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Notes from the back row

Be Like Clint



"Hope I die before I get old." A classic line from The Who's "My Generation," but also a good description of Last Chance Harvey, a romantic comedy for the middle aged that opens this week at the Village 8.

Dustin Hoffman stars as Harvey, a sorry sad-sack living an even sorrier existence - nearing forced retirement, divorced, rejected by family and friends alike. In London for his daughter's wedding (and learning her stepfather will be walking her down the aisle) poor old Harvey meets Kate (Emma Thompson) a late-forties spinster who conducts surveys in the airport. The two traipse around London together, advancing and rejecting and relishing the feeling of new love and companionship and that sort of mushy crap. Hoffman and Thompson carry what is otherwise a weakly written and directed picture and you get the feeling that if the genders were reversed, and the main role was a middle-aged woman in crisis, Last Chance Harvey would be little more than a Sunday night TV movie on one of those women's satellite channels. Hope I die before I ever have to see this one again.

Clint Eastwood, on the other hand, is getting old with style, as seen in Gran Torino which is back at the Village 8 for another run this week. Isolated from his family (seems like that is a common theme in old-age movies) Clint plays a cranky old Korean War vet forced to deal with his racism and the changing times when he reluctantly chums up with an Asian youth and his family living next door. This is a pretty decent flick, especially considering it was the second Eastwood-directed film of 2008 (the other was Changeling) and may be one of the last times old Clint will star in front of the camera - he turns 79 this year and is still pretty badass for such an old timer.

Eastwood got his first break in 1957 as a TV actor on Rawhide and shot to stardom right away but it was his epic spaghetti westerns of the '60s (A fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad,and the Ugly) that really cemented him as a tough-guy antihero icon.

In 1971 Eastwood directed his first film, Play Misty For Me, an original thriller about a radio DJ who gets stalked by an obsessive fan. It's pretty good, with some sweet old footy of the Monterey Jazz Fest too. Clint is often quoted as saying America's only original art forms are the Western and Jazz music and in 1988 he directed Forest Whitaker in Bird, a Charlie Parker biopic that still stands as one of the best jazz films ever.

Of course, Clint's landmark role was Dirty Harry, which, along with the four sequels, pretty much invented the bad-ass cop genre and made "Go ahead, make my day" the go-to saying for 1980s elementary school kids everywhere.

Then the awards started piling up. So far Eastwood has ten Oscar nominations and has won Best Director and Best Picture twice, once for 1992's Unforgiven (a revisualization of the Western genre) and again in 2005 with Million Dollar Baby, the slightly over-melodramatic boxing movie that also netted Oscars for Morgan Freeman and Hillary Swank.  

So the DVD of the week is anything with or by Clint Eastwood. Even Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is pretty good, and it stars Alison Eastwood, Clint's daughter, proving that, while Clint is a timeless icon at any age, the Eastwood talent lives on for another generation.