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."