkable 173 yards per game on the ground. They were gashed that year, in Jacksonville, for 375 yards on the ground - against the same two tailbacks that dropped 236 yards on them a week ago Sunday.

Of course, that was the same season that concluded with the Colts waxing Chicago in Miami and winning the Super Bowl. Is the rush defense a red herring? Absolutely. Not in the sense that anyone is trying to be misleading - but in the sense that it doesn’t really matter. In the same five-year span, the Colts averaged 12.6 wins per season. Only four other teams in the league have averaged 10 or more wins per season in the same span; and of those, only one - New England - has more wins per season (13.2) than the Colts. (The other three teams are Seattle at 10.2 and Pittsburgh and San Diego, both at 10.0.)

Just like they lucked their way to the Super Bowl, the Colts will from time to time luck out and have a decent-to-good rush defense; but this part of the game will never be the focus because it’s not how the team is built to win. This team is built to win with passing - by scoring quickly and often with their passing offense, and by neutralizing the opponent’s vertical game with the Cover 2 defense. This naturally leads Colts opponents to run the ball, which, more often than not, showcases the fact that linebackers who play for the Colts tend to be awful. And when you have Freeney spinning off the end on every play, you effectively wind up with a 3-4 defense that lacks both the fourth linebacker and the nose tackle needed to make that scheme work. The result is that teams can run on the Colts at will - and they do.

People get distracted by the run defense because it’s easy to see how bad it is, and they fail to see the coaching deficiencies that contribute to how bad the rush defense is. Tony Dungy is a good coach. That’s it. He’s not a great coach, and he’s not some wizard when it comes to coaching defense. People think he’s a wizard because of that Tampa Cover 2, but if you’re going to make the case for the Tampa 2, you have to give at least as much credit for that defense to middle (4-3) or weakside (3-4) linebacker Derrick Brooks as you do to Dungy. Brooks is a special talent, the likes of which the Indianapolis Colts have never had at linebacker.

The Colts will never have a great rush defense - nor even a respectable one, very often - for three reasons. The first is that they don’t draft to fill needs - they draft the best player available when their number comes up. This is not necessarily a bad thing - drafting the best player available has allowed the Colts to build one of the best offenses in football and what is without question the best secondary in the league. However, all of that exceptional talent comes at a price; and the second reason the Colts will never excel at stopping the run is that they don’t have the money to play the free agent market in an effort to land that elusive superstar linebacker. They also don’t have the money to keep their good linebackers from leaving at the end of the season - reason #3. Last year’s best linebacker, Gary Brackett (and yes, that is sort of sad), was the first since 2003 who did not depart at the end of the season. The roll call of best-linebackers-who-left-at-the-end-of-the-season begins, after the 2003 season, with Mike Peterson, and continues with Marcus Washington (2004), David Thornton (2005) and Cato June (2006).

But that’s far too much on a subject that doesn’t matter. The rush defense didn’t lose the Jacksonville game. Something else that didn’t lose the Jacksonville game (though I imagine a lot of people think it did) was the Freddy Keiaho interference penalty that put the Jaguars into field goal range. Had the Colts called their plays better on their last drive, it would have been Jacksonville trying to lateral their way to a miracle victory with no time left on the clock.

Instead, they called two pass plays on first and second down with goal to go and less than ninety seconds to play. Those two passes were incompletions that melted exactly six seconds off the clock. Six. Seconds. Off. The. Clock. I don’t recall how many timeouts Jacksonville had left during this series, but I don’t think it would have mattered - if they had had any, they would have saved them to use on their last drive, probably assuming the Colts would score. The Colts should have run Addai four times in a row, even if it meant losing the game. Who in the world thought it was a good idea to score quick and then let the defense - which had been on the field for the vast majority of the second half - try to hold a Jacksonville offense it had as yet been unable to stop?

You might be saying that all of this should have been moot - Rashean Mathis should have been called for interference on the pick he ran back for a touchdown, right? All right...yeah, he probably should have been flagged. And yet the Colts were still in position to win - with the ball, goal to go, less than two minutes - and they blew it. They lost a game they should have won, and of which they had control in the last two minutes, when that control really matters. Losing games they should have won is why Lane Kiffin is going to get fired this week (also because Al Davis likes to fire coaches almost as much as Steinbrenner likes - or used to like - to fire managers).

The rush defense is always going to be bad - but it is rarely going to lose games for the Colts. I don’t keep track of football as much as I used to, but I believe they still award victories to the team that scores the most points, not the team that runs for the most yards. They called the wrong plays at the end of the Jacksonville game, it’s as simple as that. Maybe Dungy made the call, and maybe Moore sent it to Manning that way - but Manning, who can change the play at the line of scrimmage, and does so often, is the one who threw the ball twice instead of handing it off. It was those last two passes that cost the Colts the game, not the rush defense.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Deflating The Hoosier Dome

This Wednesday, at 10:30 in the morning, former Indianapolis mayor Bill Hudnut will throw a switch that will begin the deflation of the fabric top of the Hoosier Dome. It will take 30-45 minutes to deflate completely, and should be visible from just about anywhere downtown. This may be premature. Though it will be nice to have that eighties-era eyesore gone from the downtown skyline, might it not be wise to retain it as a a backup in case the Colts find themselves unable to win at Lucas Oil Stadium?

Next: Red Herring

Monday, September 15, 2008

Week Two - Colts At Vikings

Let’s see if I even remember how to do this. I think I wrote about all of one of the Colts games from last year, and that would be the season opener, when they waxed the since-Drew-Brees-arrived-perenially-overhyped New Orleans Saints and the Colts receivers made win-the-ring-and-leave (which is okay because you’re not very good, anyway) safety Jason David look like Pop Warner fodder (think of the moment from Seinfeld when the kids in his karate class gang up on Kramer in the alley).

By contrast, this year’s opener was a tough loss to the vexing Chicago Bears. You could argue - and you would be correct, mostly - that a Colts team with an offensive line that was either healthy or experienced or contained Jeff Saturday or did not contain Ryan “False Start” Diem (one out of four would suffice) would have had enough firepower to run even with the Bears, who knew enough, at least, to run run run on the Colts and their hapless run defense.

Alas, this year’s offensive line is so awash with concern that we’re not even talking about special teams - and that’s saying something. Protecting the largely immobile Peyton Manning is always important, since flushing him from the pocket is as key to neutralizing the high-octane Colts offense as constantly running the ball between the tackles is key to neutralizing what there is of the Colts run defense; and without that protection, Manning, playing with the additional distraction of not having taken a snap during the preseason and coming off of the first significant injury of his career, rushes plays and has a tendency to go down like...well, insert your favorite Lindsay Lohan joke here.

So comes week two, which finds the Colts on the road against their second consecutive NFC opponent (that the NFC Norris is so much improved makes the Colts schedule quite a bit tougher than it has been in past years), one with an even better tailback than the Bears and offensive and defensive lines that are probably, in aggregate, the best set of linemen in the league.

I smell trouble. The Colts gave up 120+ yards last week to Matt Forte (who?) of the Bears, so it was pretty much a given that they would be even more generous to All-World Adrian Peterson - and the final box score bears this out, though you might notice that Peterson, who ran for about 1400 yards(!), did not end any of the runs on which he gained those yards by crossing the plane of the goal line. Indeed, the Vikings, though able to run at will and sack Manning like Kurt Warner bags groceries, scored nary a touchdown.

The Colts even got away, for much of the game, from their Cover 2 comfort zone (pun intended), to stuff the front line with upwards of 8-10 guys, though Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (himself so vexing that surely he’ll be playing for Chicago next year, right?) often managed to find asleep at the switch the one or two Colts safeties who should have been roaming the backfield in coverage.

Penalties and dropped balls - specifically the one Reggie Wayne would have scored with had he not made the cardinal mistake of turning upfield before actually catching the ball (the ensuing touchdown would have put the Colts up 7-6 and done a nice job of turning the tide of the game in the first half) - helped the Colts limp to a 9-0 halftime defecit.

The third quarter was nearly over before the Colts got the kind of miracle play that almost always happens to the other team. Specifically, Anthony Gonzales, at the end of a 58-yard catch-and-run, pitched the ball back to Reggie Wayne, who leaped into the air to avoid a tackle and got the ball as close as it’s possible to get to the goal line without actually “crossing the plane.” The ruling on the field was a touchdown, and I didn’t think there was enough evidence to overturn it, but who am I? I thought the Joseph Addai touchdown three plays later was just as questionable as the Wayne touchdown that was overturned, but Addai’s score was upheld.

The Vikings would not score again, and the Colts actually managed to make the two-point conversion they needed to tie the game with just under six minutes to play - and with three seconds to go, Adam Vinatieri made up for an early fourth quarter miss by hitting a 47-yard field goal to give the Colts the lead for the first time all day. The Vikings attempted a volley of laterals on the ensuing kickoff, though to no avail; they were brought down, and the Colts escaped with a victory over a Minnesota team that would win their division in a walk if they had any kind of passing game to go with Jesus Peterson’s magic legs.

It was an ugly game, to be sure - but the Colts did manage to squeak out a win despite giving up almost 200 yards on the ground, on the road against one of the better teams in the NFC, with what could be described charitably as a depleted offensive line. There’s a lot of football still to be played, of course, and this fragile, conservatively coached team could fall apart at any time - especially if Manning’s age really begins to show or the offensive line fails to get healthy and coalesce. They’ve had success in the past regardless of how good the run defense is, and while I’d rather not have to think about asterisks, it’s undeniable that their road to the Super Bowl got a whole lot easier when Tom Brady’s knee exploded.

We’ll have a better idea of where the Colts stand three weeks from now, after a bye week and two division games. The schedule is tough, but there aren’t more than four or five teams in the league that are better than Minnesota - and the Colts are one of them, even in their currently injured and incomplete state. If they come out in the next three weeks and grab an early division lead over Jacksonville, this could be an exciting year for the Colts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Frozen River

How do you make a story about a poor woman trying to save up enough money to buy a double-wide trailer for herself and her two kids by running illegal immigrants across the United States-Canada border compelling enough for a feature-length film? It’s not glamorous, it’s not sexy - it’s not even very hopeful. Even if everything works out, all mom gets is...a bigger trailer. She’ll still have to haggle with her boss at the dollar store to see about being promoted - after two years - to assistant manager; and she’ll still have to worry about whether her husband has actually abandoned the family at Christmas or just gone off on, apparently, yet another gambling bender.

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker and are trying to make something along these lines work - doesn’t have to be the same thing, of course, but something that works with themes in the same ballpark of bleak as those noted above - you would do well to have a go at talking to Courtney Hunt, who wrote and directed Frozen River, a film that tells the story of the woman described above in the first paragraph. Hunt pulls it off, though with the occasional misstep.

The trick is not to condescend to the material. We can’t close our eyes to the plight of the cities, as it were, which swings around to sort of mean that we can’t forget that there are things in this world that we might not ever think of as important, but which mean the whole world to others. We don’t necessarily need to spread the wealth around so that everyone has the same amount of everything, but we do need to be cognizant of the fact that there is more to the world than what we see in front of us each day. Even in white Protestant America, there are lots of different flavors of vanilla; and the simple fact that something is not particularly valuable to you or me does not mean that that same thing cannot be of enormous value to someone else.

In the case of Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), that thing that has value is the double-wide trailer - with sound insulation - for which she has been saving the money she makes working part-time at the dollar store. The film opens on Ray looking into the glove compartment of her car and realizing that her gambling addict husband has run out on her and their two sons - at Christmas time - with the money they needed to secure delivery of their new home and ensure that they will not forfeit their deposit. She looks out into the distance with eyes that are too tired to be frightened, too worn down to be angry - though she is both frightened and angry.

Desperate to keep what is left of her family together and vaguely afloat she drives to the bingo hall where she believes her husband has gone with the money, only to find that, though his car is there, he is not. When she sees someone driving off in her husband’s car, she is justifiably irritated, and pursues the driver, who turns out to be a Mohawk Indian called Lila, with family issues of her own. Their confrontation ultimately draws Ray into the cat-and-mouse game of running illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Canadian border via the frozen St. Lawrence River. Ray wrestles with the moral and legal implications of these misadventures; and when she finally reaches the dead end at her dead end job, she decides, against her better judgment, to participate in enough of these runs across the border with Lila to raise the money she needs to get her trailer. Though she is not proud of the fact that she feels this is something she must do for her family, it is fairly simple to infer that this is not the first time that she has had to swallow her pride for the sake of her family.

The singular, repetitive nature of the plot - driven by Leo's controlled delivery and tremendous range of emotion contained in what seems to be variations on the same facial expression throughout the film - provides ample space for dialogue between Ray and Lila to occur and flesh out both characters, and for a quasi-symbiotic bond to form between them; and the inevitable involvement of the border patrol serves to develop the dramatic tension, though I don’t know that the whole thing rises quite to the level of “thriller,” as the film is in some places being billed.

The only real quibble I have with this one comes toward the end, where Hunt is required to make a turn - not a twist - in order to proceed to the correct ending of the film. She achieves the correct ending, but the turn feels a bit clumsy, as though the deliberate pace of the story to this point is so powerful that it has drawn Hunt into a comfort zone from which she cannot quite esacpe. The film clocks in at just a shade over ninety minutes, and I think that a few more minutes devoted to extending the suspense of the turn would have been beneficial. It’s a minor quibble, though; the film is otherwise quite rightly praised as a triumph for Hunt in her feature directorial debut. Melissa Leo’s performance and Hunt’s direction and writing, in that order, are the elements that make this a terrific movie.

Leo gets an Oscar nomination for her work here, but probably not the win. I know my buddy Steve isn’t big on the Oscars, but he digs on Kate Winslet (and, quite frankly, what straight guy doesn’t?), and this may be her year. Unless it’s a complete disaster, look for Revolutionary Road, still a few months away from release, to emerge as the favorite to bring home an armload of Oscars, more than likely led by Winslet for lead actress. Hot on her heels will be Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married (though if she wins it will be for the total combined weight of Brokeback Mountain, The Devil Wears Prada, and Rachel Getting Married) - but if either of those films/performances turns out to be less than is expected, Leo could slip in as a dark horse.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Goings On About Town

I picked up a flyer at Lazy Daze this afternoon, for the grand opening celebration of a new coffee shop-cum-lots of other things called Earth House, at 237 North East Street (southeast corner of New York and East), inside Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church. Grand opening festivites are next weekend (Friday 9.19 and Saturday 9.20), from five on Friday until whenever, and all day Saturday. Music, yoga, free coffee - all kinds of coffee-shop-inside-a-church-related things. Haven't been round to try this one yet, but plan to stop by next Saturday, since we will also be downtown that day for...

Fiesta Indianapolis, a huge, all-day Latino festival that takes place at the American Legion Mall from noon to midnight. Amy and I have been to this festival a couple of times over the years, but it's not one we hit every year (like the Greek Festival and the Indian Market), which is a little bit odd considering what Amy teaches - but it's rare for me to have Saturdays off. The food lines are always really long, but the festival runs the whole length of the mall and is a whole lot easier to get into and out of than either the Indian Market or the Greek Festival (partly because, unlike those others, there is no admission charge for Fiesta). Tons of booths and activities, and plenty of room for kids (and grown-ups, for that matter) to run around - and much more of a pure diversity experience than most of the other festivals that pop up around town this time of year.

Anybody manage to make it to Tavern At The Temple, that new fine dining restaurant inside the restored Buggs Temple at the north end of the Canal Walk? If not, the window of opportunity has closed. We didn't make it, either, though we're not really into that whole fine dining thing anyway. I heard something on the evening news about a downtown restaurant that was closing, but I missed the actual story. Checked the Star's website later and found that it was Tavern At The Temple, and that it closed tonight. The developers of the Buggs Temple, where the restaurant lived, are said to be working on getting a new restaurant into the space, but I'm not holding my breath. Buggs has been in development since 2002, but just got off the ground this year - and only two of the four original tenants made it to the opening. (A Cornerstone Coffee Shop, à la Moe & Johnny's, and a Ritter's Custard never opened in the restored temple.)

Two weeks ago Friday, I heard on the radio on the way to work that Peal, a local pop-rock band, was playing the Biergarten at the Rathskeller, from 8 to 11 that night - with free admission. I didn't have anyone to go with, and couldn't go until about ten because I was at work until then, but I swung by after my shift and drank a beer while they played a few songs. A week from this Friday, on the 19th, local blues-rock artist Jennie DeVoe plays the second set at the Biergarten, 8-11pm.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

You Will Be(an) Assimilated

So if I decide to go off of Starbucks completely, by which I mean a complete revocation of support for their product, would I have to stop drinking the Starbucks coffee we proudly brew at work - or just always remember to bring in my own cup so that I don’t have to lay out any cash for it? To paraphrase George Carlin (or maybe quote exactly, I’m not sure): These are the kinds of questions that kept me out of the really good schools.

Ooh...does that last sentence make me ineligible to be Vice President of the United States? I did attribute it to the person who said it, of course...but have I ever said it out loud and not attributed it to George Carlin?’s the thing. Starbucks is currently getting cornholed by the law of diminishing returns, a simple economic principle that has been the Achilles heel of so many greedy CEOs in this goofy country that you would think someone would have learned by now. They built too many stores way too fast (using the Resistance Is Futile business model) and now have two major problems to worry about, along with their metastasizing payroll.

First is competition, mostly from McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, but also from the independent coffee shops that refuse to die, Darwin bless them. I tried one cup of iced coffee at McDonald’s, and to say that it sucked out loud would be generous. I’ve also tried the coffee (the standard brewed variety) at Dunkin’ Donuts - once. Unlike McDonald’s, though, I would have coffee (and try an espresso drink) at Dunkin’ Donuts again, if for no other reason than that I can also get the most amazing donut ever - the Bavarian Cream. Mmm...donuts.

Where was I? Right - second thing putting the corn in Starbucks’ hole is that whole economic downturn that people are talking about, and high gas prices, and all the rest of it. You’ve heard of this thing, right? I was in Lazy Daze a couple of months ago - maybe longer than that, I don’t recall exactly - and ordered what was then my usual beverage, a four-shot large iced hazelnut latté. They whipped it up for me - and if you haven’t stood at the counter at Lazy Daze and experienced the aroma of their espresso shots being pressed and poured, then your cosmic coffee adventure is tragically incomplete - and then rang it up, and the total was greater than five dollars.

And this caused me to reflect. Most people would probably say that five bucks for a cup of coffee is excessive - conveniently forgetting or not even considering in the first place that my $5 latté is twenty-four ounces, which is at least 2-3 cups in ceramic coffee mugs of the usual size - but I think that five bucks is the upper limit, even for that much joe. And I’m a coffee guy. There are a lot of average coffee drinkers out there who are drastically reducing how many times they go to Starbucks, largely due to the effects of this being a country full of people who are too stupid and Republican to shake the damned oil monkey.

The net result of all of this is that Starbucks is closing some 600 stores by the end of this year, including several here in the greater metro area. And, they’ve brought back Howard Schultz for another go at CEO. Schultz is to Starbucks what Steve Jobs is to Apple, and Starbucks undoubtedly took note of how much success Apple has had since they lured Jobs (and, significantly, the core of what would become the new operating system for the Mac) away from NeXT in the late 1990s.

And the first big idea from Schultz, apart from closing stores and getting rid of those goofy breakfast sandwiches? That would be buying the company that makes a little machine called the Clover, a rather fancy brewing system that makes one cup at a time and is supposedly the very best thing ever in the history of coffee. Or so they say. The best part, though, according to this article from AP, posted on MSNBC, is that Starbucks now plans to stop selling the Clover to other coffee shops. That’s nice, don’t you think? True, it’s plain old capitalism, which we’re compelled to love with all our hearts if we want to be known as patriots in this country, but it also sort of sucks.

I think we run into a problem when we start to conflate greed with capitalism. Starbucks expanded too much, too fast, but instead of fixing their business model, they're just going to buy up what someone else has done and keep pretending that they were doing it the right way all along. I don’t know if the Clover coffee brewing system is in place at any local shops around town (and if so, will they have to give them back now that Starbucks has pulled a John Hammond and piggybacked the technology?), nor if any of the Starbucks stores around here that survive the purge will ever have it - but that’s hardly the point. I think it’s pretty uncool that from now on you’ll have to go to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee from this thing. That’s presuming that you don’t have the $11,000 to pony up for one of your own - if you can still get one.

Starbucks won’t be losing much money from me, because I don’t get espresso drinks there very often anymore - there are plenty of independent places around town, many within walking distance of a Starbucks, that serve espresso drinks and drip coffee that are just as good as (and often better than) Starbucks, including the Abbey, the South Bend Chocolate Company, the Monon, Henry’s On East, and Lazy Daze, and that's not even getting into the atmosphere of those places - but I do go in for a cup of brewed coffee several nights a week after work or before I sit down to start writing, and once in awhile for espresso when there's nothing else around. Not anymore.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wedding Photos (Not Mine)

I mentioned in a previous post that my buddy Steve got married last month. He sent out a link to the wedding photos earlier this week, which can be found here. I haven't looked through all of them yet, but there's one that I suspect is not in the bunch. One of the more amusing things we noted that day was the house across the street from the church. There is - or was, at least, a month ago - a couch perched on part of its roof. Intrepid amateur shutterbug that I am, I snapped a few shots of said couch on said roof of said house - shown below, for your viewing pleasure.


David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) is a man who has tried life the way that society says we are supposed to live it, found that it did not suit him, and had the courage to make the changes in his life that were crucial to the truth of his nature. He teaches college literature courses and critiques books and plays for television and radio, plays racquetball and has coffee with his best friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet George O’Hearn (Dennis Hopper) - each time at the same table in the same coffee shop - but has no significant relationships with women. He beds the elusive Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson) from time to time, and the relationship is understood to exist for the purpose of satisfying sexual desire only, though their mannerisms toward one another hint at a larger complexity and a larger sense of security, especially on Carolyn’s part.

David lives comfortably - both literally and figuratively - though the comfort comes at the price of having a son with whom his relationship could be described charitably as estranged and of spending most nights alone; and he seems to know the bounds of what he is capable of doing - when his son asks later in the film how he knows that marriage is a prison, David replies by saying that he has served time, even though he knows that it will hurt his son to hear such a statement about his mother. (If you noticed this and other quirky one-liners in the trailer and thought that you were in for something of a dramedy, then I'm sorry to say that you're in for a major disappointment.)

And yet, the way that David evaluates women - heard through his inner monologue while his eyes scan the faces in his classroom as courses resume each semester - seems to betray his preference for avoiding long-term relationships with them - almost as though he might try it again if he ever found someone who yearned for his body in an animal way and could also fit comfortably as she is into the kind of life that he has made for himself as he enters - reluctantly, don’tcha know? - old age.

And so, of course, just such a woman comes along - one Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz), a student in David’s class, yet one who is other, in the sense that she is, in fact, one of his students, and yet perhaps not like any of his other students at all. She is impressed by all of the culture with which David has adorned himself in his apartment, and he is impressed with her breasts. If that seems a bit crude, it should be noted that, for all of his scarves and art references, David is, at bottom, a chap who would prefer to be known for the way he forks, rather than the way he spoons, so to speak.

Thus begins their love affair...and I’ve lost all train of thought as to what I wanted to say about this film - though it had something to do with the way the story tries to reconcile the uniquely human notion of sexual desire with the almost pathological need to remain at a minimum distance from the object of that desire, a sliver of theme echoed in the title of the novel and the film. I thought I liked it, but now I’m not so sure. It was remarkably well shot by Jean-Claude Larrieu, a cinematographer who clearly knows his way around a lighting rig and whose oeuvre prior to Elegy consists almost entirely of French films (including one of the segments in the delightful ménage-a-shorts Paris, Je T’Aime). The acting also was quite strong, particularly Kingsley’s work with facial expressions and nuanced voice-over. Cruz was solid, too, as were Hopper and Clarkson.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because of the subtle way that the story develops David and Consuela as characters through the first two acts, except to say that one can glimpse the possibility of a pretty satisfying ending as act two comes to a close. Unfortunately, we must bear witness to act three, in which the story lurches desperately off course and nearly derails. The film is based on the novel The Dying Animal, by Philip Roth, one of those literary heavyweights I have somehow managed not to read yet - so I can’t say whether the ending in the film is true to the book or whether it was substituted for the book’s ending by mouth-breathing half-wits. The novel was adapted for the screen by Nicholas Meyer, who aslo wrote The Human Stain, another film based on a Roth novel. Meyer’s filmography also includes, I’m sorry to say, a number of Star Trek movies, including the insufferable one with the whales and the mom from 7th Heaven. I tend to think, though, that the third act of Elegy was a tacked-on contrivance.

Without having read the novel, I can’t say whether the filmmakers made a bad choice in rewriting the third act, whether they mauled the end of the novel, or whether they were working with substandard source material from the outset; either way, the third act is a letdown, one that seriously mars what is otherwise two-thirds of a really good movie.

(And yes, I know it's a bit late to be posting a review of this movie, but it's actually going to hold for another week, which I would have found shocking except for the fact that all but one of the films I thought we were going to open this weekend have pushed back at least another week and the one we are getting - Baghead - only has two shows a day!)