Videophiled: Clint Eastwood’s ‘American Sniper’

Waner Home Video

American Sniper (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – For the past couple of decades, one-time screen superstar Clint Eastwood has been more active behind the camera than in front of it, plugging along with his old school filmmaking with a consistency that is hard to match. He’s already won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars twice (for Unforgiven, 1992, and Million Dollar Baby, 2004). And at age 85, he had the biggest hit of his career: American Sniper, based on the memoir by Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle. The real-life Kyle who racked up more confirmed kills during his tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq than any other marksman in U.S. Navy history. He was also, as expressed in his memoir, an unrepentant bigot who saw the Iraqis as animals and admitted that he found killing people “fun.”

The movie has more in its mind than exploring Kyle’s psyche, or at least this aspect of it. He’s played by Bradley Cooper, who pumped up for the role and plays the part with unshakable belief and confidence in his mission, and the film is about what inspired him to enlist and the toll of combat on his psyche. Kyle has a sense of duty and honor that is ignited when American embassies are attacked overseas, and as his commitment (and reputation as a marksman) grows, his ability to function stateside as a husband and father diminishes. He’s more comfortable leading combat missions than being there to support his wife Taya (Sienna Miller), who is torn apart every time to re-ups for another tour of duty. Eastwood’s clean, strong storytelling is perfect for the story and his direction of the combat scenes is all the more powerful for its clarity and focus. Kyle has to make life and death decisions in the field. His targets include women and children. He doesn’t want to kill any innocents, but protecting his men is his mission.

Eastwood steers clear of politics—it’s not about questioning the mission, it’s about how this kind of warfare wounds victims and survivors alike and how the skills and temperament necessary to be a good (if not great) soldier in combat are a detriment to living in peacetime. And while conservatives appreciated the film’s valorization of service and the military culture of duty and comradeship, liberals saw the message of how the same military culture that turned them into soldiers fails to retrain them for stateside life. For that, Kyle turns to fellow vets and once again becomes a leader of men.

This film was an unexpected blockbuster, earning over $350 million in the U.S, and it was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Adapted Screenplay, and it won for Best Achievement in Sound Editing.

Blu-ray and DVD, with the half-hour featurettes “One Soldier’s Story: The Journey of American Sniper” and “The Making of American Sniper” and an Ultraviolet Digital copy of the film. The Blu-ray also features a bonus DVD and Digital HD copy of the film.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinefiled

Blu-ray: ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’

There’s something of a shaggy dog story quality to Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), the offbeat road movie / caper film starring Clint Eastwood as Thunderbolt, an ex-thief on the run from his former partners, and Jeff Bridges as a hotshot kid who calls himself Lightfoot and decides to become this flinty veteran’s sidekick. It was the directorial debut of Michael Cimino, who wrote the original screenplay. Eastwood had initially intended to direct it himself but was impressed enough by Cimino’s work co-writing Magnum Force that he gave the young filmmaker a chance to take the helm. Cimino directs the film as a mix of character piece and lighthearted crime story with dark shadows around the edges, taking his time through the twists to hang out with his odd couple heroes.

Cimino introduces the two characters in tandem in the opening scene: Eastwood playing preacher in a rural Midwest church while Bridges (dressed in a pair of black leather pants) smiles his way into the seat of a Trans Am on a used car lot. Before the sermon is over, a gunman (George Kennedy) steps into the church and opens fire on Eastwood’s minister, who takes cover and makes his break with the calm focus of a man who is no stranger to such situations. As he runs from his would-be assassin, Lightfoot revs the engine and then takes off from the lot, leaving the salesman in a cloud of dust and confusion, and he inadvertently ends up playing getaway driver for Thunderbolt. A partnership is born of the chance meeting and Lightfoot clings to his reluctant new friend and mentor as they hit the road.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Blu-ray: ‘Unforgiven’ at 20

Unforgiven: 20th Anniversary (Warner)

“I don’t deserve this, to die like this. I was building a house.”
“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western earned the director his first Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director. In a way, it finally made official what critics and fans had slowly come to  realize over the last decade (and at least since his 1988 “Bird”): Clint Eastwood—legendary as both the iconic western drifter with no name and Dirty Harry—was one of America’s best directors. He had directed 15 features before Unforgiven and has made as many again since, but “Unforgiven” is still the film that defines Eastwood the director for most audiences.

Aged and sunbaked into a leathery hardness, he plays a former gunfighter roused from his retirement (he’s a widower, single father, and floundering farmer) for one last bounty, and Morgan Freeman (in his first appearance in an Eastwood film) is his old friend and former partner invited along for a piece of the bounty. Eastwood also directed Gene Hackman to an Oscar as the seemingly affable sheriff, a pragmatist who measures justice in terms of expediency, and gave Richard Harris the equivalent of a spotlight solo in a small role as a flamboyant British gunslinger managing his own legend through pulp stories.

Continue reading at Videodrone

Blu-ray: Clint Eastwood is “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

The Outlaw Josey Wales (Warner)

Clint Eastwood brings warmth and low key humor to his previously cold-blooded revenge-seeking persona in this post-war western, his fifth film as a director. Wales is family-man farmer turned Confederate guerrilla after the brutal massacre of his family by Union renegades, who refuses to surrender after the war and is hunted by the very Union butcher who led the raid on his farm. On his trek south he collects more strays than the SPCA, a family-like community that draws his repressed paternal instincts back out and draws him back into life. Eastwood’s explosions of brutal violence cinematic eye recalls Leone with his vision of a changing landscape as dangerous as it is embracing, but he leavens the vision with humor and trust (something in short supply in the westerns he made until “Josey”) and creates a new chapter in his work.

The Blu-ray debut features newly-recorded commentary by critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel and the new featurette “Clint Eastwood’s West” (presented in HD) along with the vintage featurettes “Eastwood in Action” (from 1976) and “Hell Hath No Fury: The Making of the Outlaw Josie Wales” (from 1999). Comes in a Warner Blu-ray Book format, with an illustrated booklet and a disc tray in the back inside cover.

More Blu-ray reviews at MSN Videodrone

New Release Round-Up: The Bittersweet “Hereafter,” plus “The Switch” and the Oscar nominated documentary “Waste Land”

Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter"

Hereafter (Warner), directed by Clint Eastwood, is (in the words of MSN critic Glenn Kenny) “a film of rather rare ambition… (that) attempts to create a serious drama, as opposed to a genre exercise, out of speculations concerning the afterlife and the supernatural.” Working from an original script by Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”), the film follows the odysseys of three individuals touched by death and in profound ways: a reluctant medium (Matt Damon) in San Francisco who can commune with the afterlife but finds it a curse rather than a gift, a French journalist (Cecile de France) who survives a near-death experience (a harrowing recreation of the 2004 tsunami) and a British schoolboy (George and Frankie McLaren) feeling adrift after the death of this twin brother.

To say that the film is about life after death is technically correct, but it might lead you to make assumptions about the film’s true focus. It’s about the living dealing with death: of a brother, of themselves, of the mourning strangers who come to a psychic seeking communication. It’s not about what’s on the other side, but how we cope with loss.

Eastwood is one of the last mainstream filmmakers who takes the time to let characters fill out their scenes and the film rolls out at the speed of human life (or at least a more recognizable incarnation of it than films that rush through the in-between bits to get to the jokes or the dramatic point). He directs Hereafter with the measured pacing and dramatic restraint that has marked his work for decades, but he slows this even more to capture the uneasiness of the characters as they find their way through a world that no longer provides comfort.

The DVD features three brief featurettes: “Tsunami! Recreating a Disaster” (the longest of the three at just over six minutes), “Hereafter’s Locations – Casting the Silent Characters” and “The Eastwood Experience.” The Blu-ray adds six more featurettes plus the complete “extended version” of the documentary “The Eastwood Factor.” Written and directed by critic and film historian Richard Schickel and narrated by Morgan Freeman, it’s less as a portrait of the artist than a genial tour through Eastwood’s career at Warner Bros., an enjoyable visit but frustratingly slim as a documentary. Previously released on DVD, this is the film’s high-definition debut. The Blu-ray also includes a bonus DVD version and a digital copy for portable media players.

More on The Switch, Waste Land, Hemingway’s Garden of Eden and more.

Continue reading on MSN Videodrone

‘Changeling,’ ‘I Served the King of England’ and ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – DVDs for 2/17/09

Clint Eastwood came about Changeling, a period piece true story about a child kidnapping in late 1920s Los Angeles, as a director for hire. His skill is there, but not necessarily his passion. Angelina Jolie stars as the single mother whose son disappears, a working class mom who looks like a million buck under her dowdy frocks (because she’s Angelie Jolie, of course). The police are little help, and when they finally “reunite” her with the errant boy, they respond to her quite legitimate complaint that the kid they returned is not her son by tossing her in the loony bin. It turns out the women’s wing doubles as a prison for inconvenient witnesses and problem dames, and they don’t even need to hold a trial! It’s a terrific looking film and a pretty fascinating true story, and the muted-trumpet score recalls Chinatown, another period piece about corruption in old Los Angeles. But the most gripping section of the film involves a hard-bitten cop (Michael Kelly) following a questionable lead from a genuinely shaken runaway boy to the chilling discovery of the graves of serial-killer’s child victims. Clint seems far more engaged in the ambivalence of this tough-guy cop who is unsure whether the kid’s telling the truth (and surely hoping that he’s making this story up), almost brutal in his brusque treatment until he’s faced with the terrible truth and his own guilt about adding to this young boy’s ordeal. The film earned three Oscar nominations (for Jolie’s portrayal of the long-suffering but undaunted mom, for its Art Direction and Cinematography).

Read my DVD review on MSN here.

I Served the King of England is the latest from Czech New Wave legend Jiri Menzel. He channels the big-hearted spirit and satirical playfulness of his classic comedies (like Larks on a String) into this deft little satire of a big-hearted opportunist (Ivan Barnev) in 1930s Czechoslovakia who sides with the so-called master race (one that looks down on him) over his countrymen for love and money: he’s smitten with a German Fraulein (Julia Jentsch). Menzel treats this cheerful little man more as an innocent than a traitor and Barnev plays him as a silent movie clown with hearty sexual appetites. He’s willfully blind to his moral compromise as a young man but faces up to his actions as an old man. It’s funny and heartbreaking and there is a joy to Menzel’s filmmaking.
Continue reading “‘Changeling,’ ‘I Served the King of England’ and ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – DVDs for 2/17/09”

‘Dirty Harry’ – Clint Eastwood’s Urban Cowboy

Dirty Harry delivered justice from the barrel of a .44 Magnum

Clint Eastwood was a Western icon for a fistful of spaghetti Westerns and cynical American copycats. When he strapped on his .44 Magnum to stride the streets of San Francisco as Inspector Harry Callahan, known to the squad as Dirty Harry, Eastwood turned his frontier persona into an urban cowboy on the mean streets of our urban world.

He didn’t get his nickname for hygienic reasons. Everyone offers a different explanation for it: His partners have a habit of landing in the hospital or in the morgue. He’s been known to bend the law in the pursuit of justice. He’s an equal-opportunity bigot.

Harry has the best explanation: “Every dirty job that comes along. …”

In Dirty Harry, Callahan tracks a psychopath with a sniper rifle trying to extort the city for a small fortune (at least by 1971 standards). The killer signs his ransom demands “Scorpio,” a not-so-veiled reference to the Zodiac killer, who terrorized the San Francisco Bay area for years. The real-life serial killer eluded capture, but on the big screen we get a pure law-and-order fantasy, and closure from the end of a barrel.

Harry Callahan was made to order for an audience nervous about escalating urban violence in the ’70s, a go-it-alone John Wayne cowboy for the modern era. Despite comments about his “long hair” from fellow cops, he’s as square as they come. And as ornery.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he growls. “‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

That’s as much dialogue as Eastwood ever delivers in a single scene. He tends to let his eyes do the emoting and his gun do the talking. He doesn’t let distractions like civil rights and rule of law stop him from delivering justice to the scum on the streets. The film’s tagline says it all: “You don’t assign him to murder cases, you just turn him loose.”

In real life, we’d be terrified of Harry and the loose cannon he calls a handgun. On the big screen, we applaud his frontier justice on the mean streets of our modern urban America.

Originally published as part of the “MSN Cadillac” series.