Friday, December 17, 2010

"The Dead Pool:" Harry's last stand

Title: The Dead Pool
Released: 1988
Genre: Dirty Harry, take five
Notable for: Memorable performances by future stars
Coolest thing Clint does: Blows away the bad guy with a harpoon gun

No doubt exists in our limited minds that "The Dead Pool" is the worst Dirty Harry movie. It's the fifth and last in the series, and inspiration does not flow like a cool stream.

Here are five bad parts.

1. "You're shit out of luck" is the worst catch phrase in the Harry Callahan arsenal of catch phrases. Brad could expound on this for several paragraphs, but as a gesture of mercy, he won't.

2. It was impossible to hate the bad guy with the proper passion because he was barely in the film. "The Dead Pool" tries to be something of a whodunit, and that's not right. We don't want to see Dirty Harry solve a crime, we want him to bring bloody justice to psychotic scumbags we know are guilty almost from the opening credits.

3. The expected elements of Dirty Harry movies were by this time so predictable Clint himself plays with them as cliches. When assigned a new partner, he says out loud what everyone in the audience must think. "All my partners end up dead or in the hospital." He carries Dirty Harry's fondness for big guns to a laughable extreme by wielding a harpoon gun in the final scene.

4. The plot is stupid. It's a story about some celebrities who bet on which other celebrities will die and somehow their picks become public and for some reason a dude kills off celebrities on the list of a particular movie director played predictably well by Liam Neeson. That is all we intend to say about that.

5. Dirty Harry is no longer despised by superiors on the police force. He receives a little token complaining about the cost of a police car destroyed on his watch, but Dirty Harry has become a celebrity cop. He's so famous he's on Neeson's list of celebrities expected to die. Much of the movie's message appears intended to be commentary on the nature of celebrity and the media in modern society. No one watches Dirty Harry for that kind of crap.

Strangely enough, we still like the movie.

Jim Carrey and Neeson give good performances early in their careers. Click here to see Carrey (credited as James, not Jim) go all super-freaky. And there is a cameo appearance by Guns N' Roses.

Stupid plot or not, Clint has some great scenes blowing away scumbags. Some of them, as usual, he stumbles upon while walking down the street. Others are hit men out to kill him for sending a mob boss to prison.

One example of classic Clint comes when he's had enough of those pesky hit men. Clint goes to the prison where the mob boss is locked up and scares him shitless by fooling him into believing he, Clint, has purchased protection from the nastiest inmate goon in the prison. A couple of scenes later, mobsters are tailing Clint as bodyguards, not killers.

The ending includes fine symmetry circling back to the very first moments when we saw Dirty Harry 17 years earlier. In the first movie, Clint pretended to lose track of whether he shot all his bullets, asking punks if they felt lucky enough to assume his gun was empty. In the finale, the bad guy steals Clint's .44 magnum and blasts away at him. Then all grows quiet as Clint walks slowly toward the killer with the aforementioned harpoon gun. "You're out of bullets," Clint says. Then he fires a harpoon through the guy's chest.

Nailing that guy with a harpoon was unnecessary (translation: murder) but it is one of the more awesome displays of Dirty Harriness.

As every male knows, the worst Dirty Harry is still better than a lot of other movies. Speaking on behalf of The Clint Eastwood project, we're going to miss Harry Callahan from here on out.

Next up: "Pink Cadillac."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Heartbreak Ridge:" This is where Clint starts getting to be an old man

Title: Heartbreak Ridge
Released: 1986
Genre: Military humor and heroics
Notable for: The script pissed off the U.S. Marine Corps enough to cancel cooperation
Coolest thing Clint does: Smashes up a thug while spending a night in the drunk tank, then tells him, "Why don't you sit there and bleed a while."

Anyone who thinks Clint emerged in the 1970s as The New John Wayne should know the vast database of The Clint Eastwood Project reveals "Heartbreak Ridge" was the first time Clint played a member of U.S. military forces in a war movie.

His character was on loan to the Brits in "Where Eagles Dare." He was AWOL all through "The Beguiled." "Kelly's Heroes" was an anti-war movie where Clint made friends with Nazis at the end. And "Firefox" was a spy story with Clint playing a military veteran pressed back to duty for a secret mission.

We conclude Clint did not much care for war movies, and he made an odd one when he finally gave it a whirl in "Heartbreak Ridge."

Andrew finds "Heartbreak Ridge" entertaining and judges it "not the best, but pretty good." Brad thinks it is mostly stupid because it is two different movies crammed unconvincingly into one.

Clint plays a tough Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who has a habit of getting drunk and finding trouble. The makeup people put scars on his face and Clint put extra gravel in his voice.

He is assigned to lead a platoon of young Marines who are complete screw-ups. One actually talks a little like Gomer Pyle. The rest behave, ludicrously, as if they can ignore commands. No wonder the Marine Corps withdrew its support.

The first part of the movie is basically a comedy where Clint whips the screw-ups into shape. It has some fine moments. Clint runs around growling about how he's drank more beer, pissed more blood and banged more quiff than anyone alive.

"Heartbreak Ridge" is set in the early 1980s and Clint's character is a veteran of Korea and Vietnam. He is a little frustrated to have no wins on his war record. At first, the young Marines think he is a crazy old man. His asshole major calls him a relic.

"This is the new Marine Corps," the major says. "Characters like you are an anachronism." It sounds exactly like the crap Dirty Harry took from his superiors.

Comedy stops abruptly with 30 minutes left in the movie. Clint's Marines are put on alert and sent to invade Grenada. From then on it's all blood-and-guts battle scenes that show what a wonderful job Clint did making his guys combat-ready.

Victory is sweet for Clint, who savors his first war win. It seems inconceivable that anyone who fought in Korea and Vietnam could put Grenada on the same level, but Clint does it anyway.

The film ends with a glorious homecoming as a band plays "Stars and Stripes Forever." As far as we know, that exhausts the film library of Grenada Invasion stories.

"Heartbreak Ridge" may be most notable in the annals of Clintdom because it is the first film to address head-on the fact he was growing old. Clint was 56 in real life. He appeared in great physical shape for the movie, but he could no longer pass himself off as a youthful hero. He played a character his real age, a dude struggling with the approach of mandatory retirement.

Unlike some action stars we could name, he was man enough to accept the truth. And some of his most celebrated roles were still ahead.

Next up: "The Dead Pool."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Pale Rider:" Clint was western when western wasn't cool

Title: Pale Rider
Released: 1985
Genre: Mysterious-stranger western
Notable for: Clint's first return to the saddle in nine years
Coolest thing Clint does: Beats gang of thugs senseless with hickory stick

One of Clint's seldom-mentioned accomplishments is a key role in saving, or at least prolonging, the life of the American western drama.

It started with "Pale Rider."

Anyone old enough to remember knows it seemed vaguely stupid and pathetic in 1985 for Clint to make "Pale Rider." Cowboy movies were out of style. By today, they could easily be just as dead as the TV western.

Then "Pale Rider" came out and it kicked ass. New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby called it "the first decent western in a very long time."

Seven years later, Clint won his first Oscar for another western, "Unforgiven." Then many male stars started making westerns for fun and profit.

"Pale Rider" is never included on lists of the best westerns ever (here's one list and here's another), but it should be. Because it came out at a time when no one made westerns, it never received the full credit it deserves.

Believe it or not, Clint plays a mysterious stranger who rides into town and never reveals his name or the exact nature of his bloody past. Quite a stretch, huh?

He comes to the aid of a community of small-time gold miners who are brutally oppressed by the town's gold tycoon. The villainous tycoon wants their land so he can rape it with modern mining methods.

After beating the snot out of a few of the tycoon's goons, Clint puts on a preacher's collar and, from then on, is called "The Preacher."

A side-story veers close to pedophilia (not a first for Clint) when The Preacher is sexually propositioned by a 14-year-old girl. Clint declines but spares her feelings by assuring her 99 men out of 100 would nail her. Statutory rape must not have been a crime yet. He rejects the girl because he is more interested in her widowed mother. As romances go, a mother-daughter love triangle is either edgy or creepy.

"Pale Rider" was acknowledged to be a rip-off of the classic "Shane," but more interesting similarities are found to the story of ghostly vengeance Clint delivered 11 years earlier in "High Plains Drifter."

Saving the miners from the evil tycoon is a given for Clint's character in "Pale Rider," but the real intrigue centers on his connection to the spirit world.

In "High Plains Drifter," Clint played the revenge-seeking ghost of a murdered sheriff. "Pale Rider" is far less clear.

The movie title comes from the Book of Revelation, which says death rides on a pale horse. Clint, as director, made that obvious by having the verse read aloud while The Preacher is seen riding a gray horse.

So maybe Clint is death incarnate. Or maybe not.

In one scene, viewers see Clint has five bullet scars in his back, wounds that look as if they must be fatal. When the tycoon hires a paid killer, Clint reveals he has a score to settle with the dude. At the end, the killer stares hard at Clint, then says, "You!" Clint shoots him five times, leaving a pattern exactly like the scars in his own flesh.

So maybe Clint is a ghost. Or maybe not.

After shooting the bad guy five times in the chest, Clint fires once more and plugs him in the forehead, causing one of the greatest death-grimaces ever recorded on film. Clint does not have a scar on his own head, so this seems like an extra shot he never received.

So maybe Clint is just a mortal man who did not want to repeat the bad guy's mistake of leaving wounds that could be survived. Or maybe not.

The aforementioned Mr. Canby speculated that Clint's character was supposed to be God. We're not sure why God needs to retrieve guns from a bank safe-deposit box, as The Preacher did, to smite someone down. But why not?

God or no god, Clint helped raise western drama from the near-dead with "Pale Rider."

For that we thank you, Clint.

Next up: "Heartbreak Ridge."