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."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Space Cowboys:" Would you believe Clint put a man on the moon?

Title: Space Cowboys
Released: 2000
Genre: Sci-fi geezer comedy
Notable for: Clint in space
Coolest thing Clint does: Lands the Space Shuttle with no training

Outward indications say "Space Cowboys" should be one of the worst movies in the Clint Eastwood's library.

A plot that turns Clint into a 70-year-old astronaut and the logic behind nearly all resulting heroics are, in a phrase, profoundly retarded.

Most of the movie is a comedy and Clint is the straight man. The closest thing to a bad guy -- another in the long line of stupid and self-centered bosses endured by Clint's screen characters, but this boss is also basically a traitor to his nation -- is never brought to justice.

Yet somehow Clint makes it work. Andy's four-word review: "Stupid, but it rocks." We have inter-generational agreement on that point.

"Space Cowboys" starts in 1958, when Clint and his buddies are Air Force test pilots who are cut out of the space program and replaced by a chimp.

The story fast-forwards to "present day" (assuming the present day has a Space Shuttle program at NASA, which it no longer does) and highly implausible things happen.

Circumstances compel NASA to look up old-man Clint to ask his help in repairing a falling Russian satellite. Clint agrees, but only on the condition he and three friends from the 1950s all go up in the Space Shuttle.

NASA trains the four geezers to fly the shuttle, control docking systems and walk in space in a month. Really, a month.

Clint rounds up his old pals — Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner — and much joking ensues as they go through training designed for younger men. Old rivalries are renewed, namely with the borderline-traitor boss, and young bucks at NASA fail to show the old guys proper respect.

One of the biggest shocks in cinema history comes when all four old men are shown, during a medical exam, bare-ass naked from behind. Why, Clint?

The first half of the film is comedy where Clint is, at best, third banana. Jones and Sutherland are far funnier.

Clint's best line comes when an arrogant young guy at NASA tries to demand more deference.

"I hold two master's degrees from MIT," the arrogant guy says.

"Maybe you ought to get your money back," Clint says through his clenched lips.

When the shuttle finally goes up, the movie turns into a thriller with Clint clearly in charge.

The Russian satellite is revealed to be a secret nuclear weapon. Both it and the Space Shuttle are damaged in an explosion. Clint and Tommy Lee save the day in a series of impossible maneuvers that, of course, work.

Silly story and all, the special effects were impressive.

Everything ends semi-triumphantly.

Tommy Lee sacrifices his life to guide the wounded satellite to the moon. Really. He ties himself to the satellite and evidently survives a crash landing completely intact, then lies on the lunar surface in his space suit to enjoy the view until his oxygen runs out.

Meanwhile, Clint, the flight engineer, takes control of the Space Shuttle. He lands it without computer guidance systems and without any training as a shuttle pilot. Really.

Clint must have laughed at any critic stupid enough to find a message about redefining maleness or facing mortality. He tried to give the audience a good time, and it worked for us.

We forgive a lot of flaws in a movie if we care enough about the heroes to hope they win. Clint never stops delivering heroes worth rooting for.

Next up: "Blood Work."

Friday, March 11, 2011

"True Crime:" Clint scores as the lovable rogue

Title: True Crime
Released: 1999
Genre: "His Girl Friday" meets "Dead Man Walking"
Notable for: Clint plays a ladies' man at age 69
Coolest thing Clint does: Beds his boss' wife without meaning anything by it

We are obligated to report Clint does not shoot anyone, punch anyone, or threaten through clenched teeth to kill anyone in “True Crime.”

Nothing blows up and the whole movie has only one car chase.

Despite those handicaps, Clint is pretty good for an old man.

He plays an old-school newspaper reporter for the Oakland Tribune who is a bad husband, a bad father and a bad employee.

He hits on women who are much younger. He is an alcoholic who falls off the wagon and drives drunk. He smokes cigarettes in no-smoking areas. He owns the shittiest car imaginable. He is rude and self-centered without even realizing it.

The character sounds like a jerk, but Clint manages to come across as a lovable rogue.

The plot is entertaining but so far-fetched it could not be meant to be taken seriously.

Newspaper editors played by James Woods (an irreverent but likable asshole) and Denis Leary (a complete douchebag) assign Clint to interview a convicted killer eight hours before his execution.

Clint’s hunches instantly sense the man on death row is innocent. His style of tracking down the facts is best illustrated by his reaction when the condemned man professes faith in Jesus Christ.

"Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Jesus Christ,” Clint says. Nice guy.

In a few hours, Clint finds proof of innocence that went undetected through six years of police investigation, criminal trial and appeal hearings.

With last-minute heroics, Clint convinces the governor to call off the execution just as poison is pumped toward the innocent man’s vein in the death chamber.

Even without a gun, Clint is sort of a man’s man who does not give a crap what anyone else thinks of him. It’s appealing because all along we can see he is in the right.

As a side note, we laughed to see Clint, who was nearly 70 in real life, cast as the father of a girl who appeared about 3 years old. We stopped laughing when we learned the girl was Francesca Fisher-Eastwood, his daughter in real life. He has another daughter three years younger.

Damn, Clint. You the man.

Next up: “Space Cowboys.”

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Absolute Power" and praise for prolonging the age of vintage Clint

Title: Absolute Power
Released: 1997
Genre: Murder thriller
Notable for: Clint takes down an evil POTUS
Coolest thing Clint does: Injects poison into a dude's carotid artery with full justification

We settled in to "Absolute Power" with an extravagant supply of take-out pulled pork and a sad realization that the era of vintage Clint was dying fast.

By 1997, Clint was pushing 70 and had no business making action thrillers anymore. But he still had a few tricks left.

"Absolute Power" jumps off to an unusually gripping start. Shortly after the opening credits, Clint breaks into a mansion and commences to steal jewelry and cash from a bedroom vault. In the middle of his heist, a drunken man and woman enter the bedroom. Hiding, Clint sees them start some rough sex that disintegrates into a struggle and fight.

When the woman gets the upper hand, the drunk guy cowers and yells for help. Right then — Bam! Bam! — two guys burst through the door and shoot the woman dead. We discover the two shooters are Secret Service agents and the drunken, cowering, jerk is the president of the United States.

We were sold on "Absolute Power" right there.

The story plays out as Clint is pursued by police, two rogue Secret Service agents, and a hit man. He is a charming master thief who jokes about attending AARP meetings and needing a pacemaker.

Clint's first instinct is to flee the country to evade the power of a morally corrupt president, played by Gene Hackman. Clint changes his mind at the airport when he sees the president on TV telling bald-faced lies.

"You heartless whore," Clint scowls. "I am not about to run from you."

Vintage Clint. He is transformed from criminal genius to instrument of justice.

Along the path to justice, a side story unfolds about Clint repairing his relationship with an estranged daughter. She is drawn into the action when the Secret Service guys try but fail to kill her. To protect and avenge the daughter, Clint injects a shot of poison into the neck of a Secret Service killer.

"Mercy," the Secret Service guy pleads. "I'm fresh out," Clint grimaces. Then he push home the syringe.

Vintage Clint, again.

Like more and more of his later movies, Clint is surrounded by a strong cast. Hackman was a recent Oscar winner with Clint in "Unforgiven." Ed Harris (fresh off an Oscar nomination for Apollo 13) is the main cop. Scott Glenn (Alan Shepard from "The Right Stuff") is one bad Secret Service agent and Dennis Haysbert (soon to become the black president on "24") is the other. E.G. Marshall plays the widowed husband in his final theatrical movie role.

The chief disappointment with "Absolute Power" is an ending far worse than the beginning. A lot of crap goes down at the end, as Clint tells old E.G. Marshall, but most of it is stupid, poorly explained, and it makes no logical sense. But by then we liked the movie enough to let it slide.

Vintage Clint, by this stage of The Clint Eastwood Project, is a treat to be savored.

Next up: "True Crime."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Casper:" When we say every movie with Clint Eastwood, we mean every movie

Title: Casper
Released: 1995
Genre: Semi-animated fantasy with alleged comedy
Notable for: A cameo appearance by Clint
Coolest thing Clint does: Vows to kill bridge players.

Setting out to watch every Clint Eastwood movie is strange enough, but only someone deranged would include “Casper” on the list.

Guilty, your honor!

Here's our deranged logic: We insisted on seeing Clint’s earliest movies, so we should see "Casper," too. Clint was a glorified extra in some of those early films, so he has bigger on-screen presence with a cameo appearance in "Casper."

We won’t bother to describe what happens in “Casper” except to say it's about the friendly ghost of cartoon fame. Click here if you itch to see the trailer.

Clint shows up briefly as a reflection in a bathroom mirror.

“I'm going to kill you, your momma and all her bridge-playing friends,” the reflection of Clint says. Believe it or not, that was a highlight of nearly two hours of viewing time.

We're not sure why Clint agreed to appear in a movie like this, even for a few seconds. But perhaps it is worth noting that two years earlier the little boy in Clint's "A Perfect World" was dressed in a Casper costume for much of the film. Maybe Clint likes friendly ghosts.

Next up: "Absolute Power." Back to real Clint movies.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"The Bridges of Madison County:" For God's sake Clint, shoot something

Title: The Bridges of Madison County
Released: 1995
Genre: Romance
Notable for: Being a chick flick
Coolest thing Clint does: Umm ... Huh, nothing pops to mind.

Jeering began before the first line of dialog. "Grow a pair, Clint!" we yelled. "Make something explode!"

This was the day dreaded most since early formative stages of The Clint Eastwood Project. It was the day to watch "The Bridges of Madison County."

As almost everyone knows, "The Bridges of Madison County" is Clint's only movie aimed at a female audience.

Nothing is blown up. No one is shot with a harpoon gun. No one chases anyone on foot or in a car, a helicopter, a motorcycle, or a jet fighter plane. There is no suspense in the story and no stunt work in the film.

It is a movie about relationships. Specifically, Clint's four-day, deeply loving romantic relationship with Meryl Streep, who unleashes yet another accent.

The story is easy to summarize because almost nothing happens. Clint plays a roving photographer in 1965 who falls in love with an Iowa housewife played by Streep. Inevitably, they must part after four magical days of slow dances, sensitive smiles and bathtub sex. The story is told as a flashback from decades later, when Streep's adult children discover the affair after her death.

The excitement builds as we watch Clint appreciate good light, peel carrots, be polite, and pick flowers.

"I think I need everyone," Clint says. "I love people. I'd like to meet them all."

Good God, Clint.

Andrew has reached a milestone in The Clint Eastwood Project because "The Bridges of Madison County" was the first Clint Eastwood movie released after his birth.

He gives the film a low score on the Clint-O-Meter, but contends it is not bad for what it tried to be. Brad says it did not try to be a movie he wants to watch. To him, the best parts came when the stars, Clint and Meryl, were off screen.

We're not sure why Clint decided to do this, but we thank him for doing it only once. We need male icons to be iconic.

Next up: "Casper." That's right, "Casper." This shows how absurd we've become about seeing this job through completely.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"A Perfect World:" Clint guzzles Geritol in the background

Title: A Perfect World
Released: 1993
Genre: Escaped convict buddy movie
Notable for: Creating the illusion Clint is paired with Kevin Costner
Coolest thing Clint does: Sucker punches a fellow cop for being trigger happy

The most fundamental thing expected from any movie starring Clint Eastwood is this: It should star Clint Eastwood. "A Perfect World" fails that test.

Clint has second billing behind Kevin Costner, which is false advertising. He plays a relatively small supporting part and never appears in a scene with Costner until more than two hours into the movie. If Hollywood was fair, Clint would have third billing behind a little kid and probably fourth behind Laura Dern.

"A Perfect World" is not a Clint Eastwood movie. It is a Kevin Costner movie directed by Clint.

On the up side, it's a very good story and Costner was never better in any role. Sez us, that's who.

Costner is a hardened criminal who busts out of a Texas prison with a psychotic creep sometime in the mid 1960s. One man is killed during the escape, and the convicts take a shy 8-year-old boy hostage.

Violent, yes, but Costner is not exactly evil. He saves the boy's mother from rape and kills his psycho partner for attacking the kid.

The hostage and Costner bond in a father-figure way.

"Are you going to shoot me?" the kids asks. Costner answers, "No, hell no. You and me are friends."

The boy chooses to stay with Costner when he could be released, and he breaks out of his introverted shell a little. In one odd touch probably dripping with symbolism or overtones of duality or something else equally beyond us, the kid steals a Halloween costume and is dressed for most of the movie as Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Clint is a Texas Ranger in charge of the manhunt. Dirty Harry he is not. He pursues Costner while swigging Geritol and riding in an Airstream trailer taken from the governor's campaign organization.

When he is on camera, Clint says things like, "We'll check every road and every farm between San Angelo and Sweetwater." He decides to eat the governor's T-bone steaks and Tater Tots, declaring, "I do like Tater Tots."

The co-star in Clint's scenes is Laura Dern, who plays a hot-shot criminologist assigned to the manhunt. That's highly unrealistic for a young female in Texas circa 1965, but we're willing to roll with it. Dern first dismisses Clint as "a hillbilly Sherlock Holmes" but eventually warms to him in a professional way.

Dern provides detailed background on Costner's difficult childhood and early run-ins with the law. This leads to the revelation that as a young lawman Clint encountered Costner and took a hard line that perhaps sent him deeper into life of crime.

The inevitable confrontation comes when Costner is already injured after being gut-shot by the boy in a very intense scene we did not see coming. Clint talks Costner into giving himself up, but then a cop sniper shoots Costner dead in violation of Clint's order to hold his fire.

Two hours and 19 minutes into the film, Clint finally gets furious. He punches the sniper cop square in the nose, then Dern kicks him in the nuts.

Fresh off his best-director Oscar for "Unforgiven," the movie probably reflects the start of Clint's preference to concentrate on directing more than acting. In that way, it's the dawn of a new era in Clinthood.

Well, it had to happen sometime. We cannot expect a man old enough to drink Geritol to do all the heaving lifting.

Next up: "Bridges of Madison County."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"In the Line of Fire:" A man is never too old to track a psycho and bag a hot girlfriend

Title: In the Line of Fire
Released: 1993
Genre: Presidential assassin suspense
Notable for: John Malkovich is one great villain
Coolest thing Clint does: Takes a bullet for the president

Full disclosure: We always thought "In the Line of Fire" was one of the most under-rated Eastwood movies, and not solely because of Clint.

John Malkovich deserves half the credit for playing an outstanding twisted-genius, psycho-bastard villain engaged in a psychological battle with Clint.

Malkovich is either the best villain ever to tangle with Clint, or he's in second place behind that crazy sumbich Scorpio in the first "Dirty Harry." Tough call, but either way he's damn good.

Of course, Clint pulls his weight, too.

Rather unrealistically for 1993, Clint plays a Secret Service agent who was on duty for the Kennedy assassination. For 30 years he has questioned himself for failing to take the fatal bullet.

Much was made of Clint's "vulnerability" in this film. Mostly this means he played an old guy who runs out of breath jogging alongside the presidential limo. Hell, Clint was 63 when he made the movie. It does not strike us as a bold move to play a guy who was growing old at age 63.

More surprising, Clint is a fairly normal, mostly nice guy. He smiles, plays piano for fun and seduces a much younger woman (Rene Russo). He doesn't hate his job and his superiors don't hate him, although he has friction with a presidential chief of staff played by a future presidential candidate in real life.

Older and nicer, sure, but Clint is still hell on bad guys.

Malkovich is one sick but deeply laid-back dude. He is a former CIA assassin who has, as they say, gone rogue. He breaks the necks of women and shoots dumb rednecks who cross his path.

His plot to kill the president is ingenious in every way except its stupid lack of secrecy. Malkovich frequently calls Clint on the phone to tease him along in a cat-and-mouse game.

Their banter generally involves Malkovich describing a psychological kinship with Clint (which is not correct at all) and pointing out ironies of their situation. Clint usually responds in a less sophisticated way.

"You've got a rendezvous with my ass, motherfucker," Clint says. Well, it played better as an onscreen comeback than it reads in print.

One of their scenes ranks among the most memorable in the annals of Clintdom.

After a rooftop foot chase, Clint finds himself dangling for dear life from the top of a tall building. Malkovich reaches down from the roof to save Clint. Clint pulls his pistol and sticks it in Malkovich's face.

If Clint pulls the trigger, both will die. If he lets Malkovich go, they both live. As this dilemma plays out, that freak Malkovich takes Clint's gun-barrel into his mouth and deep throats it. Weird, intense and weirdly intense.

Malkovich has all the advantages, including superior intelligence, but Clint is tenacious. He unravels the plot and, of course, saves the president and takes down the would-be assassin.

Right at the end, Clint goes to his dumpy house with his new squeeze Russo. There they discover another phone message left by Malkovich before his death. As he yammers away on tape, Clint and his girl walk out, no longer interested in the psycho.

Game over, Clint wins. Tenacity and a charming smile make up for a lot of disadvantages.

Next up: "A Perfect World."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Unforgiven:" Welcome to the glory years

Title: Unforgiven
Released: 1992
Genre: Western with guilt pangs
Notable for: Best picture Oscar
Coolest thing Clint does: Shoots Gene Hackman dead on a barroom floor

After one full year and 47 movies, we have watched Clint Eastwood drop agent orange on a giant spider, shoot everyone in sight, sing to trees and share a beer with an ape.

We've paid our dues to reach the official start of Clint's Glory Years.

"Unforgiven" is the movie that made it impossible for snooty people to continue regarding Clint as a cinematic joke. It won the best picture Oscar for 1992, and Clint won best director and was nominated for best actor.

Snooty we are not. Like a surprising number of Clint's fans, we're not even convinced "Unforgiven" is his best western.

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" is impossible to beat. Andrew is also highly fond of Clint's spaghetti westerns and Brad remains overly awed by "High Plains Drifter."

On the other hand, "Unforgiven" beats the crap out of nearly all other best-picture winners.

Clint plays a reformed mad-dog killer who reunites with an old partner and a punk kid for one last round of assassination. They ride into a dusty town to kill two cowboys for reward money.

Both cowboys end up deader 'n hell, but the real conflict comes between Clint and the town sheriff, a sadistic law-and-order type who wants no assassins in his town.

Like many of Clint's westerns, it is difficult to tell good guys from bad. The paid killers have good points and the sheriff, played by Gene Hackman, is a vicious thug.

None of that sounds unique for Clint's sort of movie, but "Unforgiven" has two things his earlier westerns lacked.

First, Clint assembled some incredibly distinguished actors. Three actors nominated for best-actor Oscars in the previous four years were cast in supporting roles to Clint, the old grunt-and-stare master. Those three were Hackman, Morgan Freeeman and Richard Harris, although Harris was never in the same scene with Clint.

Just by attracting and paying those guys, it was obvious Clint wanted "Unforgiven" to be taken as a very serious movie. Hackman would win a supporting-actor Oscar.

Second, and undoubtedly more important to voters of the academy, this is not merely another violent western. For the first time in 47 movies, Clint is full of guilt and remorse for his homicidal violence, which allowed "Unforgiven" to be called anti-violent.

Clint and his gang of killers are haunted by their deadly acts. As a nice aside, one character is a dime-novel writer who glorifies western gunfighters while all around him killing is shown an ugly thing without glory. The best example comes when one cowboy is ambushed in an outhouse and shot three times while taking a shit.

The climactic scene comes as Clint puts a finishing bullet into Hackman while the lawman is wounded and bleeding on a barroom floor.

"I don't deserve this," Hackman says. "To die like this. I was building a house."

"Deserve's got nothing to do with it," Clint says.

"I'll see you in hell, William Munny," Hackman says.

"Yeah," Clint says in that whispery voice. Then he pulls the trigger.

Come to think of it, maybe "Unforgiven" is Clint's best western.

Next up: "In the Line of Fire."

Friday, January 21, 2011

"The Rookie": Clint gets raped!

Title: The Rookie
Released: 1990
Genre: Cop buddy story
Notable for: Clint plays second-fiddle to Charlie Sheen
Coolest thing Clint does: Executes a leering super-villain who expects Clint to take him in alive

If "The Rookie" accomplishes nothing else, it raises a question we never expected Clint to encounter.

Can a male be raped by a female?

Clint throws it in our faces by participating in a sex scene everyone at the studio must have urged him to cut on the grounds of being weird, disturbing and pointless to what little plot exists in "The Rookie."

A psycho-bitch villain played by Sonia Braga mounts Clint while he is kidnapped and tied to a chair. She cuts him a little with a razor blade, then threatens to slice his cock off. Then she squats on his lap and takes deep pleasure.

"That wasn't sex," Brad said. "It's rape."

"Do you think Clint is going to run to a rape counselor and cry about it?" Andrew asked. "He liked it. He had to like it or she wouldn't be able to do it."

Andrew's point is so biologically obvious the script had to address the issue of Clint's boner. In the midst of her beastly pleasure, the villain psycho-bitch orders Clint, "Don't lose it!"

Our verdict: Clint was not raped. There are probably guys who would pay for what he got.

Why Clint chose to include that scene is a mystery, but he probably wanted something memorable in a movie loaded with flaws.

"The Rookie" may qualify as Clint's final pure action movie, and it comes off as a comic-book story of constant explosions, crashes, fires and gunfights.

Stunt work is good, but inexplicable casting and production decisions suggest Clint was either asleep at the wheel or he wanted to make the story silly.

Clint plays a cop on the auto-theft squad who chases a chop-shop kingpin. That sounds like gritty and unglamorous police work, except the chop-shop kingpin is a James Bond styled villain complete with a high-tech evil lair, getaway planes, remote-controlled bombs and homicidal madness.

It gets stupider.

The chop-shop gang is a bunch of Mexicans and the kingpin boss is played by Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia. His girlfriend/henchwoman is Braga, who is Brazilian. Yet for some unguessable reason, Julia and Braga are supposed to be German.

On top of all that, performances by some actors who played higher-ups on the police force were so laugh-out-loud bad we wondered if Clint asked for a campy feel.

As the title suggests, aside from catching the bad guys, the story is about Clint's rookie partner, played by Charlie Sheen. Sheen is a scared rich boy confronting a deep inner struggle to grow a pair. No surprise here: He does.

Despite so many glaring weaknesses, we confess "The Rookie" never lost our interest simply because so many things blow up, crash, and burst into flame. Not to mention flying bullets.

One test of any mindless action movie is whether viewers care enough by the end to enjoy seeing the evil villains die. "The Rookie" passed that test.

"There's got to be 100 reasons why I don't blow you away," Clint says to Julia just before he blows him away. "Right now I can't think of one."

That's classic Clint, and classic Clint is never all bad.

Next up: "Unforgiven."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"White Hunter, Black Heart": We like it better when Clint pulls the trigger

Title: White Hunter, Black Heart
Released: 1990
Genre: Hollywood bio-fiction
Notable for: Clint talks funny
Coolest thing Clint does: Verbally demolishes a smug, Nazi sympathizing Englishwoman over champagne

By this stage of Clint's film output, he obviously itched to try different things. We don't know why he chose "White Hunter, Black Heart" to be one of those things, but it is different.

For starters, Clint must talk more in this movie than in all his westerns combined. And he talks funny.

He plays an egotistical movie director in a transparently veiled story of John Huston making the 1951 film "The African Queen" in the Congo. Other actors play imitations of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, and Clint joins in by imitating Huston's speaking style. He doesn't do a bad job, but it is impossible to stop noticing the dude talks funny.

Studio publicity for "White Hunter, Black Heart" called the movie an "adventure in obsession." It's the sort of script that probably sounded interesting to Hollywood insiders in the same way playing record albums backward fascinates Beatlemaniacs.

The film rises and falls on Clint's portrayal of the flamboyant movie director. His character is selfish, hard-drinking, a womanizer and a lover of manly adventure in the mold of Ernest Hemingway.

"There's nothing tougher than remembering why you chased a dame after you've had her," Clint says at one point. After he is pummeled in a fistfight, he says, "You've got to fight when you think it's right, even if you get the hell beat out of you."

Clint's character annoys everyone, but he has an endearing way of sticking up for little guys.

When a white hotel manager knocks down a black African employee for a minor mistake, Clint calls the white guy a yellow bastard and fights him.

Our vote for the best scene in the movie comes when Clint's dinner companion, a lady he hopes to lay, reveals she hates Jews. He verbally rips her to shreds. Click here to see it.

Elephant-hunting is a central theme because Clint is obsessed with shooting a "big tusker" while in Africa. Much symbolism probably exists here, but we are too dumb to explain it.

"It's not a crime to kill an elephant," Clint explains. "It's a sin. It's the only sin you can buy a license to go out and commit."

Killing an elephant sounds adventurous but it is a poor foundation for a plot. The story never builds to any climax except the less-than-riveting uncertainty of whether Clint will bag his big tusker.

When the moment of truth arrives, Clint -- unbelievably -- wimps out. He cannot pull the trigger and a charging elephant kills his beloved hunting guide. A shaken Clint goes back to his movie set and commences filming "The African Queen."

The elephant-sparing ending must either reveal Clint's manly macho was a fraud or it involves some inner awakening. We did not care enough to ponder.

Lifelong Clint fans are unlikely to place "White Hunter, Black Heart" high on their list of favorites. Among other weaknesses, nothing explodes and Clint's character is not heroic. But critics loved it.

"This material marks a gutsy, fascinating departure for Mr. Eastwood, and makes it clear that his directorial ambitions have by now outstripped his goals as an actor," wrote the New York Times reviewer.

Different must be good for its own sake in Clint's line of work. Oscars were just two years away for the old grunter.

Next up: "The Rookie."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Pink Cadillac" and the sleepy traveler

Title: Pink Cadillac
Released: 1989
Genre: Action/comedy, minus apes
Notable for: Clint wears disguises
Coolest thing Clint does: Destroys a white supremacist compound with a Mary Kay-styled pink convertible Caddy

After a delay caused by a week-long trip to Mexico, the land of sun and compromised credit-card security, The Clint Eastwood Project resumed on a shameful note.

Brad fell asleep watching "Pink Cadillac."

This disgrace can perhaps be attributed to travel fatigue inflamed by a brief but unfortunate incident at the border. U.S. Customs agents confiscated what we think was the skull of a sea turtle, an artifact Andrew found while snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea. The feds let us go but papers were filed with the Department of Homeland Security forever identifying Brad as a known skull trafficker.

Or perhaps Brad's shame has more to do with the overall quality of "Pink Cadillac," Clint's last movie of the 1980s.

Andrew pronounces the movie "pretty good" and considered it funny and entertaining. Brad finds it disjointed and uninspired, a movie that tries to do too many things -- comedy, action and romance -- in a half-assed way.

Clint plays a "skip tracer" who finds fugitives who jump bail. "For once in your life, be reasonable," a guy tells him early in the movie. "I tried that once," Clint answers. "I didn't like it."

When a hard guy like that tracks down a fugitive, he ought to stick a .44 in his ear and growl, "Let's go." But Clint doesn't. He tricks them into captivity with a bunch of silly disguises.

Clint's best comedy comes when he is disguised, and he seems to enjoy the chance to be goofy. His funniest exchange comes when he is disguised as a shit-for-brains redneck who infiltrates the paramilitary compound of white supremacists.

"If we get rid of all the blacks, all the Jews, what are we going to do for entertainers? Comedians, things like that?" Clint asks in a silly, mouth-breather voice. "We'll still have David Letterman," a white supremacist says. "Yeah," Clint marvels. "We'll still have David Letterman."

The funniest line goes to Bernadette Peters. When a flasher exposes himself to her, she says, "Looks like a penis, only smaller."

The action part of the story falls flattest.

Clint tracks down Peters for jumping bail on a crime committed by her husband, who is a doofus speed-head mixed up with the white supremacists. An unlikely but entirely predictable romance ensues.

The white supremacists are after Bernadette, too, because she unknowingly ran off in a car with $250,000 of their money in the trunk. They kidnap her baby to force her to bring back the money, and Clint helps get the baby back.

"Pink Cadillac" could not decide whether to make the bad guys really menacing or make them a bunch of goofy screwballs like the neo-Nazi biker gang in the "Every Which Way but Loose" movies. The film tries to split the difference and does neither.

The villains are stupid and incompetent and drug-addled, but supposedly homicidal. When the final confrontation arrives, a big action sequence fails because the bad guys are not bad enough to be taken seriously and not goofy enough to provide comedy.

As a completely minor side note, the movie has a cameo appearance by Jim Carrey, who plays the world's most disturbing Elvis imitator. Click here to see it.

Clint was almost 60 years old when "Pink Cadillac" was released. A man that age ought to be forgiven for trying to do too many things while he still can. The same impulse might cause a middle-aged man to become an international skull smuggler.

Next up: "White Hunter, Black Heart."