The Evolution of Eastwood: PAINT YOUR WAGON

PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969)

Take this in: Clint Eastwood. Lee Marvin. Western… Musical.

If that general concept strikes you as somewhat odd, you’re in the precise mindset to encounter 1969’s Paint Your Wagon. Directed by Joshua Logan based on the Broadway play by Alan Jay Lerner, Paint Your Wagon is an odd and apparently misguided venture from conception all the way to execution.

Adapted by the legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, the production became troubled even from earliest developments. The location was remote, forcing the cast and crew to be helicoptered in every day. The original playwright micro-managed Logan’s direction, forcing frustrations and production delays. Lee Marvin, while regarded by everyone as a consummate southern gentleman, was also unfortunately drunk for nearly every scene of the film. Locals were used as extras who eventually became a coercive union, forcing the budget to bloat even further with unreasonable demands that had to be met rather than further delay production.

These complications don’t automatically shine through in the finished film, but something beneath the surface certainly feels strained. The result is a film that’s overlong, unfocused, and largely thematically confused. There are a couple of memorable songs, but even they feel somewhat forced amidst an ambling and disjointed narrative.

The story, in brief, centers around Ben Rumson (Marvin) who, after finding the wreckage of a wagon that left one man dead and the man’s brother (Eastwood) severely wounded, discovers gold dust and stakes a claim there. Eventually a town builds up around that claim, and into that town drifts a Mormon man with two wives (one of whom he rather casually sells off to the highest bidder – which, of course, winds up being Rumson). As the town continues to boom, a love triangle forms between Rumson, his “Pardner” (Eastwood), and the bride (Jean Seberg) which is set against the backdrop of the wild and fickle gold rush in California. Eventually the triangle (and the town) collapses, leaving our characters to decide for themselves how to tackle whatever comes next.

Eastwood again takes a supporting role here, following his strong presence in Where Eagles Dare. His acting is a bit less steady, and it is disarming on a fundamental level to hear him sing (he and Marvin both perform all of their own songs), but his character in this is far too aimless and reactionary to really anchor any of his performance choices. Where he had previously seemed to bring the full power of his expertise to the strong, silent type role of Lieutenant Schaffer, he now seems to feel out of sorts and confused, wondering both on and off screen (apparently) just where the hell everything is going.

Fans of large-scale movie musicals may find a handful of diamonds in the rough to cherish, but not being in that company myself, I found little to admire and even less to enjoy. The narrative is tedious, the comedy is too ham-fisted, the drama is too self-important. And the theme of the piece seems to confuse whether it wants us to be on board with our protagonists’ philosophies or not (it spends 2 hours bringing us on board with their frontier ways of thinking and living only to monumentally dismantle all of them in the last 30 minutes and ultimately justify the stark-raving preacher who condemned it all).

If I haven’t made it clear enough, I did not enjoy Paint Your Wagon. However, it is a vital entry in Eastwood’s catalogue for one gigantic reason: this is the film that made Eastwood want to become a director.

He would later reference Paint Your Wagon specifically as an impetus for him to move more firmly behind the camera. He said that being a part of this production taught him “how not to make a movie.” And it would only be a couple short years later before he would indeed step behind the camera for the first time, beginning a lifelong legacy that expanded beyond performance into the realm of Hollywood storyteller. If only for the push in that impressive direction, perhaps Paint Your Wagon should be thanked after all.


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.

Episode 091: The Greatest Showman

We wanted to open up 2018 with a bang, so we called in That Guy Named John from the About to Review podcast to have a lively discussion with us about Hugh Jackman’s new circus musical. We all three enjoyed this show very much, but we do spend some time discussing criticism revolving around the real-life P.T. Barnum versus his portrayal in the film. The Greatest Showman is a film that brought us lots of smiles and joy, and we hope that listening to this conversation will do the same for you.

The Greatest Showman Review – 0:01:49

The Connecting Point – 1:06:54

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Greatest Showman

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017)


GOING IN

If there were only two genres of film that I could watch for the rest of my life, they would be Science Fiction and Musicals (and if I had a third it very well might be Biopics). The Greatest Showman is the latter two and looks to be shamelessly nostalgic. Its story of P. T. Barnum’s founding of the famous Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus appears full of bombastic dance numbers, bright lights, and big voices. Jackman’s work in the movie adaptation of one of my favorite musicals of all-time, Les Miserables, coupled with his passion for bringing this project to the big screen instill in me the utmost hope. The thing that I love most about musicals is how they can make me feel and that starts with the entire team of creators buying in first. Jackman has said, “A bad musical stinks to high heaven, but when a musical works, there’s nothing like it. It’s everyone coming together and opening their heart.” I couldn’t agree more. My heart is open, too, and I’m ready to receive the spectacle.

1 Hour and 40 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

P. T. Barnum is famously quoted as saying, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” With The Greatest Showman, the Australian duo of director Michael Gracey and star Hugh Jackman fully embrace this sentiment in retelling the birth of show business. From the sensational opening scene, watching the film is a joyful experience. An homage to big musicals of the past, it progresses from start to finish linked together by one grandiose song after another, full of over-the-top production and exciting choreography. The passion poured into the project oozes off the screen in every performance and its multiple positive messages about chasing your dreams, using your imagination, and accepting everyone as they are serve as inspirational lessons for child and adult alike.  Also creating that emotional connectivity are the excellent songs, featuring lyrics from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the break-out songwriters of La La Land‘s award-winning “City of Stars.” Expect at least one of The Greatest Showman‘s awesome musical numbers to receive similar recognition at the 2018 Academy Award ceremony.

Jackman as Barnum is perfect. He has the charisma and vocal talent needed to a showman, and he pulls off both Barnum’s overconfidence and feelings of inadequacy equally well. One thing that must always be considered with biopics is whether or not they accurately depict the characters portrayed. In this case, Barnum’s slave ownership is overlooked completely and the film most likely treats him as more of a champion for the marginalized than he may have been. That being said, it does keep him balanced, showing plenty of poor decisions along with the ones that made him such a success. As a movie-goer, my primary desire is to be entertained, though, and whether its historically correct or not, the pleasure it provides is undeniable.

Also standing out are Rebecca Ferguson as “The Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind and Zac Efron as Phillip Carlysle, Barnum’s eventual partner and romantic interest of trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Ferguson is outstanding and has the most touching solo vocal performance of the film. Efron, meanwhile, provides solid work throughout as someone who slowly becomes a sort of grounding figure for Barnum. He also has a standout musical number with Jackman that made me want an entire movie of just those two actors singing to each other while dancing their way through a plot.

The Greatest Showman is not without fault, however. It’s not a perfect script, and like many musicals of old some cheesiness does slip in. It also could have used a little more character development for the circus performers. While there are the briefest of backstories for them, their unique looks or talents would have been fun to explore further. Yet that would have also made the film longer. As is, its tight runtime of just over an hour and a half is a very good thing, allowing the music to stay center stage and never be silent for long.

VERDICT

The Greatest Showman‘s reverence for the musicals of old shines through in every way. Full of impressive songs that form a soundtrack worth listening to on repeat, it is emotionally provocative and will have viewers smiling and humming their way out of the theater. Though its story may not be 100% historically accurate, the inspirational messages are no less meaningful. Likely to end up one of my most frequently re-watched films from 2017, The Greatest Showman continues the revival of the Hollywood musical and is one of the most enjoyable theater experiences of the year. Take the kids to this family friendly spectacle and enjoy the show!

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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 065: Baby Driver

Join us this week for a unique and special recording of the Feelin’ Film Podcast as we record live side-by-side for the first time ever. Not only that, but we also have an awesome guest with us, Chad Hopkins the host of The Cinescope Podcast, to help us talk though Edgar Wright’s musical mayhem of a film, Baby Driver. This episode is recorded directly after we leave the theater so it’s unlike any you’ve heard from us before. We hope you enjoy as we geek out over fast cars, rockin’ tunes, and style style style.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:04:11

(Aaron –  Cruise)
(Patrick – Indie games)
(Chad – Batman v Superman, Breaking Bad)

Baby Driver Review – 0:14:32

The Connecting Point – 0:55:14

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: La La Land

From the street, a baby grand in the middle of a supper club beckons her; the crescendo of a smooth jazz arrangement filling the night air like a clarion call.  She stands and looks at him, mesmerized.  I sit in a dark theater and look at her looking at him, mesmerized.   What happens in the next two hours can only be described as a dizzying spectacle of genuine magic.  A cinematic mish-mash of wondrous set pieces, decorated with a vibrant color palette, lit with appropriate mood lighting, and accompanied by musical numbers ranging from soulful to toe-tapping.  It’s the perfect backdrop in which to watch America’s newest sweethearts pursue their dreams and each other.  This is the City of Stars.  This is La La Land.

I need to be upfront with something.  La La Land was like Hollywood lobbing me a softball the size of a beach ball and giving me a telephone pole to hit it with.  Let’s suffice it to say this film was square in my wheelhouse, so my excitement level was dialed to eleven before I even started the car to head to the theater.  It’s rare to have such high expectations for something and have them met, but as I went into La La Land with five star expectations, I walked out having had a six star experience.

What writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted here is a pure spectacle in all of the best possible ways.  Culling from the golden age of Hollywood musicals, when Fred twirled Ginger around the soundstage, Chazelle captures the glamour of a bygone era and places it neatly into a modern world. Thankfully, he doesn’t burden it with overproduced glitz (ala Baz Luhrman).  Instead, there is a beauty to these production numbers.  There is a dreamlike quality to most of them; perfect asides that enhance the burgeoning love story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).  When the film does veer into more rambunctious musical territory, as it does with the side bar narrative of Sebastian’s rising career with modern jazz band The Messengers (led by a guitar playing John Legend as lead vocalist Keith), it never feels forced or unnecessary.  It all feels appropriate; keeping us grounded in the now. Just when you allow the magic of old Hollywood to take you away, a well timed cell phone ring or smoke alarm reels you back in.  Getting antsy with all of the jazz?  Here’s an 80’s cover band performance to enjoy. It’s all part of the larger experience. There is a purpose to everything Chazelle does.  

There isn’t really a deep narrative that drives La La Land.  This is a story about dreamers, and the courtship of Mia and Sebastian is purely a means to an end.  The chemistry between Stone and Gosling only serves to enhance the experience of getting there.  Their relationship checks off all of the right boxes as the movie forges on, but everything they experience together as a couple feels natural and never melodramatic.  Chazelle isn’t interested in cliches.  Time is better spent with walks through a deserted studio backlot, or inside a dimly lit nightclub listening to jazz music.  We are invested in this couple.  We want to see them succeed.  So when the time comes where conflict is necessary, it rings true.  And it hurts.

What we ultimately learn from La La Land is that dreams always come with a price.  Perseverance is required, but it comes with a healthy dose of self doubt.  The world will chew you up and spit you out, because it couldn’t care less about your dreams.  Hollywood is the perfect setting for just such a story.  It is a land of dreamers who rarely get the opportunity to do.  And what about sacrifice?  You can’t have it all.  You may one day beat the odds and achieve the success you seek, but it might be at the cost of the fantastic partner who has been by your side the whole time.  The one that believed in you unconditionally might be the one who gets pushed aside; a tragic consequence to the realities of life.  If the dream is the goal, you have to be willing to look back across a crowded nightclub, with a wry smile and a knowing nod, and be okay with what you had to give up to get here.  Here’s to the fools who dream.

 

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STEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.

 

Episode 021: West Side Story

We don’t take sides in this gang war, but we certainly lean more toward love than hate when discussing the all-time great musical. West Side Story is beloved by many, and for very good reason. Its themes of star-crossed love and race in America are handled with some of the best and most unique choreography ever produced. Mix in the many memorable songs and its easy to see why this is considered one of the best musicals ever made.

What We’ve Been Up To – 2:00

Aaron (Hell or High Water, Alien vs. Predator/AVP: Requiem)

Patrick (ESPN 30 for 30)

West Side Story Review – 17:10

The Connecting Point – 1:04:15

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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Episode 020: Sing Street

This week we relish the opportunity to talk about a movie that brings us genuine joy and is unlike anything else coming out of Hollywood this year. There is a purity to the story of Sing Street that will resonate with audiences. We dig into its themes and also spend plenty of time reminiscing about what could end up being our favorite film of 2016.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:15

Aaron (Everybody Wants Some, The Princess Bride, Arrow/Flash)

Patrick (Identity Crisis)

Sing Street Review – 0:14:15

The Connecting Point – 1:03:48

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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