Wise: Um, hi there, Werth. Sounds like you're getting pretty ramped up for the Presidential campaign.
Werth: I do love convention season, full of rousing speeches, pageantry, balloons—
Wise: —and running mates disguised as a fitness regime?
Werth: Of course, the biggest star to emerge has already been a star for decades. Only this time he brought along a friend.
Wise: I'm assuming you're talking about Clint Eastwood and his chair.
Werth: I sure am. And even if not everyone loves that he is one of Hollywood's most vocal Republicans, no one can deny that he is one of Hollywood's top talents. Starting off his career snarling in 1960s spaghetti westerns, then snarling as America's favorite dirty cop in the '70s, he eventually went on to become one of the most lauded directors of the past two decades.
His first time occupying the director's chair came in 1971 with the thriller Play Misty for Me. Doing double-duty as both director and star, Eastwood plays Dave Garver, a late-night, Carmel, CA DJ who likes to play jazz and woo women. One groupie in particular is Evelyn, a neurotic chippie who calls the show frequently purring, "Play 'Misty' for me," into the phone. When she shows up at Dave's favorite bar wearing a leather mini and kiki shag hair-do, it's a little jarring realizing that Evelyn is being played by none other than a young, pre-Arrested Development Jessica Walter.
Wise: Please don't tell me he spins Lucille Bluth's platter.
Werth: He does... a couple times. But when he tries to end it so he can return to his ex-girlfriend, Tobie (Donna Mills), Evelyn isn't having any of it. Soon she is following him on his beach dates, staging hysterical screaming fits in front of potential employers and attempting suicide in his bathroom.
Wise: Is there a rabbit boiling in a pot at some point?
Werth: The parallels with Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction (1987) are unmistakable, but Misty is missing the sexiness, the tense pacing, and the terrifying character development of Fatal Attraction.
Eastwood's acting feels more empty than conflicted or scared, and his use of long shots and voice over instead of actual conversation puts a distance between us and the characters, even if said characters are rolling around in a forest like a soft-core '70's Coke ad.
Wise: I'm suddenly very thirsty.
Werth: One scene does point towards Eastwood's bright directorial future. Dave visits the actual Monterey Jazz Festival and the footage is electric, perfectly capturing the excitement of the crowd in a documentary style. It shows that even as a novice Eastwood was learning to effectively capture mood and style for a film audience.
Wise: Another of the few misfires in Eastwood's oeuvre is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997). Based on John Berendt's non-fiction novel of the same name, the film stars John Cusack as John Kelso (a fictionalized stand-in for Berendt), a writer for Town and Country who travels to Savannah, GA, to write a story on the annual Christmas party thrown by the flamboyant Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), only to be dragged into the mystery surrounding the murder of Williams' hot-headed boyfriend Billy Hanson (Jude Law).
Werth: Kevin Spacey only wishes his boyfriend was Jude Law...
Wise: The book had been on the best seller list for almost four years by the time the film came out, making Eastwood's task of meeting audience expectations nearly impossible. Still, some of the choices he and screenwriter John Lee Hancock made seem absolutely wrong-headed, particularly the transformation of Berendt's careful examination of the vagaries of Savannah society into simply a parade of eccentrics.
Cusack's task wasn't any easier: Berendt's authorial voice remains resolutely in the background of the book, giving full reign to his characters, while Cusack attempts to bring this observer into the foreground with little success.
The introduction of a love interest to the character (Eastwood's own daughter Alison Eastwood playing an invented florist who belts Tin Pan Alley hits in her free time) only muddies the character even more.
Werth: Eastwood's nepotism knows no bounds when it comes to singing. He also squeezed his warbling daughter Morgan into the otherwise wonderful documentary, Johnny Mercer: The Dream's on Me in 2009.
Wise: Despite these problems, the film still offers many pleasures, particularly Kevin Spacey's performance. He masterfully deploys a bourbon-inflected drawl that both seduces and chills the audience, making his Jim Williams just as compelling and just as mysterious as the actual case that Berendt wrote about. Jude Law also does excellent (although limited) work as the tempestuous lover, making Billy a sexy time bomb waiting to explode.
Perhaps the stand-out performance of the film is by the Lady Chablis playing herself as a kind of Girl Friday to Cusack. She brings humor and pathos to the film, and frankly makes a much more compelling partner to Cusack than Alison Eastwood's drab Mandy.
Werth: When your name is a wine product, you tend to attract attention.
Wise: Also of note is the really wonderful soundtrack of Johnny Mercer hits performed by such luminaries as Tony Bennett, k.d. lang, Diana Krall and the director himself. Mercer came from Savannah and his ancestral home was the site of the murder; using his songs to score the film gives it a texture and authenticity it would otherwise have lacked.
Werth: The same thing Eastwood achieved for the RNC with his chair scolding.
Wise: I'm happy as long as we both vote for more Film Gab next week.