The legendary Cicely Tyson has passed away. She leaves behind a prolific award-winning career in film, TV, and the stage. She was a trailblazer who opened the door for other black actresses that followed. Moreover, she used her work to show how multidimensional black women are and their deserving of respect. I’ll remember her most for the dignity and poise she possessed. Like a regal queen. She always seemed sure of herself and what she wanted from the world. Recently, Miss Tyson completed her memoir, Just As I Am. I’m looking forward to reading it and learning more about this incredible woman.
The legendary Dionne Warwick turns 80 today. Singer, actress, Solid Gold host, Godwill Ambassador, reality tv contestant, and, recently, prolific Tweeter. Dionne has done it all. Let’s say a little prayer for her on her milestone birthday.
Today would have been Rock Hudson’s 95th birthday. He was the embodiment of the classic Hollywood movie star. Gorgeous, talented, and extremely charming. Some of my favorite films of his are Giant, Pillow Talk, and All that Heaven Allows. He gave a searing performance in Seconds as well. Currently, there is a documentary and a biopic in the works about his storied life. I’m glad that Rock continues to be remembered and celebrated as an icon.
The late screen legend Elizabeth Taylor would have turned 88 this month. She left behind an incredible legacy as an actress, businesswoman, humanitarian, and activist. She was also a stunningly beautiful woman. It’s no surprise that she had eight husbands. In fact, the world was fascinated by her personal life and all the men she captured. I’m more into her movies, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof being a particular favorite, but that’s another post for another day. Let’s focus on the shallow stuff and rank her husbands.
8. Conrad Hilton Jr.
Conrad Hilton Jr. was Elizabeth’s first husband. On paper, he seemed like the perfect catch. A young, handsome, hotel heir. He and Elizabeth got married in a huge ceremony that was covered extensively by the press. Unfortunately, the fairytale ended quickly. Elizabeth realized that her new husband was an abusive heavy drinker. She divorced him after only 8 months of marriage. Conrad was like the first pancake of her husbands. He didn’t turn out right, so she tossed him in the trash and tried again.
7. Michael Wilding
Michael Wilding may be the least know of her husbands. He was a mildly successful actor, twenty years her senior, and fairly bland. But I guess he was a step up from Conrad. The marriage went downhill as her career took off and his lagged behind. Similar to A Star is Born, but less entertaining. After five years they were done.
6. John Warner
I wonder if Elizabeth was imaging herself as the new Jackie Kennedy when she married politician, John Warner. Going on the campaign trail may have seemed like a novel concept to a movie star. In any event, this was no Camelot and he wasn’t as handsome as JFK. Liz was soon bored with her life as a senator’s wife in D.C. She passed the time boozing, taking pills, and eating. Luckily, she got a divorce and went back to Hollywood.
5. Larry Fortensky
The substance abuse that began during her marriage to Warner eventually led Elizabeth to check into the famed Betty Ford clinic where she met her next husband, Larry Fortensky. They fell in love and got sober together. What a sweet meet-cute story. The marriage didn’t last long though. Larry, a construction worker who came from simple means, didn’t enjoy being “Mr. Liz Taylor”. There are worse things. Like, his mullet.
4. Eddie Fisher
Eddie Fisher and his wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, were best friends with Elizabeth and her third husband, Mike Todd. After Mike’s tragic death, Eddie “comforted” a grieving Elizabeth. They began an affair that led to Eddie leaving Debbie, America’s Sweetheart, and marrying Liz. Of course, Debbie got the last laugh when Elizabeth dumped Eddie for her Cleopatra co-star. Karma is a Burton.
3. Richard Burton
Elizabeth and Richard Burton were married twice. So, he counts as husband #5 and #6. The second marriage lasted less than a year and was uneventful, so I’m putting it at #3 on the list. Follow that? More to come below.
2. Mike Todd
Producer Mike Todd was Elizabeth’s 3rd husband and at the time she called him the love of her life. He was as big and over the top as his productions, which included Best Picture winner Around the World in 80 Days. He liked the spotlight and making a show of things, so he and Liz were a good match. Plus, he lavished her with jewelry, including an ornate ruby necklace and diamond tiara. Elizabeth once said that the best thing about him, though, was that he made her feel protected and loved. It’s sad that they didn’t get to spend more time together. He died a little more than a year after they married.
1. Richard Burton
Elizabeth’s love affair with Richard Burton began on a dramatic note. They left their spouses for each other causing the tabloid press to lose its mind. The Vatican was also playing close attention since they denounced the couple, charging them with “erotic vagrancy”. Should the Church really have been throwing stones from its glass house? After divorcing Eddie, Liz and Richard rushed to the altar. The next ten years of marriage were filled with elaborate vacations, tons of jewelry, kids, 11 movies together, and raucous partying. There were also many fights. The press didn’t call them the Battling Burtons for nothing. In the end, though, they had a deep love for one another that lasted long after their union ended.
In Martin Scorsese’s latest film, The Irishman, Robert DeNiro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver turned mob hit man. Over the course of several years Frank becomes deeply involved with crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) as well as Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the infamous leader of the Brotherhood of Teamsters. These relationships shape Frank’s life in both promising and harmful ways.
Here’s the thing, I enjoyed this film. Visually and stylistically it’s fantastic. That’s no surprise when you consider the director. The talent on-camera is equally amazing. It’s a who’s who of iconic Oscar-winning actors. And surely this film will pick up a lot of awards. Now, do I ever need to watch it again? Nope. For one, there’s the excessive 3.5 hour runtime. Thankfully Netflix made this movie because I can’t imagine watching it in the theater. They could have stopped at 2.5, may 3 hours tops. It’s a lot of movie. That doesn’t make it the most exciting though. A bunch of things happen and plot points are explored, but I wasn’t riveted by all of it and a few times I was actually bored. There’s also the feeling that you’ve seen this all before. A mob story that takes place in the past, directed by Scorsese, and starring DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci. Sound familiar? It’s like a greatest hits album.
In any event, I’d recommend seeing The Irishman. It’s an impressive film. But be prepared for its bloated, déjà vu inducing qualities.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
takes you on a winding ride back to 1969. Along the way you meet actor Rick
Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his best friend/stunt
double. Rick was once a popular star, but his career has declined significantly.
This doesn’t have the best effect on Cliff’s job prospects, but he takes it in
stride. The film also focuses on Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). You see her interacting
with her husband and friends. The beginnings of a young actress’ life. Other
characters are interwoven into the story, with stars like Kurt Russell, Al
Pacino, and Bruce Dern making appearances.
Aside from some story points, there isn’t a lot of plot
here. In fact [*spoiler alert*] it isn’t until the last 30 minutes where Tarantino
really hits you in the face with some major development. Like, some really gruesome,
yet hilarious, development.
The crux of the movie is following these characters around
for a few days. DiCaprio does a fantastic job portraying a washed-up star
desperately clinging to his past fame. Pitt is great as an easy-going, fun guy
who’s happy just to be living in Hollywood. And Robbie brightens the film with
her sunny effervescent portrayal of Sharon.
Speaking of, Sharon will always be associated with Charles
Manson and his “family”. But I’m glad that we see very little of the cult
leader. Just one scene, actually. Yes, there is a lot of time spent on his
followers, including a particularly tense sequence with Cliff. But this isn’t a
movie about them thankfully. There was more to Sharon than her death and I’m
happy that Tarantino shows that.
The director also showcases the beauty and grittiness of Hollywood
in the late 60s. Seeing the town transformed into its former self is a huge
draw for the film. All that neon. And the music choices are spot on, adding to
the experience. The one con is the length of the film. 2 hours and 45 minutes is
a stretch, especially since it meanders quite a bit. It comes off as indulgent.
But this is a movie worth seeing if you want to flashback to an iconic period
in Hollywood history.
The documentary Making Montgomery Clift aims to paint a
more accurate picture of the classic Hollywood actor. I feel like most people
only know a few facts about him. And some of those facts are quite shaky. But
if you don’t want to dig deeper about a subject, you tend to go with the basic
things out there. Co-directors Robert A. Clift and Hillary Demmon set out to
fill in the details that previous movies, books, or TV specials left out.
Robert, Montgomery’s nephew, is especially invested in correcting the stories
that have been told about his uncle over the years.
The biggest misconception that the film sets out to dispel is
that Montgomery was a tragic figure. Supposedly he was a self-hating homosexual
who was slowing killing himself with heavy drinking and pills. The film doesn’t
try to skip over his vices, but it’s clear that he didn’t have a death wish
either. He seemed to have enjoyed his life. In terms of his sexuality, he was
open as one could be at that time about being into men. His friend Jack Larson
speaks of how Montgomery was affectionate with him, going so far as to kiss him
in a restaurant. He refused to play the game, like other gay actors in that
period, by getting married to a woman. In addition, many interviewees in the
film talk about his light-hearted jovial spirit. Definitely not the walking
tragedy he was reported to be.
A lot of attention was paid to Montgomery’s appearance. He was
an exceptionally beautiful man and his talent often gets overshadowed by his
looks. The documentary goes into detail about how serious he was about acting. He
was very choosy about which movies he made turning down many prominent roles,
like the lead in Sunset Boulevard. Montgomery also refused to sign a
contract with a studio. He wanted to be a free agent and avoid being controlled
by the system. In the middle of his career, he was involved in a horrific car
accident that altered his appearance dramatically. It was alleged that this
contributed to his downward spiral. But a talking head in the film says Montgomery
actually preferred how he looked after the accident. The focus wasn’t on his
looks anymore and he could become more of a character actor.
The one flaw in this valuable history lesson of a film is the
focus on Montgomery’s brother William Brooks Clift Jr. Like his son, Robert, William
was invested in correcting the false information that had been put out about
his brother. He was a bit obsessed with his brother’s career actually. William
horded pictures, home movies, newspaper clippings, and audio recordings
featuring Montgomery. The film devotes a lot of time to this obsession. It
makes sense that Robert would want to mention his father. He certainly
influenced the movie. But so much detail slows down the narrative and the focus
is taken away from Montgomery. It all could have been trimmed down more.
I felt like I walked out of Making with a better
understanding of who Montgomery was as a person. And, it definitely made me
side-eye previous reports about him. In a voice-over, Robert speaks of wanting
to give back the dignity that past tabloid tales took away from his uncle. I
think he definitely achieves his goal with this film.
Midnight Cowboy is celebrating it’s 50th
Anniversary this year. Despite being a half a century old, though, it holds up.
I think that’s mainly because the heart of John Schlesinger’s Oscar winning movie
is a friendship. An unlikely one. One that starts off on the wrong foot, with a
lie. But in the end, it’s the only thing that really matters. Jon Voight and
Dustin Hoffman deliver terrific performances as two outcasts who find some sort
of solace with one another.
Joe Buck (Voight), a virile young man in a small Texas town,
heads to New York to make it as a hustler. Not exactly #careergoals, but that’s
his dream. He’s going to service rich Park Avenue ladies and make a fortune. So,
he quits his dishwasher job at the local diner and hops on a bus for NYC.
What’s interesting is how optimistic and joyful he is about this move. He just
knows everything is going to turn out his way. He’s young, good looking,
dressed like a cowboy, and can make love for hours. It just occurred to me that
this could be the premise for a porn flick. No wonder this film was rated X. Anyways,
things don’t go quite as planned for Joe. And his hustling career gets off to
the rocky start.
Meeting Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman) doesn’t help things. Ratso is
the complete opposite of Joe. Unattractive, sickly, and run down. Compared to
hopeful Joe, Ratso is jaded and hardened. He doesn’t see any opportunity in NYC.
Not unless he’s conning it out of someone. Poor naïve Joe doesn’t see the con
coming. Ratso promises to introduce him to
a man who can basically be his pimp. The intro comes for a fee of course. The
pimp turns out to be a crazed religious fanatic who scares the hell out of Joe.
And the audience. Soon after Joe hasn’t made any progress with his hustling. He
ends up broke, kicked out of his hotel, and desperate. So desperate that he
picks up a gay man and allows the guy to give him a blow job. Since Joe has the
worst luck, it turns out the john has no money to pay him. Always ask for the
cash up front, man.
Enter Ratso…again. Joe runs into the con man and basically
wants to beat the crap out of him. Ratso doesn’t have his money, but he can
offer a place to live. In a condemned building. Joe can’t be choosy and accepts.
Ratso isn’t just trying to avoid a beating with this invitation. He doesn’t
want to be alone. Even though he barely knows Joe, he’s somebody. And Joe is
probably thinking the same. Ratso even offers to be Joe’s pimp. During this
time the two get to know each other more as they struggle to get by. They get
into a debate about Joe’s cowboy getup. Ratso thinks the look is stupid. Joe
defends his clothes and says they make him feel good. I like the vulnerability
Voight shows in this scene. Later in the film, Ratso and Joe break into a shoe
shine stand. Ratso shines Joes shoes and talks about how his father had this
same job for years until it basically killed him. Ratso is determined not to go
out like that. There’s another great sequence with the pair dancing around
their icy apartment to keep warm. They’re listening to a jingle on Joe’s
beloved radio. The one he’s had with him throughout the film. They dance all
the way to the pawn shop where he sells it. It’s depressing, but necessary for
their survival. On a sunnier note, one
of my favorite JoeRat (just made that up) scenes is when Ratso daydreams about
moving to Florida with Joe and hitting it big with the rich ladies down there.
Seeing the two of them frolicking on the beach is worth the price of admission
alone. It’s manic and weird and wonderful.
After a random encounter takes them to a crazy Warholesque
party, things take a turn. Not so good for Ratso, who is getting sick and takes
a header down a flight of stairs. But Joe ends up meeting Shirley (Brenda
Vaccaro), a rich woman who wants to sleep with him. And pay! I’ll skip over the
erotic cribbage game and get to Shirly offering to introduce Joe to her friends
who also want to partake in his services. His luck is finally turning around.
Well it was for a second. Joe gets back home to find Ratso
is deathly ill. He can’t even walk, but he refuses to go to the hospital.
Instead, he begs Joe to get him to Florida. Hoffman does an amazing job of
conveying Ratso’s dread and weakness in this scene. The hardness he had is
gone. After a disturbing encounter where Joe beats and robs a john, he and
Ratso board a bus to Florida. They’re off to a brand-new life. And then Ratso
dies on the bus. It’s heartbreaking. They were so close to finally winning. The
bus driver says they’ll carry on since there’s nothing they can do for him. Joe
puts his arm around Ratso, holding him. It’s an incredibly sad and sweet moment.
The film ends with an amazing shot, looking in thru the bus window at the two
friends in their final moment together.
Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin” is the perfect
soundtrack to this story. As beautiful and haunting as the scenes it accompanies.