Saturday 22 December 2018

Happy Christmas and 2018 Review

Firstly, and on behalf of everyone connected with the Archive – A very happy Christmas to Clint, a deserved rest seems to be the order of the day, although I doubt that the big man will not stray too far away from looking towards his next project! Perhaps a glass of wine in one hand and a script in the other – sounds like a perfectly acceptable compromise…

I would also like to thank and wish a very happy Christmas to everyone who helps me to bring all of this material here in one place and for the fans. I’m also going to give myself a minor pat on the back as 2018 has been the most prolific year with over 100 new posts. A massive amount of updates are always being added to other dedicated pages behind the front line stories and are all there to be discovered.

So 2018 was a very fulfilling year. In January I presented an original piece on Clint and his fondness of meaty motors, a story which I’m sure will continue to unveil a few more additional discoveries. Also in January our Film focus was on Thunderbolt & Lightfoot with some wonderful written contributions from our friends Paul Rowlands and Steve Saragossi. January also saw the first spouts of speculation relating to The Mule as Clint’s next project.

February also saw a really good book, Clint Eastwood's Cinema of Trauma: Essays on PTSD in the Director's Films by Charles R. Hamilton and Allen H. Redmon. The Witches (Le Streghe) 1967 also became available on Blu-ray. I also began a couple of on/off, ongoing projects - Collecting Clint in print – detailing the many books on Clint and Photo opportunities, an outlet for me to use the many thousands of photos I have on file. We also covered Clint’s film The 15:17 to Paris extensively, a film which ultimately turned out to be a little disappointing. Also in February I unearthed an original script from my collection from 1960, a show which featured Clint in a guest appearance but is not referenced in any of Clint’s bios or filmographies. We also featured David Frangioni’s Clint Eastwood: Icon Book - The Updated and Expanded Edition.

In March we did a feature on Early Eastwood photos captured by Earl Leaf. April saw the A Fistful of Dollars 2018 4K Re-release and some damn nice posters to accompany it. I also posted some rare shots of Clint at Petrovaradin fortress during the making of Kelly’s Heroes.

May saw the incredibly rare Magnum Force Christmas Teaser poster raise its head, as did Clint’s original Pink Cadillac car... in North Wales! May also saw casting begin for The Mule.

In June we reported on an incredibly rare set of 22 international lobby cards for Magnum Force and we reported that filming had begun on The Mule in Georgia. In June I also put together another original piece Destination London: In between shooting Where Eagles Dare.

In August we did a feature Clint and his connection to The Los Angeles Police Museum – with help from Bob Taylor who works at the Museum. We also unearthed actor Peter Fitzsimmons who appeared in the deleted scenes from Magnum Force. In September we featured a great collection of photos - Clint and Maggie at Marineland of the Pacific.

Whilst in October we featured the amazing digital artwork of Stanislav Klabík and we got our first glimpse of The Mule with the release of the trailer. Also in October, one of our regular Flashback features was on the National Association of Theater Owners Awards 1971 – we were given some very special material to use by two very lovely ladies - Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kathy Conroy and Executive Assistant Cheryl Dickson.

Totally out of nowhere, November saw a whole host of new photos appear featuring Clint directing Breezy – a very rare treat for all of us. November brought some great news that Composer Lalo Schifrin was awarded a long overdue Oscar. We also saw some incredibly rare poster art surface such as the Magnum Force subway poster and the You Only Live Twice / A Fistful of Dollars UK Double Crown poster. We also did a nice mini feature on Doris Nieh: The woman who shot Dirty Harry.

In December we gave you all the coverage leading up to the release of The Mule. We also reported on the Big 50th Anniversary showing of Where Eagles Dare (to take place on Jan 26th 2019) – an event for which almost a dozen of us will be meeting up for on London’s Southbank. It should be a great event boys and gals and I’m looking forward to seeing you all. I should also thank the lovely and ever helpful Liz Parkinson from the BFI for helping make this happen for us.

Of course, 2018 also saw us say farewell to some much loved and admired members of the Eastwood family circle - Dave Toschi, the original Dirty Harry, actor Bradford Dillman, artist and poster designer Bill Gold, screen icon and long-time friend Burt Reynolds and former partner and regular co-star Sondra Locke. 
This journey simply wouldn’t have been the same without you all.  

Thank you to everyone and for your continued support
Darren, The Clint Eastwood Archive

Friday 21 December 2018

Where is Paint your Wagon on Blu-ray Disc?

Before I wrap up and summarise this year’s activities on the Archive, I feel compelled to write a little piece on Paint Your Wagon (1969). Where Eagles Dare is not the only Eastwood epic to celebrate its 50th Anniversary next year, but I can’t help thinking that Paramount’s legendary musical will unfortunately slip under the radar and probably pass unnoticed.  
I was contacted by a long-time friend of mine last night with a simple but entirely justified question - Why has there been no Blu-ray release of Paint Your Wagon? It’s a very good question actually and one that continues to bother me. It seems to be a film that in general, a lot of people are quick to dismiss. However, beneath the hard exteriors, they all appear to have a deep affection for it. For some, it just doesn’t seem to be fashionable or ‘cool’ to admit they like it – something I never really did understand. Yes, history informs us that in financial or box office terms the musical could be considered as a failure. Yes, the success of musicals in 1969 was on the downward slide, cinema was on the cusp of a major change. Yet, it didn’t necessarily mean that Paint Your Wagon was not an entertaining experience, and the movie continues to gather a cult status and a huge following.

Looking at its cast alone simply defies any form of logic as to why it should be ignored? Lee Marvin, a tough as nails, charismatic actor who was fresh from the success of films such as  Cat Ballou (1965), Ship of Fools (1965),  The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Point Blank (1967) and Hell in the Pacific (1968) – all of which, are today arguably defined as classic pieces of cinema. Eastwood of course was fresh from the success of the Dollar trilogy, followed by a smartly made revisionist western Hang 'Em High (1968) which in turn was followed by the superb fish-out-of-water cop thriller Coogan’s Bluff 1968) and the aforementioned World War II epic, Where Eagles Dare (1968). Then there was Jean Seberg, a beautiful exponent of French New Wave Cinema. Her credits had included appearances in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) before moving on to more mainstream films such as A Fine Madness (1966) alongside Sean Connery and Pendulum (1969) opposite George Peppard. So Paint Your Wagon certainly holds and demands cultural recognition in terms of timeline and star quality.
Paint Your Wagon was undoubtedly a costly project, some $20 million back in 1969 was hardly a shoestring budget. However, it does look impressive and the good old fashioned production design values still look fabulous – even by today’s standards. The construction of No Name City was actually built – as a fully operational town. So there is a degree of justifiability, a legitimacy that is there for all to see. I’ve spoken to crew which actually worked on location during Paint Your Wagon, and it was described to me as a feat of ‘ingenuity’, and an achievement of traditional skills and labour. So there is no doubt about it, the film looks incredible on the eye. 

I am also sure that there is a perfectly good master out there. I’ve read several reports that it is occasionally screened in 1080p by several platforms such as Amazon. Contained in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio, along with it’s beautiful Technicolor pallet, it is a film that would lend itself perfectly to the Blu-ray format. There is also plenty of room to explore the various audio options that were afforded to Paint Your Wagon, with mixes in 4-Track Stereo (35 mm prints) and 6-Track (70 mm prints) – ideal for the benefits of home cinema and today’s technology.

Paint Your Wagon is a title for which I equally Anticipate and Fear. Anticipate – because it is simply so long overdue – it’s an obvious gap in the collection. Fear – because if it ever should arrive, would it be given the treatment it deserves? I have an overriding vision that Paramount will one day simply realise it is a title missing from their catalogue and in a hurried, no thought manner, simply slap a label on it and release it in a bare bones edition.

Over the decades (and dating back to the old VHS and Laserdisc formats), I believe I’m correct in stating that each (and every) release has yet to include so much as a trailer. In fact, the only trailer I ever owned was a scope coming attraction on the Super 8mm film format.  Running at just over a minute, thankfully it is preserved, and can be viewed on the dedicated Paint Your Wagon page here. The source looks as if it was contained on another Paramount video release – but I’m sure it has never been included as a bonus feature on a Paint Your Wagon release. The fact remains, nothing has - even Paramount’s DVD contains zero in terms of bonus material.

So what could (and should) be included? Firstly, I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility to create an all new feature length documentary on the history of the production. There is an enormity about Paint Your Wagon, a wealth of stories (both good and bad) that should be told and documented – before time erases all sources. There is certainly a wealth of photos available to supplement such a documentary.

There is the original No Name City featurette, an essential nine and a half minutes that captures rare footage of rehearsals, behind the scenes footage and is narrated by the cast. Luckily I still have this on the Super 8mm format which I doubled up with a Josey Wales featurette onto a 400ft reel and customised a box (left). I’m sure this must still survive in Paramount’s archives. A 16mm print of the featurette was also issued – it needs finding and probably newly colour graded and included. 

The full range of trailers and TV spots also need to be located – remembering that Paint Your Wagon also had several re-releases into the 1970s. Radio spots also exist, I have at least 3 archived in 60, 30 and 10 second versions, but I’m convinced that more exist.
Commentaries – I’m sure that at least one could be produced to accompany the film, there are enough film historians out there, as well as authorities on Marvin, Eastwood and Seberg to produce an interesting education relevant to its production history.
On the subject of its audio history, how about the Radio Special LP (right) which was produced for promotional purposes? It’s a fascinating hour or so containing open ended interviews with Marvin, Eastwood, Seberg, Lerner and Lowe… something that is practically priceless in terms of inclusion.  
How about a featurette on the Pete Max designed posters and his involvement with the project?
Paint Your Wagon Premiere October 15th 1969, there are many photos available which could make a comprehensive gallery…
Talking of Galleries, how about costume test shots highlighting the work of costume supervisor Bill Jobe and costume illustrator Haleen K. Holt – a great many illustrations exist as do photos – I have at least 13 colour transparencies of Clint in costume shots – surely if Paramount did a little digging and devoted a degree of time they could turn up little gems such as these? Surely they have a team to manage their archives?

The music is a whole other area which could be explored; this was a big musical with a history – how about a gallery of the many different soundtrack releases? Worldwide it amounts to a great and varied set of designs. Add to that, the lobby cards, poster designs, press stills and other general memorabilia – the possibilities and options would be quite staggering and would amount to a highly impressive vault of material.

Film programmes, brochures, vintage advertising and sheet music would also be welcome additions - all of this material exists!

Given the fact that Paint Your Wagon doesn’t celebrate its 50th Anniversary until next year, there is still time to do it right. I can’t think of a better opportunity or chance to celebrate its Blu-ray debut.

I doubt very much that this unfortunate (but entirely relevant) tale of woe will ever reach the suits that possess the actual power to turn a negative travesty into a joyous positive – but we can only hope. Nevertheless, it’s out there now – and there are always people willing to help, should they find the courage to simply ask. 2019 will be interesting to say the least – watch this space.

Sunday 16 December 2018

For a few Dollars LESS 1966

I thought it was about time to feature this elusive little Italian film from 1966. Directed by Mario Mattoli, Per qualche dollaro in meno is clearly a comedy parody of For a Few Dollars More. Lando Buzzanca starred as Bill, the Eastwood character, complete with the famous lookalike poncho. It’s a little surprising, given the cultural history of the dollar trilogy that this film has not since been picked up and distributed for a home video release. I’m sure that the film has been circulated in unofficial circles, but I can’t help thinking it would probably do rather well if picked up by one of the majors. It’s hard to determine how far the film was released in theatrical terms outside of Italy - where it was released on the 11th August 1966. When shown on German TV it aired with the title Irren ist tödlich. I certainly have no knowledge of it receiving a UK theatrical release.
Technically, the film had a running time of 95 mins and was shot in the scope ratio of 2.35:1. The soundtrack, composed by Italian Marcello Giombini (1928–2003) clearly plays on Morricone’s themes, but as far as I am aware there was never any form of soundtrack released.
It’s certainly a strange one and a film that I would someday like to see – if only to satisfy my morbid curiosity…
Below: Official Trailer

Friday 14 December 2018

The passing of Sondra Locke

Last night, amidst a mass of social media and internet rumours - news was being bounded around that Clint's one time partner and regular co-star Sondra Locke had died. Regrettably, I can now confirm this is in fact true. It would have been all too easy to jump on the sensationalising band wagon, but to be honest, the source of the story simply wasn't a reliable one, and I don't run the Archive like that. Instead, I would rather take a step back and choose the more reliable path. It was hard to understand why none of the 'reliable' sources had reported this? I ended up contacting Variety, and asked them if they could either confirm or deny the story - as absolutely nothing had been reported.
A few hours later, I woke up this morning to find that Variety had run the story within their obituaries column. I know a lot of us still had a great deal of respect for Sondra, she was such an integral part of Clint's movie career and I couldn't imagine anyone else doing a better job in her place. I can't help feeling a little saddened by this story. Sondra was after all a huge part of the Eastwood legacy. As we all know, it all became a little messy between Clint and Sondra, but I don’t want to focus on that, it was a private matter between two people, and frankly, none of our business.  

I have posted the obituary from Variety below, as written by Dave McNary.
Oscar Nominee Sondra Locke Dies at 74
Actress and director Sondra Locke, who received a supporting actress Oscar nomination in her first movie role for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” died Nov. 3 at 74. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department confirmed her death.
She died due to breast and bone cancer, according to Radar Online, which reported that she was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary.
Locke had a contentious relationship of more than a decade with Clint Eastwood, who first cast her in “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
Locke was born in 1944 as Sandra Louise Smith and raised in Shelbyville, Tenn. She changed her named to Sondra in her early 20s and won a nationwide talent search in 1967 for the part of teenager Mick Kelly in the movie adaptation of Carson McCullers’ novel “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” Locke starred opposite Alan Arkin, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. She also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Most Promising Newcomer.
Locke then starred in “Cover Me Babe,” “Willard,” “A Reflection of Fear,” and “The Second Coming of Suzanne” and took TV roles in “The F.B.I.,” “Cannon,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Kung Fu,” “A Feast of Blood” and “Gondola.” She started working with Eastwood in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” in 1976, followed by “The Gauntlet,” “Every Which Way But Loose,” “Any Which Way You Can,” “Bronco Billy” and “Sudden Impact,” in which she murders the men who had raped her and her sister.
Turning to directing, she helmed 1986’s “Ratboy,” 1990’s “Impulse,” 1995’s TV movie “Death in Small Doses” and the independent film “Do Me a Favor,” starring Rosanna Arquette.
She sued Eastwood for palimony in 1989 and for fraud in 1995 and brought a separate action against Warner Bros. for allegedly conspiring with Eastwood to sabotage her directorial career. She settled the three cases out of court.
Locke underwent a double mastectomy in 1990. Her autobiography “The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly – A Hollywood Journey,” was published in 1997.
Locke starred recently with Keith Carradine in Alan Rudolph’s drama “Ray Meets Helen.”
She is survived by her husband Gordon Anderson.

Thursday 13 December 2018

The Mule Reviews

Here I will be posting a selection of reviews, video junkets and general feedback on The Mule (2018).
Clint Eastwood directs and stars in a drama about an elderly man who becomes a drug runner for a Mexican cartel. 12/12/2018 by Todd McCarthy
To praise The Mule by saying that it's the best film ever made by an 88-year-old American director who also stars in it is to say nothing at all, because there's never been such a thing before. Nor should Clint Eastwood's 37th feature be damned with faint praise this way, as no caveats or excuses are needed.

This based-on-a-true-story yarn about a still-kicking but nearly destitute senior who starts running drugs for a Mexican cartel is engaging, humorous and, it would seem, quite personal in the way it portrays a man making an attempt to atone for his deficiencies as a husband and father. Eastwood's good-times-seeking old-timer is a temperamental contrast to the cantankerous and insulting one he played in the smash hit Gran Torino a decade back, both written with the star in mind by Nick Schenk. Longtime fans should eat it up.

First seen sporting a sunhat and tending to some flowers in a greenhouse, Eastwood does look noticeably older than he did when he was last onscreen in the little-seen Trouble With the Curve six years ago; he walks slowly, looks a bit frail and for the first time lacks the full measure of the impressive build he's had from the beginning of his career. To see him participating in something called the National Daylily League seems like something of a joke.

But as spry and engaged in the moment as his Earl Stone seems to be, he's none too appreciated by his immediate family, including ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and especially daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood), who leaves the room whenever he shows up, even at her own daughter's wedding. It appears that the man was just never there when he needed to be and now he's paying the price.

But there's worse to come for old Earl when he runs out of money and is kicked out of his house. Chance, however, comes to his rescue as he's hired, partly due to his perfect driving record, to “just drive” to El Paso to make a delivery. It's the beginning of a beautiful, not to mention lucrative, arrangement, and for a good long while it proves mutually beneficial to the cartel (Earl is as reliable on the job as he was unavailable for his family) and to Earl himself, who can spread some money around and eventually move back into his house.
At the same time, federal agents in Chicago, led by a DEA special agent in charge (Laurence Fishburne), are trying to nail some cartel drug runners out West but are suffering through a long dry spell. It may take a while, but you know that eventually the unit's men will cross paths with the unsuspicious Earl, especially after a new agent, Colin Bates (a smallish role played by Eastwood's American Sniper star Bradley Cooper), comes on board.

For some time the arrangement works wonderfully well; the drug boys get what they want with no hassle, while Earl regains his financial footing with plenty left over for the ladies he wants back in his life. Although it's nothing in comparison to the old man's outbursts toward minorities in Gran Torino, the new film does deliberately feature some of Earl's antiquated nomenclature, including when he tells a lost black family how much he likes “to help Negroes” (they set him straight) and a roadside encounter he has with a self-described “Dykes on Bikes” motorcycle gang — episodes meant to express the man's 50-years-ago mind-set rather than any jaundiced opinion of minorities.

Old Earl is suddenly raking it in, to the extent that he can finance the reopening of a pal's bar, and the success of the arrangement eventually comes to the attention of cartel boss Laton (Andy Garcia), who conducts business meetings at his estate while shooting skeet with a solid gold rifle. Laton comes to like the old gringo so much that he invites him to one of his big parties and gifts him with two friendly young ladies for the night (whatever happens is implied but, happily, not seen). But suddenly things go south, with nasty new overseers making life miserable for Earl and the increasingly frustrated DEA feeling the need for some quick results.

There is bad news on the domestic front as well, as Mary becomes very ill. When Earl, by way of an explanation and apology for not being there for her when she and the family needed him, says, “I thought it was more important to be somebody out there,” the feeling is inescapable that Eastwood is addressing his own constant immersion in his filmmaking career, even as he's said that he patterned some of the old man's habits after his own grandfather.

Eastwood the director cranks up some genuine suspense in the late going; there's no guarantee that Earl is going to make it out of this mess alive, as the director has killed off his own character more than once in the past. The story's climax takes some twists and turns that are both melodramatic and unexpected, with the generally prosaic Earl ultimately concluding, “You can buy anything, but I couldn't buy time.”

Few leading men in film history have been active this long (Eastwood made his screen debut 63 years ago), and probably none has ever had star billing above the title for this long. And how many modern directors have made as many films as he has? (Spielberg has directed 31 over a comparable period.) Eastwood has made some slack and overlong pictures over the years, but this is not one of them, and there is visual vitality here resulting from the first collaboration between the director and Canadian cinematographer Yves Belanger, who has worked with Xavier Dolan and especially Jean-Marc Vallee on the likes of Wild and HBO's Big Little Lies. Also fresh and welcome is the unobtrusive score by Cuban-born jazz great Arturo Sandoval.

Less cranky and inciting than Gran Torino but persuasively expressive in conveying an old man's regrets along with his desire to improve himself even in late age, The Mule shows that Eastwood's still got it, both as a director and actor.
An end credit dedicates the movie to two of Eastwood's close friends, Pierre (Rissient) and Richard (Schickel).

Clint Eastwood in ‘The Mule’ By PETER DEBRUGE 12/12/2018
From the writer of 'Gran Torino' comes another feel good story of a casually racist old-timer,  a problematic character that director Clint Eastwood knows exactly how to make charming.
From Dirty Harry to … dirty grandpa, Clint Eastwood certainly has a type of character that he plays best, and “The Mule” finds him squarely in his comfort zone, appearing as a surly old horticulturalist who, at age 90, has become perhaps the most reliable drug runner for the Sinaloa cartel, evading detection for nearly a decade because he doesn’t look the part of a courier.

It’s a great true story, colorfully told by Sam Dolnick in The New York Times and somewhat watered down for the screen by Nick Schenk, the still-green screenwriter who got incredibly lucky when Eastwood agreed to direct and star in his early spec, “Gran Torino.” And there’s obviously no one better to embody someone like Leo Sharp — the real-life criminal whose name has been changed to Earl Stone for the movie — than Eastwood, who can play stubborn, battle-scarred, casually racist characters in his sleep.

A role like this is both delightful and disappointing for Eastwood fans, seeing that “The Mule” delivers more of the same from the star, now 88, even as it pales in comparison with a stronger late-career showcase from earlier this year, “The Old Man and the Gun,” which played to the strengths of Robert Redford’s persona while giving the actor so many fresh notes to experiment with. But Eastwood is a minimalist, and instead of building on what has come before, he whittles away, recognizing that the almost imperceptible uptick of an eyebrow or a discreet downturn of the mouth is more effective than a full-blown grimace or reams of dialogue. And frankly, with a character like this, it’s better when he keeps his mouth shut.

There’s a word for people like Earl Stone, and that’s “problematic.” Most white Americans have a relative like Earl, who’s old enough to remember a time when good old boys ran the country and everyone else was their inferior. You sort of tense up in their presence, never knowing what kind of politically incorrect garbage will come spewing out — in this case, when Earl refers to a gang of motorcycle-riding lesbians by the nickname they use for themselves, or tells a group of Latinos that they “all look the same” — and most of us let it slide, accepting that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Except you can and we must, and that’s sort of the point of “The Mule” when it comes to other aspects of Earl’s personality, which have clearly been inspired by the question, “What makes an octogenarian daylily enthusiast decide to become a drug runner for the Mexican cartels?” (That kind of career change certainly qualifies as a new trick by most people’s standards.) To address that, Schenk has invented a family history in which Earl was long ago divorced from wife Mary (a waste of Dianne Wiest) after prioritizing other things above his only child, Iris (played by Eastwood’s daughter Alison).

These women, along with Earl’s more forgiving granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), serve as the emotional center of the film, which is an effective narrative strategy, but a little too easy. Earl’s family exists primarily to demonstrate the kind of deadbeat husband and father he’s been all his life, and to prove that he can change — which underscores the fact that his retrograde attitudes toward women and those of other races ought not to be inflexible either.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with presenting bigoted people on-screen, since heaven knows they exist in real life, but the trouble with “The Mule” is that it invites audiences to laugh along with Earl’s ignorance. From here, it’s no great stretch to imagine a movement — call it “Make Hollywood Great Again” — advocating for movies in which politically incorrect characters like the ones Eastwood has played for most of his career will be free to speak their minds again.

Further complicating the portrayal are the many ways Schenk’s script tries to make Earl likable — which he already is through the simple fact that he’s embodied by Eastwood. Earl decides to make his first run without quite knowing what it is he’s transporting, using the money to help pay for Ginny’s wedding while keeping enough to buy himself a new pickup truck. He might’ve called it quits there, except the local VFW community center is at risk of closing unless it gets a $25,000 donation, so Earl goes back for another round. And so on, to the extent that he starts to feel like the Robin Hood of drug runners. He even risks his life (from trigger-happy cartel minders) by stopping to help a stranded family change a flat tire. It’s a nice gesture until he opens his mouth and we realize he sees them by the color of their skin, and thinks of them in terms that haven’t been socially acceptable for decades. They correct him, of course, but the movie never gives Earl the chance to demonstrate whether he learned his lesson. 

The film is full of small supporting characters, including Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña, and Laurence Fishburne as a trio of thinly sketched DEA agents, although Earl’s is the only role that could reasonably be described as a three-dimensional human being. The others are almost insultingly flat, which is most troubling when it comes to the Latino characters. A few of them actually have names, but most are little more than reductive stereotypes: generically menacing Mexicans who almost certainly have more nuanced reasons for doing what they do. If only the movie afforded them the same attention it lavishes on understanding where Earl is coming from.

That doesn’t mean “The Mule” isn’t more enlightened than its wisecracking, lawbreaking protagonist. In one scene, as the DEA is zeroing in on the elusive cartel driver known only as “Tata,” it pulls over a terrified Latino driver who educates the agents (and the audience) by sputtering, “Statistically speaking, this is the most dangerous five minutes of my life.” That law enforcement targeted him at all is a clear case of racial profiling, which was precisely the kind of bias the cartel was counting on when it enlisted Earl to be its runner in the first place.

If you’ve read this far, then you are at least receptive to the idea that “The Mule” could do better where its identity politics are concerned, and that’s perhaps the biggest letdown in a movie that’s otherwise classic Eastwood: spare, efficient, and morally complicated enough (regarding Earl’s motives) to deliver a satisfying night at the movies. This isn’t the role that will earn Eastwood a legion of new fans, but it’s almost sure to delight those who appreciate him already. There are a few subtle changes to the Eastwood M.O. here: Whereas the piano-savvy star famously scores his own films, reuniting the same team on most of his productions, here he taps Canadian DP Yves Bélanger (“Dallas Buyers Club”) to supply the unfussy look Tom Stern usually provides and enlists Arturo Sandoval to compose the handful of jazzy, classic-noir wisps of music that breeze through the film.

The Mule review – Clint Eastwood's drug running drama is a slow misfire. The director’s second film in a year is a strangely inelegant tale cursed with a clumsy script, uneasy politics and a lethargic pace. By Benjamin Lee,for The Guardian, 12th December 2018.

There’s been an air of mystery lingering around Clint Eastwood’s drug-running drama The Mule, which, despite some considerable star power and an effectively tense trailer, has been kept from critics until the very last second. It’s become a rather telling sign of a studio either unsure of how to position a film or, more likely, a studio aware that they have a disaster on their hands.

Released in the middle of awards season, it’s clear that despite some Oscars prognosticators suggesting it could be a contender, The Mule is most definitely not. But exactly what it is remains difficult to decipher. That aforementioned trailer, pushing it as a nervy nail-biter, is something of a canny mis-sell, for Eastwood’s film is more of a slow-paced drama existing within the trappings of a crime thriller. But yet as a drama, it’s frustratingly insubstantial, failing to provide enough of an emotional centre or a convincing payoff. It’s also dogged by strange, oddly inelegant, storytelling, stranger still when compared to some of Eastwood’s latter-day highs from Mystic River to Changeling to Million Dollar Baby.

It errs closer to his more recent misfires, such as this year’s misjudged terrorism tale The 15:17 to Paris, and he’s chosen to follow a film about a terrorist with alleged ties to radical Islam with a film about a Mexican drug cartel. In the film, Eastwood plays Earl, a veteran struggling to survive financially, facing the foreclosure of his business. He’s also failing his family, divorced from his wife and being pushed out of his daughter’s life after skipping her wedding for a day lily convention (!).

So when he’s approached about a job, he’s intrigued. All he needs to do is drive, just with a valuable package of drugs in the back of his car. Earl soon becomes a wildly successful drug-runner, able to drive for hours without raising suspicion but when an eager DEA agent (Bradley Cooper) starts to dig deep, Earl’s life is put on the line.

Loosely inspired by the true story of a 90-year-old man who became the most successful drug mule in the history of the Sinaloa cartel, there’s clearly the nugget of an interesting story to be told. It’s so rare that we see a central character in his 80s and while Eastwood has been busy behind the camera in recent years, we haven’t seen much of him in front and, if nothing else, The Mule provides proof of his considerable star presence.

But the script, from Gran Torino co-writer Nick Schenk, fails to match its star. Early on there are warning signs with fine actors like Dianne Wiest, playing Earl’s ex-wife, and Laurence Fishburne, playing a special agent, lumped with dry, exposition-heavy dialogue and, rather than a slickly unfolding plot, we have a lethargic collection of flat scenes. Earl’s continuation within the world of drug-running develops a clumsy, video game style evolution (the exact moment he’s paid for one thing, something else immediately rears its head) and any stabs at tension are rote and familiar (at one point Cooper’s unaware agent follows Earl out from a diner and says “Excuse me (dramatic pause) you’ve forgotten this,” handing him his flask).
As a character study, it’s also a non-started for Earl is a confounding and troubling yet thinly etched protagonist, whose bigotry is often played for confused laughs (whether it’s calling a black couple “negroes”, a Mexican duo “beaners” or being given the permission to call a lesbian group of bikers “dykes”) before being ultimately excused by Cooper’s staggeringly underwritten agent, who tells him: “It’s good to speak to one of you guys. You’ve lived so long, you’ve lost your filter.” It sits uncomfortably alongside a bizarre scene of a wrongly accused Hispanic man being pulled over by agents whose panicked, on-the-nose explanation of his fears of racial profiling is comically pronounced for, well, what effect exactly?

There’s a more nuanced portrait to be told here of a man using his white privilege to excel within a rather particular world of crime but there’s little nuance on display. Female characters are either shrill shrews or bikini-clad hussies desperate to sleep with an 88-year-old man (Earl manages two threesomes with attractive young women in the film) and an odd, leering montage of asses grinding to music feels like an uncomfortable and unnecessary deviation into soft porn. The Andy Garcia-led cartel is presented in a cartoonish one-note fashion and while we’re instructed to be intimidated by their villainy, we’re never really forced to question the ethics of Earl’s criminality, helping to further push drugs around the country and into the hands of addicts.

What shocks the most about The Mule though is just how messy and underdeveloped the whole endeavour feels from the lazily circumstantial or just plain dimwitted plotting (in one scene, Earl bribes a sheriff with a tub of caramel popcorn) to the pedestrian visuals to the sometimes thunderingly bad dialogue (a character once refers to lily-obsessed Earl as a “late bloomer”). With two Eastwood films released in one year, both curiously underwhelming, the clear lesson seems to be: do less.

‘The Mule’ Review: Clint Eastwood’s Best Movie in More than 25 Years. Far from the MAGA fantasy you might have feared, Clint Eastwood's “The Mule” is a poignant, funny, and thrilling work of self-commentary. By David Ehrlich, Indiewire, December 12th 2018
At 88 years old, Clint Eastwood might be the hardest-working man in Hollywood. And now, with his second directorial outing of 2018 — and his best film since at least “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006, and perhaps 1993’s “A Perfect World” before that — he’s finally explained why.

Inspired by a Sam Dolnick article in the New York Times Magazine called “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule,” “The Mule” is a far cry from the red state fantasy that some people feared from a MAGA-era vehicle by an auteur who’s publicly endorsed the Republican Party in the somewhat recent past (two presidential elections and a zillion news cycles ago). On the contrary, Eastwood’s latest thriller is a tender, conflicted, and sometimes very funny meditation on what America conditions people to want for themselves, on how natural it can be to forget who you are in a country where work is an identity unto itself.

To that end, it’s all too easy to see “The Mule” as a semi-autobiographical movie by an immensely rich old man who refuses to retire because he’s more recognized as a filmmaker than he is as a father; a poignant apologia to the family he may never have put first (not for nothing, but Eastwood cast his daughter Alison for the first time in two decades, and invited her “secret” half-sibling to the world premiere). Then again, “The Mule” is also a goofy road story that doubles as one of the horniest things that Eastwood has ever made — his character has not one, but two different three-ways! — so there’s plenty of room for interpretation. And no, that’s not a joke.

Even the title can be read in at least three different ways, though it’s clear to whom it refers: Award-winning horticulturist Earl Stone (Eastwood) is a stubborn old war vet who cares more about his flowers than he does any of the people in his life. The film’s brief prologue finds Earl skipping his daughter’s wedding in order to collect another trophy for his buds; he approaches the podium with a self-satisfied grin, blossoms in response to the respect of his peers, and dazzles the room with a charm that his ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) never got to see. When the story picks up 12 years later, Earl’s daylily farm is in foreclosure, and he’s left with nothing to his name but the beat-up old truck he’s been driving for decades. That may seem like a short-term problem for a guy pushing 90, but Earl only knows how to measure his value in money, and he’s counting on having some handy in order to buy his granddaughter’s (Taissa Farmiga) affection.

Unfolding like a geriatric riff on “Breaking Bad,” “The Mule” is yoked together by a scene that’s clunky even by the run-and-gun, time-is-of-the-essence standards of a film that prioritizes grit over grace (and a filmmaker who always has). Earl, shamed into leaving his granddaughter’s engagement party, is approached by a Latino guest who says he might know a way for a geriatric white man with a non-descript truck to make some easy cash. Cut to: The card-carrying AARP member rolling his rustbucket into an El Paso garage, where he’s greeted by a group of heavily armed men who stash some contraband in the trunk and hand the old man a burner phone. If you think you’re too jaded to laugh at Clint Eastwood grumbling about the internet, you are sorely mistaken.

Grumpy old man jokes notwithstanding, this toxically masculine meet-cute is one of several moments in Nick Schenk’s script that feels like a first draft; given that “The Mule” went from page to screen in just a few short months, that may have actually been the case. But the movie is like a straightaway on an unpaved road, and the forward momentum of its threadbare story is enough to power over the bumpy patches and logic gaps (contrast that with “Gran Torino,” for which the bulldozer-like broadness of Schenk’s writing was considerably less constructive).

Once Earl begins doing runs for the cartel, the movie effortlessly shifts into higher gear, and sustains velocity even when the action cuts away to a subplot about the standard-issue DEA agents who are on an obvious collision-course with our senescent hero. One of them is played by Michael Peña (who lightens the mood without deflating the tension) and the other by Bradley Cooper (who strolls through his scenes with the cocksure swagger of a guy who already has “A Star Is Born” in the can). Cooper’s performance deepens as the plot comes to a head, and — in a dynamic that evokes the central relationship in David Lowery’s recent “The Old Man & The Gun” — his character begins to see himself in his prey, the two men exposing each other as glorified lackeys who labor to no end; who choose work over family because their self-worth is rooted in capitalistic structures. There’s even an abbreviated thread about a cartel tough guy (Ignacio Serricchio) who can’t even imagine another life for himself; he is the job, and has been ever since a cigar-chomping drug lord named Laton (Andy Garcia, often seen toting a golden shotgun) pulled him off the streets and gave him a purpose.
What makes “The Mule” so sharp is how Eastwood — something of a workaholic, himself — sees that outlook as a double-edged sword. He finds real meaning in Earl’s flowers, and genuine purpose in the DEA agent’s task, but also takes full account of the costs. One of the more clever aspects of Schenk’s script is how it positions Earl as an accidental Robin Hood, using blood money to renovate the local veterans’ home and provide for the American public in a way the government won’t. That angle is flattened out so gradually that you don’t even notice it’s happening; by the time Earl threatens to become Laton’s top driver, the cash is little more than an afterthought. It’s the drive that matters.

Fittingly, “The Mule” suffers for its occasional detours, and shares the same blind spots as its hero. While there’s good reason to relegate Earl’s family to the shoulder area of his story, Eastwood reduces those characters to abstract symbols; they’re as thin and one-dimensional as the group at the end of “Million Dollar Baby,” if inevitably less cartoonish, and that hampers the sharp emotional turns in a third act that could have used a touch more feeling. But it’s Earl who shoulders most of the load here, and Eastwood — directing himself for the first time since “Gran Torino” — exudes enough leathery charm to forgive any manner of sins, both on and off the screen. His shrewd and irresistible performance is defined by a degree of self-awareness that once seemed to be in doubt, on either a political or a personal level.

Earl isn’t far removed from our collective understanding of Clint Eastwood. It goes without saying that he’s not politically correct (an amusing encounter with a lesbian biker gang hammers that point home). His rhetoric is woefully out of date, and he seems oblivious to the white privilege that makes him such a valuable asset to the cartel (the character wields an almost Jedi-like power over law enforcement). But the movie itself is constantly reckoning with Earl’s identity and attendant social value, and contextualizes his standing via a long and fraught scene in which an innocent Latino driver fears for his life during a highway stop. He’s as open and charismatic to strangers as he is shut and taciturn to his family, and while Earl might crack deportation jokes and slip into some condescending Spanish, the movie can’t help but afford the cartel members the same humanity that he does.

And even (or especially) in the moments when “The Mule” feels like the tired musings of an old man, it retains an ineffable honesty. Earl is nothing if not a late bloomer, and there’s no sugar-coating how bittersweet it is to watch him assess the opportunity for second chances, the almost 90-year-old man eying the time he’s got left as though Eastwood were looking at a shot clock off-camera. This is a movie rich with the wisdom of a man who’s fucked up more times than he can count — a man who desperately wants to make amends without apologizing for the meaning he’s found along the way. Yes, it would’ve been nice if family had always been Earl’s drug of choice, and he has to own the fact that it wasn’t. But this soulful and deeply satisfying film — a fitting swansong, if ever there was one — makes a compelling argument that change is always possible, and that the path we’re on is never as narrow as the highway makes it look.
Below: A collection of interviews promoting The Mule

The Mule Los Angeles Premiere

All eight of Clint's children, including his firstborn, came together for the first time to support him at the premiere of The Mule on Monday night. Laurie Eastwood, as she identified herself to photographers, was pictured surrounded by her seven younger siblings in a group shot. She was also seen enjoying a drink with Clint, 88, as the two chatted together during a reception at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles.
Clint's youngest child, 22-year-old Morgan Eastwood, confirmed that Laurie was her sister as she celebrated the family reunion. 'SO RARE for all 8 Eastwood siblings to be in one room!!!' she wrote, posting a picture of the group to Instagram. Alison Eastwood, Clint's daughter with first wife Maggie Johnson, also wrote about the reunion on Instagram. 'I'm not sure there has ever been a picture of all 8 kids together but here it is,' she wrote in the caption.
It was nice to see Maggie Johnson (who was married to Clint from 1953 to 1984), come to the premiere with Alison, 46, and the couple's son Kyle, 50, to show her support. Clint's girlfriend Christina Sandera was also in attendance with Clint.
Clint (who directed and stars in The Mule), was pictured with his long-term girlfriend and ex-wife in a family photo that also included Clint's children, granddaughter, and various in-laws. The sibling shot has to be special for Clint, as his eight children all appeared happy as they posed together.
Below: A selection of photos from the Premiere