Zach Baron, Political Pontification and One Misguided Eastwood Analysis

Joe ConchaContributor IISeptember 22, 2012

What happens when you take a staunch liberal who writes a movie review starring a staunch conservative?

You not only get a critical (and predictable) piece that not only declares the career of a Hollywood icon is now dead, but a pious lecture on what Americans really want and what they reject.

Zach Baron, former editor of the Village Voice in New York City (a publication more leftist than your average MSNBC program), is now the “Cinematrician” of ESPN’s otherwise-perfect Grantland, created by the immortal Bill Simmons.

Grantland is a sports site, but not the tedious X’s and O’s of it. It’s more geared toward point spreads and predictions, wall-to-wall fantasy analysis (that’s a good thing) and a healthy mix of pop culture (since it’s impossible to talk about one and not the other).

That’s what Grantland offers, and nobody (including should be mentioned in the same sentence. Years from now, dozens of other publications will try to emulate the formula, much like many others tried to copy SportsCenter.  

So unlike many Simmons haters out there (led by Deadspin), please know this: Grantland is obviously my favorite site, and Simmons is my favorite writer of all time.

But this week, Grantland decided to get political. And given Simmons’ hints regarding his democrat party leanings and Baron’s obvious bias, the hit pieces on Eastwood and his upcoming film (Trouble with the Curve) were more telegraphed than the average Mark Sanchez fourth-quarter throw.   

The first piece includes an analysis on Eastwood in the opening paragraph that prompted no further inspection of the rest of the column, when the Grantland staff (the byline) collectively decided that Eastwood’s speech/performance at the Republican Convention was “a critical failure.”

If you watch Rachel Maddow or (insert CNN program here), it was. But progressives ranging from Bill Maher to John Stewart loved it, thought it was original, enjoyed its unscripted nature and declared it awesome. Obviously, most Republicans thought it was cool, too.

Baron would have none of that, however. In his pseudo-review of Eastwood’s new movie, he declared the 82-year-old actor is, “Almost certainly now more interesting off the screen than on it,” and is certainly “in decline.”

Hey Zach, care to mention any big-screen actors or directors over the age of 80 that are ascending in Hollywood today?

Since Eastwood’s 74th birthday, he’s starred in and directed Million Dollar Baby (won Best Picture), Gran Torino ($270 million at the box office on a $33 million budget) and Invictus ($122 million box office, 87 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes).  

But from Baron’s perspective, here’s where Eastwood is in his life and career today:

Talking to a chair on national television and appearing in the wobbly Trouble With the Curve—the very first scene of which depicts Eastwood's Gus lecturing his own prostate in graphic, pleading detail—within the span of just four weeks will do Eastwood's sterling reputation no favors.

Right. Trouble with the Curve (a movie with more positive reviews than negative) and a six-minute speech that was more liked than disliked will be to Eastwood what Buster Douglas and Evander Holyfield were to Mike Tyson.

Speaking of crazy, Baron also went off on a bizarre tangent regarding the heroism of Carmelo Anthony (huh?) and why more athletes should be openly discussing gay marriage (because that’s what my buddies and I discuss every Sunday at our sports bar when setting up our fantasy lineups). Baron’s contention is that simple stories simply don't cut it anymore with audiences (has he seen Paul Giamatti in Win-Win?). To Baron, an offering that features Carmelo Anthony (the same hero who owns one playoff victory with the Knicks in nine playoff games) or one that explores the sexual preferences of athletes today are what the public is yearning for today. 

Another interesting aspect of his review:

Baron mentions an important name involved with the movie only once: Amy Adams.

She just happens to be Eastwood’s co-star and has largely received critical acclaim for her performance (as she did in Mark Walberg's The Fighter).

But why let an important character get in the way of Baron’s true objective of the column?

The author concludes that “Eastwood may well be making movies about America, but they're not exactly about this America, the 2012 one that we live in.”

Here’s what he’s saying: Doing a simple, delightful movie like Curve (the story of an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves trying to hold on to his job while attempting to rekindle a bond with his workaholic daughter) just isn’t cool enough for today’s America anymore. Baron claims it’s the kind of vacant offering only a “sea of angry conservatives” can appreciate.

It’s for the out-of-touch Republican party…all those living-in-the-red-states folks who are backward enough to vote for Mitt Romney...or see a Clint Eastwood movie made in 2012.  

But Baron’s America, a bubble, actually…is confined to the world he covered at the Village Voice in Manhattan. A world where dorky Republicans like me (the guy who owns two fantasy teams, loved Game of Thrones and Entourage, ran co-ed Jersey Shore beach houses and lives in the bar capital of the country, Hoboken) are old, evil, bitter and simply not cool.

So before deciding if Eastwood is irrelevant, remember who the messenger is.

I’m Joe Concha and I approve this message.


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