Cry Macho

Long in the tooth and slow in the gait, Clint Eastwood still has enough star power to wipe most other performers off the screen. This 91 year old national treasure keeps working and making the cinema world a better place as a result. While “Cry Macho” may not be up to the standards of his greatest films, it is certainly entertaining enough and it speaks to issues that seem contemporary, even though the film is set forty years ago. 

Many Eastwood films have featured him in the role of mentor to a younger character. “Gran Torino” was all about a cross cultural lampooning and deconstruction of supposed “toxic masculinity”, so it is not really a surprise that this film treads familiar ground. Clint’s character Mike Milo, is a used up man, without much to look forward to except release from this world. When his estranged friend and former employer played by Dwight Yoakam enlists him to go to Mexico City and essentially kidnap his 13 year old son from the Mother that he has divorced, Mike sees red flags but also a chance to find some purpose to his continued existence.  

There are a couple obvious problems that I want to discuss early and get out of the way. The dialogue in the two set up scenes is not good and the performances by the two leads live down to that quality. The film starts to feel like it is just conveniently setting up the road trip for us without bothering to make the characters that inspire it feel believable. The “antagonists” in the movie are the kid’s Mother and her boyfriends and entourage. They are also not very believable, in fact there is one moment that may cause a spit take from the audience. But…once Clint and the kid connect, the picture is on much steadier grounds and the characters begin to feel more as if this is a story worth telling. Young Eduardo Minett is a slightly more natural actor than his counterpart in “Gran Torino” was, but both performances feel a little amateurish. The character of Rafo does start to grow on us, in spite of some adolescent faults that are irritating early on. 

The connection between the man and the boy is of course the main point of the story, but there are some surprising detours along the way, including some time spent in a small Mexican town and the people of that town. In particular, the two fugitives, find a stronger familial bond then they have experienced in a long time. This interlude is the strongest part of the story and will make you want to forget what has been set up and instead settle down with the possibilities that are now presented to the man and boy.  Eastwood’s directing style which has always focused more on character than cinematic flamboyance, seems a perfect match for this section of the movie. There is some gentle humor and only a little tension during these sequences. Once they hit the road again, there is an opportunity for Clint to do some basic action that is still acceptable for his age.  The tension in his film “The Mule” from a couple of years ago was mirrored almost exactly when a couple of federal Mexican police pull over the two and we get some sly dialogue that apes the earlier film.

Admittedly, Clint may be a decade past where he could pull this off without difficulty. Still I think his performance here works. The romantic elements of the picture have little to do with sexual attraction and instead focus on the sorts of qualities that people really should be looking for in one another. There is a conundrum built into the mission when we get a plot point revel later in the story. Mike will not be able to resolve it, but he has prepared young Rafo well enough to be able to figure his way out of the issue when it comes up, sometime after our movie ends.

The film will have to make due with an older audience because the things that draw in the typical movie crowd these days are largely missing from this. No real gunfights, barely any fisticuffs, no action scenes per se and a romantic relationship between characters that could be their grandparents. This may be a film that works with Warner’s HBO Max/Day and date simultaneous release. I hope older audiences will go out to see the movie, but if you can’t bring yourself to do that, click the watch button and enjoy an efficient little drama that starts off shaky but finishes well. 

Jungle Cruise

A year ago when this was originally due, I was really looking forward to it. Somehow the extra year weaned me off of anticipation, the exact opposite of “Dune” and “No Time to Die”. So this movie, which has been out for six weeks was almost gone from my radar, but then I noticed that it seemed to be hanging around for a lot more time than most new releases. I had a blank spot in my afternoon and going to a movie is my default action. When I saw this was still playing and it was available as a matinee, I found the requisite enthusiasm to venture out. I am really glad I did, it was a completely enjoyable experience. 


Most of the time, Dwayne Johnson has not let me down. There are not stars that can guarantee a movie opening, not anymore. The closest we have are Tom Cruise and the former “Rock”, so maybe there is still a little hope for Hollywood in the star system. Julia Roberts was once one of those actors who could open even a bad movie, for me, Emily Blunt is the female star most likely to get me into a theater. It is not the combination of the two stars however that make this film a “want to see”, it is the premise. Disney has had varying degrees of success turning theme park attractions into film franchises.  We are still getting “Pirates” movies, but no one is clamoring for another “Country Bears”. “Jungle Cruise” just feels like it out to be a Saturday adventure film. The Disney ride at the park is inspired by “The African Queen” and “King Solomon’s Mine”. It always felt like a live action Tarzan film. Translating it to a theatrical film is mostly successful but you have to keep the context in mind. This is a Saturday Seial brought to life, it should not be looked at as anything else. 


As I was watching it, a dozen other films came to mind. I mentioned “The African Queen”, the boat in the ride and this feature is based on the boat from that film. The search for a lost treasure of course brings up a lot of films, but “Jungle Cruise” feels very much like the Brendan Frasier “Mummy” movies of the 1990s. There are moments cribbed from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” which itself cribbed from a thousand other films. When the cursed conquistadors showed up, I caught Disney stealing from their own theme park movie series and I began to wonder if Johnny Depp was going to show up. He doesn’t, but a half dozen similar ideas crop up. Dwayne Johnson plays Captain Frank Wolff, who is full of scams to keep his business going. The opening section includes a tourist cruise that gives the Rock a chance to do the kinds of puns that fill the tour at Disneyland. If I’d ever wanted to work at the Magic Kingdom, it would have been as one of the boat captains on the Jungle Cruise attraction. The corny quips are not as frequent in the rest of the film but there is a nice call back at the conclusion of the film.

The adventure is mostly light hearted but there are some deaths that occur that might bother the little kids. Nothing is too graphic but some sympathetic characters get sacrificed to elevate a sense of danger. My only film making criticism is that the movie does feel a little long. The story could have been tightened and maybe a couple of the big CGI scenes could be shortened substantially. As a live action cartoon style adventure however, I think it hits the right notes. There are a couple of places where the modern sensibilities wisely sidestep some of the cultural land mines that were present in the old ride, but only one thing seemed to be particularly woke, and it is so subtle that most kids won’t notice it.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has done several films I have enjoyed, including, the Liam Neeson trifecta of “Unknown“, “Non-Stop“, and “Run All Night“. My favorite of his films however is the Jaws inspired “The Shallows“.  He is currently finishing up another Dwayne Johnson picture “Black Adam”, It’s a DCEU film which is scary, but it does stem from the “Shazam” stories so maybe it will work, we will see. Meanwhile, Jungle Cruise is still sailing, so hop on board, but be sure to bring a big bag of popcorn, because that is the only nutrition you’ll get on the expedition, most of this is the cotton candy that you crave in the summertime. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I don’t know all the comic book characters in the Marvel comics, because I stopped reading comics in 1969. I have nothing against them, I just developed other interests. Fans of the comics however will be burdened by their expectations with the introduction of each new character in a big screen adaptation of the comic. I both benefit and suffer because of my detachment. I benefit by not having preconceived notions about how a character should be played, what stories to be told and I don’t have the artwork from the comics haunting my brain and forcing unfavorable comparisons. I suffer because I miss out on the anticipation of a new character. I don’t have a ready data base of knowledge to draw upon when trying to figure out who is who in a new film. So which of these two sides do I prefer? It’s simple, I like my ignorance because it fuels my joy of discovery. This week, I got to discover a Comic Book hero that I suspect I will enjoy for a long time. This movie surprised me in all the good ways a movie should.

Moving into Phase Four of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was going to be a challenge for me. Most of the characters I was long familiar with were being retired from active film service. I knew that new storylines and characters were coming, I just was not sure how I would respond to them. When Doctor Strange showed up in the MCU, I did not think I would care much for that type of story. It did not take long for me to take to it with enthusiasm. I felt the same way going into this film. I thought it might be OK, and I would live with being a little underwhelmed. It is so great to say I went the other way. This was a blast, the character has great potential, and the world building in this was not so convoluted that I rejected it out of hand. When taken on it’s own out of context, it is pretty darn great. 

There are comic fans who grow weary of origin stories, but I am not one of those. I enjoy discovering the background of a superhero, learning about their human weaknesses as well as their strengths. If you create a rich environment and colorful characters to go with the hero, so much the better. Shang Chi starts in the past, travels to different dimensions, operates in familiar contemporary environments and then takes us back to those magical dimensions that we started off with. This film also manages to accomplish something a lot of comic book movies fail at, creating an interesting climax for the final battle of the movie. We were given enough information to know that we should dread something that is coming, but it was not belabored and when it arrives, there are still surprises for us and some tension as a result. 

I’m not sure I would love a whole comedy show by Awkwafina, but I have been given enough of her in movies the last few years that I appreciate the dose level she is providing at the moment. Whenever she is on screen, expect a little injection of fun. When she gets some opportunity to act she has been solid (The Farewell), and in this movie, she gets to be more than the comic relief. There are a bunch of wonderful actors that I am not familiar with because they appear primarily in television shows or in Asian language films. Tony Chiu-Wai Leung as the powerful and evil Xu Wenwu was appropriately conflicted, he is more tunnel visioned than bad in this story. Simu Liu was great as the lead, he is not simply an iron fisted warrior, but presented as a complete character with a sense of humor and a young man’s foolishness. Michelle Yeoh, provides an elegant touch with aging beauty and wisdom to go with her character’s stern demeanor and family traditions. 

Because there are some connections to earlier MCU films, it would be a spoiler to reveal too many appearances by other actors. I will say that the presence of one character in particular helps redeem his storyline in an earlier film, and makes this one the sort of fun movie we have expected from Marvel since the first “Iron Man”. So even though the earlier MCU films have played out their plots, there are still strings to be tugged on, and doing so has lead not to the unraveling of an intricate piece of knitting, but rather it reveals some hidden gems that we will get to explore more. It’s great when a movie is so much more than you expected, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of those.