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."