The Mule


Viewed – 30 January 2019

The last time I watched legendary actor Clint Eastwood would probably be Gran Torino, a movie which has become one of my favourites.  So sitting down to this was with some anticipation and well, would such an actor put himself back in front of the camera again (considering he’s also a respected director) for anything less that something worthwhile?  Let’s see.

The Mule

Eastwood plays Earl, an elderly man who has spent much of his life missing out on important events with his family in favour of growing his horticulture business.  Yet when he falls on hard times and age seems to be finally taking it’s toll, he attempts to reconnect with his loved ones.  However when attending his granddaughter’s engagement party he is approached by a guy offering him the chance to make some money.  All he has to do is drive – something Earl is very experienced in.

This gently observed and absorbing story is anchored by a wonderfully nuanced performance from Eastwood who turns a self-centred, world-weary character into a loveable, charming man who’s adept at turning even the riskiest situation to his favour.  The way he gets in the good books of ruthless Mexican drug dealers, who go from threatening him to befriending him is just a joy to watch.  Add to this the growing relationship he builds with his estranged family, and I was totally invested in what was going on.  Bradley Cooper is on board as a dedicated DEA agent and Diane Weist (remember her?) plays Eastwood’s ex wife.

One character development later in the movie is a touch cliched and some ideas feel a bit out of place despite the humour intended (Eastwood and some hookers?), yet the story expertly juggles an increasingly deadly scenario with emotional and heart-felt family drama that really got in the feels.  A must watch.

Verdict:  5 /5

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Sully


Viewed – 18 April 2017  online rental

Tom Hanks is surely one of the most dependable and talented actors of his generation and for me, always an appealing prospect whenever he’s in a movie.  Something about him is just so likeable and relatable and he’s very much not your typical Hollywood star.  He’s like someone you feel you know.  So we come to his latest effort.  Overseen by the acclaimed directing talent of the legendary Clint Eastwood, this tells the true story of a freak accident that lead to a plane having to land in the Hudson River in the middle of New York City in 2009.

Sully

With an interesting, non-linear structure (the movie opens after the landing and flashes back to the day in question several times) Tom Hanks plays airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger (aka Sully) who is immediately faced with suspicion and attempts at being discredited for his actions by the airline and investigating parties, despite being heralded a hero by the public and media.  A very simple story at it’s heart held together by solid performances including Aaron Echhart and especially Hanks who’s plight I believed in and felt every emotion, doubt and uncertainty conveyed.  Eastwood builds tension and delivers a gently told but emotional story with great moments of drama from the actors and when we finally get to see how things occurred it’s pretty damn scary … especially for someone like me who’s never been on a plane.

It ends a little abruptly but that’s nit-picking for what is otherwise a well told, very well acted and powerful dramatisation of a remarkable incident.  A must for fans of Tom Hanks and anyone who enjoys gripping true stories.

Verdict:  4 /5

American Sniper


Viewed – 01 August 2015  Online rental

Certainly one of the most talked about movies in recent memory that garnered a lot of attention around awards season, even though it was largely snubbed.  A shame as this true story of elite Navy Seal Sniper ‘Chris Kyle’ is powerful and very well acted, and a career best I’d say for actor Bradley Cooper.

American Sniper

During several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kyle and his band of brothers face battles and atrocities as they attempt to track down various targets and get back home in one piece.  A rather unrecognisable Sienna Miller plays Kyle’s wife who is fighting her own battles raising two children whilst worrying about their father, as he becomes more and more traumatised by the horrors he witnesses.  This is a totally engrossing and authentic experience that pulls few punches when showing just how terrible war can get, and with the setting of a present day conflict, the back drop of 9/11 and real-world terrorism, I found this educational and heart breaking.  Cooper is excellent, considerably beefed up and probably more earnest and believable than I’ve ever seen him – he really went for it here, and it pays off.  If I was to nit-pick, I could say some of the other characters, such as Kyle’s brother and the other marines were under developed.  Also Iraqi locales are all portrayed rather one-dimensionally. Yet with a very strong central performance and some well directed action and battle scenes with plenty of tension – this was still a pretty formidable experience, that left me rather shaken.

Clint Eastwood once again proves he’s as much a presence behind the camera as he is in front, and has delivered a very well made, respectful and thought-provoking study of the harrowing effects of war and that of a true American hero.  Essential.

Verdict:  5 /5

Joe


Viewed – 18 April 2015  Netflix

Nicholas Cage has had a bit of a bad rap lately with his wealth of commercially and critically underwhelming roles in mostly forgettable movies.  This is one that seems to have garnered him better reviews however.

JOE-day2-523.JPG

Cage plays Joe, a boss in a logging firm who employs a local teenage kid looking for work.  Overtime the two form a bond and soon Joe realises that the kid’s drunken father may be hitting him and the kid’s mother.  Yet Joe has enough problems of his own – should he get involved?

A thought-provoking story slightly let down by what appears to be first time actors in key parts.  Tye Sheridan who plays the kid is not bad and fairly convincing, but I wished the toothless, abusive father had been portrayed by someone with a bit more acting-chops, to add some depth to his character.  Speaking of depth we get to know next to nothing of Joe’s background other than a stint in prison – where does he come from?  Why doesn’t he appear to have any family or friends?  I’ll always like Cage however, and here he does a decent job with a fairly basic character.

I came away feeling this was a poor man’s Gran Torino, the seasoned veteran actor and amateurish co-stars bringing on a serious case of Déjà vu – but it has only a smidgen of the emotional impact of that Clint Eastwood classic.  For fans of Cage though, this was one of his better performances in recent memory.

Verdict:  3 /5

Ten of the best


Top Ten lists are sort of something I enjoy doing, especially at the end of each year.  But Top Ten Favourite Movies of all time?  Harder.  I used to have a list a while back of which some of the movies below used to appear on.  Yet I gave up putting them in a particular order as they are so different some of them, comparing is impossible.  So find below Ten movies I think have had the greatest effect on me, either growing up, inspiring me (writing, movie tastes) or just hitting me on an emotional level.

fight-club

Fight Club

Made me a big fan of the movies of David Fincher and has arguably Edward Norton’s finest turn.  Style, effects work in a movie that didn’t need it, a great soundtrack, that twist and endlessly quotable.

Gran Torino

Emotional, heart-wrenching, funny, touching with one of Eastwood’s best performances.  The cast of newcomers surrounding him are also first-rate.

gran torino

21 Grams

Complex and twist-filled with three stunning performances (especially Naomi Watts) and a script that is quite literally genius.  Tough going but well worth the journey.

21grams

Pulp Fiction

Possibly still my all time favourite movie.  The dialogue is amazing, funny, very cool and  believable.  The sound track is stuff of legend and performances across the board are superb.

pulpfiction

Leon

Natalie Portman’s debut.  Ice-cool, Gary Oldman’s looniest but greatest villain, Jean Reno as a lovable assassin and Luc Besson on stunning form.

leon

Annie Hall

All of Woody Allen’s best ideas, cleverest dialogue and touching observations rolled into one perfect movie.  Diane Keaton is excellent and Allen has never been funnier.

Annie-Hall

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

James Cameron fully realising Terminator … stunning effects work, amazing action sequences, Arnie at his best, Linda Hamilton as the most bad-ass female role model since Ellen Ripley.  The ultimate sci-fi blockbuster.

terminator 2

Blue Velvet

Weird but one of David Lynch’s most coherent works, with a great cast (Hopper is just plain nuts) and haunting music and a dream-like atmosphere.  Sexy and disturbing just how Lynch should be.

blue-velvet

Goodfellas

The finest gangster movie ever made, fast, packed with ideas, dialogue, people getting wacked, great dialogue and great performances throughout.  Martin Scorsese at his very best.

goodfellas

The Shining

Stunningly filmed, creepy as hell, scary, with an amazing Jack Nicholson and a true directing auteur in the shape of the late Stanley Kubrick.  The best horror movie ever made?  Quite possibly.

The-Shining