Eastwood anchors Macho, Blue Bayou is a gem, but schmaltz hobbles The Starling

click to enlarge Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho.
Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho.

A self-reflective Eastwood anchors Macho

There's no getting around the fact that Cry Macho is a slight work, a film that would be discarded out of hand if it weren't from Clint Eastwood. At 91, this is the 40th movie he's directed — as such, should we grade this effort on a curve? Many his age have a hard time getting out of bed each morning, yet here Eastwood is, making a film during the COVID pandemic.

Over the past three decades, he's been no stranger to deconstructing his screen persona, slowly chipping away at the tough guy image that was his bread-and-butter. Macho is no exception, as the filmmaker plays Mike Milo, a retired rodeo star who's dispatched to Mexico to bring back his former employer's (Dwight Yoakam) teenage son (Eduardo Minett). The reason why isn't important, nor is the plot for that matter, a meandering, simple affair the viewer will realize is threadbare from the start. The purpose? So that Milo can teach the kid that being macho isn't all it's cracked up to be, that being kind and considerate has greater rewards. It's as straightforward as can be. That it's coming from tough guy Clint is what counts. In theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

click to enlarge Justin Chon and Alicia Vikander in Blue Bayou.
Justin Chon and Alicia Vikander in Blue Bayou.

Bayou avoids melodramatic traps

Justin Chon walks a tightrope in his latest feature Blue Bayou. The director, writer and star of this indie gem, he's Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean-American adopted while he was young, though his parents never legally completed the process. While this could be looked at as a minor paperwork snafu, it becomes a major issue when deportation charges are brought against him by a petty police officer bearing a grudge.

Bad enough, but even worse because if LeBlanc is forced to leave, he will have to abandon his pregnant wife (Alicia Vikander) and her daughter (Sydney Kowalske), who treats him as her own father. In lesser hands, the complications that ensue – and there are many – could have come off as crass narrative manipulations. However, the chemistry between the two leads grounds the film, preventing any of key moments from devolving into melodrama. The finale informs us that LeBlanc's predicament is not unique, as thousands of real-life refugees are stuck in a similar legal purgatory. Their story needs to be told and Chon does so fiercely and with conviction. Streaming through Video-on-Demand services.

click to enlarge Scott O’Dowd and Melissa McCarthy in The Starling.
Scott O’Dowd and Melissa McCarthy in The Starling.

Schmaltz hobbles Starling

A would-be drama about the trials of grief and the power of acceptance, Theodor Melfi's The Starling proves to be one of the most frustrating films in recent memory. At times poignant, at others trite, the movie vacillates between being a sincere look at the difficulties of dealing with the stages of grief and scenes that are so heavy-handed you'll find yourself rolling your eyes again and again.

Melissa McCarthy and Scott O'Dowd are Lilly and Jack Maynard, an estranged couple mourning the loss of their infant daughter. While she's tried to pick up the pieces of her life and move on, he's been institutionalized, having attempted suicide. Trying to heal, Lilly plants a garden, only to be repeatedly divebombed by a rogue starling. Why? No logical reason, but needless to say, they have a contentious relationship. The symbolism is heavy-handed and sentimentally maudlin, yet there are moments that work, thanks to Kevin Kline as Lilly's reluctant therapist. The scenes between him and McCarthy seem as though they were lifted from a different movie where sincerity provides the foundation for the story, rather than crass manipulation being the order of the day. Streaming on Netflix.

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