Clint Eastwood might be one of the most overrated directors currently making movies — don’t get me started on the heavy-handed melodramatics of 2004 Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby — but you can’t call him lazy. The 79-year-old has made five movies since 2006, all of which can be admired for their thematic ambition and steadfast technical economy if not their narrative clumsiness and overly earnest emoting.
(By contrast, Paul Thomas Anderson, who is 40 years younger than Clint, has made only two films in the last decade. Of course, one could make a case that Anderson favors quality over quantity.)
Despite my reservations about the relative merits of Eastwood’s prolific, often over-praised directorial output — his latest, Invictus, is his most conventionally sentimental yet — I’m happy the big guy is still cranking out serious, old-school mainstream movies. In many ways (both good and bad), Eastwood is our last link to the old Hollywood studio system, an era that championed productivity and a quiet grace that is all but extinct these days.
Elsewhere, it’s shaping up to be a strong week for smaller films as a pair of under-the-radar efforts stop for what are likely to be brief runs at the Esquire (Joe Berlinger’s incisive, damning documentary Crude) and Mariemont (Martin Provost’s excellent biopic Seraphine) theatres. Catch ’em while you can.
CRUDE — Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger travels to various locations in Ecuador in order to show the extensive damage wreaked by Texaco/Chevron, a company whose negligence and greed led to the raping of a 1,700-square-mile area of the Amazon rain forest — now called the "cancer death zone"— and dumped 18 billion gallons of oil and toxic waste. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Not Rated.) Grade: A
INVICTUS — That natural lack of nonsense is what Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood bring to Invictus, which could mistakenly be considered the story of Nelson Mandela’s first days as president of South Africa. It’s not that story at all. In typical Eastwood fashion, he has produced and directed something more basic and elemental than that because Invictus is nothing more than a bare recounting of a country and its first inspired steps towards unification. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG — Disney’s latest animated offering follows a young girl named Princess Tiana (voice of Anika Noni Rose) who lives in New Orleans’ French Quarter circa the Jazz Age and her romantic exploits with a frog who longs to become a prince again. Ron Clements, the guy behind such Disney staples as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, co-directs with John Musker. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated G.) Review coming soon
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SERAPHINE — In writer/director Martin Provost’s patiently restrained biopic about the self-trained French painter Seraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau), the audience is brought increasingly closer into the heart and mind of a genius whose turbulent inner life eventually envelops her conscious being. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — CS (Not Rated.) Grade: B