Thursday, September 30, 2021

Clint Eastwood’s “Cry Macho” is a film to see, if . . . . . .

If you can get past the idea that anyone would ask a 90-year-old man to drive down to Mexico to rescue a teenage boy, then you will have a fine time watching the new film, “Cry Macho,” starring and directed by Clint Eastwood.

We did.

Others did not. Some friends and some critics disliked this film.

After starring in nearly 50 movies and directing 45 films – often doing double duty in front of, and behind the camera – if Clint Eastwood makes a picture, I am going out to see it. He is one of America’s greatest living directors. There have been some missteps along the way. “Cry Macho” may be one of them. But I found enough in it to enjoy.

It is hard to think of any one as old as old Clint acting in and directing the same movie.

Mel Brooks comes to mind. But the last film he both directed and starred in was, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” (1995) when he was 69 or 70. Woody Allen both directed and starred in “To Rome With Love” (2012) when he was about 76.

Roman Polanski is someone I think of as appearing in a lot of his own pictures. But that perception is wrong, except in a few instances and a bunch of cameos or Hitchcock-like appearances. The last time he starred in his own film was 1976’s “The Tenant.”

Actors have continued working into their 80s and 90s – the late Christopher Plummer did, and Judi Dench, at 86, is in Kenneth Branagh’s new film, “Belfast.”

Some directors continued working as senior citizens. Ridley Scott, 83, will have two movies out this year.

The oldest director I ever heard of making feature films was Manoel de Oliveira. Five years ago, I did a post about Eastwood and Oliveira (here).

Film Comment magazine published a list of the oldest directors (here).

But, as far as I know, no one Clint’s age has both directed and starred in the same movie.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Another Look at Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard

Twenty-plus years of Elmore Leonard imitators – with Quentin Tarantino at the front of the pack, and imitators of imitators – have taken some of the edge off, and the fun out of Leonard’s dialogue. But not all of it.

His 1996 novel, Out of Sight, is still a fast, breezy read with well drawn characters, tons of suspense, and swift violent action that hits you like a smack in the face.

Out of Sight is the story of wanted bank robber Jack Foley and federal marshal Karen Sisco who is hunting for him.

Jack and Karen first meet outside a Florida prison when she arrives just as he pops up out of an escape tunnel. Jack, and a buddy waiting for him, overpower Karen, put her in the trunk of her own car and then Jack climbs in with her.

Snuggled up to each other for the getaway, they get to talking as if on a date.

This may sound familiar because director Steven Soderbergh made a good movie from it with George Clooney as Jack and Jennifer Lopez as Karen.

Karen gets away from Jack and Jack gets away from the law. But there was a weird kind of connection between them in that trunk and each wants to see the other again.

Jack and his buddy, Buddy, drive from Florida to Michigan and get with some violent gangsters planning to rob a mansion. Karen gets a line on Jack and tracks him to Detroit.

Why two cool bank robbers like Jack and Buddy would get involved with this new plan is the biggest mystery in Leonard’s crime story. But the author’s skill and style makes it easy to overlook that little problem.

The main thing that diverts a reader’s attention from the hitches in the plot is the budding love story between Jack and Karen. The savvy, middle aged, and very smooth bank robber is smitten with the young, attractive fed. The danger of falling hard for her is whether Karen will fall for him or snap the cuffs on him.

At its heart, Out of Sight, is a romance novel and an example of what can happen when the master of one genre dips into another.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Card Counter is a Film to See

Paul Schrader’s, “The Card Counter,” is a raw, yet strangely quiet, movie about a former soldier, psychologically damaged by his time in Iraq. His guilt and fears, which he keeps hidden behind a stony stare and immobile face, are not the result of battle, but of the things he did while a guard in Abu Ghraib prison.

The soft spoken, stone-faced character, who now makes a living as a professional gambler, is played by actor Oscar Isaac, and he is unnerving to watch.

There is a great deal of stillness in “The Card Counter,” but a tremendous amount of inner turmoil, which can set a viewer’s nerves on edge waiting for the explosion.

Schrader, who wrote and directed this film, is the guy who wrote the script for the 1976 Martin Scorsese film, “Taxi Driver.” Here, Schrader uses some of the same techniques in “The Card Counter,” including an alienated protagonist who tells us about himself in voice-over narration.

Unlike Robert De Niro’s edgy taxi driver who observes the world around him and comments on it, Isaac’s gambler is quietly involved in his world of intense card games. He sticks to low stakes games in casinos around the country which, in this film, appear slick, serious, empty and devoid of any kind of fun.

This new Schrader character, like the old one, is compelled to be alone, but longs to connect with other people – and with the viewers of the film. He even tells us how he changed his name from William Tillich to William Tell. Is the name Schrader’s way of letting us know William wants to “tell” us what’s eating at him? Is it a play on the poker term meaning body language that tips other players to the cards one is holding. Is the name a reference to the legend of the archer who shot an apple off his son’s head? In the movie, William forms a dangerous friendship with a volatile young fellow with an ax to grind against the people who plunged the country into the war in Iraq.

The film poses lots of questions. It answers many of them, but leaves quite a few mysteries. (Like, what was up with those bed sheets? Sensory deprivation?)