The Evolution of Eastwood: BRONCO BILLY

BRONCO BILLY (1980)

I’ve got a special message for you little pardners out there. I want you to finish your oatmeal at breakfast and do as your mom and pa tell you because they know best. Don’t ever tell a lie and say your prayers at night before you go to bed. And as our friends south of the border say, ‘Adios, amigos.’” – Bronco Billy McCoy

Eastwood’s filmography had begun to take a surprising turn towards lighter and more optimistic material. His gritty revisionist westerns and ultra-violent cop thrillers had yielded to the comically whimsical Every Which Way but Loose and the understated suspense of Escape from Alcatraz. While these films are by no means family-oriented, they’re unquestionably lighter than Eastwood’s typical fare.

But then he directed Bronco Billy – a modern day fable steeped in idealism and sentiment thicker than frozen maple syrup. The script was written by the team of Dennis Hackin and Neal Dobrofsky (with only Hackin receiving eventual film credit) and Eastwood was immediately drawn to the material.

Bronco Billy chronicles the struggling days of a traveling Wild West Show, featuring an assortment of ex-convicts and deadbeats who pose as cowboys and Indians to entertain local communities. Led by “Bronco” Billy McCoy (Eastwood) the troupe frequently scrape by on little to no money, driven by their familial comradery and the joy that they bring to children or the less fortunate who enjoy their show. Billy can be ornery and stubborn, but he has an open heart and a loyal spirit. When the troupe encounters the feisty Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) – a woman who had been abandoned and left penniless by her new husband (Geoffrey Lewis) – she is initially skeptical of their benevolence and idealism, but eventually comes to genuinely admire Billy and his team. However, her disappearance has left her husband a suspected murderer and an inheritance in question. While the troupe debates about whether her presence is bad or good luck, Billy is determined to keep his Wild West Show alive and smiling for as long as humanly possible.

It is immediately evident, even without any meta-knowledge of the production, that this became a very personal work for Eastwood. He strikes a tone with Bronco Billy that we’ve yet to see from him. Even the tenderness he displayed in Breezy was offset by a heavy and mature narrative. But with Bronco Billy, Eastwood forays into outright sentiment, and delivers a surprisingly charming and good-natured film (something which does feel truly rare in his catalogue). The wackiness of Every Which Way but Loose may have set the stage for the lighter material, but that film carried a sarcastic bite with its fun. Bronco Billy, by contrast, isn’t remotely cynical. Both in the character of Billy McCoy and in the good-natured dynamic of his acting troupe, the film dares to explore something truly anomalous in Eastwood’s filmography thus far: that not only does your past not have to define you, but you can actively be whoever you set out to be.

Eastwood’s films are often mired in consequence and detriment, burdened by the weight of moral ambiguity and a painfully haunted landscape (whether the bullet-riddled west or the streets of San Francisco). But Bronco Billy never pulls the rug out from under its optimism. There are complications along the way – sometimes dire ones – but there is a firm undercurrent of hope that feels genuinely refreshing for someone like Eastwood to express. Billy’s troupe of characters are all losers according to common standards, but Billy has given them a place and a chance to move beyond those distinctions. True, he isn’t perfect (just check out the tongue-lashing he gives to his whole gang when they dare to ask about payment after six months), but he’s genuine, and that’s the real irony and charm of his character. Billy McCoy is an ex-con and a louse, but by pretending to be “Bronco Billy” his more authentic self emerges and produces something impressive and joyful (even when the bits they perform go comically wrong).

Eastwood surrounded himself with dependable performers who could authenticate the material: Geoffrey Lewis who had previously co-starred in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and – more recently – Every Which Way but Loose; the charismatic and boisterous character actor, Scatman Crothers; and in her fourth collaboration with real-life partner Eastwood – Sondra Locke. All of them deliver earnest and entertaining performances, making Bronco Billy a disarmingly enjoyable – if somewhat slower paced – piece. Eastwood himself delivers a surprisingly sensitive performance, juggling comic timing and tenderness in equal measure to his trademark tough squint.

Bronco Billy wasn’t a huge success at the box office (although it was profitable), but was praised among most critics. Eastwood often spoke of that film in personal and affectionate terms. He is quoted as saying, “It was an old-fashioned theme, probably too old fashioned since the film didn’t do as well as we hoped. But if, as a film director, I ever wanted to say something, you’ll find it in Bronco Billy.” Speaking for myself, I found the film to be a refreshingly heartfelt piece of work. Not only was it not diluted by its overt sentiment, that sentiment made it all the more endearing and worth seeking out.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979)

“I may have found a way out of here.” – Frank Morris

Aspiring writer Richard Tuggle had painstakingly researched and adapted a script about the only potentially successful escape attempt from the world’s most notorious prison. He submitted it to multiple agencies and was consistently rejected. Finally, he sought out the agent of Don Siegel and cleverly deceived a way to get his script to him. Siegel read the script and enjoyed it, passing it on to Eastwood as their next potential partnership.

Siegel and Eastwood, once close friends and frequent collaborators, had not made a film together since the original Dirty Harry (in which Eastwood had even directed a few scenes). Eastwood agreed to let his old friend direct if the film could be made through Malpaso Productions (Eastwood’s film company which had produced nearly every film in which he’d been involved since Hang ‘Em High). Siegel wanted production credit, however, and went around Eastwood to acquire the script directly. This choice created tension between the longstanding friends and would seal Escape from Alcatraz – their fifth collaboration – as their final one.

The film tells the true story of Frank Morris (Eastwood), who partnered with the Anglin brothers to mount an escape from the legendary Alcatraz prison in 1962. The film presents the prison warden (Patrick McGoohan) as a cold and cruel figure, choosing not to have him represent a real warden from the prison but rather a fictional archetype. The prisoners suffer various injustices at the hands of the guards and the warden, pushing Morris to develop a risky plan of escape.

Escape from Alcatraz is a different breed of thriller for Eastwood, allowing a deliberate pace to develop tension over an extended time rather than in a series of action bursts. The first half of the film is almost entirely dramatic in nature, establishing a variety of characters within the prison community and the various troubles the inmates suffer while there. Eventually the casualties and restrictions become too oppressive and the second half of the film becomes an escalating puzzle of tension as our characters struggle to enact their plan without being caught by the rigorous routines of the guards.

The performances are unanimously solid, featuring particularly strong turns from Robert Blossoms and Paul Benjamin (and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Danny Glover in his feature film debut). Patrick McGoohan is expectedly dastardly in a role perfectly suited for his special brand of passive malevolence. The film’s script is also remarkable in its focus, despite having little in the way of spectacle or shock and nothing in the way of romance. Whether or not the facts presented are authentic, the film’s tone makes you think that this all went down precisely how you’re seeing it, including the unstated but heavily implied outcome of the escape itself.

The pairing of Eastwood and Siegel has typically yielded strong work from each of them (Coogan’s Bluff was a real dud to me, but Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, and especially Dirty Harry are all standouts in Eastwood’s filmography). Escape from Alcatraz represents strong work yet again, albeit of a more restrained variety. It would be easy to sympathize with viewers who are put off by the bridled pace, but chances are strong that most viewers will find the steadily ratcheting tension rewarding and compelling.

It is unfortunate that this marked their last partnership, but it is not wholly unexpected. Eastwood had reached a point in his career where he’d had too many established hits (particularly as a director) and it’s easy to imagine that they’d both outgrown the mentor/performer dynamic that had flavored their earlier collaborations. Presumably, they patched up their differences prior to Siegel’s death in 1991, but there would never be another film from the pairing that was most directly responsible (apart from Sergio Leone’s western trilogy) for Eastwood’s rise and development as a star. As finales go, Escape from Alcatraz may not be the biggest possible hit, but it’s an impressive work nonetheless.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978)

“I’m not afraid of any man, but when it comes to sharing my feelings with a woman, my stomach turns to royal gelatin.” – Philo Beddoe

Every Which Way but Loose is often cited as one of the oddest entries in Eastwood’s catalogue. It’s also the highest-grossing hit of his career, even when adjusted for inflation. The film reunites Eastwood with his former costars Geoffrey Lewis (from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) and Sondra Locke (who was quickly becoming a staple of Eastwood’s material). It also pairs him up with Academy Award Winner Ruth Gordon and an infectiously entertaining orangutan named “Clyde”. Clyde is most definitely a scene-stealer (although rumors of mistreatment by his trainer sour the fun of the film more than a little bit).

The story involves a blue-collar trucker named Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) who makes extra money on the side bare-knuckle brawling in underground fighting rings. He’s frequently compared to the legend of that arena, Tank Murdock, who he dreams of someday getting the chance to defeat. After Beddoe meets the lovely and mysterious country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Locke), he sets aside nearly all priorities to pursue her and woo her. The somewhat zany antics that he and his buddy Orville (Lewis), not to mention the ever-present Clyde, encounter along the way make up the bulk of the narrative of the film (and nearly all of the fun). Both the romance and the fighting plotlines take some surprising turns adding up to a genuinely entertaining (if still vitally flawed) film.

Every Which Way but Loose is constantly referred to as a “change of pace” or “uncharacteristic” for Eastwood. But I found that designation puzzling after viewing his first 20+ films. True, it isn’t as dark or violent as the Dirty Harry films or any of Eastwood’s westerns, and it doesn’t feature ambitious action sequences like The Eiger Sanction or The Gauntlet. But apart from the overtly comedic elements (of which there are a multitude), this feels almost like textbook Eastwood material. Eastwood is once again playing a no-nonsense tough guy, who frequently scores with the ladies and embodies an almost western-style machismo.

The comedy is certainly uncharacteristic for Eastwood (the closest he’d come to it before was the disastrous Paint Your Wagon), but Eastwood spends most of the narrative as the straight man, allowing the eccentric Ruth Gordon, Clyde, and Geoffrey Lewis to handle most of the comedy. Eastwood is so firmly a man’s-man in this film that it almost becomes absurd how skilled he is as a brawler. Even the resolution to the final fight – which attempts to add some unexpected flavor to the character – feels so unearned and predictable as to be laughable rather than admirable.

As for the supporting cast, everyone is delivering solid work. Gordon had won an Oscar for Rosemary’s Baby and she brings the full force of her absurd-but-believable comedic powers to this role. Lewis is given a greater chance to play with different character beats – all of which he deftly handles – and the endearing orangutan Clyde is as charming as you’d expect him to be. Locke, who delivered a remarkable performance in The Gauntlet, stretches herself performance-wise by showing off her singing chops, but otherwise brings a similar catalogue of character choices to the role. It’s not a step down from The Gauntlet for her, but amidst a collection of stronger fellow supporting players, she doesn’t stand out quite as much as she did in Gauntlet.

Eastwood was advised against making this film and – as he usually did – he trusted his instincts more than the voices of his advisors. He didn’t direct the film, though. Those duties fell once again to James Fargo, who had directed Eastwood – if that’s what you can call it – in The Enforcer. There are no apparent rumors of on-set drama this time around and the resulting film was wholeheartedly embraced by audiences despite only being met with lackluster reviews from critics.

It also launched a series of more family-friendly and accessible films which would represent one of the most surprising and interesting periods in Eastwood’s filmography. The film remains the biggest money-maker of Eastwood’s career (and in the top 200 biggest box offices in cinema history). Having now seen the film, I’m uncertain it deserves that particular pedigree, but it is undeniably charming in its own way… or, every which way… something like that. You know what I mean.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: THE GAUNTLET

THE GAUNTLET (1977)

I’m warning ya, you mess around and I’ll put the cuffs on you. You talk dirty, I gag ya, if you run, I’ll shoot you. My name is Shockley, and we’ve got a plane to catch. Let’s go.” – Ben Shockley

The script for The Gauntlet had been bouncing around development for a while before it landed with Eastwood. Previously attached stars included Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and even Barbara Streisand. When Eastwood eventually signed on to direct, he cast himself alongside his then real-life romantic partner Sondra Locke (who had first appeared with Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales).

The narrative is, in many ways, reminiscent of Eastwood’s much earlier film Coogan’s Bluff. In fact, several comparative narrative beats made me wonder if there wasn’t a subconscious desire on Eastwood’s part to try that basic story again, this time helming the directorial duties himself. The premise is that drunk and disillusioned officer Ben Shockley (Eastwood) is sent on assignment to extradite a witness named “Gus” Malley for a “nothing trial”. Upon arrival, Shockley quickly realizes that someone powerful would do anything to make sure that neither he nor Malley makes it back to Phoenix alive, and the pair of them must navigate a treacherous series of ambushes, traps, and unfortunate encounters before eventually facing down a multi-block, heavily armed barricade.

The two films are similar in their basic extradition plotline and in the narrative elements of the protagonist stepping into trouble beyond his original understanding. But there are some major differences between The Gauntlet and Coogan’s Bluff that make The Gauntlet the unquestionably stronger film.

First and foremost is the presence of Locke as the feisty and resourceful Malley. Locke wasn’t given much to do acting-wise in The Outlaw Josey Wales except for pine, swoon, and worry (all of which she still managed to make believable). With the character of Malley, she is given a much richer character and she attacks the role with commitment and complexity. She steals nearly every scene she’s in (which is most of the movie) and the real-life chemistry between her and Eastwood make their dynamic on screen frequently crackle.

The script is also tighter and more direct, with a more logical and focused direction to its narrative. There are some obvious contrivances and conveniences, a handful of which may very well elicit eye rolls, but the general structure is noticeably stronger than Coogan’s Bluff. However, the script could have done more with its character development and presented a less outlandish resolution to the central conflict. When viewed in reference to the similarly-premised earlier film, the script shines. But taken as an isolated piece, it’s pretty pedestrian.

Eastwood himself is as reliable as always, boosted substantially by getting to work with Locke. As an actor, there isn’t much surprise here, but as a director it’s both a step forward and backward. It lacks nearly all of the rich thematic exploration of The Outlaw Josey Wales, which makes it feel somewhat regressive – I forgot several times in the viewing of it that Eastwood directed it. However, as an action thriller, Eastwood deftly navigates some authentically thrilling sequences. His experiences on The Eiger Sanction were more ambitious (and dangerous), but his instincts for pacing the thrills take a big step forward here. Nearly a fifth of the film’s budget was spent solely on the action effects and that investment shows on-screen.

All of this adds up to something of a mixed bag. The script is mostly innocuous (not to mention frequently trite and unbelievable), but the action sequences are genuinely exciting (particularly the bombardment of its outrageous climactic journey through the gun-saturated city streets) and Sondra Locke delivers a compelling and interesting performance. Fans of Eastwood’s more rough-and-tumble thrillers will find a lot to enjoy, but those looking for something with more depth or substance might be left shrugging it off.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

Aaron’s Favorite Movies – An Analysis

In addition to loving movies, I also love stats. Evaluating data and analyzing numbers is fascinating to me. I have a long commute, and while driving home from work recently, I got to thinking about how my personal favorite films compare to the consensus of critics and other movie fans. To determine this, I’ve taken all 141 feature films that I’ve rated as ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and created a sortable spreadsheet that includes the following data for each film: Rotten Tomatoes Score, RT User Score, Letterboxd Score, and Metacritic Score. These are all favorites of mine and I would fight over any of them. Below is an analysis of the data. What I discovered was at times incredibly predictable, but nonetheless very interesting.

The Best

Twelve of my favorite films hold a perfect 100% rating on RT. They range from the oldest film on my list to one of the newest.

1926 The Adventures of Prince Achmed
1941 Citizen Kane
1950 All About Eve
1952 Singin’ in the Rain
1954 Seven Samurai
1954 Rear Window
1957 12 Angry Men
1964 Mary Poppins
1995 Before Sunrise
1995 Toy Story
1999 Toy Story 2
2018 Paddington 2

By comparison, the top eleven as compared to highest RT User Score (96 and up) only features TWO of the same titles.

1972 The Godfather
1994 The Shawshank Redemption
1954 Seven Samurai
1957 12 Angry Men
1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
1993 Schindler’s List
1980 The Empire Strikes Back
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark
1994 Pulp Fiction
1977 Star Wars
1999 Fight Club

And as compared to the top fifteen highest Letterboxd Score (87 and up) – THREE match the top RT list and SIX match the top RT User list.

1972 The Godfather
1954 Seven Samurai
1957 12 Angry Men
1980 The Empire Strikes Back
1994 The Shawshank Redemption
1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
1994 Pulp Fiction
2008 The Dark Knight
1993 Schindler’s List
1954 Rear Window
1979 Alien
1979 Apocalypse Now
2014 Whiplash
1948 The Red Shoes
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey

None of this data is very surprising, honestly. Users tend to favor a mixture of classics and more modern films, while critic ratings for the highest films largely skew toward older movies. But enough of that, what I’m most interested in is how the bottom films in my list of favorites match-up with the ratings of others.


The Worst

Here are my Bottom 10, as sorted by lowest Rotten Tomatoes score. It pains me to see two of my all-time top 10 favorites on this list (Top Gun and Interstellar). Most of these don’t surprise me, though.

Year Film Rotten Tomatoes
2016 Passengers 30
2017 Song to Song 45
2010 Tron: Legacy 51
1986 Top Gun 54
1996 Mission: Impossible 62
1989 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 64
1994 Reality Bites 65
2012 Les Miserables 69
2014 Interstellar 71
2013 Pacific Rim 71

By comparison, here are the lowest-scored eleven films per RT User Score. Many of the same films appear, but also some real shockers. Check out the difference in RT User score and RT score. Movies like The Blair Witch Project, Phantom Thread, The Shallows, The Cabin in the Woods, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Silence are much preferred by critics while films like Passengers and Reality Bites were liked far better by general audiences.

Year Film RT User / RT Score
2017 Song to Song 55/45 (+10)
1999 The Blair Witch Project 55/87 (-33)
2016 The Shallows 59/78 (-19)
2016 Passengers 63/30 (+33)
2010 Tron: Legacy 63/51 (+12)
2016 Silence 69/84 (-15)
2017 Phantom Thread 70/91 (-21)
1996 Mission: Impossible 71/62 (+9)
1994 Reality Bites 74/65 (+19)
2012 The Cabin in the Woods 74/92 (-18)
2013 Inside Llewyn Davis 74/93 (-19)

The comparison between RT critic score and Letterboxd was very, very similar for the lowest group. Some of the films I love, but other users don’t, also include 2015’s Cinderella, Top Gun, Pacific Rim, Miracle, and The Spectacular Now.


It’s highly likely that no one will care about this data but me, and that’s okay. This was a fun exercise in exploring where my movie taste diverges from critical and popular opinion. To wrap up, here are some average scores for my favorite films. (Note: Metacritic was not included in the above analysis due to several high-scoring films not being rated on their site, which would have skewed my data a bit.)

Rotten Tomatoes – 89.16
RT User Score – 87.25
Letterboxd – 79.54
Metacritic – 80.47

Overall, not too bad! My favorites are generally considered the equivalent of a 4-star film or higher. I can accept that. If anyone is interested in seeing the entire list of my favorite films with all scores, you can view that here.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

SIFF 2018 Coverage #2

In this second round of Seattle International Film Festival coverage, Matt Oakes from Silver Screen Riot joins Aaron to discuss and make recommendations for some of the films they’ve seen. (Showtimes for SIFF screenings are included with each review.)

Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF): https://www.siff.net/festival

Eighth Grade – 0:04:21

American Animals – 0:09:26

Boundaries – 0:15:35

Revenge – 0:21:04

Blue My Mind – 0:27:33

First Reformed – 0:32:32

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – 0:43:47


Contact


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Download this Episode


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

SIFF 2018 Coverage #1

The 44th Seattle International Film Festival runs from May 17, 2018 through June 10, 2018 and Aaron is joined by returning guest host, and fellow Seattle film critic, Mike Ward to discuss some of the many films SIFF has to offer moviegoers this year.

Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF): https://www.siff.net/festival

Beast – 0:12:03

Catwalk: Tales From the Cat Show Circuit – 0:19:00

Champions (Campeones) – 0:26:13

The Russian Five – 0:33:38

On Chesil Beach – 0:42:50

Bodied – 0:47:54

Mountain – 0:55:13


Contact


Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards

Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Download this Episode


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

2018 Seattle International Film Festival Capsule Reviews

Each year the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) screens hundreds of feature films, documentaries, short films, and more from all around the world over a 25-day period in May and June. This year the largest and most highly attended festival in the United States will run from May 25 – June 10 and show 433 films representing 90 countries, a lineup which includes 35 World premieres, 46 North American premieres, and 25 U.S. premieres. The festival will screen several highly anticipated films such as First Reformed starring Ethan Hawke, Sorry To Bother You starring Lakeith Stanfield, and a documentary about Fred Rogers that is sure to make you cry, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Suffice it to say, all 433 films won’t be covered here, but in addition to our podcast coverage of the festival you will find capsule reviews of a wide variety of films across many genres. Check back often for new capsule reviews as we cover the 44th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. (Newest reviews on top.)

Must See: REVENGE, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, FIRST REFORMED, BODIED

Recommended: MOUNTAIN, CHAMPIONS, THE RUSSIAN FIVE, CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT, AMERICAN ANIMALS

Worth Watching: BEAST, MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN

Skip: LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS


MOUNTAIN (74 minutes)

Like a poetic love letter to the mystical draw of the mountaintop, Willem Dafoe’s smooth voice (backed by the symphonic tones of the Australian Chamber Orchestra) narrates this awe-inspiring journey through the history of man’s relationship with some of the most imposing natural structures on the planet. Cinematographer Renan Ozturk’s stunning high-altitude imagery of mountains all across the world is a visual delight and worthy of the biggest theater screen possible, though viewers with a fear of heights are in for a terrifying experience.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 21 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), May 22 – 7:00 pm (Majestic Bay)

[Get Tickets]


LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS (92 minutes)

In this playful science fiction dramedy, Tito and Anita travel to America to live with their widowed scientist uncle after their father passes away in Italy. The Professor, living as a recluse in the Nevada desert near Area 51, has stalled in his work on a top secret government project, but the arrival of his niece and nephew force him to confront not only his own grief but theirs as well. Featuring elements that echo Spielberg’s work (down to a very similar score), Little Tito and the Aliens has some heartfelt moments but is too scattered and derivative to be very highly recommended.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 7 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), June 8 – 4:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian)

June 10 – 4:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place)

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CHAMPIONS (CAMPEONES) (120 minutes)

Champions is another feel-good, family-friendly story about a judgmental and egotistical person who learns to accept others through spending time with them. But despite following a typical trajectory right up to a completely telegraphed ending, Director/Writer Javier Fesser’s film is so charming and funny that it simply doesn’t matter if you could write the plot yourself. Anchored by an incredible cast of performers as basketball players with intellectual disabilities and a genuinely emotional turn by star Javier Gutierrez as their new coach, Champions is an enjoyable, inspiring story that will warm the heart.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 1 – 9:00 pm (Kirkland Performance Center), June 8 – 6:15 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A

June 9 – 3:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A

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THE RUSSIAN FIVE (99 minutes)

Joshua Riehl’s documentary comes at the perfect time for a Seattle community starving for a hockey team of their own. The best sports documentaries take a topic many know and unpack hidden history. The Russian Five tells of how the Detroit Red Wings forever changed the NHL by bringing in talented Russian players, sometimes at risk of their lives and well-being of their families. Filled with awesome archival game footage and interviews, Riehl’s film echoes the rock star quality of its subjects and is a shocking, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant story about family and determination in sports.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 5:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A, May 20 – 6:00 pm (Majestic Bay) w/ Director Q&A

May 29 – 9:00 pm (Shoreline)

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BODIED (121 minutes, R)

Director Joseph Kahn is most known for high-profile music videos, but alongside producer Eminem he takes on the rap battle scene in this high intensity, satirical, lyrical exploration of PC culture as we know it today. Bodied follows white progressive grad student Adam on his journey from researching battle rap to competing himself. It’s smart script constantly spits fire and offends every race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and more while inviting viewers to consider how much words matter. Added visual flourish reminds of Scott Pilgrim and the rap battles themselves are sure to become the stuff of legend.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 9 – 9:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), June 10 – 9:15 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian)

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AMERICAN ANIMALS (116 minutes, R)

Director Bart Layton leverages his history with documentaries in this bold feature debut about four privileged real-life college friends who rely on their knowledge of movies to plan and execute a rare book heist. With a unique style that overlays interviews of the actual subjects into the narrative, this exhilarating crime drama is notable in how it depicts differing perspectives of how the events unfolded. Slick, stylish, and often hilarious, the film does suffer from pacing issues in its purely dramatic sections, but this fresh take on the sub-genre is a fascinating experience.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 9:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 20 – 1:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place) w/ Director Q&A

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FIRST REFORMED (113 minutes, R)

Known for his transcendental style and self-destructive characters, legendary writer/director Paul Schrader’s latest film stars Ethan Hawke in an arguably career-best performance as a former military chaplain turned small church pastor wrestling with despair, physical ailments, and an increasingly critical view of how the modern church operates. An intellectually profound script regarding matters of faith and environmentalism is coupled with careful artistic direction that creates a simmering emotional experience. This is a dark, unsettling character drama interested more in asking questions than providing answers – but for those who engage, it can be a powerful conversation-starter and trigger for self-reflection.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 18 – 4:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), May 22 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown)

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (93 minutes)

Bring the tissues for this story about Fred Rogers, the iconic and innovative television personality with a heart for children and unwavering hope to see every person loved and respected for who they are. Fred’s sense of ministry and passion for child development helped him make Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood a safe place for learning that was radical in its time and unreplicated to this day. Through the use of interviews and historical context, Oscar-winning Director Morgan Neville thoroughly explores who Rogers was and shows his lessons are still needed today more than ever.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 26 – 6:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 27 – 1:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown)

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CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT (75 minutes)

People love cats. Some people love cats so much that they travel the country attending what amounts to a beauty contest for their feline companion, and Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit tells some of these amusing stories while detailing the surprisingly complex and competitive world of cat shows as seen through the nail-biting race for #1 between puffy red Persian Ooh La La and playful Turkish Angora Bobby. Thoroughly entertaining and full of gorgeous kitty cinematography, this sweet, fun and informative documentary is a joy for the whole family (pets included).

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 3:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 20 – 1:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), June 2 – 3:30 pm (Shoreline)

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MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN (82 minutes)

Early in this documentary from Danish director Rasmus Dinesen, one renowned chef calls the famous restaurant grading Michelin Guide, “the most important guide in the world,” and for those chasing the ultra-elusive Michelin Star it is. Dinesen travels around the world learning about both the trials and glory that come from seeking the culinary world’s highest rating. The film is less concerned with specific dishes, but still features plenty of mouth-watering cinematography while providing a fair and balanced conversation about the Guide’s history and place in the restaurant world today.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 21 – 6:30 pm (Lincoln Square), May 23 – 6:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) [Get Tickets]


BEAST (107 minutes, R)

Haunting and suspenseful, director Michael Pearce’s feature film debut Beast is a slow-burn thriller that takes its time alternating between moments of high intensity and quiet psychological depth. It is anchored by an incredible, star-making first performance by Jessie Buckley, as a troubled young girl in an isolated island community who engages in a relationship with a mysterious stranger being investigated for multiple murders. The film is heavy in metaphor and takes a little too long to resolve, but its crescendo to the finale is powerful and quite memorable.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 20 – 8:00 pm (Ark Lodge Cinemas), May 21 – 9:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place) [Get Tickets]


REVENGE (108 minutes, R)

With the heart-pounding, blood-pumping Revenge, French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat bursts onto the scene in a ferocious manner. This heavily stylized rape-revenge has a considerably unique feel due to its female director turning the tables on the male gaze at every corner and offering a female protagonist with plenty of agency. Bloody, remarkably intense, and backed by a fantastic soundtrack, it’s a gorgeously shot violent payback session that is so slick and entertaining that it overcomes its slightly long runtime and is accessible enough that even non-fans of exploitation films can enjoy.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 18 – Midnight (SIFF Cinema Egyptian) [Get Tickets]


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

The Evolution of Eastwood: The First Twenty Films

Ever since “the man with no name” rode through Sergio Leone’s haunted western territory, Eastwood seemed destined for greatness. His early filmography is populated mostly by westerns and cop thrillers (including perhaps his most signature role as “Dirty” Harry Callahan), with a few odd exceptions that would hint at some truly interesting things to come.

Having made this chronological journey through the first third of his filmography, I wanted to take a brief beat to examine some of the trends that emerged and identify some elements that defined the early period of his film career. There are absolutely elements deserving of praise, but also some disappointing trends as well. So, speaking in broad terms, here’s what I learned watching the first twenty films in “The Evolution of Eastwood”…

The Embodiment of Tough

One of the most common elements in each of Eastwood’s first twenty films is that he’s one intimidating s.o.b. His trademark squint (which first emerged as an accident due to lighting on the set of A Fistful of Dollars) would come to represent that steely, cold iron that apparently serves as a spine to each of his characters. In every single film, Eastwood’s character never loses a one-on-one fist fight (or gunfight for that matter) and the few times that he is subdued, it’s because of a multi-man ambush (for which he always doles out revenge). There are only two times in this early track in which Eastwood plays a remotely vulnerable character against whom the odds are sufficiently stacked. And, ironically, in both cases his opponents are women.

Misogyny Overload

I’ll not mince words here – in both his films (and apparently his personal life) – Eastwood doesn’t have a very upstanding reputation with women. His personal life is littered with numerous rumors of affairs (and an undetermined amount of children) and some of the authenticated details of his longer-term relationships don’t paint him in the best light. That sensibility makes its way into most of his on-screen personas as well, as he frequently seduces or coerces women into lovemaking only to treat them with rather questionable dignity afterwards. In High Plains Drifter, he outright rapes a woman in the first fifteen minutes of the film (a narrative element that is in direct alignment with the tone and theme of the film, but is disturbing nonetheless). It is interesting to me, then, that two of his stronger and more compelling films (Play Misty for Me and The Beguiled) feature him playing a character at the mercy of powerful (but unfortunately crazy) women. Both of those films represent strong pieces of filmmaking and strong performances from Eastwood, but it does little to dilute the already misogynistic trends in his early filmography.

Two major exceptions here is Shirley Maclaine’s turn in Two Mules for Sister Sara, which features a strong and resourceful woman, and Kay Lenz’s portrayal in Breezy (which Eastwood actually directed without starring in it). However, in both films, despite the maturity and actualization of the Maclaine’s and Lenz’s characters, they still fall for men who are of at least moderately questionable character – and who still exhibit disappointing attitudes towards women. These criticisms could be hurled as much at the sensibilities of the era in which Eastwood rose to fame as they could at Eastwood himself (more-so probably), but when taken in large chunks of viewing like this, the trends are hard to ignore or excuse.

A Question of Ethics

One of the most compelling and fascinating elements of Eastwood’s filmography is the consistent exploration of questionable ethics and morals. From his very first feature film (A Fistful of Dollars) through his dramas and thrillers, he is constantly exploring characters with foggy boundaries dividing right from wrong.

Take, as a brief example, his signature character of Dirty Harry. Harry Callahan is often a cold-blooded vigilante, frequently breaking the law to uphold it, who stubbornly denies the rights of criminals to protect the rights of victims. The dark complexity of the violence in those films caused several other A-listers to give it a hard pass, but it fit in perfectly with Eastwood’s revisionist persona of icons. His western heroes have sensitivity towards common everyman, but they are ruthless and cold-hearted towards the villains. This is never more deeply embodied than in his disturbing but powerful film High Plains Drifter, in which the very notion of justice as served by a devil is explored. Even in his lesser known mission/war films such as Kelly’s Heroes, Where Eagles Dare, or The Eiger Sanction, Eastwood is dealing with the stories of assassins, thieves, and deserters for whom the films frequently encourage us to root and cheer on.

There is not a single film in Eastwood’s first twenty that doesn’t contain at its core a complicated moral dilemma, most especially in the westerns and cop thrillers, and it’s much of what makes his work so interesting overall, even when the individual entries are sub-par.

The Ones You Shouldn’t Miss

The “man with no name” trilogy which launched Eastwood’s cinematic career is highly deserving of the attention it receives (with The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly getting the most recognition, although my personal favorite was For a Few Dollars More). But if someone wanted to separate out the best from the rest, here are my recommendations of the five films you should seek out to get a well-rounded picture of his early career:

For a Few Dollars More

I’m likely to be court-martialed for this, but I still say this is a stronger film than The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. The sheer scope and grandeur of GB&U give it tremendous credibility, but For a Few Dollars More is tighter, more suspenseful, and pushes nearly all of the same entertainment buttons (not to mention that it features the trilogy’s most compelling villain in Gian Maria Volonte’s volcanic performance). Ideally, the entire trilogy deserves to be seen, but all of the best elements of its power are on prime display in this middle chapter.

Kelly’s Heroes

It’s far from essential. Heck, it’s barely important. But Eastwood’s early films are populated with either westerns, thrillers, or mission films, and the best of that third category in my opinion is Kelly’s Heroes. What primarily makes it work so well is the outstanding supporting cast (Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles, Telly Savalas, etc.). Eastwood himself is not even that prominent in the most memorable moments, but the overall impact of the film is fun and entertaining and if you want to experience some of the ensemble adventures that Eastwood chased after in a handful of these early films, give Kelly’s Heroes a look.

Play Misty for Me

Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut is extremely impressive. It benefits from not being terribly ambitious, but it is still a tightly wound, deeply tense suspense thriller that maintains every inch of its power nearly fifty years later (thanks in large part to the phenomenal performance by Jessica Walter). I would recommend this film even apart from the interest in Eastwood’s filmography because it’s such a powerfully effective work of minimalist filmmaking. And I would, without qualification, consider it essential viewing for any fans of suspense thrillers. It’s great. Watch it.

Dirty Harry

The original film that launched Eastwood’s most extensive franchise is unquestionably one of the most affecting films of his career. Directed by Eastwood friend and mentor Don Siegel, the film represents so much of the themes and characteristics of Eastwood’s appeal as a performer and persona. Harry Callahan remains one of the benchmarks for tough, take-no-crap heroism that culturally even rivals the strongest work of Willis, Stallone, and Norris. But what makes this first film so remarkable is the complexity of its theme and the vibrance of its style. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny the power and impact of Dirty Harry.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

It lacks the brutality of nearly all of his other westerns. It lacks the propulsive pace of his thrillers and adventure films. But if you asked me to select just one film from Eastwood’s early years for you to watch, I would (with only brief hesitation) point you towards The Outlaw Josey Wales. At this stage in his career, Eastwood was more firmly developing his own distinct voice as a storyteller, and he had spent enough time in the genre to know where he could push the boundaries and where to hold the line. Although first-time viewers may find the episodic narrative challenging to navigate and the occasionally deliberate pacing difficult to maintain, chances are strong that the film’s more sensitive core will resonate long after the first viewing is completed. It is a film with as much heart as it has guts and a troubled soul anchored deep within its story that is nearly impossible to dismiss. And despite some stellar other entries, The Outlaw Josey Wales gets my vote for the best film of Eastwood’s first third.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.