Remembering the legend and her movies ...
Oh no ... not Elizabeth Taylor.
As I wrote earlier today, the passing of Elizabeth Taylor at the too-young-for-Liz age of 79 is such a loss; it's tough to describe her death without resorting to prose that mirrors her legendary eyes -- purple. So, I'll just say right here, briefly, and in all caps befitting the occasion: RIP LIZ. SAD. BOOM! Oh, Liz! (And I haven't even discussed your brilliance in 'Boom!' yet) What a sad day. Your cat, Maggie and your hellcat Martha, will always be alive.
With that, and with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" in mind, here's five of Miss Taylor's memorable roles. There's so many, but these are five you should see -- immediately -- and please check out the honorable mentions as well. Miss Taylor deserves as much.
"A Place in the Sun" (1951)
There's nothing quite like young, tragic love. And George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" understands this perfectly. By adapting Theodore Dreiser's masterful novel "An American Tragedy" with two of the most heart-stoppingly beautiful people in cinema (Montgomery Cllft and Taylor), Stevens immediately puts the viewer in the lovers' corner, no matter what they do. But it isn't just their looks that make you swoon; it's the chemistry and fragile performances. In the famous dance scene between the lonely, lovelorn Clift and the full of promise prize, Taylor, Stevens utilizes close-ups that obviously reveal the actors' beauty, but also how much they could say with their faces. Clift may be blurting out that he loves Taylor, but his pleading, poignant eyes reveal so many layers of desire, you know something is haunting him even if you don't fully understand the circumstances (he has just witnessed his pregnant girlfriend drown and, frantically in love with Taylor, he's chosen to do nothing about it). And Taylor gets him -- without saying a word. It's a brilliant dance macabre, but one of the most spine-tinglingly romantic moments of all time.
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958)
Though the above film showed Tennessee Williams in all of his excessive glory, he also knew much about the simplicity of Southern sexiness. His work inspired the cinematic images of macho Marlon Brando hollering “Stella!” in his ripped white tee shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire and, more importantly, today Elizabeth Taylor slopping around in a form-fitting white slip in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Well, she wasn’t exactly slopping—more like slinking. Taylor’s Maggie --“The Cat” of the title -- is a sexual animal unfulfilled by her disinterested hubbie (which must have been torturous for her, given that her husband is played by Paul Newman). Liz proved again why she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world and yet there’s something almost regular about her. Like she’s on the cusp of dumpy. But even dumpy (see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), she absolutely smolders. Taylor devoured her role with such gusto, that to quote another Tennessee Williams tale Baby Doll (one of my favorites), she makes the viewer feel a little “hysterical.” In Tennessee Williams territory, that’s a good thing. A bad good thing.
"Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959)
Even scripter Gore Vidal admits to going way over-the-top with this Tennessee Williams adaptation, but bless the man for doing so. To please the production code, he had to -- making the film's homosexual character not only an enigma, but a faceless monster, perishing at the hands of fed-up native boys. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "Suddenly" is a picture I watch with alarming frequency, but I can't fault myself -- the picture has it all -- Katharine Hepburn at her most evil scene chomping best, Miss Taylor donning not only the "it" bathing suit but being the "it" woman to procure young men for her confused cousin. Insane asylums, lobotomies, creepy Venus flytrap Gothic gardens, the Galapagos Islands, cannibalization! And the beautiful Montgomery Clift as Liz's supportive shrink. The movie finds the deliciously named Violet Venable (Hepburn) as a New Orleans widow unnaturally obsessed with her "poet" son Sebastian, who died while on vacation with her gorgeous niece Catherine (Taylor). Her fixation on Sebastian is Oedipal with a capital O, and her need to remove pretty Liz from the situation is scary. She wants to give the poor young woman a lobotomy. But Catherine's thoughtful shrink Monty will get to the bottom of this poisoned well leading to the movies memorable blood-curdling moment: When Liz screams "Help!" -- something that has invaded my dreams for years and years. A powerfully poignant, overwrought nasty elegance. And one of Taylor's greatest performances.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966)
A shocking picture for 1966, Mike Nichols' debut film was an expletive-ridden salvo that frightened some and impressed many. So notable was Woolf that the picture that was the first to use the words "go*damn" and "bugger" went on to Oscars galore, earning Elizabeth Taylor a richly deserved second Academy Award. Taylor de-glammed herself to play opposite real life hubby Richard Burton in this brilliant adaptation of Edward Albee’s award-winning play, which concerns serious, searing dipsomaniacal dysfunction. “Braying” Martha enjoys calling her history professor husband George “Swampy”, “A cluck” and “A bog! A bog in the history department!” while fielding equally nasty jabs from George (“You have ugly talents”) in mind games that would make Dr. Phil’s head explode. And to top it off they invite guests! But while the dynamic dysfunctional duo hit below the belt, there is something oddly romantic to their union (I’m not kidding). At least they’ve stayed together and well, kept it interesting. Especially when she creatively exclaims why she’ll never leave him: “I swear if you existed I’d divorce you!”
"The Only Game in Town" (1970)
This is a hard one to find and a picture that's been much maligned since its release. But it's so very underrated and contains a wonderfully raw, fitfully faded performance by Taylor as a sort of second act to her Oscar winning Gloria in "Butterfield 8" (also great). I'm fascinated by the saggy, depressing, accidentally (maybe not accidentally?) quirky picture. Something of a disaster in its day, the movie deserves consideration not only for its interesting and downright strange performances by Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor but for its effectiveness in showing just how lonely and depressing the idea of winning can be. Any kind of winning. Earning tremendously bad buzz for going over budget and for catering to Elizabeth Taylor’s location demands (the film wasn’t shot in Vegas but in Paris so the star could be with Richard Burton while he was making another movie), the picture is indeed bizarre at times, but its claustrophobic weirdness and poignant sadness gives it a power that wasn’t appreciated in its day. Both Taylor’s ex Vegas showgirl and Beatty’s compulsive gambler are losers waiting for their jackpot (Taylor to marry a rich guy, Beatty, to simply win big) which makes their relationship understandable even while being somewhat off. Directed by George Stevens (his final film), the film moves slowly, but it’s peppered by some terrific dialogue and memorable interplay between Taylor and Beatty. And how could that not be memorable?
But there's so much more of Liz to love. Other movies after the jump.
James Franco and Bruce Vilanch are still talking Oscar
OK -- let's keep this together because apparently this is the Oscar hosting drama that won't die.
With that, the above photo is Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch's explanation to this year's Oscar host James Franco after Vilanch criticized his hosting duties. Vilanch didn't mean it that way and is sorry, James is cool with it, Franco tweeted the above, and now we all know -- James Franco thinks most blogs are dumb.
Here's the story via The Huffington Post:
"Like most classic Hollywood dramas, this Oscar story has a happy ending after all.
Following what seemed to be an attack on his hosting performance by longtime Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch, a vengeful James Franco tweeted out a graffiti'd photo mocking Vilanch's career.
"The photo can be seen here.
"Turns out, Vilanch didn't quite mean what he said maliciously; in a message to Franco, he claimed that he actually defending his host. It reads, in part:
"'i was JOKING with this guy on the red carpet about all the sleeping jokes about you. he then got vehement about how bad you were and i was trying to DEFEND you. i don't know what version, what context you read these remarks in, but believe me, i would never diss you. that's not my style.'
Stahl will pen Rob Marshall's remake
It's a beloved story and I hope Depp and Stahl have the good sense to not muck with what is already magical. Rob Marshall as director frightens me so I'm just going to have to wait until the movie is released. And in the meantime, enjoy the original "The Thin Man."
Here's some news via Coming Soon:
"Heat Vision reports that Warner Bros. Pictures has hired author and screenwriter Jerry Stahl ('Permanent Midnight') to write the script for director Rob Marshall's The Thin Man remake starring Johnny Depp.
"Based on Dashiell Hammett's detective novel, the Academy Award-nominated 1934 movie starring William Powell and Myrna Loy spawned five sequels. It's described as follows:
"'Nick and Nora Charles cordially invite you to bring your own alibi to "The Thin Man," the jaunty whodunit that made William Powell and Myrna Loy the champagne elite of sleuthing. Bantering in the doudoir, enjoying walks with beloved dog Asta or matching each other highball for highball and clue for clue, they combined screwball romance with mystery.'
And now, more impressive pedigree with its newest cast members.
Here's the details from The Wrap:
"Alan Rickman and Sir Tom Courtenay will add a touch of class to 'Gambit.'
"The English thespians are joining previously announced stars Cameron Diaz and Colin Firth in the remake of the 1960s caper film, Crime Scene Pictures announced on Tuesday.
Rickman will play Lord Shahbandar and Courtenay will play a character named the Major. The film centers on a pair of criminals who team up to con the richest man in England.
"The original film starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. The remake is directed by Michael Hoffman ('The Last Station') from a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen."
Check it out April 9
Here's the details:
"NBC's 'Saturday Night Live' has lined up Elton John and Helen Mirren for hosting duties on back-to-back shows in April.
"The network announced Tuesday that John will pull double duty on April 2.
"He'll host and share the stage with fellow musical guest Leon Russell. John will debut as host. It's his first return to the show in nearly three decades.
"On April 9, the Oscar-winning Mirren will make her "SNL" debut, with musical guest the Foo Fighters."
Who will he play?
Well, I hope that's fact.
Fiction, according to EW:
"Joseph Gordon-Levitt, long-rumored to be joining his 'Inception' brethren in 'The Dark Knight Rises,' will appear in director Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film. But a source close to the situation says that recent reports that Gordon-Levitt will play Alberto Falcone (a.k.a. the Holiday Killer) — the son of former mob kingpin, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) — are incorrect."
'Limitless' takes number one spot
(Actually, I prefer Pegg and Frost, but I'm not one for "well coiffed.")
Anyway, hair aside, according to their piece, Cooper was "deemed a more desirable leading man."
Or the idea for "Limitless," a movie in which a pill makes you all powerful, smart and rich made for more compelling, fantasy driven weekend fare. "The Lincoln Lawyer"? So the guy runs a law service out of his car ...
(Actually, that sounds rather charming.)
With that, here's the report from the LA Times:
"Cooper, who has been best known for his supporting role in 'The Hangover,' proved he can open a movie without the help of goofy sidekicks, a tiger or Mike Tyson. His psychological thriller 'Limitless' was the No. 1 pick by moviegoers, grossing a solid $19 million, according to an estimate from distributor Relativity Media.
"McConaughey's 'The Lincoln Lawyer,' in which he plays an attorney who runs his practice from the back of his car, collected a moderate $13.4 million. That was barely enough to beat the weekend's other new release, the sci-fi comedy "Paul," which debuted to $13.2 million. But both of those films couldn't withstand the competition from movies already in theaters. 'Rango,' Paramount's computer-animated family film featuring the voice of Johnny Depp, dropped only 32%, grossing $15.3 million on its third weekend in release. 'Battle: Los Angeles,' the Sony action film that ruled the box office last weekend, fell 59%, adding $14.6 million to its $60.6-million domestic total."
A few of my favorite triads
Are three films better than one? Given the threesome (and then some) craze raging through all of cinema, I’m going to easily answer that question with a declarative N-O.
Though movie fans get excited over their final 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Batman' or 'Iron Man,' trilogies, planned or unplanned, frequently leave the viewer disappointed, stuck in a maddening state of comparison. And I can only think of studio execs drooling over the prospect of not only cashing in on continued big screen success but the marketing coup of endless DVDs -- single editions, special editions, box sets, extra special box sets and more.
But all cynicism aside, there’s still some worthy, even, masterful trilogies that have graced our screens. Here are some of my favorites.
"Evil Dead" Trilogy
"Evil Dead," "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn," "Army of Darkness"
God bless director Sam Raimi. Not only did he create Evil Dead, a horror work that managed to be both scary and funny, but he brought the world Bruce Campbell, a cult hero you can't possibly dislike (see the great Bubba Ho-Tep for further evidence). Using innovative stop-motion action effects, Raimi injected the horror genre with inventive pluck. The influential, low budget Evil Dead was flat-out scary though endlessly amusing and weirdly charming, assault by trees and all. He went full-throttle funny with the Three Stooges-inspired Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. After a quick re-cap of the first film, the second quickly dives back into Campbell fighting supernatural demons, and in one hilarious sequence, his own severed hand. Raimi moves into even nuttier territory by the trilogy's third act, Army of Darkness (1992). Campbell returns again as the sarcastic Ash, this time in a medieval fantasy with a chainsaw for an arm, a Remington shotgun and an Oldsmobile '88. Damn. I want one.
"Mad Max" Trilogy
"Mad Max," "The Road Warrior," "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome"
Yeah, yeah, there's the whole Thunderdome factor, but dammit, I like the final Mad Max. And Tina Turner needs to appear in more movies. Mad Max (1980), the great George Miller's taut, low-budget car/motorcycle/futuristic film depicts a pissed-off cop (Mel Gibson in his star-making role) seeking vengeance for the murder of his wife and kid at the hands of outlaw bikers. The restless camera and stunt work is above and beyond the film's B-movie potential. Serious invention was at work. 1982's The Road Warrior (which some think is superior to Max) followed. The second film in the trilogy finds our hero living in an Australia annihilated by nuclear war. Max aids oil-drilling survivors who've been pursued by murderous outback gangs (how scary is that?). The film's amped-up intensity made this one of the most talked-about films of the '80s. And Thunderdome (1985), well, you've gotta love that Tina Turner rules an evil town, plus Max becomes a gladiator and hangs with orphans. And contrary to Turner's song, we did "need another hero." Wow, with talks of another Mad Max and without Mel Gibson (which is an absolute shame -- I don’t care how you feel about him) this might not be a trilogy anymore.
"The Lord of the Rings"
"The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," "The Return of the King"
I’m always hearing contrary stances on The Lord of the Rings trilogy and I’m frankly, sick of them. Director Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth pictures remains one of the greatest of threesomes—a massive achievement of technological brilliance and emotion, something you rarely find in movies with such a reliance on effects, design and creatures. That the odds -- and thousands of nit-picky J.R.R. Tolkien fans waiting to string him up if he screwed it up -- were against him from the start makes the scale of this accomplishment even more mind-boggling. Unlike most trilogies, Jackson’ s venture into Middle Earth is essentially one big film cut into three parts (he filmed them simultaneously), and yet each part also can stand completely alone as its own mesmerizing, fulfilling movie. To see each of these films is to experience a filmmaker at the absolute peak of his creative powers. Everything that we love about the movies, from heart pounding drama and action and tension to meticulous, loving character development to breathtaking visuals, can be found here. It truly is a reminder of why we go to movies.
"Pather Panchali," "Aparajito" and "The World of Apu"
Satyajit Ray isn't the first name that comes to mind when most people think trilogy (though he should), but the Indian filmmaker made one of the greatest, most beautifully filmed entries in the genre with his Apu Trilogy. The first film, Pather Panchali (1955), concerned a boy named Apu, who grows up in a Bengali village in the early part of the century. His encounters with his impoverished family offer a gorgeously rendered child's eye view of the world without condescension. 1956's less joyous Aparajito follows Apu as he deals with his father's death, then, in a memorably tragic scene, his mother's. Apu leaves for the city, going against the wish that he follow in his father's shadow of priesthood. The next film, The World of Apu (1959), finds him living in Calcutta, alone and in shabby conditions. Apu wants to be a writer, but instead marries a would-be spinster, until she dies while bearing their son. Grief stricken, Apu hides away, never seeing his son until the film's sob-inducing finale. Interestingly, Ray never intended to make a trilogy, but feeling pressured by the first film's success, crafted this masterful final film, something all pressured trilogy makers should turn to.
Read more after the jump.