Clint Eastwood

W is for White Hunter Black Heart (1990)

White Hunter Black Heart is thinly inspired by director John Huston and the experience he and his crew had while making The African Queen. Renowned filmmaker John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) travels to Africa to direct a new movie, but his desire to hunt down an elephant turns into a grim situation with his movie crew, putting production behind and lives on the line.

This is honestly one of the best performances I’ve seen from Clint Eastwood. John Wilson is such a charming guy but he’s also reckless and selfish. He clearly has a moral backbone as he picks fights with racists and insults antisemites to their faces but when he becomes obsessed with hunting a huge elephant it’s like any of his likable qualities fade away. Though, were those supposedly admirable qualities really there, or was it all his ego? Using when his friend is belittled to make a point and appear smarter than others or using when a black waiter is mistreated to start a fight and get out some of his pent-up aggression. While in a roundabout way he stood up for those people, did he do it just to make himself feel good or from a sense of justice? These are the things you’re left wondering about John Wilson.

Eastwood plays him to perfection. It probably helps that through his long career Eastwood has played his fair share of toxic male characters but here the toxic masculinity isn’t something to be admired but to be cautious of. Combined with the ego and insecurity of an artist, John is a captivating character and someone you’re never too sure what he’s going to do next.

Pete (Jeff Fahey) is the film’s writer and John’s friend. He’s the voice of reason to a lot of John’s suggestions, or rather he attempts to be but John is so strong-willed that he often barely registers Pete’s objections.

Personally, I enjoyed seeing Brit Alun Armstrong in this. He played Ralph Lockhart who works for one of the producers of the film John and Peter are supposed to be finishing writing and scouting locations. There’s some good banter between Ralph and John as they have opposing ideas and as Ralph gets more used to John’s obsession and almost gives up on the film being made, he has some funny lines. Just the disbelief and grim acceptance of the film productions situation is amusing as he’s one of the first to realise how potentially bad a situation the cast and crew could be in thanks to John.

White Hunter Black Heart is a gripping film thanks to Eastwood’s performance. He plays a fascinating character and there’s a sense of foreboding throughout as he gets more and more obsessed with hunting a bull elephant. It’s very reminiscent of Moby Dick with the elephant being John’s white whale and woe betide anyone who stands in his way. 4/5.

S is for Space Cowboys (2000)

When an aging Russian satellite suffers a system failure that could set it on a collision course for Earth, retired engineer Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is called into help as his now outdated guidance system is what the satellite runs on. He blackmails his former boss Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) in order to get his old team back together to complete the mission, and soon Frank, pilot William “Hawk” Hawkings (Tommy Lee Jones), flight engineer Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) and navigator Tank Sullivan (James Garner) are all going through training at NASA to prove their fitness for the mission.

I love a good space movie, especially ones that focus on the technical aspects of space travel and have all the usual tropes with interesting characters in ground control as well as in space, office politics, and things not going to plan – Apollo 13 and The Martian are my favourite space films. Space Cowboys ticks all those boxes so I had a great time with this film.

The friendship between the old teammates is what really made Space Cowboys for me. So many of the scenes when they’re all together, just chatting, or messing around during their training were fun to watch. It all seemed so natural as they took the mick out of one another but also clearly cared about one another. Some of them hadn’t seen each other for years but the sign of a good friendship is being able to easily fall back into the old rhythms of a friendship like no time had passed at all.

The first two acts of Space Cowboys are Frank getting the team back together and them going through training together. There are the usual clichés of clashes between the old, would-be astronauts and the young, trained professionals but things never turn too nasty and as their training progresses you can see there’s a grudging respect between the two generations. The third act is the mission into space and naturally just about everything that could go wrong, does. There’s a bit of a farfetched reveal about the satellite but besides from that the mission in space is tense and action-packed.

As someone who grew up watching James Cromwell as the nice and gentle farmer in Babe, it’s been a weird experience watching the rest of his filmography as I get older, especially when he plays characters who aren’t that nice at all. Whenever he and Eastwood butt heads it’s fun to see but Cromwell’s character has such a shifty undertone to him it’s a bit disconcerting.

Have to mention the needle drop of *NSYNC’s Space Cowboy which was not a song I’d ever think would be in a Clint Eastwood movie but when the title works, it’d be a crime not to use it.

Overall Space Cowboys is a fun film with engaging characters. Sure, the main plot is saving a failing satellite but really it’s a film about friendship, loyalty, and trust and it has one of the most believable group of friends I’ve seen in film in a while. 4/5.

L is for Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

The story of the battle of Iwo Jima between the United States and Imperial Japan during World War II, as told from the perspective of the Japanese who fought it.

There’s a couple of things about Letters from Iwo Jima that I didn’t realise before watching it. The first is that it’s a companion film to Flags of Our Fathers (which I haven’t seen) and that film tells the American side of this true story. The second is that 99% of the dialogue is in Japanese, with the only time English is spoken is if it’s an American character, or there’s a Japanese soldier who knows the language. It makes sense that a true story about Japanese soldiers should have all the characters speaking their own language but I’m so used to American films where everyone speaks English but with an accent, that it was a pleasant surprise. Often even when it’d make sense for characters to speak their own language, like when there’s no English-speaking characters around, they still don’t so the fact that the story of Letters from Iwo Jima is told in Japanese made everything seem more authentic. Maybe what made me presume this film would be in English was because it’s directed by Clint Eastwood?

Onto the film proper. As mentioned, I knew very little about the film going into it, and I knew even less about the real events. So, learning about this small island and the brave men who defended it was really interesting and thanks to so many of the actor’s performances I found myself pulled into their story pretty quickly.

I suppose there were two main characters General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) and Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) a soldier. Following these two men who were either ends of the military hierarchy meant that you got to see all aspects of the battle and its preparation. Kuribayashi has to deal with other generals who think his plan of digging tunnels in the mountains is pointless, or who would rather make their men commit suicide than retreat as were his orders. Watanabe plays those doomed hero characters so well. Saigo is just an ordinary man, a baker, who was conscripted and does what he can to survive.

There’s also Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) who was interesting as he was an Olympic gold medallist showjumper who is in between the other two in terms of hierarchy. There’s a scene where he reads a letter from a mother to her American son who’s a soldier, translating it from English to Japanese for his men to hear, and that letter along with the score made me tear up. It’s such a simple but impactful scene. That scene, along with a couple of others, show how on both sides of a conflict there can be cruel people but there can also be kind people.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film like Letters from Iwo Jima in terms of how it used colour. It is a colour film, but the colours are so washed out that so much of it looks to be in shades of grey, especially in scenes set during the night. The colours are so muted that when there’s a bright yellow flash from a grenade or the splatter of red blood, they’re even more startling. The few flashback scenes that set away from Iwo Jima, have more colour to them but it’s still muted compared to what you generally see on screen nowadays.

Letters from Iwo Jima is an impressive war film, showing the bravery of the soldiers without being overtly jingoistic. The score by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens is often soft and heart-breaking, contrasting with the horrors of war on screen but it makes those images even more impactful. Went into Letters from Iwo Jima knowing nothing and finished it being thoroughly impressed by all involved. 5/5.

F is for Firefox (1982)

When the Russians create Firefox, a prototype jet that’s invisible to radar and can be commanded by the pilot’s mind, the West send pilot Mitchell Gant (Clint Eastwood) to the Soviet Union to steal it.

The plot to get Gant into Moscow is convoluted and the plot moves from him to the Russian high command to back to mission control in the West and none of it’s particularly interesting. Or when it does have the potential to be interesting it moves from that group of characters to another suddenly. Some scenes seem too long and just fizzle out while others don’t have enough context to be worthwhile.

As well as the KGB being a threat to him, Gant also has PTSD and panic attacks that can make him freeze up. The way these panic attacks are shot is kind of interesting with the sound and camera movement as well as overlapping scenes of the incident that gave Gant this trauma. It was kind of nice that while other characters including Gant’s superiors knew of his mental health issues they aren’t really talked about negatively and he manages to deal with them to the best of his ability.

Firefox is one of those 80s films that’s almost futuristic. While it’s definitely set in the 80s with the Cold War paranoia, the fact that the jet can fire missiles and pick out targets with just the thought of the pilot is a kind of sci-fi twist. It feels very 80s that they thought that technology could even progress to that point.

One thing that amused/annoyed me was that one of the reasons Gant got chosen for this mission was that he’s fluent in Russian, but whenever he talked to a Russian when he was pretending to be Russian, he still talked in English and didn’t even put on a (potentially awful) Russian accent. It made sense for him to talk with his own American accent when he was pretending to be an American tourist but when he was infiltrating the base as a supposed Russian it just felt really wrong.

Firefox ticks a lot of the standard Cold War thriller trope boxes but it doesn’t do anything to make it stand out from other films in the genre. The first half of the film is often boring and in the second half, while naturally the fighter plane sequences look dated now and though it becomes a bit long there are some sparks of potential excitement in them. It’s like the film tried to be two things at once; serious Cold War thriller and fun sci-fi action film. The two tones don’t really mesh together.

On a personal note, I enjoyed seeing Freddie Jones in this. He played Aubrey, one of the British Intelligence officers involved with the mission. It was another instance of seeing an actor almost 40 years younger than I’ve ever seen him before as until fairly recently he was a regular on the British soap Emmerdale which I grew up watching.

Firefox is Clint Eastwood’s eighth film as a director so while you could blame some of the film’s shortcomings on it being an early film of his, Eastwood had directed Play Misty for Me and The Outlaw Josey Wales by then which are both great. Maybe this is an instance where a director can only do so much with a dull screenplay overstuffed with exposition. 2/5.

C is for City Heat (1984)

Kansas City, 1933. After his partner is murdered, private investigator Mike Murphy (Burt Reynolds) tries to solve the case and take down the mob while his former friend Lieutenant Speer (Cint Eastwood) does the same.

City Heat is marketed as a buddy comedy set in the prohibition era and if often feels like it’s not a particularly great parody rather than an entertaining action comedy. I say parody as there one scene in particular where Speer shoot a guy multiple times and he continues walking and shooting far longer than he realistically would be able to. Yes, realism isn’t always there in action films (people never running out of bullets or stopping to reload) but this was super noticeable.

The small moments of comedy that worked for me was when there was a play on words. For example, when threatening one of the mobsters Speer asks, “You know what an ‘ilk’ is don’t ya?” and he replies, “A big deer?” and I don’t know why but that really tickled me. The more physical comedy didn’t work for me at all but Eastwood’s dry delivery of some lines did make me crack a smile.

A main selling point of City Heat probably was Reynolds and Eastwood and having these two genre legends share the screen. Unfortunately, they don’t actually do that a lot. While it might be marketed as their solving the crime together, they’re actually both individually trying to figure out what happened and, bar the opening scene and the final showdown, their paths only briefly cross now and then. A lot of the time they shoot a couple of barbs at one another, refuse to be honest about what they know and then go off to follow their own leads. The opening sequence did have some potential as it showed off the difference between Murphy and Speer. Murphy likes to think he’s a smooth talker and a charmer while Speer is more stoic and drier. It was a cliched juxtaposition that worked but then they spent the next hour barely together at all.

Murphy’s partner Dehl Swift (Richard Roundtree) does a whole load of double-crossing various people including mobsters. Because all of these members of the mob were dressed the same and looked similar, it was kind of hard to keep track of who’s who and who was the guy at the top of the food chain. The fact that I found myself not particularly caring about the plot or the characters probably was part of the reason I wasn’t really following who was who and instead was getting bored.

The women in City Heat aren’t that great as most of them are there to be love interests or to be kidnapped – or both. But I have to say I did like Addy (Jane Alexander), Murphy’s secretary and friend, a lot. She was smart with a great wry sense of humour and her comedic timing was probably the best out of everyone.

One decent character and a few dry quips from Eastwood doesn’t make City Heat a worthwhile watch unfortunately. The plot is often incomprehensible and dull and a lot of the shootouts are long, repetitive and just not interesting to watch either so when the action starts you’re still not entertained. City Heat tries to be an action film and a comedy and it doesn’t really achieve either. If Reynolds and Eastwood were on screen together more then the little sparks of chemistry seen when they were together might’ve made it more enjoyable but alas, they weren’t so it wasn’t. 1/5.

A is for Absolute Power (1997)

In the middle of committing a crime himself, master thief Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) witnesses a woman being murdered and none other than the President of the United States (Gene Hackman) is involved.

Directed by Eastwood, Absolute Power is a pretty decent and often fun cat and mouse game. As Detective Seth Frank (Ed Harris) looks into the murder he finds that there may have been more than one person in the room when the victim died, and some of them may not have even been the murderer. Meanwhile the members of the Secret Service and the Chief of Staff (Judy Davis) who were there that night are looking into who could’ve witnessed the crime and are doing everything in their power to protect themselves and the President.

One of the most interesting scenes was between Detective Frank and Luther. Frank goes to Luther to try and figure out if he was involved with the murder and to learn how a thief would get in the home. It’s one of those great scenes where both characters think the other knows something, but aren’t revealing everything and each have their own motivations. Seeing actors like Harris and Eastwood bounce off one another is never not entertaining.

As I was watching Absolute Power, I was reminded of a film that came out 10 years later, Shooter directed by Antoine Fuqua. Having them as a double bill would be interesting as they’re both films about a guy either being set up by the government or being hounded by it and the cat and mouse game that ensues as slowly those he cares about gets caught up in it. With Absolute Power that’s Luther’s estranged daughter Kate (Laura Linney). I thought their relationship was interesting as they’re not close because he’s a career thief but it becomes clear that Luther still cares about her in his own way. Won’t lie, was a bit worried when Luther and Kate first met as I didn’t know he had a daughter and thought for a horrible moment Absolute Power would be another film with a big age gap between Eastwood and his love interest but thankfully this wasn’t the case.

Whether or not Absolute Power is a particular memorable film is to be seen but it’s a pretty interesting and fun thriller. 3/5.

My Film Year in Review and my Film-related Goals of 2021

What with 2020 being what it was, my film-watching didn’t really take a hit. I watched 265 different films and of those films, 93 of them were rewatches. I think with everything going on I definitely enjoyed revisiting old favourites, where I knew the story so didn’t necessarily have to think too much. I did manage to see 16 films in the cinema in 2020, pre-pandemic and in between the various lockdowns the UK has had. I shared my Ten Favourite Films last month, in some ways it was hard to pick favourites as I felt I hadn’t seen many new UK releases what with everything else going on, but I really would recommend all the films I mentioned in that post.

I completed the 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and screenwriters again, which was the fifth year in a row. I watched 57 films directed by women and 70 that were written by women.

I did make some headway with my unwatched DVDs and Blu-Rays! That’s thanks to the A-Z in April Challenge where I posted a film review for every letter of the alphabet. Now I have 63 unwatched physical films so that’s good. I did watch some of my Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock boxsets but I still have over 10 films in each boxset.

I didn’t spend much time watching TV series in 2020 (what a surprise!) but I did finally finish watching Shadowhunters and I was really happy with how they managed to wrap everything up. I also watched series two of The Alienist and His Dark Materials, Good Omens and Down to Earth with Zac Efron, which I all really enjoyed in different ways. My newest TV obsession is Cobra Kai, I watched the first two seasons in one weekend in September and fell in love with it, then I watched season three in two days at the beginning of the month and even got my mum into it. I love that show a whole lot.

Now it’s time for the fun actor and director stats I get from having a Letterboxd pro account.

My most watched actors of 2020 were:

I watched the Underworld series, the Karate Kid series and the Descendants trilogy for the first time, and I rewatched the entire MCU in April/May (and wrote about how that helped me grieve for my dad). I also rewatched The Chronicles of Narnia, the original Ocean’s trilogy, the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (that was back in January and wow does that seem like a long time ago!), the Bourne series, the Jurassic Park/World films and The Lord of the Rings – so that explains most of the actors who make an appearance. I also made an effort to watch more of Anton Yelchin, Chadwick Boseman, Kristen Stewart and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s filmographies.

My most watched directors definitely reflect the fact I watched a lot of different series. Kenny Ortega (Descendants), Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s), the Russo brothers and James Gunn (MCU), Paul Greengrass (Bourne), Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic Park/World), John Avildsen (Karate Kid) and Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings). It’s disappointing but not surprising that it’s just male directors as I didn’t watch many films made by the same woman.

So what are my film-related goals of 2021? I’ll continue to be a mood watcher, there’s loads of films of different genres in my Netflix and Amazon Prime queue to keep me busy as well as the physical films I have. I want to watch 52 Films by Women, both directors and screenwriters, again. I was considering to try and watch one Alfred Hitchcock film, one Clint Eastwood film, and one Studio Ghibli film (they’re all on Netflix and I’ve only ever seen Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle) a week but we’re a week into 2021 and I haven’t watched any of them yet. But I do like that idea and hopefully going forward I’ll watch at least one of those types of films each week.

With regards to TV, I suppose what I’d really like to do in 2021 is finish all the Marvel Netflix series. I’ve watched up to and including season one of The Punisher so that means I have six series left to watch. Speaking of Marvel, I’m really looking forward to all the MCU shows coming to Disney+ this year, with WandVision starting next week. I do think I’m generally better at watching shows when they’re released weekly so I should be able to keep up with them. Otherwise, there are a load of series I’d like to try like The Madalorian, Dickinson and Ted Lasso but I won’t hold out too much hope with that one – I know what I’m like with TV.

Do you have any film or TV-related goals for 2021? If you have a Letterboxd account do let me know so I can follow you.

U is for Unforgiven (1992)

Retired gunslinger William Munny (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes on one last job, avenge a woman who had been attacked by a couple of cowboys, with the help of his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and a young man, The “Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett).

Unforgiven is one of those films that’s always recommended when someone’s interested in exploring more of the Western genre. Because of that, I was expecting to really like it but unfortunately, I did not. On the whole, I enjoy Westerns and even did a module on them at university, but I really struggled with Unforgiven and found it more boring than anything else.

Unforgiven is just really slow going. The majority of the film is just highlighting how old William and, to a lesser extent, Ned have gotten. They used to be the best of the best, cold stone killers but they have changed, becoming farmers rather than killers. William’s world weariness is balanced out by The Schofield Kid’s enthusiasm. The dynamic between the youngster, keen to leave their mark, and the older gunslingers who have killed and know the toll it can have is good, but really the characters don’t have much of a personality. They are clichés of the genre and many of the characters could’ve been swapped with others from the genre with little to no effect on the plot.

Everything finally kicks off in the final act and a lot of the previous heavy-handed exposition becomes relevant as you see the change William goes through. It’s a final act that works because of what came before it, but unfortunately what came before it was often dull or meaningless. There’s a side plot with Richard Harris as gunfighter English Bob which amounts to nothing and is only there to hammer home how brutal lawman Little Bill (Gene Hackman) is. However, there are other scenes before and after the ones featuring English Bob that show how nasty Bill can be, so is Richard Harris even needed here?

Unforgiven won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1993 and while I haven’t seen the other nominees from that year, I’m still somewhat surprised it won. It looks good, with wide shots of the landscapes and the film quality makes it feels like a much older film than it is, which adds to the charm of a Western as they should feel timeless. However, Unforgiven is an arduous watch. The performances are mostly fine, but there’s attempts at humour that often don’t work, and the story and characters aren’t particularly compelling. Unforgiven just really wasn’t for me. 2/5.

S is for Sudden Impact (1983)

Trigger warnings for scenes of rape.

After angering a gang of criminals, San Francisco Detective Harry Callahan’s (Clint Eastwood) bosses send him on an out-of-town case until things calm down. But things are never quiet for Harry. In the seaside town he ends up there’s Jennifer (Sondra Locke), a rape victim who is exacting her revenge on her attackers, and soon Harry ends up following the case.

Sudden Impact is the fourth film following Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry. It’s been a good few years since I’ve watched the first three so I can’t compare it to them in terms of quality or Harry as a character’s story arc.

That being said, this film sees Harry as a man who sees murderers as murderers with very little grey area to move in. This means having the serial killer he’s chasing having a very understandable motive as she was a victim of a heinous crime, means there’s some interesting ground to cover in terms of Harry’s character. Unfortunately, this aspect is never really fully explored besides some lingering gazes and Jennifer being able to keep up when verbally sparring with Harry.

Jennifer is a compelling character and it’s refreshing to see her be allowed to be angry and scared, and how she seeks “justice” is never framed as a bad thing – especially once the audience knows her motives. The scenes when she confronts her rapists are powerful and Locke gives a steely performance in those moments.

The car and foot chases sometimes feel a bit dated, but the score is a great at increasing the tension in the sequences. The final act is exciting as Harry begins to put everything together and he and Jennifer both become caught up in danger.

Sudden Impact is an intriguing detective story that puts the killer almost on par with the hero in terms of screen time and understanding. 4/5.

D is for The Dead Pool (1988)

Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) must stop a sick secret contest to murder local celebrities, which includes himself as a target.

The Dead Pool is the fifth and (so far but I doubt there’ll ever be more but who knows with the likes of Harrison Ford still making Indiana Jones movies) final Dirty Harry movie. Like its predecessors, it has Harry growling at anyone who gets in his way and being involved in wanton destruction, but while this film has its action and violence, it’s surprisingly funny.

The Dead Pool has one of the most entertaining and inventive car chase sequences I’ve seen, and it contains a remote-control car the exudes menace. It makes great use of its San Francisco setting with all the hills and the score is just great. It’s equally parts fun and thrilling which I really wasn’t expecting from when the remote-control car first appeared.

Harry Callahan gets a new partner in Al Quan (Evan C. Kim) and they and their fellow officers are very aware that Harry’s partners often get injured or killed on the job. Al and Harry have an easy report with each other almost straightaway as Al rolls with the whatever dangerous situations he ends up in by being connected to Harry. However, it is a bit stereotypical that as Al is Asian American, he knows martial arts and stops a bad guy by using his skills.

Part of the fun of watching The Dead Pool is seeing some of the actors who are involved. Jim Carrey plays a musician, Patricia Clarkson reporter Samantha Walker who wants to do a piece on Harry, and Liam Neeson plays horror movie director, Peter Swan, who gets caught up in the celebrity murder contest. Neeson’s Swan is a wonderfully over-the-top director who gets under a lot of people’s skin due to his perfectionism and his temper. The scenes with Swan and Callahan are great fun as their personalities are such opposites you’re never sure which one is going to snap first.

The Dead Pool is a fun, entertaining crime film. Plus, its runtime is under 90 minutes and while there’s a lot going on, the pacing is good and the mystery keeps you guessing and intrigued as Harry slowly unravels the case. 4/5.