‘The Mule’ Film Review: Clint Eastwood Drives for the Cartel in Thoughtful, Bumpy Crime Tale

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American movies are so addicted to well-intentioned wrongdoing that you’d think income-redistributing thief and ethical assassin were common career choices. But Clint Eastwood, who has mined our darker impulses for exhilarating pleasure for over half a century, knows how to tell an entertaining crime saga that keeps the pain, confusion, and moral quandaries front and center. Which makes “The Mule,” his 38th feature behind the camera (and gajillionth in front of it, this time as an octogenarian gardener turned drug courier), another mostly solid notch in a career built on making many of life’s notches feel like scars.

After three docudramas — “American Sniper,” “Sully” and “The 15:17 to Paris” — that amount to a trilogy of sorts about heroism, Eastwood’s return to acting sees him playing a resolutely non-heroic man whose survival choice is fascinating, nonetheless. Eastwood’s character, Earl Stone, is based on a real-life 90-year-old horticulturalist recruited to drive hundreds of kilos of cocaine across America for the Sinaloa cartel before he was caught by the DEA.

In the half-comic, half-dramatic extrapolation of the story as written by Nick Schenk — who scripted Eastwood’s last turn as director-star, “Gran Torino” — Earl is a gregarious, wisecracking day-lily grower in Peoria, Illinois, facing hard times after his business fails. Long estranged from his ex-wife (Dianne Weist) and the daughter (Alison Eastwood) he ignored during his marriage, Earl’s only family connection left is his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga), soon to marry. When a guest at her pre-wedding party approaches him with a proposal to make money driving, Earl — whose record is spotless after years on the road — quickly accepts.

Watch Video: Watch a Ruined Clint Eastwood Smuggle Cocaine in ‘The Mule’ Trailer

In an El Paso tire shop, a handful of serious-looking, tattooed Mexican-American garage hands give Earl a suitcase, a burner phone, and dropoff instructions. Before long, Earl is happily flush with cash as the cartel’s best driver, winning the respect of kingpin Latos (Andy Garcia) and the chummy garage gang who affectionately call him “Tata” (grandpa), even as his old-man-at-his-own-pace ways work the last nerve of impatient cartel minder Julio (Ignacio Serricchio, Netflix’s “Lost in Space”).

At its best, “The Mule” is a sneaky disquisition on America as a place in which opportunity and success often carry disquieting undercurrents. Earl preferred work to family, then the internet (so he says) killed his business, so when an organization offers income for a simple task, Earl sees a chance to earn again and to be well-liked. Looking the other way is as American as anything, and if the largesse that reignites his flower business keeps his cash-strapped VFW hall open and finances his granddaughter’s education isn’t questioned by anybody — including Earl himself, often shown in his pickup singing along to the radio like a carefree lackey — then what’s the problem?

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Well, guilt and death, namely. “The Mule” becomes a better, admirably heavier film when more dangerous stakes, one character’s mortality, and late-in-life regret take over. Those later moments carry a heft that’s absent when Earl is a merry mule cavorting with prostitutes, and Eastwood’s camera is ogling grinding backsides at Garcia’s compound. The circumstance may technically fall within the movie’s “inspired by a true story” tag (the real-life guy did go on cartel-financed vacations), but these shameless scenes only seem “inspired by” an aged male director’s need to prove his abiding virility.

There’s also a clunky engagement with race and subculture, beyond Earl’s built-in familiarity with Spanish speakers as a one-time boss of undocumented migrants, that’s intended to indicate a changing society to an unfiltered senior (Much like “Gran Torino”). When Earl assists a black family with a flat tire, they politely inform him not to use the word “negro.” And yet Earl’s use of “ladies” when meeting a lesbian motorcycle gang is corrected when he learns they self-identify as Dykes on Bikes. (That earns a reaction shot with a rascally twinkle.)

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More effectively handled is a non-Earl moment when Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent, on the lookout for the cartel’s top driver, stops an upstanding Latino driver who articulates his nervousness: “Statistically, these are the most dangerous five minutes of my life.” Though he’s not mistreated, the few seconds of this rattled bystander struggling with his seatbelt afterward is the kind of empathetic detail about today’s America that few filmmakers telling a cops-and-criminals story would have bothered showing.

Eastwood’s on surer ground overall, though, when the walls start closing in on Earl and a reckoning (both figurative and literal) is at hand. Some may see Cooper as underused, but his sturdy appeal informs his two key exchanges with Earl, both centered on the consequences of a badly prioritized life. Eastwood and Weist also do memorable work laying out the recriminations and ruefulness of a failed marriage in a mere handful of scenes that reinforce both her excellence and how underrated he’s always been playing conflicted leading men.

Earl is, on some level, the perfect part for the 88-year-old legend, long a master of sneaking uncomfortable truths about life and finality into well-oiled, enjoyable packages. “The Mule” may not always stand with his most resonant work, at times betraying the awkwardness of someone set in his grizzled ways. But Eastwood’s tilled enough filmmaking soil over the years to know that the same ground can produce daylilies or contraband and that the most involving movies at least try to harvest both.



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‘Deadpool 2’ Shoots to $18.6 Million at Thursday Box Office, Smashing Record for R-Rated Film

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“Deadpool 2” shot to $18.6 million at the Thursday box office, surpassing its predecessor which earned $12.7 million in previews two years ago.

The sequel also broke the R-rated Thursday box office record that was previously held by “It.” The horror film grossed $13.5 million last September in previews.

Independent trackers expect the film to at least match the $132 million opening weekend scored by the first “Deadpool” in 2016, which was then a record for February releases.

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For more comparisons, “Black Panther” grossed $25.2 million in previews, while “Thor: Ragnarok” thundered to $14.5 million. The former took in a total of $202 million its opening weekend, while “Ragnarok” grossed $122.7 million.

“Deadpool 2” sees the titular antihero start a new mutant team called X-Force to protect a young, surly mutant named Firefist (Julian Dennison) from falling into the clutches of Cable. In addition to starring as Deadpool, Reynolds shares writing credit with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, with David Leitch directing. Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Brianna Hildebrand, and Jack Kesy also star. After early reviews, the film has an 84 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, nearly identical to the score earned by its predecessor.

As counter-programming, Paramount is rolling out “Book Club,” which earned $625,000 in previews. It stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen as a group of lifelong friends who decide to jumpstart their sluggish love lives after reading “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Tracking has the film only making $10-12 million from 2,800 locations, with Paramount projecting a $9 million start.

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“Book Club” is directed by Bill Holderman in his directorial debut from a script he co-wrote with Erin Simms. Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, and Richard Dreyfuss also star. The film holds a score of 61 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Finally, there’s Global Road’s “Show Dogs,” a kids’ action-comedy developed by Open Road Films prior to its acquisition by Tang Media Group. The film is expected to open to $7 million from 3,145 locations. The film stars Will Arnett as a human detective who must go undercover at a dog show with his canine partner (voiced by Ludacris). Raja Gosnell directed the film from a script by Max Botkin and Marc Hyman.

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It’s a credit to TV’s greater curiosity and openmindedness that when I beheld the four stars of “Book Club” — actresses ranging in age from 65 to 80 — my thoughts turned to how recently I’d seen them on their respective shows or in headlines about their upcoming series.

The ensemble romantic comedy benefits enormously from Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen keeping their comedic and dramatic muscles warmed up (though a stiffer Candice Bergen has her bravura moments, too). None of the women are asked to do anything too strenuous in “Book Club,” but their collective charisma — along with their male co-stars’ — add up to an irresistible charmfest.

The premise of “Book Club” sounds, to be honest, excruciatingly dumb: A quartet of elderly friends are inspired by the “50 Shades of Grey” books to spice up their sex lives. But first-time director Bill Holderman, who penned the script with Erin Simms, smartly adds a pinch of salt to the sweetness to amplify both sides of the flavor spectrum.

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The film’s aspirational, 60-is-the-new-40 fantasies feel grounded enough in emotional truths and aging concerns that the most unrealistic thing about these literate ladies, who deliver guffaw-worthy lines about Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” is that they never once mock “50 Shades” author E.L. James’ atrocious prose.

“Book Club” opens with an awkwardly Photoshopped snapshot of the four main characters in their youth, clinging to their copies of Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying.” Now a few years shy of 70, all but one feels erotically adrift. The exception is commitment-phobic Vivian (Fonda), a luxury hotel owner (in attention-grabbing animal prints) who’s happy as a lifelong bachelorette but finds herself drawn to an old boyfriend (Don Johnson) who’s visiting Los Angeles.

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The others are in various stages of sexual shutdown. The most resistant to an erotic rekindling is federal judge Sharon (Bergen), who internet-stalks her ex-husband (Ed Begley, Jr.) and his decades-younger new fiancée and seemingly hasn’t been on a date since her divorce 18 years ago. Chef Carol (Steenburgen), the only one friend still married, struggles with her husband’s (Craig T. Nelson) utter lack of interest in sex.

Widowed homemaker Diane (Keaton, in a first-rate set of her signature androgynous garb) is needled by her condescending daughters (Katie Aselton and Alicia Silverstone) to move to Scottsdale, where she can be stuffed into the basement and supervised 24/7. Diane shows resistance even before she meets a stranger on a plane (a positively smoldering Andy Garcia) who’s willing to show her everything she missed out on during her lackluster marriage. Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn make brief appearances, but somehow Sam Elliott does not.

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To be sure, “Book Club” has more goofy gags than it does witticisms. An arrow on a plant moisture meter twitches from “dry” to “wet” when a character gets lost in Christian Grey’s Red Room, and Nelson’s character is marched into several situations fly-first after a Viagra accident leaves him fuming and erect. The cast is just as game for the broad humor as it is for the emotional beats; the latter’s familiarity doesn’t detract from its poignancy.

As movingly as each character’s romantic and/or familial storyline wraps up, though, I wish the core cast had a few more scenes to themselves. They share such an easygoing chemistry — and the inevitable scene where the friends diagnose one another on what they’re doing wrong hints at such layers of friendship — that it felt disappointing that their decades-long bond wasn’t the focus of the movie. The men are a treat. But there isn’t quite enough of the women to comprise a feast.



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Julio Oscar Mechoso, ‘Jurassic Park III’ and ‘Legend of Zorro’ Actor, Dies at 62

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Veteran character actor Julio Oscar Mechoso died of a heart attack on Saturday, according to the Miami Herald. He was 62.

With more than 120 acting credits to his name, Mechoso’s long career spanned both movies and television, as well as comedy and drama. He appeared in films such as “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Legend of Zorro,” “Jurassic Park III,” “Last Weekend” and TV series “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Seinfeld,” “Greetings From Tuscan,” “Cane” and “Damon.”

Mechoso’s longtime friend and colleague Andy Garcia reflected on the life and legacy of his “soul mate” in a tribute published in the Miami Herald on Sunday.

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“Julio is a unique and extraordinary artist,” he wrote. “I say is, because his artistry will carry on and will be present in all that will witness it. That will never die.”

“He shared with us his deepest, most personal soul, always readily available for us to see,” Garcia continued. “His emotional range as an actor is unequaled. His dedication to research and psychology was something to witness and admire. We were always there for each other whether to help with a part, develop a script, and discuss the sublime nature of the work.”

Mechoso was born in Cuba and raised in Miami. After his graduation from Florida International University, he landed his first TV role in 1979’s “¿Qué pasa, U.S.A.?” He would go on to appear in shows like “Miami Vice,” “Coach” and, more recently, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Matador” and “Madam Secretary.”

Mechoso currently had several writing projects in the works, according to the Miami Herald, including a script about his teenage days at Miami’s Old Mutiny Hotel.

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Veteran Actor Julio Oscar Mechoso Dies at 62

Read on: Variety.

Veteran actor Julio Oscar Mechoso, who appeared in numerous TV shows as well as films such as “Little Miss Sunshine and “The Legend of Zorro,” died Saturday from a heart attack at the age of 62. His longtime friend and frequent co-star Andy Garcia reflected on Mechoso’s passing in a heartfelt statement. “A sudden loss […]

‘Geostorm’ Review: Gerard Butler Punching Weather in the Face Would Make a Better Movie

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Putting the “mental” in “environmental,” the not-screened-for-critics “Geostorm” is less a scare picture about ignoring climate change than a cautionary flop about trying to do too much in conjuring a perfect storm of genres: end-of-the-world porn, save-the-world triumphalism, space adventure, political thriller, family drama, and workplace romance.

Maybe the little Indian boy’s dog doesn’t die when the big bad tornados threaten all of Mumbai — despite our general acceptance of millions of humans biting the dust in these things — but disaster movies might have just flatlined with director and co-writer Dean Devlin’s chaotically stupid bid to emulate his old partner, catastrophe peddler Roland Emmerich. “Everyone was warned, but no one listened,” an unseen young girl’s voice intones over the opening prologue. Box office totals for this one will likely prove otherwise.

That girl-narrated backstory at the beginning sounds like it would have made a more interesting piece of thorny geopolitical sci-fi than the CGI glop we get instead: How do 18 countries, led by the U.S. and China, come together to battle horrible climate change effects by installing a galactic safety net of thousands of satellites with the ability to balance extreme weather conditions around the world? No matter — they all did! Yay!

Watch Video: ‘Geostorm’ Trailer Features Giant Waves, Explosions and Planes Falling From Sky

And now, with the world safe, Gerard Butler’s planet hero Jake Larson, arrogant architect of what’s been called the Dutch Boy system, is disrespecting a U.S senator (Richard Schiff) at a subcommittee hearing, which leads to Jake’s expulsion from the program. Replacing him? Jake’s little brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who plays nicer with government types, and works under the Secretary of State (Ed Harris). Fraternal betrayal!

But three years later, just before oversight of Dutch Boy is scheduled to be handed from U.S. control to an international committee, the system shows signs of malfunctioning, as in causing extreme weather, not stopping it. When 300 Afghanis in a remote, sun-baked village suddenly freeze to death, POTUS (Andy Garcia) agrees to send someone to the international space station to fix it, and that means Bruce Willis … um, I mean, Jake. And Max has to tell his brother, too, once Max stops flirting with his hush-hush girlfriend, no-nonsense secret service agent Sarah (Abbie Cornish). But that fraternal betrayal! Will it be a problem?

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While Jake is shot into orbit to oversee an Agatha Christie mystery of who amongst a united nations of elite crew members sabotaged Dutch Boy from the inside, Max is trying to figure out who is trying to kill a Hong Kong-based system whiz (Daniel Wu, “Into the Badlands”) who may know too much about what’s looking to be a conspiracy that could go straight to the top. (Italics courtesy Sturgess’s ultra-whispery, annoyingly jittery performance, and Butler’s phoned-in variations on “Have it looked at!” and “Let me do my job!”)

But no matter how hairy things get, there’s always time for Max and Jake to push each other’s sibling buttons as they figure out how to save humankind, or for Max and wiseass techie millennial Dana (Zazie Beetz, “Atlanta”) to banter about relationships while they uncover a nefarious threat to the planet. Because come on, he’s dating a hot protector of the president, who may just be the world’s enemy!

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When things go haywire and the countdown clock to a cataclysmic, Earth-wide geostorm starts, Devlin’s movie (which he wrote with Paul Guyot, “The Librarians”) metastasizes into the gargantuan-scale-but-still-cheap-looking version of a little boy’s toy time that it always wanted to be: throwing baseballs at figurines (hailstorm in Japan), drowning playsets in the bathtub (tidal wave in Dubai), turning a magnifying glass on insects (death ray on Moscow), and blowing a fan on everything (the aforementioned tornadoes).

Meanwhile, up in the cosmos, with a collapsing space station around them, Butler and shuttle commander Ute (Alexandra Maria Lara, “Rush”) play out an “Armageddon”-meets-“Gravity” scenario that is way more Bay-bonkers than Cuarón-controlled. Only Cornish, dutifully working the stoic-but-sexy thing as she fires guns, runs after assassins, and drives through a lightning storm, looks like she’s thinking of emerging from the ashes of a stupid movie, hopefully with a sizzle reel for her own blonde-badass flick.

The inconvenient truth about “Geostorm” is that it’s dumber than a box of asteroid-sized hail. But to take it seriously for just a second, it misses an opportunity to turn idealism about the world coming together to solve its biggest problem and instead turns it into more of cinema’s biggest problem: empty-headed spectacle.

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‘Mamma Mia!’: Andy Garcia Joins Cast Of Universal Sequel

Read on: Deadline.

EXCLUSIVE: As it tunes up for a July release, Universal’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again has added Andy Garcia to the cast. The sequel to 2008’s toe-tapping $610M worldwide grosser will return audiences to the magical Greek island of Kalokairi in an original musical based on the songs of Swedish pop sensations, ABBA.
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‘My Dinner With Hervé’: Andy García To Play Ricardo Montalbán In HBO Movie

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Andy García has been cast opposite Peter Dinklage in My Dinner With Hervé, Sacha Gervasi’s HBO movie.
Directed and written by Gervasi based on a story he wrote with Sean Macaulay, My Dinner With Hervé centers on an unlikely friendship that evolves over one wild night in L.A. between struggling journalist Danny Tate (Jamie Dornan) and actor Hervé Villechaize (Dinklage), the world’s most famous gun-toting dwarf, resulting in life-changing consequences for both. García will…

Sofia Vergara, Karl Urban, & Andy Garcia To Topline Bobby Moresco’s ‘Bent’

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Andy Garcia Reacts to Fidel Castro’s Death: I Feel ‘Deep Sorrow’ for All Cuban People ‘That Have Suffered’

Read on: Variety.

In the wake of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death, Andy Garcia expressed his “deep sorrow” for the Cuban people who have lived under Castro’s rule, in a statement shared with Variety on Saturday. Garcia, the actor and director known for such films as “The Godfather: Part III” and “The Untouchables,” was born in Havana,… Read more »

Film Review: ‘Max Steel’

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That loud, dull thud you may have heard emanating from megaplexes Friday signaled the theatrical dump of “Max Steel,” a ponderous and preposterous sci-fi action-adventure that obviously was intended by folks aflame with misguided optimism as the curtain-raiser for a superhero franchise. Inspired, for want of a better term, by a Mattel action figure and… Read more »