THE MULE – HARD EARNED ADVICE FROM CLINT EASTWOOD

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF THE MULE REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Rough but insightful view of the true story of an 88 year old man’s experiences as a mule for a drug cartel, with some autobiographical overtones for Eastwood in the foolish sacrifice the main character makes of his family in preference for his business life.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults only for language, topics, and environments which include wild parties, drugs and scantily clad prostitutes.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS

I admire those who make movies that are completely politically incorrect. It takes great big brass bowling, base, golf, and basket ones to do so in this day and age. And that’s what I love about Clint Eastwood – and he must have a large collection of sports equipment. At the age of 88, with a repertoire of films including cultish Spaghetti Westerns like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, action icons like Dirty Harry, directorial accomplishments like American Sniper, even comedies like Paint Your Wagon (did you know before The Mule he could sing…well carry a tune) and masterpieces which he has directed and starred in like  Gran Torino and Unforgiven, I do not think Clint Eastwood has anyone to prove himself to or fear but God.

There is a wise saying: If you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning, and Eastwood’s main character, Earl, is that person who, by his own warning, is not someone whose behavior you would want to adhere.

The Mule is about an elderly man, Earl Stone who, at the end of his rope financially and anxious to make amends with his estranged family, becomes a transport for a cartel of drug dealers. Earl has spent his love and devotion on an ultimately unsuccessful day lily nursery instead of his family. With this in mind, the movie becomes a horrible warning against living a misdirected life with the day lily as a wonderful symbol of the brevity of our time on Earth which, like our lives, blooms for a day then fades.

While Earl’s motives in the movie may be noble and the money he earns is spent on worthwhile events: his daughter’s wedding and the renovation of the local Veterans Lodge, it does not excuse his participation as one of the links in the drug trade which destroyed so many other people’s lives, even as he was reinvigorating his own. The story is based upon the real life Leo Sharp, featured in a New York Times article by Sam Dolnick.

I heard it speculated that there was an element of autobiography for Eastwood in this story. Not that Mr. Eastwood has ever conveyed illegal pharmaceuticals for Mexican drug lords, but that Eastwood, much like the character he portrays, in his pursuit for fame, financial security and business success may have felt he traded his family life for an ambitious career. It is a fine line to walk, between working hard to care for your family and to trade your family for your work.

Eastwood is a fine character actor, who has made a career of portraying the same interesting, likeable character in a wide variety of movies. There’s little difference among the likes of the cheroot chewing Blondie in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, looking down the barrel of the very big gun of Inspector Calahan in the Dirty Harry franchise, the singing Pardner in Paint Your Wagon, the scheming eponymous character in Kelly’s Heroes, the stubborn but surprisingly kind Walt Kowalsski in Grand Torino or Earl in The Mule. All of them face the world with the same gritty, teeth grinding, begrudgingly amused side long view. All of them are tough guys who mean well at their core even when doing something they know is wrong. All are portrayed with the gravel-voiced determination of a man with whom you do not want to cross swords.

But in The Mule, Eastwood is willing to openly show the fragility of his old age which, even so, does not stop either Earl, the Mule or Eastwood, the director, from soldiering on in this slice of life movie.

The acting is wonderful. Dianne Wiest portrays his wife, Mary, with all the intimacy of betrayal in a failed marriage between two people who have loved each other for decades. Bradley Cooper plays the determined DEA agent who pursues Earl to the exclusion of family events, and in this way discovering, perhaps in time, he has much to learn from the misaligned Earl. And Andy Garcia portrays the deceptively likeable drug lord Laton.

If this happens to be the last movie the aging Eastwood is in, it would be a fitting denouement and ties in some of his most recent accomplishments. For example, Cooper, who plays the DEA agent in pursuit of Earl, and Eastwood, worked together before on American Sniper. Eastwood had once offered to direct Cooper again in Cooper’s then planned remake of A Star is Born, but Cooper wasn’t ready for the role. Eastwood later encouraged Cooper to direct A Star is Born himself and history was made with that interesting film, which I reviewed here.

In another tie-in with old friends, the credit’s song, Don’t Let the Old Man In, was written expressly for this movie by Eastwood’s friend and golf buddy Toby Keith, inspired by a comment Eastwood made to Keith about how to keep going despite age. Keith wrote and sang the tune as a demo and sent Eastwood a copy. So anxious was Keith to have Eastwood hear it that Keith sang it while struggling with a bad cold. Eastwood loved the rough, dark, weary feel of it and used it exactly as Keith had recorded it for the movie.

And most touching, Eastwood’s own real life daughter Alison came out of acting retirement at the behest of her Dad to play Iris, Earl’s estranged daughter.  Alison commented in one interview that the most difficult part of playing Iris was pretending to be estranged from the man who played her character’s father, her own Dad.

Filmed with a certain fatalistic feel, knowing this can not end well, we ride along and are seduced into empathizing with the amoral Earl as he bounces from attending his granddaughter’s wedding to a multi-hooker party at his cartel boss’ mansion.

Other reviewers have noted that Eastwood, with Mule, is signaling his bestowal upon Bradley Cooper of his outre mantle, a blessing of sorts to Cooper, the accomplished and busy actor and director who still finds the time, energy and whimsical playfulness to bring Rocket’s voice from Guardians of the Galaxy to life.

In medical school there is a name given to the prize for the student who made the top grade in Anatomy – “The Ball and Chain”. The implication being that you have set yourself up for a high bar to continue to have to leap over. In The Mule there is a telling and touching scene where Earl, the mule which Cooper’s character, Colin Bates, has been doggedly pursuing, sits down next to Colin in a diner. Colin has no idea who Earl is, so underestimated is Earl for the better part of 10 years of drug running because of his age and otherwise clean record. Earl knows who Colin is and proceeds to give what appears to be off hand advice about not committing himself to his career to the exclusion of his family. In retrospect was this Earl to Colin or Clint to Bradley…or both?

I find it courageous that Eastwood not only exposes his own human aged physical frailty to an audience which has grown up and grown old watching him move from an action hero to an increasingly fragile man, but makes himself vulnerable to inquiries about his own interpersonal failures. Much like most in Hollywood he has had his share of failed relationships and left a trail of at least 7 children.  And it takes a measure of brave self-perception to admit, even if only tangentially, that you may have failed to do your best to put your familial ties ahead of your own ambitions.

While not for a younger crowd due to topics, language, and sexuality, for the adult crowd it is a fascinating examination of how easy it is, one daily mistake at a time, to lead your life down a long wrong path in a way that can do permanent and irreparable damage to those you might find too late you love most.

Kudos to Mr. Eastwood. And while I hope this is not his last film, if it is, it is not a bad bookend to his cinematic legacy, and a fitting epitaph to a man whose devotion to and accomplishments for the cinematic world, have been remarkable, even if it may have come at great personal sacrifice.

OSCAR WINNER 2018 CEREMONY – AN ANALYSIS – WE GOT THEM ALL RIGHT!!!!

Now that the Oscars have come and gone I thought I'd made some observations. First off, if you listened to the Lake Charles' Best Sport Show culture segment on Sunday morning starting at 8:15 am CST, you would have heard Matt, Chad, Corey and my predictions, which were, if I say so myself – pretty good.

WE PICKED ALL THE RIGHT WINNERS! Unfortunately, the Academy didn't always agree with us.

Keeping in mind that we limited our picks to the nominees chosen by the Academy, we hereby present the REEL…I mean REAL…wait maybe I DO mean REEL…winners of the awards given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, more familiarly known as Oscar since the 1930's when the Academy librarian mentioned she thought it looked like her Uncle Oscar.

In no particular order:

BEST ACTOR

Let's start with a nominee on which we all unanimously concurred. Gary Oldman's breathtaking performance as Churchill in Darkest Hour was a well nigh impossible hurdle for any other actor to overcome. In a role that obviously brought a lifetime of skill and experience to bear, Oldman WAS Winston Churchill for 2 hours and 5 minutes. For more details on this stunning performance in this great film click here – Darkest Hour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Next up, Sam Rockwell handily shone above all the other contenders INCLUDING his co-star Woody Harrelson who, had Rockwell not been so amazing, I think would have won. Rockwell's portrayal of the massively flawed but redeemable deputy Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri earned this golden statue. Click on the name for my review. (As a side note I remember the first time I ever saw Rockwell. His performance in Galaxy Quest – the Star Trek homage/spoof/love letter was quite memorable. In what instantly became one of my all time favorite movies, he was arguably the most adorably goofy character in a tremendous ensemble of gifted actors including Sigourney Weaver, the late Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub and Tim Allen.)

BEST ACTRESS

 In another example of where the Academy occasionally gets it right, the brilliantly talented Frances McDormand picked up her second best actress Oscar. The first was for the charming, very pregnant and easily underestimateable Sheriff Marge in the weirdly quirky crime comedy-drama Fargo at the 1997 ceremony. This one was for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This round she is the desperately grieving mother of a murdered daughter who takes her frustration over the lack of progress out on the local constabulary, who are just as anxious to get results as she is. It is a case of two groups separated by a common goal who come to loggerheads because they can not find the real culprit. But interestingly, that is not what the movie is about. For more information on this complex and moving film see my review on Three Billboards subtitled: The Main Character is Not Who You Expect

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Here is where the Academy started to get it wrong. They picked Alison Janney for I, Tonya. A solid performance, certainly, in a dramedy/documentary about the life and scandal surrounding Tonya Harding and her complicity in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan just before the 1994 Olympics. While meaning no disrespect to Ms. Janney, as often actors are limited, obviously, by the roles they inhabit, Janney's character as Tonya Harding's mother was a monotone. Mrs. Harding was portrayed as a manipulative, abusive, emotionally calloused mother. She was not allowed, due to the nature of the script and person she was playing, to use much off the pallette of colors from those she was given. The result was almost a caricature of a person. Ms. Janney performed Mrs. Harding well, but it was by no means as challenging a part to play as the one tackled by Laurie Metcalf in Ladybird.

Laurie Metcalf's Marion is the mother of a rebellious, hormonal teenager struggling with her transition from child to woman. Marion actually has some traits in common with the notorious Mrs. Harding. Marion is distant and harsh at times, but despite her personal difficulties and conflicts with her daughter, manages to convey motherly purpose, love and conviction into a character that would have been unpleasant and unsympathetic in other hands. Metcalf's role was a very tricky hand to play. Too much and she would have been off putting, less and she would have seemed incapable as a mother. As it was Metcalf walked that fine ine between a flawed unpleasant character and a character with whom you feel empathy.

I have HAD the conversations Marion had with her daughter, Lady Bird – both as a daughter AND as the mother of a daughter, and I can tell you her portrayal was spot on.

For more on Ladybird see my review at: Lady Bird: To Anyone Who Knows a Teenaged Girl

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

There is no other way to describe the Academy's pick for best adapted screenplay as anything other than offensive and morally repugnant. Call me by Your Name was nothing but an attempt to lionize and romanticize pedophilia. Frankly, the author and everyone involved in the making of this movie should not have been awarded anything but jail sentences.

To be fair to the other nominees, I have to say I did not see any of them – mostly because I missed opportunities to do so and plan to catch up later. So, in this case, I deferred to my son who had at least seen Logan. He reported that Logan was an extremely good adaptation of the comic book series, exploring multi-dimensional character exposition while following the complex storyline set down by the original authors. If it later turns out one of the remaining three viable candidates did a better job, at least we can say that Logan deserved its place in the list of nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

I saw all five of the nominees and I can safely say that not only is Get Out the best original screenplay – in that it was not based upon any pre-existing source material – but that it was – literally – one of the most original screenplays I have ever seen and certainly the most original of the nominees which included Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Big Sick, all of which were excellent. While in good company, Get Out still outshone them all in its innovative and creative story ideas, theme, plot and execution.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

The Academy chose, Coco, what I thought was second best. They certainly chose the best CHILD'S animated feature film, but that is not what the category is. The category is for best animated feature film. I do not understand how they could compare Coco, which is what can only be described as a cute Halloween-like movie about a child searching for his grandfather among the dead, to the genuinely unique, classically and masterfully conjured  tour de force that is Loving Vincent.

Loving Vincent follows Armand, an ersatz and initially reluctant detective, who pursues the stories surrounding the death of Vincent Van Gogh. The entire film is animated using paintings made by hundreds of talented artists in the style of Vincent Van Gogh himself. The entire film is animated the way Vincent might have seen the proceedings. As satisfactory as Coco was, choosing it over Loving Vincent would be a bit like picking a cel from a Bugs Bunny cartoon over Starry Night. For more details on this daringly imaginative labor of love and brilliant masterpiece of animation, including links to where to obtain a copy, please see my review at – Loving Vincent – an Animated Biography.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

At least the Academy got this right. Dear Basketball is a lovely inspirational animated film based on the poem Kobe Bryant wrote about his love of the sport, commemorating his retirement and presented at the ceremony honoring him for his lifetime achievements.

BEST PICTURE

The only positive thing I can say about the Academy's ill-considered choice of The Shape of Water as best picture is that at least they didn't pick the movie about the pedophile. Please read my review of this misbegotten movie at: Shape of Water – Offensive on so Many Levels.

There were many excellent choices to be had but hands down my pick would have been Darkest HourDarkest Hour features one of the best performances anywhere by anyone. Darkest Hour also is a detailed and fascinating account of a moment in time shaped by courageous men, great and small, who changed the course of history almost solely by their foresight, heroism, stalwart determination to stand up to the face of evil and refusal to buckle under the massive pressure of others' cowardice. Simultaneously, the movie openly presents the foibles, and occasionally almost whimsical personality of one of the most powerful men in history – Winston Churchill, humanizing him in ways that make it easy to believe we can all aspire to greatness in our own way, if we are but willing to self-sacrifice for honor and the protection of others.

I just do not see how they could reject such a magnificent film as Darkest Hour in favor of a movie which examines a woman's selfish and disturbing descent into bestiality.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  I deferred on this category to my husband who is a gifted amateur photographer. After examining the work done in all of the nominated films he thought Dunkirk should have squeaked past Blade Runner 2049, though he admitted that Blade Runner 2049 demonstrated exceptionally good craftsmanship in that art. So I am pretty content with the Academy's choice of Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049 here.

COSTUME DESIGN

I know just about nothing concerning fashion and whether or not a particular costume was brilliantly recreated, difficult to construct or pulled off of a rack at Walmart. Therefore, I figure it is safe to assume that Mark Bridges' acquisition of that award for his work in Phantom Thread ABOUT a fashion designer is a pretty good bet. besides, the dresses are really pretty. LOL

BEST DIRECTOR

My objections to The Shape of Water are the same as those given above for Best Picture only more so as the director of a film is the captain of the ship and therefore the court of last resort and where the buck stops for the disaster or masterpiece which is created.

To my thinking, even had The Shape of Water not contained such offensive elements, Jordan Peele deserved the best director Oscar far more for Get Out. Jordan Peele both wrote and directed this fable exposing the truth behind the smug and smarmy smiles of wealthy elitist white liberals towards minorities whose lives they carelessly use like so much marketplace clutter.

Mr. Peele's use of sound and cinematography, fantasy elements and music, editing choices and plot twists all managed to deftly balance across a tightrope between horror and humor, creating a movie the likes of which I have not ever seen. Although there were many creative people involved and he did not singlehandedly make this film Mr Peele was the one who chose amongst an infinite choice of elements available to him to scupt this mesmerizing tale. Again, as the captain of this shiop he deserves the kudos, just as del Toro deserves the disapprobation. Hitchcock, I would be so bold as to guess, would have enjoyed Get Out, so suspenseful and woven throughout with intrigue, misdirection and cleverly laid clues it is. I can not help but wonder if the shoe Mr. Peele constructed of liberal hypocricies fit just a bit too tight for them to be comfortable in conferring the award Mr. Peele so clearly deserved.

FILM EDITING

Another choice where the Academy got it right. Dunkirk was chosen. The filmmakers had the interesting challenge of how to present one story wherein a certain aspect took place over a period of weeks, another essential element took days and a third was only a matter of hours. And I think the editor, Lee Smith, cracked this nut quite effectively and cleverly.

MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING

One of the few others that the Academy chose wisely. Although Wonder was brilliant the makeup for Darkest Hour was transformative. Not only Gary Oldman's face but his entire body structure was altered to reproduce the distinctive Churchill physique.

ORIGINAL SCORE

All of the music in all five of the nominees was beautiful and I will not begrudge the fact that The Shape of Water won for what is rightfully a lovely score by Alexandre Desplat, but you think they would have at least thrown a bone to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I mean it IS John Williams!!

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

While "Remember Me" from Coco , the song chosen by the Academy, was kind of cute in a harmless, innocuous, forgettably Disney-ish sort of way, I can't remember how it goes off the top of my head. But "This is Me" by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from The Greatest Showman should have won.

"This is Me" is the kind of song that will stick with you – not only because it is very catchy and fun to hear and sing, but it is inspirational and uplifting and is something you will want to recall in moments of frustration or challenge or even despair. "This is Me" is an anthem for those who are determined to pick themselves up and start over, who desire nothing more than to be left alone to strive for greatness without the burden of artificial obstacles placed in their way by interfering hypocritical cliquish elitists who think they are better than others because of the privilege to which they were born – oh wait, now I see why the liberal elite in the voting Hollywood establishment didn't want to pick it. Silly me.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

OK I'll give The Shape of Water this one as one it might actually have legitimately won. Although all the nominees created amazing worlds, there is an argument for the dream and water worlds created in Shape of Water. It is just a shame they didn't put these beautiful sets to better purpose than this egregiously misanthropic excuse for extreme selfishness and sexual depravity.

SOUND EDITING and SOUND MIXING

To me these awards were a toss up between Baby Driver and Dunkirk, and Dunkirk won. The challenge of combining dialogue, sound effects and music into a cohesive whole must have posed an especially creative challenge given the surroundings ran the gamut from inside a metal ship run aground to the open sea to being able to reasonably hear over World War II aircraft during a dog fight, sounds one might hear underwater, explosions and the clacking of boots on empty streets. I can applaud and respect this choice.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Lastly, Blade Runner 2049 earned its award for visual effects handily in the world of red lighted dust, dark rain swept vistas and holograph enhanced interactive environments. It's beautiful but stark and intimidating world deserved its win.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

LIVE ACTION SHORT

Sadly I saw none of the nominees for these last four categories.

Let me know in the comments what your favorites were in any or all of the categories. If you like, present a convincing argument and I might post it as all or part of a guest rebuttal.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Ree/eal Life – TWO OF FOUR REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH MOVIES

In the previous posts I explained my love of movies. Today, I'll begin to explain the why and source of that affiliation.

REASON NUMBER ONE OF FOUR

To me there are at least four reasons to watch a movie. For one thing, it is the only proven use of telepathy that I know of. What you see on the screen is the public visualization of someone else's dream. OK. To be more accurate the vision is more of a group effort – costume designer, cinematographer, location scout, casting director, and dozens or hundreds of other "chefs" add their ingredient to the stew. But USUALLY the final party plan is the director's; his or hers the vision that you get to see. For the most part, the "final cut" is the director's, he the one who makes what you see on screen most like what he has envisioned. Now granted that can be a good or bad thing, depending on whether the director is Ed Wood or Frank Capra. Then the choice is yours as to whether or not you want a peek into that person's mind. But it is a kind of telepathy – a (literally) "feeling from afar" as the term "telepathy" was originally coined by English psychologist Frederick Myers in 1882, even though that feeling is "limited" to visual, auditory and emotional.

REASON NUMBER TWO OF FOUR

Another reason why you should watch movies is that they are cathartic. You can, via sympathy, experience situations and events, that you may never personally get to do first hand. For example, I will not likely ever get to float in zero gravity watching the earth spin from miles above, but there are any number of movies which, with a little imagination, can help you vicariously get that experience, including Gravity and The Right Stuff.

………..Next – Reasons three, four and five out of four —— wait??!! what???…………..