Richard Jewell

Posted on December 12, 2019 at 5:42 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Bombing, explosions, characters injured and killed, brief disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Portrayal of female professional using sex to manipulate men
Date Released to Theaters: December 14, 2019
Date Released to DVD: March 16, 2020
Copyright Warner Brothers 2019

Erik Erikson said that at each stage of life we have a choice between growth, learning, and compassion and fear, immaturity, and self-absorption. The final choice he posed was for old age, when people have to choose between ego integrity (satisfaction and completeness at the end of life, a sense of having made a difference) or despair (being lost, lacking a sense of purpose). (I highly recommend “Everybody Rides the Carousel,” an animated film from John and Faith Hubley, illustrating Erikson’s theories.) Two big end-of-the-year releases by two men, one in his 70’s, the other almost 90, seem to come down on different sides.

Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is a movie by old men about what it is to be old, to be looking back on the choices you’ve made and the consequences they have had. The characters in the film, based on real people and their sometimes questionable stories, committed brutal crimes. The movie never excuses their behavior, but it portrays them in a complex, humane, elegiac manner.

89-year-old Clint Eastwood has made “Richard Jewell,” also based on a true story, this one about a man who was accused of a crime he did not commit. Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) was pudgy and his social skills were uneven. He was fascinated with order and authority and wanted very much to be a police officer. He lived with his mother and he had a lot of guns (“This is Georgia,” he shrugs.) He fit the profile and was an easy target in a city desperate to keep the international athletes, IOC officials, and media confident that everything was under control.

One of three films this month about real-life heroic lawyers who fought near-insurmountable odds to bring justice (the other two are “Dark Waters” and “Just Mercy”), this could have been a heartwarming story, but Eastwood’s cranky “get off my lawn” perspective cannot resist overdoing it as though he was talking to an empty chair. Instead of a movie about a guy who was the victim of the FBI under pressure to find a culprit and the media frantic to find a story. Eastwood is so sure we will not be able to figure out who the bad guys are that he all but has them wear signs.

It isn’t just this FBI agent who is wrong; it’s the government. And it isn’t this reporter or this newspaper that is wrong; it’s the media. It is not enough that the reporter’s first reaction on hearing that there has been a bombing is to hope that the bomber is story-worthy. Eastwood has to make her trade sex for information. (She is dead now, but her newspaper has demanded that the movie make clear it is not an accurate representation.) Our hero, meaning the lawyer, played by the always-great Sam Rockwell, has a bumper sticker in his office that says, “I fear government more than I fear terrorism.” JUST IN CASE WE DON’T GET THE POINT.

It’s a shame because the story has an even more important lesson in this era of social media, citizen “journalists” and milkshake ducks. But the shrill tone of the film gets in the way, especially in its portrayal of the reporter as not just irresponsible about the facts but willing to trade sex for a story. Pro tip: if you are going to make a movie about how terrible it is that the media exaggerates and lies, try not to do that in the movie itself.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and a bombing with some brief disturbing images. Characters drink alcohol and a woman use sex to get information.

Family discussion: Why was Richard Jewell a suspect? Why did Watson believe him?

If you like this, try: “Sully” and “American Sniper” from the same director

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Beguiled — The Male and Female Gaze

Posted on June 29, 2017 at 3:52 pm

The best way to see Sofia Coppola’s “Beguiled” is to pair it with the original version, starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel. Her film is really in conversation with the 1971 version. Both are the story of a wounded Union soldier who disrupts the lives of the women at a sheltered Southern boarding school in the midst of the Civil War. Each reflects its time as well as its director. Don Siegel directed such testosteronic classics as “Dirty Harry” and “The Killers.” In his version, the schoolmistress played by Geraldine Page is a bit unhinged (she had an incestuous relationship with her brother). The sudden arrival of a man (a literal enemy) is profoundly unsettling to all of the women but the implication is that the absence of men put them on the brink.

Copyright 2017 Parmount

One reason Sofia Coppola decided to do a remake for the first time was to tell the story from the perspective of the women, and that has provoked some especially thoughtful commentary. In her version, the women are generally stronger and more resilient. Coppola’s decision to omit a slave character has drawn some criticism, but she said that she could not do justice to the character and that she wanted the girls and their teachers to feel abandoned and to be forced to learn to take care of themselves.

The New York Times wrote:

Ms. Coppola said that she did not give any thought to a female gaze, but that she did see differences in how she and Siegel handled the same material. “Siegel told his film from a male perspective of a guy surrounded by crazy women. I tell mine through the filter of women’s frustrated desires,” she said in a phone interview this month. She recalled that when Anne Ross, her frequent production designer, suggested that she watch the 1971 film, at the end the director thought, Let’s tell the women’s side of this. In Siegel’s version, the women are cast to type as slut, spinster, servant and so on, as if they represented the spectrum of female humanity. Ms. Coppola, who unlike Siegel is not judgmental about female sexuality, has more developed characters for the women.

On Rogerebert.com, Susan Wloszczyna writes about both versions, frankly admitting that she prefers the first.

I gave a pass to the Sunday-best sort of clothes that his keepers wear to impress McBurney, which are somehow crisp and wrinkle-free in such humidity. But then Coppola has the seven females don satin ball gowns with perfectly braided hair and fancy ribbons while serving a sumptuous Michelin-star worthy feast to the soldier on fancy china and crystal. Weirdly, we get to witness one of the younger students don a corset Scarlett O’Hara-style when she clearly doesn’t need one. Perhaps, by this time, the director can get away with such a fantasy sequence that feels like a War Between the States-themed prom.

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The Famous Families of the Longest Ride Cast

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 3:55 pm

The cast of this week’s big release, the Nicholas Sparks movie “The Longest Ride,” includes three actors with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars in their family trees. It’s a good reminder to check out some of their best films.

Scott Eastwood plays Luke, the rodeo rider. It is obvious from his face as well as his name that his father is Oscar-winning actor/producer/director Clint Eastwood. Here are three samples from Eastwood’s long and varied career.

Jack Huston plays Ira as a young man in the 1940’s. Houston comes from Hollywood royalty. His grandfather, great-grandfather, and aunt have all won Oscars. What’s really nice is that his grandfather, John Huston, was the director of both the Oscar-winning performances of his father, Walter Huston (in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) and his daughter, Anjelica Huston (in “Prizzi’s Honor”).

Walter Huston won his Oscar for “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

But my favorite Walter Huston performance is in “Dodsworth.” The look on his face in the last scene is unforgettable.

John Huston directed some of the greatest films of all time, including “The Maltese Falcon,” “Key Largo,” and “The African Queen.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wjIAM0ixzY

He had some memorable acting roles, too, especially in “Chinatown.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPfrCIKhEoA

Jack’s aunt Anjelica starred in many films including “The Witches,” “The Addams Family” and its sequel, “The Grifters,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

And his uncle Danny starred in television’s “Magic City” and “American Horror Story” and played a key role in Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes.”

Ira’s wife is played by Oona Chaplin, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were two of the greatest talents of the 20th century. Her grandfather was Charlie Chaplin.

She is named for her grandmother, Oona O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill.

And her mother is Geraldine Chaplin, who appeared in several films, including “Doctor Zhivago.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2EVab2FgLg

Ira as an old man is played by Alan Alda, who is also the son of a well-known performer, Robert Alda, who originated the role of Skye Masterson in the Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls.” Here he is doing a duet on an old television show.

You can see the progeny of these stars in “The Longest Ride” trailer.

And watch out for more next-generation performers coming soon!

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More on “Jersey Boys” Director Clint Eastwood

Posted on June 27, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Clint Eastwood is not a favorite of mine as an actor or a director, though I appreciate some of his work. I think his best performance may have been in Gran Torino, which he also directed.  But as a director, he was able to create the movie around his strengths as an actor and around our relationship with him as a performer and persona.

I like “Letters from Iwo Jima,” and think his first film as a director, Play Misty for Me is a nice little thriller. But he completely missed the mark in adapting one of my favorite books, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and I really dislike his Oscar-winner “Million Dollar Baby,” which I thought showed his greatest faults as a director in it heavy-handedness and lack of trust for the audience.

I give him credit for trying to sing in “Paint Your Wagon.”

He did all right with “Jersey Boys,” but it could have been better.  Christy Lemire, who agrees with me that it is only pretty good, has an interesting piece about Eastwood’s own take on his films, commenting on his six favorites.  Bilge Ebiri wrote a thoughtful assessment of Eastwood for Rolling Stone.

There are, you could argue, two Clint Eastwoods. One is the strong, near-silent type, the man with no name but a pair of Colt revolvers or a .44 Magnum, the lean avenging angel who asks if you feel lucky, punk, and would care to make his day. Whether he’s a tough cop, a tough cowboy, a tough secret-service agent, a tough military man, a tough experimental-jet-fighter pilot or a tough racist old coot, the part is a variation on Eastwood’s screen persona. His status as a macho icon was cast in immovable granite early on; to many, Eastwood is still the man who wielded suggestively-long barreled guns and doled out ruthless justice to criminals and assorted thugs. He is Dirty Harry, by any other name.

Then there’s the Clint behind the camera, the classicist who evokes old-school filmmakers like John Ford and Eastwood’s mentor Don Siegel, the guy who likes to keep things nice and easy on the set, and never likes to do more than a few takes. The director who makes movies that feel ambivalent about taking the law into your own hands, and biopics about jazz musicians, and a genuine tearjerker about a love between two late-in-life romantics that could not be. The serious gentleman who gets nominated for, and occasionally wins, Oscars. The Clint Eastwood who adapts a megapopular Broadway musical for the big screen.

And Andrew Romano calls him the most overrated director in The Daily Beast.

His style is largely procedural. As Esquire’s Tom Junod has written, “the Clint Movie is itself defined by what he won’t do. He won’t go over budget. He won’t go over schedule. He won’t storyboard. He won’t produce a shot list. He won’t rehearse. He doesn’t say “Action” … and he doesn’t say “Cut.” He won’t, in the words of his friend Morgan Freeman, “shoot a foot of film until the script is done,” and once the script is done, he won’t change it. He doesn’t heed the notes supplied by studio executives…He won’t accept the judgment of test screenings…He is well-known for his first takes—for expecting his actors and crew to be prepared for them and for moving on if he gets what he wants.”

I’m not sure that makes him the most overrated, but I agree that he is more serviceable than inspired.

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Jersey Boys

Posted on June 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Winston Churchill famously said that history is written by the victors.  In movie terms, that means that when you see the names of just two of the original Four Seasons listed as the film’s producers, it is clear we are going to get their side of the story.jersey boys

This film, like the Tony Award-winning musical, is the “VH1 Behind the Music”-style story of four guys from the scrappy streets of New Jersey who grow up with only three possible career paths: the military, the mob, and somehow achieving fame.  The first two have a high risk of getting killed.  The last seems unobtainable.  But the four guys, brought together in part by a fifth guy who took the fame option, Oscar-winner Joe Pesci (played in the film by Joseph Russo), became one of the most successful pop acts of all time, with number one hits through the 60’s-70’s.

Clint Eastwood, a composer himself, who made a fine musical biopic about Charlie Parker (“Bird”), has taken on this story, beautifully performed, but too focused on the lives of the group’s members, with very little about what it was that made them stars, or even what the music meant to them aside from a way to get out of New Jersey and support their families.

Tony Award-winner John Lloyd Young plays the undisputed star of The Four Seasons, Frankie Valli, whose pure-toned, remarkably elastic three-octave range was the pure aural joy amidst the sweet harmonies of the Four Seasons sound.  It was that voice that persuaded 15-year-old Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), already the composer of a hit single (“Who Wears Short Shorts”), to join the group.  A handshake deal between Gaudio and Valli continues to this day.

Eastwood and cinematographer Tom Stern give the movie a bleached-out look that gives the skin tones of the cast the consistency of putty.  This is intended to express the grittiness of the New Jersey community, but it just looks drab.  And it undermines the points that Eastwood and the Jersey boys themselves try to make about their rough-and-tumble environment when the kindly cop knows everyone in the community so well he remembers Frankie’s curfew.  Even the mob boss (a deliciously droll performance by Christopher Walken) is so cute and cuddly that he cries openly when Frankie sings a sentimental number.  And he’s there to step in when another mob guy is less understanding.

The predictable temptations and stresses of life on the road are predictably laid before us.  Some day, I hope someone will make a movie about a famous guy that won’t have the screaming fight with the wife about how he’s never home.  This is not that film.  And there are the struggles for leadership, the poor judgment with money, also resolved the Jersey way.  We briefly see decisions that led to iconic details.  After several other names, the group picked “The Four Seasons” from a sign at a bowling alley that would not hire them to perform.  “Big Girls Don’t Cry” came from a Billy Wilder movie they saw on television.  But we never get a real sense of the era, of how they fit into the culture musically, how they interacted with the fans, how they were affected by experiencing the world outside of New Jersey.

It is absorbing, largely because of excellent performances by all four of the Jersey Boys, but uneven, largely because the script assumes that we will be as fascinated with the relationships of the four men as they are themselves.  At the end, Frankie says that for him the high point was finding their sound, just four guys harmonizing under a street light.  That’s a moment we never get to experience.  The only time we feel their pleasure in performing is in what has to be seen as the curtain call number, an odd piece of theatricality that, after two and a half hours of running time, finally shows us what made the Four Seasons so thrilling to experience.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language including crude sexual references, a non-explicit sexual situation, smoking, drinking, off-screen drug abuse, and references to mob activity.

Family discussion: Why does Frankie take responsibility for what Tony did? Why did he leave his daughter with her mother? What do you think was their high point and why did Frankie pick the one he did?

If you like this, try: other musician biopics like “Ray” and “Walk the Line” and the music of the Four Seasons.  And to get a glimpse of Frankie Valli today, look for him in a small role in Rob Reiner’s “And So It Goes” with Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton.

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