This Is a Movie Review: In ‘The Mule,’ Clint Eastwood is an Unlikely Drug Trafficker Who Complains About the Internet

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García, Isabel Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Ignacio Serricchio, Eugene Cordero

Director: Clint Eastwood

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Casual Racist Slurs and Showing Someone a Good Time (*Wink Wink*) for the Night

Release Date: December 14, 2018

The Mule does not need to feature casual racism and crankiness about how young people are ruining everything with their newfangled technology, but it stars and is directed by Clint Eastwood, so what are you gonna do? At this point in time, he can at least be entertaining as a self-parody. This is, after all, a movie in which he literally says “if you can’t open a fruit box without calling the Internet” and “Damn Internet, it ruins everything.” Or maybe this ultimate cinematic tough guy is actually self-aware and toying around with his reputation. In one moment, when he calls a black family “Negroes” while helping them change a tire, he does get chided for his ignorance. But it isn’t like that scene even needs to exist. Nor does there need to be a scene when he makes a connection with lesbian motorcyclists who proudly call themselves “dykes on bikes.” If The Mule is woke, it is simplistically so, which is fairly amusing, but also a little concerning.

There is a level of professionalism but also a lack of consideration that makes The Mule entertaining and imbues it with a strong message but also renders it shallow. The script is based on a New York Times article about the real-life story of Leo Sharp, who in his 80s became a drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel. Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a fictionalized version of Sharp. He has spent decades dedicating himself to his horticulture career at the expense of his family, and now that the bottom has dropped out on his business, he finds himself turning to a much more lucrative and much more illegal profession.

The story of a man who never made time for his wife and daughter because he was too focused on his flowers is certainly different, but everything else about The Mule is predictable, sometimes worryingly so. Most of the characters who are people of color are cartel members, while all of the white characters are either Earl and his friends and family or DEA agents. That in and of itself is not wrong as it may very well reflect reality, but in 2018 it feels tone deaf not to more carefully consider that racial divide. And that really is a shame in this case, because The Mule actually does appear interested in taking a more unique approach to the material. The plot hinges on Earl realizing that it is never too late to be a good spouse and parent, a lesson he attempts to impart to his cartel handlers and the DEA agent on his tail (Bradley Cooper). It is a fascinating story on its own that also comes across on screen as mostly fascinating, but it’s spiked with a few too many shots of Eastwood crankiness.

The Mule is Recommended If You Like: The Crankiness and Casual Racism of Late-Era Clint Eastwood

Grade: 3 out of 5 Dykes on Bikes for Entertainment Value/2 out of 5 Stereotypes for Social Value

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Nun’ is Creepy, But Not Fully Committed to the Cause

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CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Demián Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons

Director: Corin Hardy

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for Disturbing Images (but like the main Conjuring movies, it should really be PG-13)

Release Date: September 7, 2018

My favorite part of The Nun is a scene lifted wholesale from The Conjuring, not so much because The Nun is disappointing, but rather because The Conjuring is so great, and I am happy to revisit it. Alas, though, it is indeed the case that The Nun does not offer much that is on the same level as the films it has spun off from.

Every entry in The Conjuring universe thus far, including The Nun, has demonstrated superior craftsmanship, with the original Conjuring perhaps the best example in the entire horror genre this century. The two Annabelle spin-offs have fallen a little short of the two Conjuring proper entries, as the latter have been buoyed by a religious foundation that lends some decently weighty thematic resonance. The paranormal investigations of the Warrens might not be mainstream Catholicism, but they do present an interesting struggle between God and evil. The Nun would seem to be well-equipped to grapple with these same metaphysical ideas, but the fact that it takes place in a monastery feels practically beside the point.

Nevertheless, two religious figures – shown the way by their villager guide Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) – are indeed the people sent to investigate some paranormal goings-on. In this case, it’s courtesy of the demon Valak (Bonnie Aarons), who walks the Earth by blending in with his surroundings, which for our purposes means that he stalks around the monastery in a nun’s habit. Father Burke (Demián Bichir) seems like an upstanding-enough priest, but way more in over his head than he realizes. Then there is young and enthusiastic novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) – much is made of the fact that she has not taken her vows yet, which one might imagine might make her more susceptible to Valak’s or alternately to make her more pure and thus harder to corrupt. But in practice it just gives hope to the clearly smitten Frenchie that she might change her mind and not become a bride of Christ. And that is emblematic of the entirety of The Nun. It’s got the right ingredients for a horror classic – foreboding setting, creepy atmosphere, combustible character motivations – but its mind seems to be elsewhere.

The Nun is Recommended If You Like: Discovering connections between movies in the same franchise, whether or not they make sense

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Habits