Tag: Clint Eastwood

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Dirty Harry

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In an ideal world, police officers are sworn to serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law. Even in our fiction, even when they’re no longer fully human, we’d like to think that there’s some sort of compassionate protection between those of us abiding by the law and those driven to defy it. And in our minds, these men and women are paragons of virtue, living embodiments of justice, the sort of good-souled citizens that chase down purse-snatchers and rescue cats from trees. We don’t like to think of them doing things like beating a suspect bloody in view of the public or abusing their power to assault the innocent even if they’re irate. But they often do, and such a policeman who does these sort of bad things, for good reasons or no, is the one introduced to us at the titular character of 1971’s Dirty Harry.

Courtesy Warner Bros

His full name is Inspector Harry Callahan, and his fellows in the precinct call him ‘dirty’ due to the habit of nasty business falling into his lap. The man can’t even eat a hot dog without running into a bank robbery he has to foil. The main thrust of the narrative is Callahan’s chase of a serial killer calling himself ‘Scorpio’. It takes quite a bit to track this maniac down. However, when Harry’s over-zealous pursuit of Scorpio when the killer kidnaps a little girl leads to the villain’s release on a technicality. Harry must take the law in his own hands if he wants to see justice done to the murder, even if it means dirtying his hands further and perhaps even ending his career.

Until this film, Clint Eastwood was mostly known for spaghetti westerns and a stint on Rawhide. It would be Harry Callahan that catapulted him to stardom. The detective would be quite good not just for his acting career but also helping him develop as a director, though his first time behind the camera actually came the same year with Play Misty For Me. He’d go on to be a highly successful and iconic actor as well as an acclaimed, thoughtful and powerful director, but in 1971 he was busy setting the foundation for all sorts of future cop dramas and their actors, from Charles Bronson to Bruce Willis.

Courtesy Warner Bros
At least he has nice shades.

And make no mistake, this flick’s very much a product of the ’70s. A good deal of its content is nowhere near what we would consider politically correct today. The presence of blood so fake I was wondering if they used ketchup or hot sauce is counterbalanced with nudity that goes over the line of tasteful into gratuitous territory. There’s some casual racism, a soundtrack from the creator of the Mission: Impossible theme best described as ‘groovetastic’ and more drab suits with hideous patterns than you can shake a magnum revolver at. None of these things, however, caused as much a stir at the time as Dirty Harry’s behavior.

He breaks into places without a warrant, beats information out of suspects while they scream for lawyers and doesn’t think twice about executing someone in cold blood. This staightforward portrayal of personal justice had many critics at the time calling the message of the film ‘fascist’. But Harry does not exist in a vacuum. Not only is he driven to these ends by the actions of someone truly depraved and irredeemable, he is fully aware of how these things can and do affect him. When he’s got Scorpio under his heel, his expression is of a man tortured by the knowledge that he may be too late to save a little girl’s life. And in the end, when all is said and done, he tosses away his badge, knowing that his actions have served nobody but himself, and protected no one.

Courtesy Warner Bros
The famous handgun.

It’s this strong if morally ambiguous internal compass of his, coupled with his fortitude and excellent skills at delivering snark that made Dirty Harry into an iconic character. He’s cited as an inspiration for multiple film series, including Death Wish, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. Pretty much any iteration of hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners vigilante justice can be traced back to his actions, from the Boondock Saints to modern interpretations of the goddamn Batman. And while Arnold and Sly may run around battlefields with bulging muscles and big machine guns, a single slender man in a suit with a revolver can be ten times as compelling and chilling, especially if that man is Clint Eastwood and that revolver is the Smith & Wesson Model 29 chambered in .44 magnum.

Even if it wasn’t a landmark piece of work, Dirty Harry is still a good watch. It is definitely showing its age in some places, from the width of its steel sedans to the archaic radio equipment Harry and his partner have to deal with. However, Eastwood carries much of the film’s drama, action and even humor, and would do so in future films. For fans of thrillers, cop films and examinations of absolute powers of justice in the hands of one man, Dirty Harry is definitely recommended. You’ll definitely have a better understanding of why would-be macho cops sometimes squint their eyes and ask punks if they feel lucky.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Changeling

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

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It wasn’t too long ago when the words ‘A Clint Eastwood Film’ described an action flick featuring a character that was either Dirty Harry Callahan, The Man With No Name or somebody who existed between the two. Clint Eastwood is someone along the lines of Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino: a star with a long history of delivering both furious action fueled by pure manliness, and dramatic turns that set him on a different level from other so-called ‘actors’ that don’t deserve mention at the moment. And Clint has further distinguished himself in that nowadays, ‘A Clint Eastwood Film’ means one he’s directed. I plan on going over all of his directoral offerings, and Changeling is a great place to begin. The film stars Angelina Jolie, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore and John Malkovich.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

Why, Changeling? you might ask. Why not Unforgiven, his directoral breakout? Both it and Million Dollar Baby won him Oscars, why am I not starting there? What about Flags of Our Fathers, or Letters from Iwo Jima, his powerful war films? Why not Gran Turino, which includes perhaps the most manly and grit-filled rendition of “GET OFF MY LAWN” ever captured by a camera? These are valid questions, and I actually plan on taking time to review all of these – and no, it’s not just because I want to watch Gran Turino again.

Changeling is a good place to begin on Clint’s directoral work because it captures many of the aspects that make him such a visionary film-maker. With this riveting true story, we see the way Clint brings us into a bygone time, the handling of his actors and the framing of his shots. You might get some of these elements from Unforgiven, Flags of Our Fathers or even Mystic River, but Changeling does it with such natural grace that it feels less like 142 minutes of movie and more like an encapsulated lesson on how to effectively direct. Clint has brought us both the appeal and darkness of an oft-romanticised time in American history, along with a great performance from Angelina Jolie and one of the best turns by John Malkovich I’ve ever seen. Oh yeah, and he also gave us Jeffrey Donovan in a period suit with matching fedora.

An entire thesis could be written on the plot I haven’t mentioned yet, but here’s the short form and, as usual, it’s free of spoilers. Angelina Jolie is a hard-working supervisor at a telephone exchange in Los Angeles during the roaring ’20s. Her son is an intelligent, precocious youth who pulls off a pretty impressive feat by endearing himself towards us with only a few minutes of screentime. Mom comes home from work one day to find the house empty and the kid’s lunch uneaten in the icebox. A little police runaround brings her to the office of Jeffrey Donovan’s insufferable prick of a police captain who assures her that her son will be found. Sure enough, in a few months, she shows up at a train station when word comes her son’s been found, but after taking one look at the shorter, pudgier and more annoying child, she knows it’s not her child. The police disagree, citing her womanhood as the main cause for her baseless idea that the boy isn’t who they say he is. The mother insists, and soon it’s clear that the only person who’s fully in her corner and willing to match her zeal and devotion is the radio-broadcasting Presbyterian minister who believes the City of Angels has become a cesspool of corruption run by self-indulgent swine. It’s a little odd to see this compassionate yet occasionally brimstone-fueled spiritual leader being brought to us by way of Cyrus the Virus and Humma Kavula. I’m just glad he did something like this to wash the taste of that dreadful turn he did in Eragon out of our minds. I’ll keep praying he stays far away from anything related to Twilight.

Anyway, this is a fantastic film, and it features one of the cinematographic keys to Eastwood’s success. All of his films – that I’ve seen so far anyway, I still need to sit down and watch Unforgiven end to end – have what I like to call “a haunting etherealness.” Classic films can become dated in their look and material, and it can be difficult to hearken back to a bygone age without extensive set dressing or CGI which is often hit and miss in a drama. Clint Eastwood sends us back in time before we even realize we’ve been temporally displaced and has us invested in the characters just as quickly. Actors are, by and large, attractive folk (Angelina Jolie and Jeffrey Donovan in particular in this case) but Clint doesn’t let them get away with just being pretty faces. They believe in their material and we, in turn, believe in them. There’s no trick photography to distract us from the pace of the writing and the musical score does exactly what it says on the tin, underscoring the drama and action rather than overwhelming us with bombastic horns or one woman wails. Clint Eastwood’s careful and measured genius comes through in the final film as all of these elements, exemplary on their own, seamlessly fuse into a storytelling experience rarely seen in an age of mean-spirited gross-out money machines that laughably call themselves comedies, and video game adaptations that wouldn’t know a good story if it showed up at their door dressed in a corset and stockings.

I’m getting a little long-winded on this one, but I wanted to establish what I respect and love about the films of Clint Eastwood. As I said, I plan on reviewing them individually, but a common thread that defines them all is this singular excellence and haunting, timeless etherealness that puts him on the level of such seminal directors as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. If nothing else, he shows us that sometimes the best things we do in our lives might not happen until well into our adult years, which means we should never give up on our dreams and no matter how daunting the obstacles might be to reaching our goals, the only way we truly fail is if we quit. But I’m wandering off the point again. The point is: Changeling is an excellent, singular and unforgettable film, and you should put it on your Netflix queue without delay.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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