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Memorial Day with Mr. Eastwood, part 2

Following on my earlier post, here are a couple of moments from Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima,”  his film made from the point of view of Japanese soldiers and primarily shot in Japanese. It seems to me a like a sign of possible creeping maturity as a nation a rather conservative sort could make a film which sets out to humanize an enemy, even a former one. Anyhow, “Letters” isa great piece of work from a filmmaker who has, rather remarkably, made most of his best films after reaching 70. It’s been an amazing decade for Mr. Eastwood.

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Memorial Day with Mr. Eastwood, Part 1

The titles pretty much says it. It’s Memorial Day and it’s also Clint Eastwood‘s 80th birthday. It seems appropriate to feature moments from his two elegiac World War II movies about the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Below, Eastwood and his cast discuss re-staging one of the most recreated moments in American history for the highly underrated “Flags of Our Fathers.”

More to come, but in the meantime be sure to take a look at the “Eastwood @ 80″ page at the recently renamed MUBI.

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Breaking Bad 3.11 – I Don’t Understand How The Last Card Is Played (But Somehow The Vital Connection Is Made)

I said this on Facebook this morning after watching my screener of this week’s episode, and I’m saying it again now for all of the readers of this blog: not only is “Breaking Bad” the best show on AMC (which is a hell of an accomplishment, given how much I enjoy “Mad Men”), but it is now officially my favorite show on television, period. Not even having to blog it every week can kill my love for it…and that’s saying something. Watching this week’s episode, though, really served as a turning point for me. I’m someone who, when faced with a plot development which involves a ridiculous amount of coincidence, often finds himself whispering under his breath, “Oh, give me a break…” Tonight’s episode effectively tied new characters from this season into events from last season in a way that, on another show, might have left me feeling the same way. Instead, I was left in awe.

Let us begin, however, at the beginning, with a flashback that allowed Krysten Ritter to return from the dead and play Jane once again. That Jesse was left less than impressed by a trip to an art gallery is hardly surprising, but being reintroduced to Jane after so long served to remind me of a question that occurred to me a few times last season: why is a girl as deep as this involved with a tool like Jesse? Her rap about how “sometimes you get fixated on something and you might not even get why” struck me as a suspiciously on-the-nose callback to Walt’s obsession with the fly, but I could watch Ritter recite from the phone book, so I have no real complaints about that. Besides, if nothing else, the scene provided us with the origin of the lipstick-encrusted cigarette in the car’s ashtray.

Hank didn’t have a huge amount of screen time this week, but his brief appearances in the episode nonetheless served to underline how much he’s struggling with his recovery…and by “struggling,” I mean that he’s kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place: he refuses to leave the hospital until he can do so on his own two feet, but he’s barely willing to participate in the physical therapy that’s being provided. I loved his back and forth with Marie on the matter of pain (“Pain is weakness leaving your body.” “Pain is my foot in your ass, Marie!”), but it shows the depths of his anger about his situation that he should be giving shit to Walt, Jr., a kid who has to use his own crutches to walk out of the room. Gee, you don’t suppose his nephew’s condition serves as a constant reminder about his own physical limitations, do you? Nahhhhhhh…

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“Sex and the City 2″ insufficiently pleasured at the box office; the troll scores

Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth in The long Memorial Day weekend is not quite half over but it doesn’t look like a barn-burner for anyone. Looking at the traditional three days which are used to cover the more competitive side of box office results, it’s looking like Carrie Bradshaw and the other women of “Sex and the City 2” have been stood up by a significant share of the expected audience, leaving “Shrek Forever After” the box office leader.

The $60 million guessed at for the entire “five day frame” by jolly Carl DiOrio on Thursday may still be possible” but it’s start to look like it’ll be lucky to hit even that modest number. (The first film in the series earned $57 million in its initial three-day frame.) In any case,everyone really did seem to expect the film to hit #1 and that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. The present weekend estimate for Warners’ “Sex” according to Box Office Mojo is $32.125 million while the final Shrek film took in $43.345 million.

The pleasant surprise for Dreamworks/Paramount here is that their animated comedy about the world famous fairy tale troll experienced a better than average 38% percent drop from it’s opening — which was a big let down compared to previous films at just under $71 million, but far from disastrous. This may be more evidence that telling a decent story actually counts for something.

Shrek Forever After

The consensus on this “Shrek” is that it’s nothing great (Mike Fleming termed the reviews “mediogre” <yuck, yuck>), but a relatively decent ending to the series with some considering it one of the better entries in the four picture series, so word-of-mouth may be giving it a small boost. There’s also the factor of it in being in nearly a thousand more theaters than the other films and many of those being 3-D with higher ticket prices. The public may be starting to tire of those prices, but enough of them appear to still be willing to pay the added freight to keep the troll on top.

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Sunday morning movie left-overs

Think of this as the cinematic equivalent of cold pizza, which can be a surprisingly delicious breakfast. What follows, then are some trailers I’ve been meaning to run all week but haven’t had the opportunity as yet.

We’ll start with the latest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated “Inception.” This Philip K. Dickish tale seems to be summer’s best hope for a quality megablockbuster and, if it fails to deliver, there are going to a lot of disappointed movie fans and film studio folks.

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Lessons learned with Dennis Hopper (updated)

Posting about something aside from the passing of Dennis Hopper doesn’t really seem right today. Here’s an excerpt from Mr. Hopper’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio” appearance in which he discusses learning from James Dean and Lee Strasberg. Hopper also discusses, humorously, a different kind of learning with the prolific director Henry Hathaway.

Re: James Lipton’s dad, who he claims “invented” Venice, California — actually an unincorporated section of Los Angeles. Lawrence Liption was an Interesting guy, but this Venice High alum thinks Abbott Kinney probably deserves more credit for the actual neighborhood. However, I guess the elder Lipton deserves some credit for transforming it, to some degree, from the “Coney Island of the West” to the Berkeley of Southern California, which it still kinda sorta is.

UPDATE: Getting back to Hopper, as usual, there’s tons — and I mean tons more — about the late actor and his directing career, which I fear I’ve given short shrift to, via David Hudson at MUBI.

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RIP Dennis Hopper

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Dennis Hopper died today at age 74 after a lengthy and public illness. He was an icon of mid-century rebellion and an always fresh and fascinating character actor throughout a career that spanned the classic era, the American  New Wave of the late sixties and early seventies, and his often astonishing later career work in numerous films and television shows after he was finally able to conquer his longstanding issues with substance abuse during the mid-eighties. He didn’t have a lot of starring roles, but that’s show business. (The still above is from one of the very few, Curtis Harrington’s 1961 “Night Tide.” He’s very good in it.)

He was also a photographer, the director of one of the most influential (i.e., copied and later spoofed) single films ever made, “Easy Rider,”  as well as a major figure on the Los Angeles art landscape. It’s not often mentioned, but he was also probably the most proudly counter-cultural celebrity to ever openly associate himself with the Republican party, though, as recounted by Edward Copeland in his extremely detailed look at Hopper’s career, he was a true maverick to the end and voted for Obama in 2008.

Mr. Hopper was most certainly the real deal and there’s no way one post can do justice to his legacy. For now, we’ll keep things simple and just offer a few of the most iconic moments from Dennis Hopper’s amazing care, after the flip.

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Why did “FlashForward” fail?

The world blacks out and sees a glimpse of its near future. It was a good premise, yet here we are a few months later and “FlashForward” has been canceled. What happened?

Ratings were strong in the beginning and kept falling throughout the series run. ABC shelved the show for a while during the Olympics, but ratings continued to plummet when it returned.

Generally, I enjoyed the show, but grew a bit weary at times, largely because I really didn’t feel that there were any characters worth rooting for. Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) was supposed to be the hero, but he was always so angry and serious all the time that it was hard to like the guy. Everyone was so weighted down by the emotions surrounding their flashforwards that no one was happy. Moreover, no one was funny.

“FlashForward” made me realize just how important it is for any show, even a drama, to have a good sense of humor. Think about the last few great dramas — “Lost,” “The Shield,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Sopranos,” hell, even “The Wire” — they all had moments of hilarity. Can we say the same about “FlashForward”? I can list several funny moments for each of those aforementioned shows, but I can’t think of a single funny moment in “FlashForward.”

That said, I gave up on “V” but stood by “FlashForward,” yet the former has been renewed while the latter has been canceled. I thought the storytelling in “FlashForward” was far superior to “V,” but that’s not saying a whole lot. “V” doesn’t have a sense of humor, either, which is why I deleted my season pass.

With the departure of “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” and the failure of “FlashForward,” sci-fi television is struggling.

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It’s your barely pre-Memorial Day weekend end of week movie news dump (updated)

And that’s only “pre” on the West coast. Anyhow, thing are going to get a lot less verbose from me over the next few days and I’m in a relatively laconic mood tonight, so enjoy the relative brevity to come.

*  “The Hobbit” remains in suspended animation because of MGM’s fiscal limbo, says Guillermo del Toro. Anne Thompson has some added details on the possible future of MGM, such as it is.

Johnny Depp in * “Alice in Wonderland” just crossed the $1 billion mark. Mike Fleming speculates that this might might make Johnny Depp — say it like Dana Carvey’s impression of Mickey Rooney now — the biggest star in the wooorld. If true, the questionable virtues of playing it artistically safe look ever more questionable.

* Interviews with remarkable men: Michael Caine and an extremely funny George Romero in Vanity Fair plugging his new “Survival of the Dead” which is a very limited release right now. Definitely read the Romero whose zombies, we must repeat, never ate brains and, since everyone else is doing it anyway, is working on his own zombie novel. And, yeah, someone is working on “Night of the Living Dead” musical for Broadway, but Romero’s smart enough to stay off of that particular gravy train.

* I’ve never seen them, and they’re not available on DVD, but the autobiographical dramas by Terrence Davies, “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and “The Long Day Closes” have an incredible reputation among critics and others. Davies is coming back with an adaptation of a play by Terrence Rattigan, “The Deep Blue Sea.”  This will be the first movie adaptation of a play by the English writer since David Mamet’s perfectly swell — and, believe it or not G-rated — 1999 version of “The Winslow Boy.”

* “Lost Boys 3” starring the late Corey Feldman doing a Batman-style raspy voice. I don’t even begin to know what to think. [Update: I obviously made a mistake here last night. Mr. Feldman is still, I'm happy to say, very much with us. See comments.]

* He didn’t make many movies, but RIP Gary Coleman anyway. Be sure and check out Will Harris’s terrific remembrance a couple of posts below this one.

* Action-meister Luc Besson is letting members of the French-speaking public become “producers” of an upcoming movie. The first ten-thousand participants will have their names in the credits. Talk about film-making by committee.

* It’s TV but this is too close to home to ignore…the cast of the upcoming HBO TV show starring Diane Keaton and directed by Bill Condon which is not about Nikki Finke just keeps getting better. Recent additions include Ellen Page and Wes Bentley.

* As part of a lame maneuver to try and do and end-run around critics on behalf of what surely seems to be a lame movie, alleged actor Ashton Kutcher is claiming that he’ll pirate and release — all on his own of course — the first ten minutes of his upcoming and pretty lame looking “Killers.” Spare me. Truly.

* If you live in the movie capital, things tend to get a bit quiet over holiday weekends like Memorial Day. It can be kind of nice. Not like the beautiful short below by Ross Ching, but not completely removed from it either. Strangely enough given the impossibility of what’s being shown, this, by the way, is one of the closer depictions of how L.A. actually looks to a native like me.

Running on Empty from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

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Superhero movie madness, explained

Let’s face it, this superhero movie thing is in danger of getting out of control. On the DC side we have Batman, Green Lantern, possibly the Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and, assuming the studio can move faster than a speeding lawsuit, Superman.

Marvel, of course, is moving faster still with movies about Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, possibly Nick Fury, and who knows what else leading up to an “Avengers” film to be directed by geek fave Joss Whedon, we think. (In April, Whedon and Marvel were in “final negotiations.” Now one of Whedon’s brothers has apparently told MTV that he has “tentatively agreed” to do it…is that even different?)

So, what’s the big deal? A few movies have been extremely successful and Hollywood follows its historic tendency towards repeating a winning formula until such time as the audience completely revolts. Is this any different? No, actually, but also yes. You see, I haven’t read a Marvel comic in a very long time, but even now my closet fanboy heart goes faintly pitty-pat at the thought of an “Avengers” movie incorporating the same actors from the other films. Why? It’s called “continuity.” What’s that? I could just say, “It’s a fanboy thing, you wouldn’t understand.” But now, thanks to some random guy with a little musical ability and more wit, action figures, and time on his hands, I have an explanation. In song.

Big time h/t to Alison Nastasi of Cinematical.

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