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."