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Top Chef All-Stars: cooking for Cookie Monster

Last night was a really interesting episode of “Top Chef All-Stars,” as the judges for the quick fire would be……Cookie Monster, Elmo and Telly from “Sesame Street.” How awesome and cool and what must have been really weird for the chef-testants. Richard pointed out that he has a 2 year old girl and in his house Elmo is like Elvis. The challenge? What else…to make cookies from scratch in 45 minutes. The winner would take home $5K. The least favorites were Richard (who made ice cream balls that weren’t really cookies) and Angelo, who made chocolate hazelnut cookies with a banana chocolate milkshake. The favorites were Dale (no bake potato chip/pretzel cookies) and Antonia (chocolate cookies) and the overall winner was Dale. Elmo joked that while Antonia’s cookies were delicious, they looked like “cow chips”….classic!

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American Idol: Hollywood week grueling

“American Idol” is hitting its stride now, as last night was the dreaded “group night” portion of Hollywood week. For those of you new to the show, or who need a reminder, what they do is let the contestants form groups–but judge them individually. They also give them a song choice from a list of 20 songs, but give them that list at around 8pm, and force them to practice deep into the night, and audition for the judges early in the morning. I know they want to create a pressure cooker situation, but come on. Is it really necessary to not give them a full day to practice?

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The Biggest Loser: nice family values

Yes, my subject line is being sarcastic, and last night’s episode of “The Biggest Loser” was a bit eye-opening. The show opened with a challenge between the black and red teams in which they were tangled up as teams in rope, and had to collectively untangle, and then go grab a “key” to the gym. That team would be able to train as usual in the gym all week, while the losing team would be locked out and forced to work outside or somewhere else. The red team won easily, as the black team could do nothing but trip over themselves. So Bob and Jillian would have to train their team outside, which didn’t seem to be a big deal as the weather cooperated.

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A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

Zhang Yimou is perhaps one of the most well-respected directors in international cinema, and yet you wouldn’t know it from the amount of flack he’s received for his Chinese-language remake of “Blood Simple.” I don’t count myself among the many admirers of the Coen brothers’ 1984 neo-noir – it’s a great debut film, though hardly one of their best – but Yimou obviously does, so it’s strange that his love letter to the film has been met with so much hostility. With the exception of a few tonal changes, his version remains surprisingly faithful, with the story transported to 19th century China and revolving around a noodle shop owner who hires a policeman to kill his cheating wife and her lover when he learns of the affair, only for things go horribly wrong for everyone involved.

Though Yimou’s attempts at including a little screwball comedy to the proceedings fails miserably, the film still works as a slow-burning crime thriller, with Sun Honglei delivering a killer performance (no pun intended) as the quiet assassin. The movie also looks incredible (from the colorful costumes to the gorgeous cinematography), and though it’s never going to replace the original, “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” is still a mostly interesting interpretation that I’d actually like to see done more often.

Click to buy “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop”

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Surprise! It’s the return of the end of week movie news dump.

I thought I’d shock everyone and do a post that’s not built around a trailer — there’ll be time enough for that on the weekend.

* Tom Cruise may or may not be many things, but I’ve never really thought of him as a rocker. Yet, that’s exactly what he will be in the promised film version of “Rock of Ages.” I’ve long had mixed feelings about Cruise as an actor — he can be very good in some things and disastrous in others — and I have mixed feelings about this project, too. To be specific, I like good movie musicals but strongly dislike eighties hair bands and what some of us used to call “corporate rock.”

On the other hand, Mike Fleming touts Anne Hathaway, who I have few or no mixed feelings about, as a possible costar. I wonder what she’d look like as a glam rocker…

anne_hathaway

* A star has been set — or at least gotten to the serious negotiation stage — for the long discussed “Jack the Giant Killer” coming from Bryan Singer and his old screenwriting cohort, Christopher McQuarrie, writes Mike Fleming. He’s that kid who was so great in 2002′s “About a Boy” grown-up into 20-something Nicolas Hoult. Hoult has also appeared on the UK “Skins” and will be turning up in the upcoming “Mad Max” reboot/sequel or whatever.

Mike Fleming, however, is not correct when he describes the tale as a “scary” variation on “Jack and the Beanstalk.” It’s an entirely different, far less commonly told, fairy tale. As Wikipedia tells us:

Jack the Giant Killer is a British fairy tale about a plucky Cornish lad who slays a number of giants during King Arthur’s reign. The tale is characterized by violence, gore, and blood-letting.

No wonder they’re making a movie of it.

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American Idol: Hollywood Part 1 recap

Last night began the real auditions for “American Idol” and while most of the decisions of who to keep and who to send home were good, there was definitely some drama. Here is a quick recap….

STAYING IN HOLLYWOOD
Brett Lowenstern, the 16 year old who got picked on most of his life, delivered again….so did Rachel Zevita, Thia Meghia (thought I didn’t think she was that great last night), and Casey Abrams, the Seth Rogan clone….James Durbin, the dude who auditioned in San Fran and is trying desperately to make a better life for his family…Paris Tassin, also trying to make a better life as she has a daughter with special needs. But she sang Celine Dion, to which I say, “BLAH!”….Loren Alaina, the 15 year old from Georgia who I have said has a shot to go very far…..Chris Medina, the dude with a fiancee that had the horrible car accident and is severely disabled, also made it to the next round…Jacee Badeux, the dorky 15 year old kid that Simon would no doubt have sent home in this round….Robbie Rosen, the Andy Pettitte look-alike, also moved on….so did Hollie Cavanaugh, but I really don’t see the talent in here. To me she is all technique, no substance. Mrs. Mike disagreed with me, and so did the judges….the exes of Chelsee and Rob made it through. Both could go far, but especially Rob…..the other couple, the happy happy one of Nick and Jacqueline–well, she made it through but Nick didn’t. Uh-oh. More on him in a bit….Scott McCreedy, the 16 year old kid with the deep country voice, also made it….so did Jackie Wilson and Jerome Bell, who both sang the same song they did in their initial audition. Risky but worked this time….Tiffany Rios, who wanted to show off her “assets” in the first audition, made it through, but not before dissing every other contestant by saying something like, “I am better than everyone else here.” J-Lo made note of that, but they still let her through, maybe to avoid the drama of eliminating her this week….then they showed a whole bunch of others who made it through in quick fire fashion, including Stefano from the San Francisco auditions who we really liked.

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Count the 1980s movie references with the cast of “Take Me Home Tonight”

Okay, I personally think John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei kind of cornered the market on humorous interpretations of the Human League kitsch classic, “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” in “Cyrus.” Still, Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer and (very briefly) Demetri Martin come pretty close in this nicely done promotional video for the upcoming 1980s-set coming of age comedy, “Take Me Home Tonight,” featuring the band, Atomic Tom.

Yep, you did catch Michael Biehn in there. He plays Grace’s policeman dad in the movie.

I’m currently embargoed from reviewing “Take Me Home Tonight,” but let’s just say that as someone who has been tired of the 1980s since the 1980s and has been tired of coming of age films even longer, my expectations were kind of shattered. What do I mean by that? You’ll have to wait. In the meantime, you can see my earlier post on the red band trailer.

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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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Thursday trailer: “X-Men: First Class”

It’s still the dead of Winter, but Summer (or the movie version of it, which actually stars in late Spring) is getting closer every day. “X-Men: First Class” is of special interest to me as it marks the return of director Matthew Vaughn to the franchise. (Vaughn famously dropped out the third X-Men installment shortly before production and was replaced by nobody’s favorite, Brett Ratner.)

Ironically, I’m not the biggest fan of any of the “X-Men” movies I’ve seen so far. However, Vaughn and his writing collaborator, Jane Goldman, most recently of “Kick-Ass,” have batted 1000 a with me as they careen from genre to genre and fail to rake in the big money I think they richly deserve. Let’s just hope this isn’t only a movie for critics and hardcore genre geeks. As you probably already know, James McAvoy is a much hairier and more ambulatory Dr. Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender is a much younger Magneto.

H/t Deadline. I’m definitely digging the retro vibe here.

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Top Chef All-Stars: fondue and Fallon

Last night was an interesting episode of “Top Chef All-Stars.” Not that they aren’t all interesting, but this one was a bit more so. They began with Fabio ribbing Antonia a bit more about her winning last week with mussels that were a “French” dish, as Fabio claimed, not Italian. Then host Padma Lakshmi introduced the Quick Fire, which was to create an interesting form of fondue. But Padma threw them a curve, which was that they would be their own judges, with comment cards to pick the least favorites and the favorites. The least favorites were Fabio (Bellini with caviar and white wine); Mike (spiced lamb with feta fondue); and Tiffany (apple fritter with hazelnut/chocolate fondue). The favorites were Antonia (smoked salmon on toast with crème fraiche—ed. Note—ewwwwwww!); Dale (Pho-ndue); and Angelo (deconstructed walnut/goat cheese fondue with endive dippers and beet juice shots). Dale won and he got a trip to Napa Valley.

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