CVIndependent

Tue11122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Clint Eastwood, approaching 90, directs and stars in The Mule, a messy movie done in by cutesy racism.

Eastwood plays Earle, a horticulturalist and crappy family man who loses his business when people figure out they can buy flowers on the internet. He winds up running drugs in his truck for a Mexican cartel—although he does a few runs before he actually learns what his cargo is. He takes the drug money and tries to resurrect some local businesses and his family life before it all starts to fall apart.

Eastwood plays the character as if his racist Gran Torino character survived, mellowed out a bit and became a drug mule. There are moments in the movie filled with racism which Eastwood strains to make funny—but they fall flat and leave a bad taste.

Bradley Cooper has a smallish part as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, and he’s easily the best thing about the movie.

The Mule is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Don’t go see Sully, Clint Eastwood’s take on the heroic actions of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, expecting a lot of historic realism.

The portions about a pilot successfully landing his plane in an ice-cold Hudson River and allowing more than 150 people to tell the tale are really the most important, and most compelling, parts of this movie. As for the evil, fictitious inquisition that tortures Sully (played by Tom Hanks in a typically riveting performance) and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (welcome back to decent movies, Aaron Eckhart!) … well, that’s basically a lot of made-up horse shit.

That’s not to say Sully wasn’t tormented in the days after the event, and the film does a good job of displaying his internal struggles. The man had to essentially crash-land a plane after a bunch of birds flew into his engines, and then he had a bunch of dicks asking him tons of questions in the aftermath. Undoubtedly, he went through hell during that flight, and is haunted to this day. Eastwood and Hanks deliver a compelling psychological drama about a man who doubts his own heroism—to the point of nightmarish visions and self-deprecation.

However, the film goes a bit afoul in the depiction of a panel that didn’t even give Sully and his crew a chance to breathe after being plucked out of the Hudson. Yes, there was an inquiry, but it took many months, and did not take place a few days after the event; eventually, the panel’s findings were in favor of Sully and his maneuvers. Surely, Sully worried about the investigation, as any man in his situation would, but there’s no doubt that Eastwood and his scripters got a little carried away creating bad guys.

As for the actual flight, one that only took a few minutes: Sully proves that a pretty decent movie can be made around that amazing occurrence as the centerpiece. Eastwood (86 freaking years old!) has put together some of the best scenes of his movie-making career in this film, especially when that plane takes the bird hit, can’t make it back to LaGuardia and starts plummeting. It’s scary stuff, and he puts you in the cockpit—and in a crowded coach seat—every step of the way.

Hanks should find himself in contention for another Oscar nomination. (He hasn’t gotten a nomination since Cast Away in 2001! That is crazy!) His performance is understated, non-showy and straight-up brilliant. Anybody who has seen the real Sully conduct himself during an interview can see the man has a low-key persona. Hanks gives us a dude with a lot going on beneath that quiet exterior.

Eckhart, whose career hit the skids after his bravura turn in The Dark Knight, gets back on track as a man who can’t believe his friend is being grilled so harshly after saving so many lives. His work here is almost good enough to make you forget I, Frankenstein. Laura Linney plays Sully’s wife, Lorraine, and she basically spends the whole film on the phone acting totally worried. Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn plays one of Sully’s interrogators; it’s a role that doesn’t really further her career.

Eastwood has been specializing in biographical films and real-life events in the latter part of his career. Sully, like American Sniper, is an entertaining if somewhat untruthful film about a real guy. (Then there is J. Edgar, which was a disaster.)

It would be hard to create an entire motion picture out of such a short event, so it’s no surprise that Eastwood and friends had to make up some garbage to pad the running time. Luckily for them, and for us, the great parts of this movie put it over the top. It doesn’t hurt that Hanks heads up the cast.

Sully is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

On this week's strictly constitutional weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson throws around the term "political correctness"; The K Chronicles listens to some advice from Clint Eastwood; This Modern World eavesdrops on a chat between two millennials; and Red Meat interrupts God at a most inopportune time.

Published in Comics

Chris Kyle was a legendary Navy SEAL, and Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of him in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is powerful and compelling. While the film has plenty of problems, Cooper rises above patchy melodrama and overly slick segments to make the film worthwhile.

Kyle was killed while the film was being produced, shot to death by a veteran he was trying to mentor on a shooting range. Kyle did four tours in Iraq, with 160 confirmed kills—an American sniper record. His story is extraordinary, not just because of what he did overseas, but because of the way he eventually met his death.

The film works best when depicting Kyle at work in Iraq, featuring some tense battle scenes and sequences as seen through Kyle’s riflescope. On the flip side, there’s a subplot involving an enemy sniper named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) that feels like an entirely different movie. Eastwood employs a showier style in the scenes involving Mustafa, which feel a bit false and artificial.

Eastwood does a decent job of showing what soldiers like Kyle were up against in Iraq. Soldiers would sit down for what seemed to be a friendly dinner, only to discover a cache of weapons in another room. Women gave their children bombs to lob at Americans. Enemy torture artists took drills to the heads of children because their parents spoke with American soldiers.

The film is also powerful while dealing with Kyle’s stress when he returned home from the war. One of the film’s best scenes involves Kyle running into a former soldier while at an auto shop. It’s in these moments that Cooper does a fantastic job of depicting a man with a lot of bad memories that are clamoring for attention in his head.

Saddled with the film’s worst dialogue, Sienna Miller battles to make Kyle’s wife, Taya, an intriguing character; unfortunately, she can’t overcome screenwriter Jason Hall’s leaden lines. There are scenes in this movie involving Taya that you will swear you have seen before, because there is nothing original about them. Still, Miller is a strong actress, and she salvages as much as she can.

Eastwood’s film completely avoids some of the more controversial aspects of Kyle’s postwar life, such as his strange feud with former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, and his alleged killing of two carjackers near Dallas. That was probably a good choice, since the film already feels a bit overstuffed at two-plus hours. It would have been interesting to see Kyle punch Ventura in the face (as Kyle claimed he did in his book), but it wouldn’t have fit in this movie. That would’ve been too much of a tonal shift.

Cooper underwent an impressive physical transformation to play Kyle. He shows that the transformation wasn’t simply cosmetic when he deadlifts what seems to be the weight of a small city during a training session.

Eastwood includes some footage of Kyle’s actual funeral procession and a memorial event held for Kyle. He shies away from depicting Kyle’s death, but we do get a brief glimpse of an actor portraying his assailant. It’s such a strange ending to Kyle’s story.

Eastwood did two movies in 2014, and American Sniper is far superior to his lousy Jersey Boys. Still, there are times when Eastwood doesn’t seem to have full command of the frame, and he’s working with a spotty script.

You will walk away from American Sniper amazed by the impact of Cooper’s dedicated performance. Cooper, currently starring on Broadway in The Elephant Man, is an actor forever taking risks and challenging himself. He does “The Legend” proud.

American Sniper is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Clint Eastwood continues creative slump with Jersey Boys, a drab adaptation of the Broadway musical.

Jersey Boys further proves something that Eastwood established 45 years ago with his appearance in Paint Your Wagon: Dirty Harry has no business being around a movie musical. Oh, sure, he’s musically inclined. He’s been composing scores for some of his movies, but I’d like to point out that those scores kind of suck, especially that stupid “Gran Torino” song. His musical taste travels toward the meandering and sleepy.

Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, who performed the role on Broadway) and The Four Seasons, and how they went from being small-time hoods in New Jersey to being big-time rock stars. I’ve never seen the Broadway show, but I have to think its success means it was somewhat enjoyable and lively. Well, the movie version is neither of these things.

As in the musical, each member of the Four Seasons breaks the fourth wall to address the audience. It’s a gimmick that feels forced the way Eastwood stages it. Every time somebody faced the camera and started gabbing, I found myself getting annoyed.

Much of the film’s focus falls on Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), an early leader of the band and a bad influence on Frankie. Over the course of time, DeVito gets himself deep into debt—to the point where he has to be bailed out by a friend in the mob, represented here as Gyp DeCarlo and played by Christopher Walken in a thankless role.

The movie follows the band through its early session-musician days, and even includes a brief appearance by Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo) before his Hollywood emergence. (Pesci apparently had a real-life role in getting the band together.)

The Four Seasons have some great songs, including “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like a Man” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night!).” Young gives it a good go, belting out the hits with a voice akin to Valli’s signature falsetto. It’s admirable that Eastwood and his performers opted to have the music performed live on set rather than lip-synching. However, something happened in the final mix that flattened the overall musical presentation. The songs, although competently performed, lack a certain spark. They just feel like pale copies of the originals. (Perhaps it was the sound in the theater I was in.)

The timing of this film’s release seems a bit odd. It arrived with little to no fanfare during a drab week within the summer movie season. It’s almost as if Warner Bros. knew it had a stinker on its hands, and tried to dump the movie during a week with little competition to give it a fighting chance. Clint Eastwood films usually get high-profile, awards-season releases, but this one was snuck out there for an unresponsive public.

This is the second Eastwood-directed movie in a row (with the terrible J. Edgar) to feature brutally bad makeup. As the movie travels from the 1960s into the ’70s, it becomes a parade of bad wigs and hilarious mustaches. By the time The Four Seasons reunite for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990, they look, well, silly. I concocted better old-man makeup on Halloween during the 1970s using flour and baby powder.

The movie does come alive during the closing credits, when all of the members of the cast gather for a triumphant musical-medley finale. It’s the only time when Jersey Boys feels like a legitimate, joyful movie musical.

It’s much too little, way too late.

Jersey Boys is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

This dark, dark 1973 Western was Clint Eastwood’s second directorial effort (after Play Misty for Me)—and man, oh man, does it contain some nasty stuff.

The film works as an ode to Eastwood’s Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns by taking the Man With No Name from those films, changing him into “The Stranger,” and giving his surroundings a more Americanized look. (Eastwood shot most of the film on a set constructed on the shores of Northern California’s Mono Lake.)

Within minutes of rolling into the old Western town of Lago, The Stranger kills a bunch of men while getting a shave; he rapes a woman soon thereafter. In other words, he’s not trying to win any popularity contests. Eastwood ambiguously suggests that The Stranger could be the ghost of a man the townsfolk killed—or the devil personified.

The Stranger, after displaying his powers with a gun, is coaxed into protecting the townspeople from some soon-to-be-released prisoners. The finale, in which The Stranger has trained the residents to defend themselves, might’ve been the inspiration for the similar ending to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.

This is the film that stopped many Hollywood types from sending family-movie scripts to Eastwood, although he did get a little more family-friendly for Every Which Way But Loose in ’78.

Speaking of which: I remember a big family discussion that resulted from my request to see Loose with my parents back in the day. (It had a big monkey in it!) My mother fought the idea, claiming that Eastwood was some sort of obscene, despicable actor. High Plains Drifter might’ve had something to do with her opinion.

Of course, Eastwood has managed to take a few nicer roles since then, so we today look at him as a great American actor, as opposed to a scary provocateur. I rank this as his second-best Western after Unforgiven.

Special Features: While this film looks great on Blu-ray, there are no special features. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing