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The Gift of Clint Eastwood's Twilight Years
A rewarding father/son experience.
Last Thursday night, I sat in a mostly empty independent movie theater downtown to watch Clint Eastwood’s new film, “Cry Macho.” The story takes place in the 1970s and follows an elderly former rodeo star (Eastwood) who ventures to Mexico, at the request of his old boss (played by Dwight Yoakam), to retrieve the boss’s estranged teenage son. The son lives with his abusive mother, who’s both wealthy and connected, and isn’t interested in giving her boy up.
The plot isn’t terribly complex. Eastwood manages to get the boy out, and the rest of the story revolves around the relationship the two form as they work their way through various challenges (including the lay of the land, Mexican Federales, and the mother’s henchmen) to get safely back to the United States.
Eastwood directed the film, and frankly, it’s not up to snuff with a lot of his work. The story really drags, the dialogue is surprisingly weak, and each and every obstacle the two face miraculously ends up just kind of working itself out by the end of the same scene. In other words, there’s not a whole lot of suspense or audience concern for our two protagonists. Far too often, it felt as if the movie was just going through the motions to make it to its lackluster ending.
The explanation may have to do with Eastwood’s age. Perhaps he’s finally lost his edge when it comes to film-making. The guy’s 91, after all, so who could blame him? And being that he’s a genuine Hollywood icon, with an extraordinary legacy in film that few (if any) can measure up to, it’s not as if the man has anything left to prove.
Still, I for one am thankful that Eastwood is still putting out movies… even when it’s a not-so-great one like Cry Macho. And that’s because of the guy who was sitting next to me in the theater that night: my father.
My father loves Clint. He loves the narrow-eyed ruggedness of the characters he portrays. This is especially true when it comes to westerns, or any movie in which Eastwood is wearing a low-rimmed hat, unshaven jaw, and those trademark gritted teeth. To my dad (though he’s never said it in so many words), an Eastwood character is the epitome of what a man should be: blunt, tough, and with a moral compass (though a few layers sometimes need to be peeled back in order to find it).
Like Eastwood, my dad is getting up there in years (closer to 90 than he is 80). An athlete in his youth, my father has kept himself in pretty good shape. Still, he has slowed down a lot, can’t do many of the things he used to, and has been dealing with the types of health issues one would expect of a man his age.
Three years ago, he and my mother moved to my city from their Denver-suburb home of almost 50 years, mostly to be closer to family. It unfortunately hasn’t been an easy transition for either of them. My dad misses his friends back in the old neighborhood (though they still meet up on occasion), and he hasn’t been too successful at (or perhaps interested in) making new ones up here — despite having lots of neighbors around his age. Both parents have struggled to adapt to the still unfamiliar city (which is actually smaller than the one they came from), and also to the modern conveniences of a home built in the 21st century (a challenge I didn’t see coming).
The situation sometimes reminds me of that line from The Shawshank Redemption, where Morgan Freeman describes the character Brooks as an “institutionalized man” who’d lived the same structured life behind the same walls for decades, and didn’t know how to adapt to things once his world changed. (Of course, Brooks’s culture shock was much more extreme).
Anyway, I try to be a good son. I help them out whenever they need something done (though they’re usually reluctant to ask), and I keep them company when I can. But few things raise my dad’s spirits like getting him out of the house, and into a movie theater. It’s one of his favorite things — something he both can do and very much wants to do. And if it’s a Clint Eastwood movie, well that’s just icing on the cake.
In a way, Clint’s like an old friend — someone he’s familiar and comfortable with, and always gets a kick out of, whether Mr. Eastwood is scoffing at someone’s emotional sensitivities (like in Gran Torino), or punching out a smart-mouthed bully (take your pick).
And I very much enjoy sharing those laughs with my dad. It’s sort of a father-son bonding experience, since my mom’s not a big fan of the cinema and would rather stay home.
My dad was so entertained by Eastwood’s previous movie, The Mule, that he saw it once with me and once with my brother. Honestly, I knew he’d love it the moment I saw the film’s teaser trailer that ended with a gritty and bloodied Eastwood cruising down a highway:
I’m not sure how many more films Clint has left in him, but I hope at least one more… if only for the experience with my dad. Of course, Eastwood has given audiences a great library of work to watch over and over again on the small screen, and for that I’m thankful too.
Next month, my dad and I are looking forward to finally seeing the new James Bond movie. He’s always liked Bond films (though not as much as Eastwood flicks), so it should be a good time.
Does your family rally around a favorite actor or actress? If so, tell me about it in an email or in the comment section below.
You, You, You Oughta Know
Last week, my wife and I enjoyed our second indoor, masks-only, pandemic-era concert. This time it was the great Alanis Morissette.
Yep, that’s her — a blonde now, and hopefully no longer scratching up dudes’ backs just to make a rhetorical point to her ex. She performed at Ball Arena (I hate that name) in Denver.
Alanis sounded great (despite a few technical issues), and we enjoyed hearing her greatest hits and new material. I never saw her live back in her heyday, and didn’t realize how much of a “pacer” she is onstage. Seriously, she’s in constant motion (like a shark), back and forth from one side of the platform to the other, and never really focusing on the audience. Here’s an example.
She just kept going and going like that for two hours, to the point where it was actually quite hard for me to snap a clear picture of her. (And you all know by now how much I like taking pictures at such events 😄).
Jagged Little Pill was a great album, and Alanis has put out lots of other solid songs over the years, but I still think my favorite is one she didn’t perform that night: a little, highly personal, acoustic song called “Unsent.” It reads (not coincidentally) like a short stack of unsent letters to guys Alanis had past relationships with. I’m probably the only dude on the planet who would rank it as his favorite song by her, but so be it.
The night kicked off with another notable 90’s rock act: Garbage.
I wasn’t really into Garbage back in the day, though I thought some of their songs were pretty decent. But live last week, they sounded absolutely fantastic. So now, I may have to revisit some of their stuff on Spotify.
Obligatory Dragon Shot
What did you think I would do at this moment
When you're standing before me
With tears in your eyes
If you’re a fellow child of the 80s, you might just remember that song from one of the era’s most popular sitcoms, Family Ties. It was played during love scenes between Michael J. Fox and his real-life wife Tracy Pollan (who played his girlfriend). The song came out years earlier, but received little fanfare until Alex P. Keaton got involved.
Fans of the show (including me) ate the tune up. A few months later, it was re-released as a 45 single in record stores, and shot all the way to number one. I owned the record as a kid, but came across it again a few years ago in a record store bin. So, I felt inclined to pick it up.
It really is a great song, with its soulful, last-call-at-the-nightclub sound. If you’ve never heard it, I’d recommend checking it out.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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