Tag Archives: clint eastwood

Unforgiven – Review

31 May

Clint Eastwood and the western genre pretty much go hand in hand. Eastwood practically built his career out of playing heroic gunslingers navigating through the violent old west. From his iconic performances in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, to more traditional American westerns like Hang ‘Em High, Eastwood has really just become a staple of the genre. Wether it was intentional or not, he was also responsible for resuscitating this kind of film making with his 1992 revisionist western classic, Unforgiven, which has gone down in modern history as one of the best American films.

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After cutting a woman working in a brothel in the town of Big Whiskey, Sheriff Little Bill Dagget (Gene Hackman) runs two cowboys out of town, despite the other girls wanting to see them hanged for their crime. As a last resort, the women at the brothel pull their money and put a bounty on the cowboys’ head, which draws in a couple of bounty hunters like English Bob (Richard Harris). It also attracts the attention of a young gunslinger called the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) who hires the help of a retired outlaw known for his brutality, William Munny (Clint Eastwood). After a wave of reluctance passes, Munny realizes he needs the bounty money and brings along his old friend, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), to help him and the Schofield Kid kill the two criminals. What this gang of bounty hunters don’t know is that Little Bill Dagget runs Big Whiskey with an iron fist, and he’ll be damned if a bunch of no good gunslingers undermine his authority.

I’m not really a huge fan of classic westerns where the hero is a moral gunslinger who faces off against the clearly evil bad guys. It doesn’t seem like that’s really what the west should be portrayed as. Granted, there are some exceptions, but I like my westerns to be a bit more complicated than that. That’s why I love a good revisionist western like The Wild Bunch and Unforgiven. There really aren’t any clear good or bad guys in this movie, even though you’d want to think that Clint Eastwood is the obvious good guy. This just isn’t the case, because it’s made clear that William Munny was an awful guy in the past and you can still see some of that evil lurking beneath the surface. On the flip side, Little Bill Dagget makes some pretty brutal moves in this movie, but there’s still a human side to him that just wants to live a peaceful life. This is an intriguing western with complex characters.

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Another interesting thing about this movie is that it can be argued that Unforgiven is just as much about a lifestyle, set of beliefs, or state of mind as it is about the characters. There are a lot of characters in this movie that all get ample amounts of screen time, which makes it hard to really distinguish who the main protagonist is. This is a movie that does tell a story about a group of people who clash in a small western town, but it’s also a look at the violence and attitudes of people during the time period. Is it all accurate? I don’t know, but it is a good way of examining the tropes of a genre along with what is known about the time period. This is kind of a weird thing to figure out the first time you watch the movie, but after letting the structure sit with you for a while, it starts to really feel like Eastwood did something new with this movie and reinvigorated a genre and his faltering career.

Unforgiven is possibly the most beautifully shot western I’ve ever seen. A lot of this is due to Eastwood’s skill as a director, but credit also has to be given to cinematographer Jack N. Green. Green worked with Eastwood before Unforgiven and would work with him even more afterwards, but nothing in his career has really stood up to his work on this film. The silhouetted figures riding their horses in front of a setting sun has never looked as great as it does here. That along with the natural looking lighting in the various saloons and jailhouses makes this film feel as naturalistic as it does artistic.

Unforgiven is a modern day masterpiece that has gained the recognition and reputation that it deserves. It took home 3 Oscars, which were Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Editing. There’s plenty to enjoy with this movie, but Unforgiven is more than just a western featuring the heroics of the good guys and the evil deeds of the bad guys. Instead, it explores a time period and the thin line between leading a good life and falling into unforgivable sin. This may well be Eastwood’s best movie and certainly has a place as one of the best westerns ever made.

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Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” – Review

11 Nov

There are a lot of different way to make a western film. There’s the more traditional ways that are often equated with actors like John Wayne and there’s also more modern and/or revisionist westerns that have been made by film makers like Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino, and Clint Eastwood. My personal favorite kind of westerns, however, are the Italian made spaghetti westerns. I like to compare spaghetti westerns to comic books since they’re usually colorful (with setting and characters), over the top, and often violent. The most famous of these films arguably make up Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, which are A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Not only did these films help launch the careers of Leone and Clint Eastwood to new heights, but also plenty of other reasons that make these films classics and worth a review.

Let’s start with A Fistful of Dollars from 1964.

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In this film we are introduced to the now iconic character, the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood), a wandering gunslinger who happens upon a small Mexican border town called San Miguel. What the Man finds in this town is surprising. San Miguel is a town that is under the clutches of two rival gangs. One one side there’s the Rojo family, who deal in liquor, and on the other side is the Baxter family, who deal in weapons. The mysterious gunslinger realizes a way where he can make a profit from both sides by playing each family against each other. While this is a great source of income, the Man learns by the local innkeeper, Silvanito (José Calvo), of the great stress that the two warring families have put on the town and the lives that have been lost in the process. This turns the Man’s mission of profit into a mission of protection and vengeance for the townspeople.

If you’re thinking that the plot for this movie is almost the same exact plot for Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai film Yojimbo, you wouldn’t be the only one. The fact that this film was an unofficial remake to Yojimbo, without giving credit to that film as inspiration stirred up some controversy when it was released. To be fair though, Yojimbo was pretty much lifted from Dashiell Hammet’s 1929 novel Red Harvest. While A Fistful of Dollars seems to be taken from a couple different sources, the film still stands as a film that helped redefine the western genre.

Clint Eastwood’s performance as the Man With No Name is one of the most iconic in film history. It’s been imitated and parodied, but never has it been equaled. Not only is the Man a real tough guy and quick to shoot, he also shows a lot of compassion and has a great sense of humor. It’s really everything you look for in an archetypal hero like this. Sergio Leone’s direction also elevates this movie above many others in the genre because of the abundance of style thrown into it. Not only does it have western tricks and motifs, but also implements Eastern styles of film making like using close ups and quick zooms. Finally, this movie really wouldn’t be complete without Ennio Morricone’s controlled and melodic score.

So, in conclusion, A Fistful of Dollars stands tall as a classic of the western genre, but this review doesn’t stop there. After being pressured by the studios, Leone would go on to make a sequel, For a Few Dollars More released in 1965 overseas and in 1967 in America. Not only is this a great sequel, it’s a huge improvement over the first film.

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The wild west was the land of bounty hunters, and the people that matched the hunters in dangers were only the people that were being hunted. Problems also tended to arise when two bounty hunters vied for the same target, which is the case of the $10,000 reward on El Indio’s (Gian Maria Volonté) head. On one side there’s Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), an ex-soldier who was labeled the “finest shot in the Carolinas.” On the other side is the Man With No Name, aka Monco, a wandering gunslinger who can draw faster than you can blink. When the two bounty hunters wind up in the same town, it becomes quite clear that they would be more effective if they teamed up to take down El Indio and collect the enormous bounty on him and his gang.

This is a movie to get really excited about because you have to think about how cool A Fistful of Dollars was and add a bigger story with more larger than life characters and then you finally get For a Few Dollars More. This film perfectly builds on my describing spaghetti westerns as the comic books of the western genre. Monco and Col. Mortimer feel like superheroes the way they can hit their targets from so far away. Even the way they dress is symbolic to their characters. El Indio on the other hand is a perfect super villain since he can shoot almost as well as the two heroes and has a gang of henchmen surrounding him. Not to mention his over the top personality. This film is just a super entertaining and well made movie.

Ennio Morricone returns as composer for the film and the music is also a huge step forward. One song in particular is written and performed like something you would hear in a music box. That kind of composition reminds me of Morricone’s work for The Untouchables. This film is also the point where Leone found out just how skilled he was as a film maker and also strengthened his stylistic choices. Leone is known for his sound and editing, and there are many scenes in For a Few Dollars More that feature no dialogue, but only some sound or quiet music. This trademark would be perfected in the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the West.

While A Fistful of Dollars is arguably one of the best westerns ever made, it can be debated that For a Few Dollars More may be one of the best films ever made. Believe it or not, things only get better with the third film of the trilogy. This is of course the 1966 film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which has become one of the most iconic films in the history of cinema.

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As the American Civil War ravaged the entire country, there were many people who did anything they had to to survive. Tuco (Eli Wallach) is a bandit on the run from law enforcement and bounty hunters that seem to be coming from every direction. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is a ruthless bounty hunter who will kill anyone of any age in order to complete his job and get paid. Finally, there’s the Man With No Name , aka Blondie, another bounty hunter, who along with his new partner Tuco, scam towns by collecting reward money and then escaping later on. As Tuco’s and Blondie’s partnership collapses, another monkey wrench is thrown into their lives: a rumor of hidden gold buried in cemetery. Blondie knows the grave and Tuco knows the cemetery, forcing them to once again work together. Unfortunately for both of them, the sadistic Angel Eyes also wants a piece of the gold and will stop at nothing to claim it all for himself.

While it can be argued that For a Few Dollars More is one of the greatest films ever made, I’m pretty sure that anyone who has scene The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly will agree that this is definitely one of the best movies ever made. Everything that I’ve said was great about the first two films are back for this one, but enhanced on such an epic scale. There are so many iconic moments that it’s hard to name them all. The destruction of a bridge strategically placed in the middle of a major Civil War conflict and the climactic Mexican showdown in the middle of the cemetery are just a few examples. The film’s themes are also as epic as the everything else you see. The catastrophic effects of war and how it shapes people trying to survive through it is a surprising theme for a movie like this, but there are scenes where it really can strike a nerve and get the emotions flowing.

When the film was first released in 1966, most critics gave it a lot of negative reviews because they were disgusted by how violent it was. Yeah, it’s violent, but like the other films in this trilogy it happens very fast and always has a reason. The only thing excessive about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the run time. Granted, I’ve only seen the extended version so I may be a little unfair. What isn’t unfair is my complaint that Angel Eyes doesn’t get NEARLY enough screen time. This film is also very episodic in nature, but watching the characters adapt to whatever strange scenario happens next actually builds up who they are more than you might expect. Finally, I can’t talk about this film without mentioning how Morricone created one of the most beloved film scores in the history of movies. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a landmark of film making, and must be discussed whenever the topic of film history comes up. It truly is a masterpiece.

I could say so much more about the Dollars Trilogy and I might one day. For now, I just wanted to give an overview of it and try to explain why they are three of the most important films you may ever see. Leone completely deconstructed the western genre and turned it into something never seen before. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing these films yet, it must be done as soon as possible.

American Sniper – Review

17 Feb

When told right, a war movie can really make you think and try desperately to understand what soldiers all over the world have to face everyday when they wake up in hostile territory, but also how they react back home far away from the battlefield. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to see Fury, which worked very well as a thought provoking war film, and now I’ve finally gotten the chance to see Clint Eastwood’s Oscar contender American Sniper. The biggest thought I have in my mind is that if the Academy really needed a war movie for a nomination, why couldn’t it have just been Fury?

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After seeing coverage of the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) decides that it’s his duty as an American to enlist in the military to do what he can to protect his country. After the 9/11 attacks, he is deployed to the Middle East where his talents as a sniper become quite apparent to the rest of his brothers in arms and also the enemy. Each time he comes home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and his children, it becomes more and more clear to Kyle that he belongs in battle alongside his fellow soldiers, but he also feels the need to be at home with his family. As the these conflicts become more intense, and more of his friends are killed, Kyle’s stability becomes more and more fragile, encouraging him to do something before it reaches the point of no return.

I know I’m probably a minority in my opinions about this movie, and excuse me for saying this, but I really can’t get behind this movie or all of the praise it’s getting. Everything from Bradley Cooper’s performance to the way director Clint Eastwood handles the complicated subject material is getting way too much positive attention in my honest opinion. The basic formula of this movie has been done before and done a lot better, especially with Kathryn Bigelow’s exceptional psychological war film The Hurt Locker. This film, on the other hand, follows the formula step by step and fails to bring anything new or particularly thoughtful to the table. I can’t say that American Sniper is a “bad” movie but I can definitely say that it is bland, generic, and boring.

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When I first saw trailers for this movie, I was really all about it. I couldn’t wait to see it. The scenes showed in the trailer looked like some of the most intense shit ever, and that’s what I really wanted to see. Think about it. A whole war film seen through the eyes of a sniper, the man who’s far away from the action but holds the lives of the squad in the palm of his hand. One wrong decision could be fatal. Thank goodness I got at least two intense scenes out of this movie. The rest of the war scenes were really nothing special. The time he spent at home where the effects of the war could be examined were completely underutilized and the editing between the two was so sloppy and jarring I couldn’t really believe they got away with it. I don’t want to keep comparing this movie to The Hurt Locker, but I can’t help it. That movie just did it so much better.

Bradley Cooper has made quite a name for himself in Hollywood recently through his comedic efforts in The Hangover movies but also his more dramatic roles in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Now he’s nominated for Best Actor for the third year in a row for his performance in American Sniper and I just am left to sit here and wonder how. For most of the movie, he just grumbled his dialogue in a typical tough guy manner. It was just annoying to listen to, and the movie didn’t spend enough time developing his relationships to other characters to make their interactions really amount to anything.

All I can really say about American Sniper is that it’s a missed opportunity. I love war movies and respect all of the work that goes into making one, but this was just too formulaic and bland. There were definitely some really great scenes in the movie, but other than those few moments, nothing in this movie ever really amounted to anything much. It pains me to say this, but American Sniper is a big disappointment of 2014 and a Clint Eastwood movie that I’ll do my best to never have to watch again.

J. Edgar – Review

26 Aug

J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most famous, important, mysterious, and occasionally hated men in American history. With a very distinct personality and set of regulations, he seemed to single handedly establish the FBI and make it into a law enforcement agency to reckon with. Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black attempt to bring to light some of the mystery behind Hoover in a biopic that may be well filmed, but hardly memorable.

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The story is told by J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), himself, for a memoir that he wants to tell his side of the story. As he dictates his words to agency ghost writers, flash backs begin to show the audience important moments of his life. At a young age, and early in his career, he meets Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who became his longtime secretary and closest associate. He also meets Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover’s second in command and personal confidante, whom Hoover may or may not had a secret sexual relationship with. On the business side, we see the founding of the FBI, Hoover’s push for the deportation of Communist supporters and potential terrorists, his involvement with the Lindbergh kidnapping, and many other events that formed the tapestry of Hoover’s life.

As a biopic, J. Edgar is expected to cover a lot of ground. Dustin Lance Black has proven that he has the ability to write films like this with his previous work as the screenwriter of Milk, which I consider to be one of the most successful biopics ever to be made. J. Edgar isn’t difficult to understand, but it seemed very scattered. This isn’t too much of a problem since the outcome is being able to see a complete arc in Hoover’s life. One thing that was more problematic was that there wasn’t really a stance on Hoover’s activities. There was a clear opinion that the movie had. By the end of J. Edgar, I don’t feel like I know enough to form my own opinion. In that way, the movie fails.

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I remember when this movie was first released, there was a lot of talk about the make up. Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts all play older versions of their respective characters, so they all had to undergo many hours in the make up chair. There are a lot of jokes that I’ve heard about the make up and people saying it looked terrible, but in my opinion, it looked pretty damn good. There were scenes, especially with DiCaprio, that the make up did seem to become more noticeable, but most scenes he looked just fine. Naomi Watt’s make up, however, looked outstanding and was completely believable.  All of the costumes really worked, and Clint Eastwood’s apparent love for desaturating his movies beyond what seems reasonable works very well to get the old time vibe across.

It’s pretty obvious that this movie was intended to be Oscar bait, although that didn’t really happen as well as everyone expected. Before I saw the movie, I was sure that DiCaprio would get an Oscar nomination, but after seeing it, I understand why not. His performance was very heavy handed, verbally. His actions and expressions were all great, but I just couldn’t buy whatever accent he was doing. It just sounded odd. As for everyone else, there isn’t really anything special to say. They all did fine without really giving any incredibly memorable performances.

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J. Edgar is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t quite achieve the expectations that it put forth. It’s not too difficult to follow, as I expected it would be, but everything just doesn’t feel as great as it could have been. It can’t be easy making a biopic about a man as secretive as J. Edgar Hoover, but by the end of the movie, I don’t really feel like I learned too much about the man, but more about his more public actions. It was interesting to see the history of the FBI, but as for the subject of Hoover, I’m still as much in the dark as everyone else.

Hereafter – Review

7 Aug

Death is not an easy topic to understand or explore since people have so many interpretations of what it is exactly and what happens after we take the ultimate power nap. Some see it as a biological shut down in which nothing happens except total darkness. Others see it as a new beginning and an awakening to another, better life. Hereafter examines both of these possibilities flawlessly without getting religious or preachy.

 

Marie LeLay (Cecile de France) is a French journalist who experiences a death while in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami. She sees images that can not be forgotten and feels driven to report on what she saw, even though it seems like no one really wants to hear about it.  George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a psychic who is doing his best to avoid using his powers because he does not want his life to focus on death. This becomes difficult after a woman, Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), begs him to do a reading in which he uncovers secrets that should not be revealed. Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) are two young English boys dealing with their drug addict mother. When one of the boys is struck by a car and killed, the other goes on a crusade in order to contact him. These paths converge at a critical point, and all the views and beliefs concerning death intersect.

First off, I just want to point out that I love films like this, where there are different story lines that meet at a certain point. The writer is pretty much writing three different movies and then has to connect them in some believable way. The connection in Hereafter is a little weak and delayed compared to most films in this style, but it was still believable if only a little unfulfilling.

 

This movie struck me as dynamically intense, if I may describe it as such. The opening scene with the Thai tsunami was frightening in that it actually happened and many people died in real life. Seeing it so vividly portrayed onscreen gives the viewer a whole new look of it through dramatic presentation. Then the movie gets intense in a much quieter way, with the different characters dealing with a tornado of questions and feelings surrounding loss of a loved one, a ruined history, or a troubled future. These quiet moments are interrupted with spurts of disaster that shows a much darker and violent side to life and death.

The acting in this movie is stunning all around. Damon knocks it out of the park with his performance, making him one of the most relatable characters ever seen on the big screen, despite his supernatural power. Cecile de France matches Damon’s intensity and the McLaren brothers surprise me with their acting chops. In a much more supporting role, Bryce Dallas Howard steals every scene she is in with her lovable personality and her jaw dropping looks. Seriously though, Bryce Dallas Howard…quite the looker.

 

As I said before, Clint Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan deal with death in a spiritual way, but they never get religious or preachy. We hear “Christ” once in the movie while death is being discussed, but it is immediately dismissed. While the idea of God and Jesus is blown over, it doesn’t mean that the movie or its makers don’t have respect for religion. The choice to not use it as a tool or reference point is smart so that many different people, atheists or otherwise, may enjoy this film for its open mindedness and interesting characters.

Eastwood delivers once again with Hereafter, a dynamic, thought provoking, and mature drama that can either make you depressed or hopeful. This isn’t a movie that will go by without discussion or possibly even some inner conflict for the viewer. Hereafter is a film that I would call “required viewing.” Don’t miss this one.