Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Any Which Way You Can:' Go ahead, Clint, make some money

Title: Any Which Way You Can
Released: 1980
Genre: Cash-in sequel
Notable for: Clint's final role with an ape
Coolest thing Clint does: Keeps fighting with a broken arm

Clint never lacked interest in money. He created his own production company before such things were common for actors. By Hollywood's insane standards, he became renowned as a tightwad filmmaker. And, as the five Dirty Harry films demonstrate, Clint has no fear of milking a cash cow.

"Any Which Way You Can" is a cow that screams, "Moo, baby!" This sequel to "Any Which Way But Loose" is the same movie, only more so.

Anyone who disliked the 1978 original, a surprise hit that made more money than any other Eastwood movie to that point, will not like the sequel. There is not a shred of what cinema scholars might call "growth," or "thematic exploration," or "humor that is not gross and childish." What the film lacks in class, it makes up for in a wealth of jokes about ape shit on front seats of police cars.

For the millions who liked the original, "Any Which Way You Can" is even better. Newcomers to the experience of watching Clint cavort with an orangutan are advised to start with the sequel.

"Any Which Way You Can" follows the precise formula and has all the same characters as the first film, but some weaknesses are cleaned up.

Clint once again plays a good-natured bare-knuckle brawler who travels with an ape. Again they frequently encounter country music superstars (and, inexplicably, Fats Domino) performing in cheap honkytonk bars. Again Ruth Gordon is the lovably salty old lady. Again Sondra Locke is allowed to sing country music (click here if you must witness the horror). Again Clint's buddy Orville comes along for the ride. And again Clint is pursued by the world's goofiest gang of neo-Nazi bikers.

But this time the story is better for three reasons.

One: Locke's character comes crawling back to Clint and is kept in her place. To the extent the first movie revolved around anything, it revolved around Clint's senseless attraction to the total bitch played by Locke. In the second movie, the love story is mostly abandoned. Locke is more like a piece of scenery eager to screw.

Two: "Every Which Way But Loose" was mostly a collection of gags, and the better and more memorable gags are in the sequel. This movie, not the original, is where Clyde deposits the aforementioned ape shit in police cars and where he punches people outside the truck window. This is where Ruth Gordon goes all moony after getting laid. This is where she also drives to Bakersfield in a tow truck as sparks fly from a disintegrating car hooked on back. This is where Clint, copying Clyde, swings from a light fixture to put Locke in the mood for boinking.

Three: Unlike the original movie, "Any Which Way You Can" has an actual plot that builds to a climax. Even a stupid plot is better than none at all. Mobsters arrange for Clint to fight a dude so fearsome he literally killed his last opponent and crippled the one before that. Clint's friends convince him to cancel the fight, which causes the irate mobsters to seek revenge. They kidnap Locke and Clint agrees to fight after all. A wacky collection of high-rollers from around the country gathers for the fight. Along the way, Clint makes friends with his opponent and, finally, buddies up with the goofy Nazi bikers.

Clint received no Oscar nominations and no boost to his reputation as a serious filmmaker. But that's OK.

We refuse to criticize an artist who chooses to cash in when the opportunity to make money arises. Especially when the cash-in project is better than the original.

Next up: "Firefox."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Bronco Billy:" Adventures of a kinder and gentler and slightly deranged Clint

Title: Bronco Billy
Released: 1980
Genre: Pretend cowboys on the road
Notable for: Putting the beat in offbeat
Coolest thing Clint does: Throws knives at Sondra Locke

Neither of us ever watched "Bronco Billy" and we never wanted to watch it. We feared Clint disgraced himself a little with this movie.

Low expectations are well earned. Here is the entire Netflix description: "A ragtag troupe of misfits led by Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) perform their hearts out as members of a fly-by-night Wild West show. Billy inspires his entertainers, including Doc Lynch (Scatman Crothers) and Lefty LeBow (Bill McKinney), as they wow crowds with lassos, knife throwing and sharpshooting. Then stranded heiress Antoinette Lilly (Sondra Locke) becomes Billy's assistant, and soon the two are squabbling, scuffling and falling in love."

It sounds bad enough to make a grown man puke.

So we loaded down with Mexican food-like material from Taco Bell and resolved to endure the movie as an inescapable part of the sacred experience that is The Clint Eastwood Project.

Perhaps it does not say much, but "Bronco Billy" is better than we — or anyone with testicles — had a right to expect.

No doubt, this movie is way offbeat for Clint. It must have been hugely disappointing to anyone who entered a theater expecting another silent-tough-guy western. Clint is good with guns, and thwarts a bank robbery, and he handles himself well in a bar fight. But the story is no western and Clint is no tough guy.

For a while, we were puzzled by Clint's character and his "ragtag troupe." First we thought they might be con men, but that was wrong. Then we suspected they were semi-retarded. This was wrong, too. Or at least mostly wrong.

As the story evolves, viewers realize Clint seems weird because he is sincerely but oddly good-hearted and idealistic. He calls people "Pard" and "buckaroo" and tells children to finish their oatmeal. Induced to say grace at an orphanage where his troupe is putting on a free show, Clint asks God to help the orphan cowboys and cowgirls "so they don't get tangled up with hard liquor and cigarettes."

"Clint is mildly deranged," Andrew correctly concluded.

Deep into the movie, it is revealed that Clint and most of his troupe are ex-cons who dream of a better life in the world of cowboy movies from their childhood.

We won't bother to explain the side story of Clint's romance with the bony Sondra Locke because it is predictably disappointing.

Our biggest surprise in "Bronco Billy" is we actually grew fond of the characters. By his standards, Clint's character has an extravagant dose of backstory. We learn he grew up in New Jersey and was a shoe salesman until he shot his cheating wife and did seven years in prison. He dreams to save enough money so he and his troupe can buy a ranch and live real cowboy lives.

Perhaps Clint was encouraged by the success of "Every Which Way But Loose" to think audiences were ready to see him be a nice guy. That's the best explanation for "Bronco Billy."

Clint must have feared his fans were too dense to appreciate the upbeat nature of "Bronco Billy," because he had one character explain the film's message in short sentences.

"Don't you understand what Bronco Billy and the wild west show are all about?" the character asks Locke. "You can be anything you want. All you have to do is go out and become it."

There is nothing wrong with that message, even if it sounds alarmingly close to dime-store psychology someone like Dr. Phil might dispense.

Next up: "Any Which Way You Can."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Escape from Alcatraz:" Clint is busting out all over!

Title: Escape from Alcatraz
Released: 1979
Genre: Prison action
Notable for: Clint's last film with Don Siegel
Coolest thing Clint does: Duh! He escapes from Alcatraz

Clint's only prison movie gets off to an uncomfortable start when he shows his naked ass.

"Jee-zuz!" Brad objected. "No one wants to see Clint's ass. The guy was, like, 50 when he made this movie. Not even 50-year-old women want to see a 50-year-old man's ass."

"Clint probably had an ass-double," Andrew theorized. "I bet that's not even his real ass."

"No way. Clint is too cheap to pay an ass double. Clint likes to show his ass."

"What is wrong with you?" Andrew asked. "Take that back."

Mercifully, the ass exposure ends early. For the rest of the movie, including a shower scene, the audience is spared the sight of middle-aged male butts or genitalia.

"Escape from Alcatraz" is based on a true story and shot on the real Alcatraz Island off San Francisco. Clint must like Alcatraz as scenery, because it was also the site of the climax of the third Dirty Harry movie, "The Enforcer."

Despite visual authenticity, "Escape from Alcatraz" has a phoniness common in prison movies. Nearly all the prisoners are good guys and the prison warden is a sadistic prick who enjoys crushing their beautiful spirits. Yeah, sure. This, we guess, is what they call dramatic license.

Clint plays Frank Morris, ringleader of the only escape from Alcatraz. The movie starts with Morris being transferred, bare ass and all, into Alcatraz from a prison in Atlanta.

Even when playing a real person, Clint stays true to typical form by making his character's background a mystery. All we are told about Morris' life is he expects no visitors. When one prisoner learns Morris does not know his own birthday, he says, "Geez, what kind of childhood did you have?" Clint answers, "Short."

Most of the storyline is predictable from the title alone.

Clint discovers the old concrete of Alcatraz is so crumbly it can be chipped away with a nail file around ventilation shafts. He hatches a plan to climb through the shafts to the roof, then shimmy down and float to freedom on rafts made of raincoats.

Elaborate scheming is needed to fool the guards and the evil warden, and this is the basic tension of the movie. Clint and his guys have several close calls but never get caught. This tension is somewhat defused by the fact the audience knows they will not get caught. But it is still entertaining.

Aside from the warden, the only villain in the movie is a big, hulking creep named Wolf who tries to make Clint his prison bitch. While taking a shower, Clint slugs Wolf in the nuts and jams a bar of soap into his mouth. From then on, Wolf is determined to kill Clint. In another non-surprise, he fails.

At the end of the movie, Clint and two other convicts make it to the ocean, float away and are never seen again. No one knows if the real Morris gang drowned (most likely) or made it to freedom, and the movie leaves that question unanswered, too.

"Escape from Alcatraz" turned out to be the end of one chapter in Clint's career. It was his last film directed by Don Siegel. Except for Sergio Leone, director of Clint's spaghetti westerns, Siegel was the director most important to developing Clint's onscreen persona.

It was a fitting end to their partnership: A film that was tight, entertaining, and not taken seriously by serious movie people.

Clint must have been man enough to know by age 50 that he wanted to aim a little higher, bare ass and all.

Next up: "Bronco Billy."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Every Which Way But Loose:" Nice guys make smash hits

Title: Every Which Way But Loose
Released: 1978
Genre: Redneck flavored fun
Notable for: Clint co-stars with an ape
Coolest thing Clint does: Never loses a fight unless he wants to

People who compliment Clint on his late-life brush with serious critical acclaim frequently do so by insulting "Every Which Way But Loose."

"Eastwood has sure come a long way from the days when he made movies with monkeys," they say.

We understand their point.

On the surface, "Every Which Way But Loose" must be one of the stupidest movies ever made, and it contains the hideous spectacle of Sondra Locke singing country music.

Clint's character, named Philo Beddoe, is presented as a blue-collar guy, but that's not really correct. Blue-collar guys have jobs. Philo spends his time working on cars in his yard, which is strewn with junk. He makes money betting on himself in bare-knuckle fights staged for wagering purposes. Where we're from, that sort of guy would be called "white trash," not blue collar.

Philo's lifestyle is based on the strange premise that street-corner prize fights are a common American tradition. Every town in the movie has a local champ and a bunch of working-class guys who are ready to gather to bet on a fight. Everyone has heard of Tank Murdock, an unbeatable brawler from Denver.

There is no coherent storyline, so the movie rests on oddball characters and memorable scenes.

Clyde, an orangutan, is Clint's buddy more than his pet. Clyde drinks beer, makes obscene hand gestures and is otherwise incorrigible. Ruth Gordon, who was 82 at the time, played a highly cranky old lady obsessed with getting a driver's license. Miss Gordon's talents were considerable but hearing an old lady say "goddamn" and "horse shit" is not nearly as hilarious in 2010 as it evidently seemed in 1978.

As for plot, there's not much.

Clint meets Sondra Locke, falls for her, she disappears and he drives off in his truck looking for her. Along the way, he makes enemies of the world's goofiest gang of swastika-wearing motorcycle riders and two inept cops. Bent on revenge, both the cops and the bikers follow Clint and Clyde as they follow Locke. Country music bars and singers are frequently encountered to keep the redneck charm flowing. At the end, Clint fights the legendary Tank Murdock, as if the whole movie led up to that climax, which it most certainly does not.

The worse flaw is Clint's inexplicable infatuation with Locke. Her character is, in a word, repulsive. She is selfish, bitchy, annoying, and her costuming while singing onstage in country-music bars seems designed to emphasize that she has the breasts of small boy.

Even the trailer for the movie -- conveniently posted above for your pleasure -- acknowledges that the story is absurd. "It's no joke," the narrator says. "It's Eastwood as you've never seen him before."

Andrew said it better: "A street fighter who has a pet orangutan falls in love with a traveling country music singer, who leaves him while he is chased by bumbling neo-Nazi bikers? What screenwriter could think anyone might buy that script?"

Despite all those flaws, "Every Which Way But Loose" was one of Clint's most popular movies. And it is still fun to watch.

Here's the best explanation for the popularity: For the first time in his career, Clint played a thoroughly likable character and audiences were ready to like him. Philo Beddoe is a good fighter, sure, but not a mean one. He's a nice, average guy looking for happiness in a world full of oddballs and apes.

And, what the hell, it's still a little funny to hear an old lady say off-color things. Look at Betty White.

Nice guys don't always finish last, eh, Clint?

Next up: "Escape from Alcatraz."