Untroubled by tradition
(PG) ★★★ Limited release
(M) ★ National release
✩ LINT Eastwood’s embarrassing lecture to an absent Barack Obama at the Republican national convention earlier this year was, I suppose, a reminder that this legendary Hollywood figure has always been a Republican even if he has directed films, such as Million Dollar Baby, that have been at odds with social conservatism.
Now aged 82, Eastwood previously foreshadowed that his role in the moving Gran Torino (2008) would be his last in front of the camera, and maybe he should have stuck to that because Gus Lobel, in Trouble with the Curve, is one of the least interesting characters he has portrayed in a while. Speculation is that he agreed to make the film, which was produced by his company, Malpaso, as a favour to his long-time assistant, Robert Lorenz, who wanted to try his hand at direction. Fair enough, but they’d have done better to find a more original screenplay than the one written by Randy Brown.
I realise this is starting to sound like a major pan, but in fact I enjoyed Trouble with the Curve, despite its many flaws. As a died-in-thewool Eastwood admirer — most of the time — I appreciated the relaxed charm with which he plays his scenes opposite Amy Adams, one of Hollywood’s best young actresses. Adams plays Mickey, Gus’s lawyer daughter, a selfconfident professional who has a bitter history with her father based on a series of misunderstandings and miscommunication.
This has been rightly compared to Moneyball, the film that last year put the case for the modernisation of the baseball game in which the measure of future performance is calculated by computer. Brown’s screenplay resolutely turns its back on that sort of thing; Gus spots talent thanks to a lifetime’s experience and to a keen eye, though his eyesight is failing. He clings to the technology of the past century. A widower, he even visits his wife’s grave and talks to her.
Gus seems to be saying he has reached an age where he’s comfortable with tradition. His employers at Atlanta Braves aren’t so sure; they want Gus to retire so that he can be replaced by someone with up-to-date ideas, but there are no prizes for guessing that the film stands squarely with Gus who, even though he makes the odd mistake, and even though his relationship with Mickey is troubled, is bound to come up trumps.
In other words, the qualities of this film are traditional ones, from the classical photographic style of Tom Stern to the casting of the smallest roles. Scenes in which father and daughter quarrel and make up after a lifetime of conflict and separation are beautifully handled, even though you can understand Mickey’s frustration at her dad’s cussedness.
Trouble with the Curve is certainly not going to be remembered as a major Eastwood film, but there’s something comforting in seeing the old boy is still going strong. His voice is raspier than ever, his face more lined and weathered, but this legendary actor may still have some surprises in store for his fans. AGE is also an issue in Liberal Arts, a smart rom-com written and directed by Josh Radnor, who also plays the leading role. He is Jesse, a 35-year-old who isn’t thrilled with his job — admissions manager at a New York school — and who is nostalgic for his youthful days at a college in Ohio where he studied liberal arts. A chance to return there materialises when his old English lit teacher, Peter (Richard Jenkins), invites him back to attend his retirement dinner. While experiencing, temporarily, life back on campus, Jesse encounters Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a virginal 19-year-old who is very smart and very flirtatious.
That’s the premise for an often delightful film that’s unfortunately burdened by excess characters — Zac Efron’s zany Nat could have wound up on the cutting-room floor — and some too literal ideas, such as the handwritten letters that Zibby and Jesse exchange once he returns to New York. And surely Jesse would have encountered classical music before Zibby apparently introduces it to him?
These elements jar a bit, but overall the film has charm to spare, and it’s also pretty good with some of life’s more painful decisions. Peter, having announced his retirement, has second thoughts, and one of the film’s best, though most painful, scenes involves his attempts to persuade his boss that he’d like to stay on after all. These shafts of wisdom elevate the movie and pretty much make up for its liabilities. Performances are consistently fine. Even when Radnor’s screenplay falters Radnor himself brings depth to the character of the immature Jesse who, though he’s 16 years older than Zibby, can’t match her in wisdom; and Elizabeth Olsen is proving to be a versatile and talented young actor.
Also worthy of note in the acting stakes are Jenkins and Allison Janney, who plays Jesse’s favourite teacher from his college days and who is still teaching in the same college and obviously getting to be bitter and frustrated about the limitations of her life. THE story behind the remaking of the 1984 Red Dawn is much more interesting than the film. The original, a Reagan-era cult movie about a Russian invasion of the US and a bunch of young people who form a resistance group to fight the aggressors, was spiritedly directed by John Milius and is still vaguely watchable.
The remake was shot in 2009 as an MGM production with the Chinese, instead of the Soviets, featured as the evil invaders. After MGM filed for bankruptcy, the film was sold to another distributor who, aware that China is a tempting market for action movies, decided to digitally change the villains into North Koreans, though there seem to be Russian advisers involved as well. Its Australian distributor sneaked it into cinemas last week without any press previews.
Stunt co-ordinator Dan Bradley directed and two Australian actors were cast: Chris Hemsworth, as the veteran of Iraq who leads the resistance against the invaders, and Isabel Lucas, as the girlfriend of the hero’s younger brother. It’s safe to say that neither actor will boast about the film on their resume.
The problem is, after a pretty good first reel — in which the brothers awake one morning to the sounds of explosions and low-flying aircraft and discover the invasion has begun — the drama descends into cliche and the battle scenes are shot and edited in such a way that it’s difficult to tell who’s fighting whom. The original, as is often the case, was superior, as is the similar 2010 Australian film, Tomorrow When the War Began.
Clint Eastwood as widower Gus in