Changeling (2008)


(R) 2 hrs, 21 mins

Plot Summary: A grief-stricken mother takes on the LAPD to her own detriment when it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child, while also refusing to give up hope that she will find him one day.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(Must Watch)  The film is set mostly in the 1920s, but the hokiness of some of its scenes (although, according to IMDB, “Virtually every event depicted in the film appears as cited in legal documents, with dialog often taken verbatim from court transcripts”) and its sappy score are straight out of the 1990s. However, all of that is overcome by tremendous acting performances, especially from Jolie (but not Eddie Alderson, who was not convincing as Sanford Clark), as well as by the incredible story, which is mostly true.

I can’t believe that this could happen to somebody. This is yet another frightening example of the dangers inherent in handing over unchecked power to any law enforcement organization. If we do not pay attention to history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Additionally, this story reminds me of the value of today’s technology and social media. While many complain about how much easier it is to invade someone’s privacy, it is also a lot easier to expose corruption. Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant…these cases are not a new trend developing amongst police departments. This kind of rampant corruption and abuse of authority has existed for long before anyone can remember. But now we finally have the tools to expose them.

And it’s not just the police. As an attorney, I have personally stopped a mental health professional from wrongfully committing a person to a mental health institution over what basically amounted to a petty verbal argument between the doctor and the patient.

Respect to Straczynski for getting this movie made. This is where filmmaking crosses over into activism. If someone just told you the facts of this case, you might struggle to fathom how this would play out in actuality…how many people would have to screw up, be complicit, or just flat out do nothing to perpetuate this evil…and just how many people would have to decide to do the right thing, even at risk to their own career, financial interests, or even personal safety, in order to unf*ck this mess. This movie very effectively portrays how this unfortunate situation could very plausibly go down…and while there are many more checks and balances today to help prevent some of the previous injustices from happening again, perhaps some who would previously dismiss all police corruption and mental health abuse as wild conspiracy theories might have their minds changed just a little bit by this film.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

(Approved) 179 mins

(Approved) 179 mins

Plot Summary: A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

Director: Sergio Leone

Writers: Luciano Vincenzoni (story & screenplay), Sergio Leone (story & screenplay), Agenore Incrocci (screenplay, as Age), Furio Scarpelli (screenplay, as Scarpelli), Mickey Knox (English version by)

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  Unless you hate spaghetti Westerns, this film needs to be in your collection.  It’s a classic tale of greed, backstabbing, strategy, and dumb luck.  If you ever want to really understand a director like Quentin Tarantino, you need to watch at least one Leone film.  Leone was a visionary!  This is my favorite of the “Dollars Trilogy” thematic series.  Eastwood and Van Cleef are completely badass in this one, but Wallach steals the show as Tuco!  The cinematography is awesome, Ennio Morricone‘s score enhances the action and tension, and this film starts and ends epicly.

For a Few Dollars More (1967)

(R) 132 min

Plot Summary: Before he was Dirty HarryClint Eastwood was ‘the man with no name’ in spaghetti westerns like this 1967 classic by director Sergio Leone.  Riding a bounty hunter’s trail with Lee Van Cleef, Clint’s rough, tough and not too talkative.

Music by: Ennio Morricone

Writers: Leone (scenario & screenplay), Fulvio Morsella (scenario), Luciano Vincenzoni (screenplay and English-version dialogue), Fernando Di Leo (uncredited), Sergio Donati (uncredited)

Also Stars: Gian Maria Volonté

Serious Jest:  (Must See)  I enjoyed the swagger of A Fistful of Dollars, but had some reservations about the quality of its script.  This second installment in the “Dollars Trilogy” thematic series had all the swagger of Fistful, including awesome music and sick camera work, but also improved in the quality of script.  It seemed that this story was more thought out, including plot twists and better character development, whereas Fistful’s story appeared to be put in place merely to set up cool tag lines and posturing between Eastwood and Volonté.  There was pretty heavy action in this second film, too: the total kill count was 30.

Eastwood continued to show the world why he would eventually be regarded as one of the baddest mofos to ever grace the silver screen.  Volonté was crazier and more ruthless in this film than he was in the first, and I loved it!  Last but not least, Van Cleef may have stolen the show as the man in black, veteran bounty hunter Col. Douglas Mortimer…it wasn’t clear who the bigger badass was.  In fact, Van Cleef claimed to be faster on the draw than Eastwood.  He only took three frames of film (one eighth of a second) to draw, cock and fire!

All in all, this film is a classic, and a great representative of what the spaghetti Western has to offer.  About midway through, the pace dramatically slowed to an almost-boring pace (although my perception may have been a bit clouded by beer-induced sleepiness), but it soon picked back up again, and the movie ended very strongly.  I recommend that you set aside some time to watch this flick at some point, preferably with some alcohol and a friend that enjoys spaghetti Westerns, B movies, or campy films.

A Fistful of Dollars (1967)

(R) 100 mins

Plot Summary: Clint Eastwood shot to international stardom playing the “man with no name” in director Sergio Leone‘s classic 1964 “spaghetti Western” about a wandering gunfighter who plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge.

Original Music by: Ennio Morricone (as Dan Savio)

Additional Director: Monte Hellman (1970 ABC TV prologue only) (uncredited)

Writers: A. Bonzzoni (story), Víctor Andrés Catena (story & screenplay), Ryûzô Kikushima (screenplay “Yojimbo”) (uncredited), Akira Kurosawa (screenplay “Yojimbo”) (uncredited), Sergio Leone (story & screenplay), Jaime Comas Gil (screenplay) (as Jaime Comas), Mark Lowell (dialogue), Fernando Di Leo (uncredited), Duccio Tessari (uncredited), Tonino Valerii (uncredited)

Also Stars: Gian Maria Volonté and Marianne Koch

Serious Jest:  (Worth Watching)  Spaghetti Westerns were typically low-budget, with low-quality stunts, special effects, and technology.  In this film, I had particular trouble accepting how idiotic the bad guys were.   However, I quickly learned to appreciate that none of the foregoing is very important in this genre.  Spaghetti Westerns are all about swagger: tough-guy posturing, catchy music, epic camera shots, cool artwork, and Western-chic outfits.  In this movie, Eastwood helped to create his character’s distinctive visual style.  He bought the black jeans from a sport shop on Hollywood Boulevard, the hat came from a Santa Monica wardrobe firm, and the trademark black cigars came from a Beverly Hills store.  Eastwood himself cut the cigars into three pieces to make them shorter.

This film is not only entertaining, but it is most important for its iconic value.  It is easy to see the influence that flicks like this one had on later works from great directors like Quentin Tarantino, who threw a proper budget behind the genre, and fused it with other genres, like gangster (Pulp FictionReservoir Dogs), martial arts (Kill Bill: Vols. 1 & 2), and war (Inglourious Basterds) films.  This year, Tarantino will also make Django Unchained, the closest film to a straight-up Western that he has made yet…can’t wait.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

(PG) 112 mins

Synopsis: A dramatization of the one possibly successful escape from the notorious prison.

Original Music by: Jerry Fielding

Director: Don Siegel

Writers: J. Campbell Bruce (book), Richard Tuggle (screenplay)

Stars: Clint EastwoodPatrick McGoohan, and Roberts Blossom

Serious Jest:  (Worth Watching)  I like prison-break movies, and Alcatraz was an especially-interesting prison.  This is a fairly-decent film, made more interesting by the fact that it was based on a true story.  I wish there had been more buildup for some of the characters’ relationships, though.

Hereafter (2010)

(PG-13) 129 mins

Plot Summary: A drama centered on three people–a blue-collar American, a French journalist and a London school boy–who are touched by death in different ways.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Peter Morgan

Stars: Matt DamonCécile De France, and Bryce Dallas Howard

Best Boy Grip (London): Dean Morris

Best Boy Grip (San Francisco): Doug Wall

CraigMakk:  (Worth Watching)  This movie is worth watching if you are at all interested in religion, heaven, the afterlife, or any related keyword, regardless of your belief systems. Matt Damon does an excellent job portraying the conflicted psychic who has trouble seeing the gift of helping others through the curse of having to bear the burden that comes with it. The young child, Marcus, and the French woman, Marie, are interesting counterpoints as those suffering with losses of very different kinds. However, the biggest failing in Hereafter is the inexplicably slow and lumbering pace at which it approaches the finish line. It seems as though the writer was more interested in setting up all the characters and their trials and tribulations than he was with writing any form of resolution for the characters as people. Thus, you are left feeling as though you watched a prequel without actually seeing the movie itself. And don’t get me started on the actual ending….trust me, if you haven’t decided on your feelings toward this movie before then, be prepared to hurl the Blu-Ray out the window to see if God himself can save the disc from being damaged (Spoiler Alert: he won’t.). Either way, this is truly a movie that falls into the description of  “for fans of the subject matter”…or Matt Damon fans, of course. Damn, can that guy act!

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  I think CraigMakk is so blinded by his love for Damon that he overrated this movie.  I will usually watch any film in which Damon stars, but this was the first time I was disappointed.  While I don’t agree with CraigMakk’s rating, I second almost everything else he wrote.  The acting is top-notch, but the movie is all slow, plodding setup and very little delivery.  The ending left me with theater blue balls.

“Fans of the subject matter” may like this film, but to me, it felt like I was watching an infomercial for a psychic hotline…an infomercial that “proves” its point solely with 3 testimonials.  Don’t get me wrong…I believe in life after death, and I’m not a total disbeliever of the possibility of psychic abilities…but the problem with this movie was that it waffled between trying to sell these points and using them as a backdrop for the real plot.  As a result, both were half-assed.  Too bad, because there were some moments of brilliance.  I especially liked the flood scene, and the scenes related to the cooking class.