Saturday, October 6, 2012

Trouble with the Eastwood?

When I heard Clint Eastwood was coming out of retirement (he said Gran Torino would be his last film as an actor) my feelings were mixed. I figured he, like MJ, had the perfect close to his (acting) career with Gran Torino. It certainly wasn’t his best all-around movie, but it definitely scooped into a barrel of quotables and kicked some gritty neck-scrunching ass. Everything you’ve come to know and love Eastwood for. One last ride into the sunset, albeit a much older, retiree sunset.

Then, I saw my all-time favorite actress, Amy Adams, was on the bill. My thought was, Million Dollar Baby II, one last run at the Oscar. Why not? The academy certainly makes picks to reward a career over the present, for respect and it’s own “Hall of Fame” aspirations. I thought Adams would be a ray of sunshine to what is typically and literally a dark brand of cinematography. Adams certainly can shine in shadow lighting too, right?

It and many other feelings alllllllll came crashing down when he made that “Eastwood and Chair” (link: Bill Hader SNL edition) speech at the Republican National Convention. What a train wreck. It reminded me of how I would turn my face away from the TV the first time I watched the British Office. Squirming. Squinting. Covering my eyes, I got through what seemed like a half hour of the worst improv I’ve ever seen. That brought my dreams of Eastwood glory to a screeching, whistle-laden speech impediment halt. There would be no Oscar. Is everything I know and love about my favorite movie maker a sham? Perhaps, he’s just a senile old man off his gourd? Or, I’ve hitched my movie wagon to an incandescent asshole, you know, the opposite of the kind of admirable asshole he plays in his movies that I love so fondly. 

I soon learned the real reason he came out of retirement was to help his long time director assistant and production partner, Robert Lorenz, who was directing his first film. That seemed noble to me. I like that. Use the name and pass the torch onto others. It was the first time since the 90’s In the Line of Fire that Clint relinquished overall movie command. They were able to rope in quite a surrounding cast, with Adams, who without a doubt was the star of this movie, and JT, who added impressive comedic flair, along with John Goodman, who once again, is in EVERY movie. Good for Goodman.

The real question I have about it all: Was it worth it? I believe, because of the retarded speech, Clint was actually in need to come through on screen to not tarnish his movie legacy.

I didn’t like J.Edgar at all. It was like a boring Oliver Stone spoof. 2009’s Invictus was similarly disappointing with a seemingly great premise and all-world cast with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as a studly rugby player.

The 2006 duo-perspectives of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima left me slightly ying-yang dizzy. I felt Flags of our Fathers was flat, while Letters from Iwo Jima left me stunned with its sheer awesomeness.  I’m not sure how Eastwood pulled off a picture in Japanese and why that perspective had so much more punch and enthrallment, but it did and the duo perspectives ordeal ended up being successful in the face of a probable plateau.    

2010’s Hereafter and 2008’s Changeling were good movies, but nothing to get overly excited or brag about.  

Needless to say, after Gran Torino, I think coming out and making a bad movie would teeter the end of his career to a downward spiral that would possibly affect the legacy. So, that’s added pressure for Trouble with the Curve. Grantland already predicated this concept, basically promenading over Eastwood’s career as if he were the Limp Bizkit of filmmaking. They can go-ahead and profile the “rise and fall” OF MY ASS!!!!

There was one great take in the piece I agreed with though, “He rolled movies off studio lots like cars off Ford factory floors: speedily, under budget, without a ton of flash or hassle or pauses for fits of artiste-style pique. Actors and executives spoke with awe about how quickly and painlessly it all happened. And then it was onto the next one.”

I guess I’ve always enjoyed that about Eastwood though. His steady hand guides you through darkness, violence and all-around malfeasance like a floating, rocking hammock. I like a warm glass of milk when Sean Penn’s daughter is killed. Despite the awards and overall recognition, the highs and lows of his movies are typically pretty tame and/or consistent. You know what you’re going to get. That’s why J.Edgar and “Eastwood and Chair” were very troubling to me. He was handed Leo and a topic that should have been more engulfing. It wasn’t. He was handed a spotlight to make something I’m typically not that interested in, more exciting. He didn’t. He made me question my taste in pictures and heroes. He let me down.

Does Trouble with the Curve deserve all this pressure cooker legacy propaganda? Certainly not. Why can’t movies be fun anymore? You go, take a load off, get some terrible-for-you-food and forget about life. Good, bad, indifferent—just be entertained. There’s nothing like it, cue projecting reel sound.

Eastwood’s comeback was pretty parallel to Micheal Jordan’s with the Wizards. He proved in Trouble with the Curve that even at an age when you don’t belong “in the biz” the moves are still there beyond what others are capable of in their prime. He probably shouldn’t have made the movie and certainly should have declined to speak at the RNC, but, there is still something there for those like myself, that miss zipping by Model T’s on the roads. Even if you’re like me and weren’t alive when they were on the roads, you’ve read about them, your parents and grandparents told you stories trumpeting their omniscient prowess. They are ancient archeological antiques that now rule museums. When you see one, alive and well, you just have to gawk, and remember the day when they ruled the world.

Despite all that, I don’t think Trouble with the Curve has NOTHING to offer. The chemistry between JT and Amy Adams was electric, though mostly spoiled by the previews (stop doing that previews!!!). Timberlake is really proving that he can carry his own in a movie. He was funny, light and reflected the classic Amy Adams shine right back to her. It was tennis, not Adams hitting the ball against a wall, although, I’d certainly watch that—especially if she had a ponytail and sweats. Adams always seems like a real person to me. Perhaps, it’s because I have a friend that looks/acts/has the same first name as her. I just always see something real from something as basic as having a crooked smile, remembering her first movie moment (that I remember) as a girl with braces, to being remarkably cute in a non-movie star way. I think we all know an Amy Adams in our life, which seems plain, oozes cuteness, yet is an ordinary part of your day, but is extraordinary once she exits your lens.

The baseball scouts and players are comically clich├ęd Moneyball b-sides and poorly executed at that, much like the astonishing poor surrounding acting in Gran Torino. The “Grumpier Old Men III” lines are cringingly bad, like “Feng Schmei” and “I’m not a pole dancer.” He can take scripts that should have been in the shredder, he has to know they should have been in the shredder, deliver them in a way that says, “this is a lame line, but I can make it work,” and, somehow, it’s still warm and enjoyable. In that way, Eastwood’s late career is like the comedic delivery of David Letterman. Taking nothing, and pounding into something. A magical blacksmith who majestically rides into town to view the sunset with the common people—true Kings wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Clint Eastwood is the champion of being a bad ass. He’s so cocky he can do it as YOUR grandfather. Bob Dylan and Neil Young continue to make albums. 60 is the new 40. 80 is the new 50. Billy Joel never sang about how “only the good get old,” but, if he did, you’d have to respect the math and courage of it all.

In my favorite all-time Clint scene, he asks a bunch of guys to apologize to his mule. Then, he kills them all when they scoff at the idea. To ask the inverse of Eastwood, to apologize for becoming old and irrelevant, is just as crass.

Legends don’t need the money. They want the relationship. Somewhere someone is wearing a Michael Jordan Wizards jersey, reading and scoping a Model T in a museum after playing four hours of Megaman II on Nintendo. 

I wish someone would hand that guy the keys…that baby still runs. 

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