Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sixteen months with Clint: How it happened

Hailed as “an absurd completist task” and “ultimate proof Americans have too much leisure time,” The Clint Eastwood Project began for one reason that explains many towering male achievements.

 It began because no women were around.

Brad Flory and son Andrew lived for 14 years in the delicate balance of a household with two females and two males.

Balance was shattered when Andrew’s sister went off to college, leaving males with a two-to-one majority. The advantage was promptly exploited with gun purchases, frank and open comments about female breasts, and loud belches emitted whenever the mood struck.

The ultimate celebration came on “Boys Night,” one evening each week when Andrew’s mother taught a class. Left to do as they pleased, father and son searched for lessons on manhood by eating fast food and watching Clint Eastwood movies.

Few people on the planet share our accomplishment (probably because they don't want to) in successfully watching, in chronological order, every movie Clint ever made as an actor.

Sixteen months were devoted to this project, and it wasn't always easy and or pleasant.

Scouring of the Internet was needed to obtain Clint’s movies from his time as an unknown studio contract actor in the 1950s. These early films include some of the worst turds in cinema history. In some, Clint is onscreen only briefly and has just one line. Only insane people even count them as Eastwood films.

To follow our progress as it happened, you must go back to the earliest blog posts, in January 2010, and work forward in time. Otherwise, you will start with our “Final Report” and work back. Several video links to film clips are dead now. Sorry.

Long after the mission was accomplished, Clint fooled us by returning to acting in “Trouble with the Curve.”

Our impressions will be posted after "Trouble with the Curve" comes out on DVD, when it can be viewed with fast food. Ticket guys won’t let us take Taco Bell into the theaters, probably because they are jealous of our manhood.

"Trouble with the Curve:" Out of retirement with Clint

Title: Trouble with the Curve
Released: 2012
Genre: Family reconnection pseudo-drama
Notable for: Clint's return to acting
Coolest thing Clint does: Shows love to his daughter by smashing a beer bottle and threatening to cut a guy's face off

Imagine our shock to be forced out of "The Clint Eastwood Project" retirement home due to Clint's apparently never-ending acting career.

Four years after "Gran Torino," we never expected to see Clint on screen again, unless you count Republican conventions and Chrysler commercials. We did not want to see him try to rekindle Clinthood at age 82.

Roughly two seconds into "Trouble with the Curve," Clint acknowledges we all know he is old as shit. Struggling at a toilet to force pathetic little squirts of urine past his presumably gigantic prostate gland, he coaxes and cajoles his plumbing.

"Don't laugh. I outlived you you little bastard," he says, evidently addressing that part of his anatomy Sondra Locke might have called "Little Clint."

We were prepared to hate this movie, even though it involves sports, because we heard it is about "emotional reconnection." Our definition of movies about emotional reconnection is: The ones where nothing happens.

Indeed, the main plot is explained in one sentence: Clint is an aging baseball scout unable to show emotion to his grown-up attorney daughter, but they travel together on a scouting trip and eventually meet each other halfway. Side plots involving romance, professional rivalries and baseball are so predictable every development can be seen from miles away.

Yet, somehow we found it worth watching, for three main reasons.

1. Amy Adams, who plays Clint's daughter, and Justin Timberlake, a washed-up Major Leaguer who wins her heart, are very good and very likable in their roles.

2. The villians of the story are so pompous and obnoxious it was fun to see them get come-uppance at the end. To bad they could not be shot and left floating in a lake, but it was not that sort of come-uppance.

3. Clint's grouchy character allowed him to strut some of his trademark stuff, including grunts, grimmaces and that little twitch of his lip when something pisses him off. He's not entirely retired as a hard-ass, either. In one scene, he breaks a beer bottle and threatens through clenched teeth to mess up a guy who hits on his daughter in a bar.

Not only is this Clint's first acting role in four years, it's also his first appearance since 1993's "In the Line of Fire" in a film he did not direct.

 "Trouble With the Curve" is not one of Clint's best films, but he did not embarrass himself with this comeback. At least not after he stopped talking to his dick.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Final report of the Clint Eastwood Project, with lessons learned and a highly debatable Top 10 list

Proudly joining the ranks of the few human beings who have watched every Clint Eastwood movie brings an obligation to the species to share what we learned.

Taking literally minutes of deep study, we both compiled a list of our 15 favorite Clint movies. Using a point system, we boiled it down to this consensus Top 10 list.

10. “Sudden Impact”
9. “For a Few Dollars More”
8. “A Fistful of Dollars”
7. “Pale Rider”
6. “Unforgiven”
5. “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”
4. “Dirty Harry”
3. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
2. “High Plains Drifter”
1. “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

We did not necessarily believe we like Clint's westerns best, but it’s impossible to deny with a list like that.

Even we were surprised “Sudden Impact” beat out so many great movies, including an Academy-award-winning best picture. Our best explanation is we find Sondra Locke convincing and compelling when she shoots men in the balls.

“Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” is ranked awfully high, but deserves it. It is an often-overlooked gem of Clint's career.

Many people would say we vastly over-rate “High Plains Drifter.” Well, that's our opinion.

No apology is needed for picking “The Outlaw Josey Wales” as number one. We have no doubt it would have been nominated for best picture, and perhaps won, if Clint made the same movie 20 years later when he was fashionable.

Watching every Clint Eastwood movie in chronological order is a stupid task only on the surface. We followed the path of Clint’s career once a week for more than a year and never tired of it.

We learned many things.

We learned Clint's habit of shooting dimly lit scenes gets annoying with repeated exposure. Several times, the screen was so dark we had difficulty determining exactly what was going on.

We learned the heart of Clint's skill as a movie maker — both before and after he was taken seriously — is story-telling. All his movies tell a story, and usually it’s an interesting story.

We learned Clint is a master at presenting heroes who are are not all good and antagonists who are not all bad. Sometimes the villains, like Scorpio in "Dirty Harry," are pure evil. But more often, they have good sides or are almost likable.

Most importantly, we learned the one consistent truth about Clint as a male icon is a deep sense of justice. This was completely missed by early critics who stupidly called his violent characters amoral. Clint was never amoral.

Thanks, Clint. This father and son will never forget the time we spent together with you, and that is a great gift.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Gran Torino:" Clint's last stand (maybe)

Title: Gran Torino
Released: 2008
Genre: "Grumpy Old Men" meets "Dirty Harry"
Notable for: Clint's final acting role, probably
Coolest thing Clint does: Growls down the barrel of his gun at Asian punk gang-bangers

If "Gran Torino" is Clint's last film as an actor, at least he had the good grace to give longtime fans (translation: lowbrow morons like us) something to savor.

Frequent grunts and grimaces, a big gun, funny scenes, and growling threats to blow evil heads off — that's the Clint we like best.

"Gran Torino" was filmed 90 miles from our door in scenic Highland Park, Michigan. Clint plays a sort of person who populates our world and our extended family, a retired autoworker.

Clint is a racist (although he never uses the word for black people that all white racists in Detroit use) who sits on his porch drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon without ever saying anything nice. He's also a Korean War veteran who does not take shit. His vintage Ford Gran Torino, which Clint helped build on the assembly line, is his prized possession.

His wife is dead, his children and grandchildren are selfish assholes and his neighborhood is, in his view, going to hell with an influx of Hmong immigrants.

The old dude might never leave his porch, but a changing world keeps forcing him into action. This leads to some Classic Clint scenes, like when he confronts some wanna-be gangster punks who hassle a neighbor girl.

"Ever notice you come across somebody every once in a while you shouldn't have fucked with?" Clint asks the punks. Then he spits, like Josey Wales. "That's me."

The real story is Clint's relationship with a Hmong family next door, especially their Americanized daughter and "pussy kid" son. Clint saves the boy from the clutches of an Asian gang, snarling the most famous line from "Gran Torino:" "Get off my lawn."

"We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea," he says. "Use you for sandbags."

Clint slowly takes the wimpy boy under his wing, leading to one of Clint's all-time funniest scenes when he tries to teach the boy how to act like a man.

In the end, Clint must confront the bad guys just like he did at the start of his first real movie, when The Man With No Name confronted those low-lives who laughed at his mule. This time, he shoots no one, and instead sacrifices his life so the Hmong boy can live free.

He's dying of terminal disease, anyway, so it is Clint's triumph to go out with a manly flourish.

If this is the end of the road for Clint's acting career, he made it the same sort of triumph in real life.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Our half-assed look at the movies Clint directed

Before completing the Clint Eastwood acting library with "Gran Torino," we'll make this brief mention of Clint's output as a director.

Now that he's an old man, Clint obviously wishes to be a director more than an actor, but that was never our concern.

From the start of the glorious Clint Eastwood Project, our intent was to soak in Clint's on-screen presence.

Yet once people begin an anal completist project of this sort, it is difficult to miss anything. We have also watched the movies Clint directed without acting. Here are our one-sentence reviews.

"Breezy," 1973: An average movie based on the absurd premise that the hippie era gave 50-year-old men opportunities to screw teenage girls.

"Vanessa in the Garden" a segment for the TV show "Amazing Stories," 1985: A passable but lackluster excuse by Clint to put Sondra Locke on TV.

"Bird," 1988: Clint made no real attempt to explain what drove his subject, jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, to a self-destructive drug habit, which is a pretty big hole.

"Thelonious Monk, Straight, No Chaser," 1989: A documentary produced but not directed by Clint that will interest everyone already interested in Monk.

"The Stars Fell on Henrietta," 1995, produced but not directed by Clint: Robert Duvall is very good but the story is not.

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," 1997: Snore.

"Mystic River," 2003: Great movie.

"Flags of Our Fathers," 2006: A far better war movie than any (of the few) Clint made as an actor.

"Letters from Iwo Jima," 2006: The best movie we ever watched with subtitles, which is a limited field.

"Changeling," 2008: Has a hanging scene so real we could almost smell the crap in the serial killer's pants.

"Invictus," 2009: A feel-good story that holds our interest with rugby, racial politics and, most importantly, Morgan Freeman.

"Hereafter," 2010: Surprisingly boring.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Million Dollar Baby:" Clint gets depressing for more Oscars

Title: Million Dollar Baby
Released: 2004
Genre: Tear-jerker with boxing
Notable for: Clint's second helping of Oscars
Coolest thing Clint does: Acts grumpy, we guess

People with taste consider "Million Dollar Baby" to be perhaps the best Clint Eastwood movie. But we have a quibble.

"It's good, but it's depressing," Andrew said. "It's the most depressing Clint movie ever."

"Million Dollar Baby" reunites Clint and Morgan Freeman as a couple of old guys running a semi-seedy boxing gym. Clint is a crusty trainer in the mold of Burgess Meredith from "Rocky," but he quickly reveals a heart of gold.

He writes letters to an estranged daughter who returns each letter unopened. He attends mass every day and argues theology with an exasperated priest. He is intensely loyal to his best fighter, who does not return the favor.

Hilary Swank shows up in the gym (on her way to a second Oscar for best actress) and wants Clint to train her. She's a hillbilly waitress with big dreams.

"I don't train girls" Clint snarls. He calls female boxing "the latest freak show."

Obviously, it's just a matter of time.

Once Clint starts the training, Hilary rapidly becomes a great boxer. She is devoted to Clint and becomes his substitute for the lost daughter.

While fighting the world's dirtiest boxer of any gender, Hilary is sucker-punched long after the bell rings to end a round, causing her to fall head-first into a corner stool. She is paralyzed from the neck down.

By all rights, Clint should have jumped into the ring and punched that dirty-fighting chick square in her face. Or maybe shot her dead with a harpoon gun. But he did nothing, Nothing happens to the villain. The most Clint-like action in the entire film was delivered by Morgan Freeman. Enraged by a gloating bully one-third his age, Freeman puts on a box glove and beats the teeth out of the guy.

The rest of the movie shows Clint sitting devotedly by Hilary's side as she develops bedsores and has an infected leg amputated. She begs him to give her a mercy killing.

"I can't!" Clint growls. Of course he can.

Clint waits for the film to foreshadow that he will be lost if he performs the mercy killing, then he pulls the plug and drops out of sight.

"When he walked out, I don't think he had anything left," Freeman says as narrator.

Clint won his second Oscars for both best picture and best director, but this is in some ways the most unClint-like movie we've seen in the nearly completed Clint Eastwood Project.

Clint made other movies with sad endings — "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" is similar, on the surface — but "Million Dollar Baby" is the only one where he is shattered by grief instead of grunting along as the strong, silent type.

It is a very good movie, we admit, but we don't have enough taste to fully enjoy being depressed by our heroes. We don't want heroes to be crushed by cruel and unfair fate, no matter how nobly they face the crushing. We prefer the Clint who rights wrongs, kicks ass and is stronger than the world around him.

Next (and last) up: "Gran Torino."

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Blood Work:" Bloody justice delivered one final time, ala Clint

Title: Blood Work
Released: 2002
Genre: Crime story
Notable for: Clint's (most assuredly) last cop
Coolest thing Clint does: Shoots a serial killer in the arm, tosses him a belt and advises tight pressure around the wound to avoid bleeding to death

Three times during "Blood Work," we yelled out: "Shoot him, Clint!"

And all three times -- Bang! -- Clint blasted away. As an example of cinematic art, "Blood Work" has that going for it.

"Blood Work," sadly, is what today appears certain to be Clint's final role as a cop. To be more precise, he's a famous FBI agent.

At the start of the movie, Clint is busy chasing down a serial killer called "The Code Killer" when he keels over of a heart attack.

"Shoot him, Clint!" we yelped. Grimacing through the pain and daze of cardiac failure, Clint comes through by firing at the fleeing creep. Unfortunately, he merely wounds him.

By the next scene, Clint's had a heart transplant, he is retired and he lives on a boat. He is beguiled back into the crime-fighting game as a private citizen by a young woman who asks Clint to find the man who murdered her sister. The dead sister gave Clint his new heart, so he owes her.

Much to the displeasure of his doctor, Angelica Huston, Clint throws himself into the case. Being a heart transplant recipient gives Clint frequent excuses to take his shirt off and caress his nasty scar. Huston (side note: the real-life daughter of the movie director Clint parodied 12 years earlier in "White Hunter Black Heart") and many other people repeatedly tell Clint he looks like shit. But he keeps working the case.

On the lame pretext that Clint is too weak to drive, he enlists help from the neighbor who lives on the next boat. The neighbor is a goofy surfer-type dude played by Jeff Daniels, who is practically our real neighbor from nearby Chelsea, Michigan.

A couple of times Clint gets close to the killer, and he can sense it. He pulls out a pump-action shotgun to confront a suspicious guy watching from a parked car. The guy speeds off.

"Shoot him, Clint!" And Clint fires several blasts into the car. Miraculously, he misses in much the same way all those bullets missed him in "The Gauntlet."

Even past age 70, Clint is not too old for a romance. He boinks the sister of his heart donor, which is just plain weird.

Jeff Daniels seems fishy, and for good reason. Eventually we see he's the guy who killed Clint's heart donor. He killed her specifically so Clint could get her heart. This was no ordinary gesture of homicidal neighborliness. Jeff is also The Code Killer, and he wants to revive cat-and-mouse games with Clint.

When Clint catches on, Jeff goes super freaky. He expects he can walk away because he kidnapped Clint's new girlfriend.

"Shoot him, Clint!" Bam! He wings Jeff in the arm and forces him to lead Clint to the girl.

This sets up a typical "Dirty Harry" climax in a dark and vacant ship run aground in the bay. When Clint gets the drop on weird Jeff, this time there is no reason to yell. We know he will shoot him dead, and he does.

Shoot him, Clint. Those are three manly words we will miss.

Next up: "Million Dollar Baby."