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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Clint Eastwood

Around Town: Celebrate Easter with Jimmy Stewart and Harvey

April 5, 2012 |  6:00 am


The American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre is going rabid for rabbits Easter Sunday  -- just don't expect the Easter Bunny. The evening begins with 1950's "Harvey," starring Jimmy Stewart in his Oscar-nominated performance as Elwood P. Dowd, a sweetly crazy guy whose best friend is an invisible 6'3" white rabbit named Harvey. Josephine Hull earned an Oscar as Elwood's frazzled sister. The evening concludes with the 2001 cult fave "Donnie Darko," with Jake Gyllenhaal and a rabbit a lot less friendly than Harvey.

On Easter Sunday evening, the Cinematheque's Egyptian will screen the 1933 version of "King Kong," starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot and featuring the groundbreaking stop-motion special effects of Willis O'Brien. www.americancinematheque.com

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater presents a week-long engagement of Noel Black's 1968 cult favorite, "Pretty Poison," beginning this Friday. Black will be on hand Friday evening for the screening of this dark comedic-thriller starring Anthony Perkins as a young disturbed man on parole from a mental institution who meets his match in the form of a beautiful high school cheerleader (Tuesday Weld) who also happens to be a sociopath.  For years, only a 16mm print of the film was available, but Cinefamily is showing a new 35mm print. www.cinefamily.org

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Super Bowl: Is Clint Eastwood really a partisan provocateur?

February 7, 2012 |  8:00 am


Of all the directors who could have become a lightning rod for the right this election season, Clint Eastwood wouldn’t be high on the list. Michael Moore? Certainly. Spike Lee? No doubt. But Eastwood? This is Dirty Harry, a man who for years epitomized rugged individualism, outlaw independence, no-nonsense self-reliance. If there was ever an actor who could play Ron Paul, Eastwood is it.

Starting out as a Republican-leaning voter in the 1950s, Eastwood later came to be a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and other U.S.-led conflicts. But in the main, he has stayed above the fray, calling himself a “political  nothing” and showing in his governance of small-town California that he’s far from an ideologue.

Yet the icon's “Halftime in America” spot for Chrysler during Sunday's Super Bowl -- in which, sure, Eastwood spoke his gravelly voice on behalf of a company that was bailed out by Washington, but mostly just rallied America to fight back in an economic recession -- has roused all kinds of right-wing ire.

On Monday, Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" had him on the show and asked why he was fronting for the president. Eastwood denied that the commercial contained any endorsement.

“I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama,” the director told the cable-news network. But that attitude didn't stop standard-bearers on the right from voicing their displeasure. Karl Rove said he was offended by the ad. Michelle Malkin wondered why Eastwood was supporting bailouts. Their general point seemed to be that Eastwood was aligning himself with the comeback narrative that Obama was making a key part of his reelection campaign.

Watching the storm develop, it’s hard to understand how Eastwood came to be in the eye of this hurricane. His I-don’t-make-political-judgments could seem like a cop-out from many other public figures. But Eastwood has a body of work to support the point.

Wielding an almost singular creative freedom in Hollywood, the director has in recent years chosen to make movies that are conspicuously above the fray. Apart from single-issue pictures like “Million Dollar Baby,” his work over the last decade has a  decidedly apolitical strain -- “J. Edgar” this year was actually criticized for avoiding politics in favor of Hoover’s personal and psychological motivations. Many of his recent movies focus heavily on individual redemption -- like “Gran Torino," coincidentally also set against the backdrop of an ailing Michigan economy, or "Invictus,” with its largely harmless unity-through-sports message.

Eastwood even went to the trouble of making two World War II movies, “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of our Fathers,” to show both sides’ perspective. If anything, the argument is not that Eastwood has gotten too tendentious — it’s that he’s been too neutral.

But you don’t need the movies to see Eastwood's vantage point. Lost amid all the outcry Monday is that the director himself has said he didn’t agree with the bailout, going on record in to my colleague Patrick Goldstein that he was against the package that sent billions to Chrysler and General Motors.

“We shouldn’t be bailing out the banks and car companies,” he told Goldstein, which suggests that, no matter what pro-stimulus message some might read into the ad, Eastwood himself certainly didn’t see it that way when he agreed to do it.

Or just listen to the language of the ad itself, a pep talk so general it could practically be a call to sing Kumbaya.

"I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems that we lost our heart at times -- the fog of division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one."

It's hard to see how Eastwood was doing anything but offering a generic call for strength in hard times -- not saying a comeback has already been completed, and certainly not saying which party should be put in charge of making sure that it did.


Super Bowl ads: Ferris Bueller takes the day off for Honda

Clint Eastwood talks politics; Who's the Democrat he voted for?

Super Bowl ads: Why are the best movie ads not actually for movies?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Clint Eastwood at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington last week. Credit: Cliff Owen / Associated Press

Super Bowl: Why are the best movie ads not actually for movies?

February 6, 2012 |  6:00 am


The ads that ran during the Super Bowl were filled with some classic films and filmmakers. Too bad none of them had to do with movies actually coming to theaters

Clint Eastwood's impassioned plea for a Detroit comeback on behalf of Chrysler (viewable above) was up there on the acclaim scale with the operatic Eminem-starring, Sam Bayer-directed "Born from Fire" from the car manufacturer last year. And then there was the comedy--Volkswagen's game  riffs on the Star Wars cantina courtesy of a BAFTA-nominated cinematographer, and a Todd Phillips-directed spot for Honda starring Matthew Broderick about how Ferris Bueller might play hookie as a fortysomething man.

The actual movie ads? They were a lot less notable.

As we explore in a story in tomorrow's Times, ads for big-budget explosion-fests such as "Battleship," "John Carter," "Act of Valor," and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" all came and went with little fanfare. Viewers didn't overly criticize them, but judging by surveys of Twitter and other social media, they didn't  single them out for any special honors, either. The ad for Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" was hailed as funny, but it aired before the game and seemed to be overshadowed once the high-profile spots began to run.

The spot for "Valor," which aired in the pricey fourth quarter, had a bigger issue--it followed the "Bueller" commercial and seemed that much more earnest by comparison.

It shouldn't be too surprising that the movie ads fell flat--if you're spending $3.5 million on 30 seconds of airtime, as a studio does, you're going to promote the biggest movies in the broadest possible way, which kind of rules out too much originality. On top of that, you're trying to drive sales to a single opening weekend, something an automaker, for instance, doesn't have to worry about.

But don't give movie marketers too much of a pass. Last year, Paramount's Super Bowl spot for "Super 8" managed to tease enough mystery and intrigue to get people talking about the ad. And far from hurting the film at the box office, it sent the film on its way. It's not impossible to spend millions and still put out a good Super Bowl movie ad.  It's just not easy or terribly desirable.

--Steven Zeitchik



Super Bowl ads: Matthew Broderick takes a day off for Honda

Super Bowl ads make use of movie imagery

Super Bowl ads: Why Volkswagen returned to Honda


Young Hollywood: Armie Hammer on working with Clint Eastwood

November 10, 2011 |  1:25 pm

Evan Rachel Wood talks about working with Woody Allen at the LA Times Young Hollywood roundtable

When Evan Rachel Wood showed up to her first day on the set of "Whatever Works," she wasn't sure if she'd be out of a job in a few hours.

After all, she had yet to meet director Woody Allen -- he cast her simply because he felt she was right for the part in his 2009 film. And she'd heard stories about the legendary filmmaker quickly firing actors when he realized they weren't right for certain parts.

"People will show up and do the scene and he'll be like, 'You know what, this isn't right.' And he'll just recast. So the first day I was, like, so, so scared," the actress admitted on Friday at the Los Angeles Times' Young Hollywood roundtable, which also included Armie Hammer, Kirsten Dunst and Anton Yelchin.

Hammer also admitted being terrified before working with a different iconic director -- Clint Eastwood. The actor began work on Eastwood's "J. Edgar" immediately after wrapping "The Social Network" with David Fincher and said the two filmmakers employ completely different styles of directing.

"With Fincher, he would spend 20 minutes making sure that the angle of your head was right when you shot a scene," Hammer said. "But with Clint, you walk into a room and he goes, 'OK, so put it on its feet.' ...' And you're like, 'Oh, so it's up to me? Uh, OK.' "

For more on how the young stars approached working with A-list directors, watch the clip below. Check back with 24 Frames this week as we continue to post short videos with additional highlights from the conversation.


Young Hollywood: Yelchin, Wood, Hammer, Dunst on making it big

Young Hollywood: Kirsten Dunst, Armie Hammer talk role preparation

Young Hollywood: Hammer, Yelchin, Wood, Dunst on getting their starts

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Evan Rachel Wood and Henry Cavill are directed by Woody Allen, right, in "Whatever Works." Credit: Jessica Miglio / Sony Pictures Classics

'J. Edgar' captivates top critics, leaves others cold

November 9, 2011 |  2:44 pm

J Edgar
With its A-list duo of director Clint Eastwood and star Leonardo DiCaprio, a weighty subject in FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover, and a script by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black ("Milk"), the new biopic "J. Edgar" has been widely anticipated as a candidate for award-season gold. Critical reaction to the film, which opens Wednesday in limited release, has been curiously split: A number of top critics are lauding the film, but many mainstream critics are unimpressed.

The Times' Kenneth Turan writes that "'J. Edgar' is a somber, enigmatic, darkly fascinating tale, and how could it be otherwise?" Turan calls DiCaprio's performance "impressive" and says Eastwood's "impeccable professionalism" complements "the revisionist thrust of Dustin Lance Black's script." Turan finds the film to be dense with information, ambitious in its scope (comparing the time-hopping structure to "Citizen Kane") and nuanced in its portrayal of Hoover, a man who had good things about him but for whom absolute power corrupted absolutely.

 New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis says "J. Edgar" humanizes its outsize subject and that the film "is less the story of Hoover, the public institution, than of J. Edgar, the private man." Dargis is particularly struck by "the tenderness of the love story in 'J. Edgar'" — that is, the exceptionally close and much-talked-about relationship between Hoover and his deputy, Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer. For Dargis, "it’s [Eastwood's] handling of Hoover and Tolson’s relationship that, as much as the late-act revelation of the pathological extent of Hoover’s dissembling, lifts the film from the usual biopic blahs."

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Filmgoers begin to spy scenes of Clint Eastwood's 'J. Edgar'

September 20, 2011 | 11:32 am

It's been one of the intriguing cinematic — and political — questions since Clint Eastwood announced he was tackling the subject of J. Edgar Hoover. Would Eastwood, known in his films for a Western-influenced code of right and wrong, paint the former FBI director in binary colors or more interesting shades of gray?

Judging by the trailer released late Monday, it seems he's leaning toward the latter. In "J. Edgar," Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is shown as a man who exceeded his authority, letting his own surveillance system run amok as he used it to settle personal grudges and spy on the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt (among plenty of others). But there are also hints of a more human portrait, particularly in the attempt to show Hoover's motivations, like the influence of his stern mother, Anna Marie Hoover (Judi Dench) — that, whatever you think of the FBI founder, may make for a more compelling movie.

Damnable pieces of Hoover's slippery-slope logic, like "Sometimes you need to bend the rules a little in order to keep your country safe," are juxtaposed with more psychologically oriented quotes such as  "All the admiration in the world can't fill the spot where love goes," said to Hoover by his longtime assistant and confidant Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts).

(Incidentally, how all this will play to the right and the left in a politically charged election year is one of the season's juiciest questions.)

Apart from an intimation in one scene with Armie Hammer's Clyde Tolson, there doesn't seem to be much in the trailer about Hoover's much-rumored homosexuality.  Although the screenplay was written by Dustin Lance Black, who penned the gay-rights activist drama "Milk," Eastwood had said he liked that Black "didn't quite go down that road."

Hoover's bursts of self-righteous rhetoric — DiCaprio continues his penchant, previously on display in movies like “The Aviator” and “Shutter Island,” for loner authority figures dancing between confidence and madness — will draw scrutiny, as will his accent and makeup. There will be plenty of time for that, and the inevitable cable-news chatter, ahead of the movie's release on Nov. 9.


Eastwood's 'J. Edgar,' starring DiCaprio, to open AFI Fest

Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Refn bond over 'Drive'

Betrayal and revenge in Clooney's 'Ides of March'

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character in "J. Edgar." Credit: Warner Bros.

Eastwood's 'J. Edgar,' starring DiCaprio, to open AFI Fest

September 7, 2011 |  1:00 am

J Edgar will be the opening night film at AFI Fest 2011
Sight unseen, Clint Eastwood's upcoming J. Edgar Hoover biopic has already been deemed a best picture contender by a number of Oscar prognosticators. Pundits will officially be able to back up -- or back off of -- those claims at AFI Fest 2011, as event coordinators announced Wednesday that "J. Edgar" will be the opening film at the annual festival. Celebrating its 25th year, AFI Fest will kick off in Hollywood on Nov. 3 and run through Nov. 10.

"J. Edgar," slated for limited release the week following its AFI premiere, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the respected-but-feared FBI director who was often controversial. Beyond its A-list director and star, the film also boasts a well-known cast that includes Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts. The movie's script was written by Dustin Lance Black, whose screenplay for "Milk" earned him an Academy Award in 2009.

Last year, AFI Fest launched with "Love and Other Drugs," the romantic drama starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal that fared decently at the worldwide box office but failed to spark any awards buzz. It remains to be seen whether Eastwood's latest effort will follow a similar fate. While the 81-year-old filmmaker has long been a critical darling, his most recent film, last year's "Hereafter," garnered only one Oscar nomination, for visual effects. Eastwood does, however, have a long-standing relationship with AFI, and took home the festival's Life Achievement Award in 1996.  

For the third year in a row, AFI Fest will offer patrons free tickets to the majority of its screenings. But those who want to guarantee their seat in the theater for Eastwood's film will have to pay a hefty sum for that opportunity. To reserve a spot at the gala screening of "J. Edgar," one must purchase either a Star Patron or a Marquee Patron Package -- the prices of which range from $1,500 to $5,000.


A western with Leonardo DiCaprio?

Pedro Almodovar to be AFI Fest guest artistic director

Armie Hammer to play Winklevoss twins again -- on 'The Simpsons'

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in "J. Edgar." Credit: Warner Bros.

Around Town: Italian Neorealism, the comedy of Albert Brooks, Terrence Malick and more

May 19, 2011 |  5:00 am

GardenItaly's Vittorio De Sica earned a reputation as one of Neorealism's most accomplished filmmakers, a man who frequently collaborated with screen siren Sophia Loren. His Academy Award-winning 1971 film "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," screens Thursday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The screening marks the premiere of a newly restored print of the film, which follows the lives of a wealthy Italian Jewish family oblivious to the fact that fascism is engulfing their lives. The film's producer, Arthur Cohn, is the special guest. www.oscars.org

The Bigfoot Crest Theater this weekend adds repertory programming to its schedule with two new monthly series. The first, Singafest Asian Film Nights, begins Thursday with a screening of a 35-millimeter print of the Akira Kurosawa 1961 classic "Yojimbo," with Toshiro Mifune. That will be followed by the first installment of another new monthly series, "Spirits in the Dark: Horror at the Crest," which kicks off with a sneak preview of the horror thriller "The Whisperer in Darkness." www.bigfootcrest.com

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Why do so many older critics love 'Hereafter' while younger reviewers can't stand it?

October 20, 2010 |  4:13 pm

For a director who's known for a studied lack of sensationalism, Clint Eastwood is sure riling up a lot of people.

Eastwood's new movie "Hereafter" opened last weekend in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, where it grossed a very strong $36,000 per screen. It will play across the country beginning this weekend. But where this unassuming spiritual drama should be doing what many movies aimed at grown-ups do -- get a finite number of people to quietly come out to see the film -- something more polarizing is happening. Eastwood, who at 80 epitomizes Hollywood restraint and politesse, is causing a ruckus.

"Hereafter" examines three geographically separate but thematically related characters, all of whom have some connection to death and the afterlife. There's a working-class London boy who has tragically lost his twin brother and wants desperately to communicate with him. There's a reluctant San Francisco psychic (Matt Damon) who would like nothing more than to stop communing with the dead. And there's a Parisian woman obsessed with what comes next after she goes through a near-death experience in the 2005 Asian tsunami.

Hereaft Eastwood's new film, it quickly becomes clear, is a bold examination of spiritual concerns that the movie business is typically too scared or too secular to explore.

Or wait, it's a warmed-over exercise in Hollywood cliche and pseudo-spirituality.

As the movie stands on the threshold between hit and disappointment (and awards contender and Oscar also-ran), critics are sharply divided. But they're not just divided in the usual way. They're divided, it seems, along generational lines.

Here's how it breaks down: Many younger reviewers -- those in their 30s and 40s, and maybe inching into their early 50s -- are coming down hard on the movie. Most of the older generation? They're  finding much to embrace in the movie.

The list of prominent naysayers reads like a who's-who of prominent younger critics: the New York Post's Kyle Smith, New York Magazine's David Edelstein, Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, The Onion's Nathan Rabin, Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf and Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. We could spend a whole post on their diatribes, but here is Rothkopf, channeling many of his contemporaries: "Hereafter" is "an undercooked slice of paranormal mumbo jumbo.... What was Clint thinking?"

Or Smith: "Clint Eastwood's 'Hereafter' brings together recent historical events, including a European terrorist attack, plus Charles Dickens and the after life without having anything to say about any of these topics. The movie drags, yet it feels like it's missing an hour."

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Toronto 2010: Can Clint Eastwood regain his awards luster?

September 16, 2010 |  8:50 am


Judging by the reaction to him at Toronto's Elgin Theatre on Sunday night, Clint Eastwood can still muster a lot of love. There was standing ovation when he came out to introduce his new film, "Hereafter," and the kind of murmurs through the crowd reserved for rock stars and world leaders.

Yet in recent years, the response Eastwood has received from awards voters -- those arbiters of taste, for better or worse, in modern Hollywood -- has been less enthusiastic

After three movies that landed best-picture nominations in a span of four years ("Mystic River," Million Dollar Baby" and "Letters from Iwo Jima,") Eastwood has gone colder than the hands around Scorpio's gun. His last three movies -- "Changeling," "Gran Torino" and "Invictus" -- each had clear awards potential. And yet apart from a few acting nominations and two technical nominations, Oscar acclaim has eluded the icon. No director nominations for Eastwood on any of the three films; no best picture nominations either.

Eastwood's most recent effort, the Nelson Mandela-centered sports movie "Invictus," was a particular disappointment on that front. Although not a unanimous reviewer favorite, the film contained political subject matter, an inspirational story, historical and period flourishes and a larger-than-life central character. Its omission from the Oscar best-picture list last year, when the academy had the luxury of 10 selections, might have stung even a more awards-agnostic filmmaker.

The film that could break Eastwood's cold streak this year comes in the form of "Hereafter," a spiritual / supernatural triptych starring Matt Damon. Those looking for blazingly original subject matter may not be entirely satisfied with three afterlife-related story strands that, inevitably, come together at the end, in the manner of an Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu film or a host of indie dramas from the last decade or so. And with its sometimes gauzy exploration of the topic of the afterlife -- particularly in the story of a French woman who believes she has seen the white light and then undertakes a search trying to understand it -- the movie leaves itself open to the criticism of pseudo-depth that seemingly comes whenever Hollywood tackles spiritual subjects. (For more on the film and the director's feelings about it, see my colleague Geoff Boucher's recent story about Eastwood.)

But there is a quiet drama and pacing in "Hereafter" that could appeal to reviewers and the academy's base. More important, there is a stretching of subject matter and genre, even by the standards of the already-elastic Eastwood. The academy like to give what are essentially lifetime achievement awards (e.g., Martin Scorsese's 2006 wins for "The Departed") to reward an icon for doing something particularly well for so long. With Eastwood, it sometimes seems moved for a very different reason: to reward an icon for doing so many different things for so long.

If that's the criteria, "Hereafter" stands an excellent chance this season. Eastwood's moral preoccupations are often similar from movie to movie, but his backdrops and genres are radically different. The film is a departure even by those standards. Drop a film-goer into a theater that's showing "Hereafter" and ask him  to guess the director. Eastwood may be the 30th or 40th name that comes up.

Eastwood has, in recent years, shown a remarkable consistency at the box office. In the last six years, every one of his movies (aside from "Letters from Iwo Jima") grossed almost exactly the same amount, between $33 million and $37 million. (The one exception was "Gran Torino," his most successful movie as either an actor or a director, when he caught lightning in a bottle and grossed a whopping $148 million.)

There is a die-hard base that is attracted to Eastwood and his work, a group that is not large but is exceedingly reliable. There used to be a corresponding cadre among awards voters. We'll see if they return with "Hereafter."

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Bryce Dallas Howard and Matt Damon in "Hereafter." Credit: Warner Bros.


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