Venus (2006)

Venus_ver2“God, he was gorgeous.”

When the waitress looks at the image in the obituary, she’s talking about Maurice Russell, but for all intent and purposes, she might as well be talking about Peter O’Toole. In some ways, they’re one in the same. He certainly was a ruggedly handsome young man with piercing blue eyes. Certainly capable and epic enough to play the inscrutable title character in Lawrence of Arabia. But his life had as much turmoil as it did success. O’Toole in his present incarnation looks wrinkled, perpetually tired, and dare I say, somewhat decrepit. It’s not just the fact that he is so many years older, but his life was a hard one involving heavy drinking and many related health issues.  In many ways, it was a miracle he was still alive, but the fact is he persevered and gave us Venus.

I must admit the idea of Venus intrigued me perhaps more than the actual film. Here we have O’Toole, arguably one of the greatest actors ever to come out of the British Isles, playing a version of himself well into his 70s. The opportunities abound for reminiscing and deep soul searching as he looks back at the life he has led. Pair him with another British star like Leslie Phillips and the chance for fun little moments between two old pros seems all the more likely. And Venus is a bit like this; certainly boasting moments of immense depth of character, sadness, and emotional sequences.

However, I had some trouble parsing through the other side of aging star Maurice Russell (O’Toole). In many ways, he just looks like a dirty old man. The assumptions begin when he begins to make small talk with Ian’s (Phillips) grandniece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), who isn’t too keen on living with her great uncle. But a sort of dysfunctional friendship forms thereafter. Maurice gets immense vigor out of spending time around Jessie, who he encourages to model, buys clothes for, and takes out for drinks. But as he deals with his illnesses and ailments, he also seems to have a deep desire to be close to her, bequeathing her the name Venus, the goddess of love, after taking her to his favorite piece in the National Gallery.

However, this symbiotic relationship that they build at times feels excruciatingly uncomfortable and it turns destructive more than once as they have one falling out after another. If you put aside a few scenes of awkwardness — Venus really does have goodness to offer — you just have to be patient. In fact, perhaps Maurice is not dirty-minded but is greatly enraptured by beauty. He notes the most beautiful thing a mortal man can ever see is a woman’s body. But when asked about the woman’s perspective, he candidly replies that their first child is the most beautiful thing they could ever imagine.

I am quickly reminded of the moment where the two old-timers begin to wander the halls of the church acknowledging plaques inscribed with the names of Boris Karloff, Robert Shaw, Laurence Harvey, and Richard Beckinsdale among others. They must come to terms with the fact that someday they too will be up there, but for right now they resign themselves to dancing joyously together. There’s another moment when Maurice drops in on his ex-wife played by a genial Vanessa Redgrave, who has long forgiven him for the hell he put her through. Now as the years have gone by, they have become friends once more, and there is an earnestness in Maurice because he knows he might not be around much longer. Finally, the film comes full circle returning to the tranquil shores in Kent, where it all began, and Maurice is reconciled with Jessie as he feels the water between his toes one last time. His work here is done. R.I.P. Peter O’Toole. You were a true romantic of Shakespearian stature.

3.5/5 Stars

Ratatouille (2007)

RatatouillePosterOnly Pixar could make me empathize with a rat, and they did it with true style and sensitivity like they have done many times before. Ratatouille is often a forgotten classic that I easily forget in a repertoire that boasts such modern masterpieces as Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and of course the Toy Story trilogy. However, Brad Bird’s tale of a gifted rodent and a hapless chef deserves to get its just desserts too and so I will attempt to do that now.

As was already hinted at, Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a very unique rat, because he has an incredibly sensitive palette thanks to an impeccable sense of smell. He cannot stand digging through the trash heaps like his brother Emile and he has higher aspirations than his single-minded father. One day Remy comes across the revelation of mixing foods and flavors in a culinary epiphany. His family doesn’t quite understand his more cultured aspects (walking upright, reading, cooking, etc.), and it ultimately gets him into trouble.

He winds up in none other than Paris and sitting on a rooftop he sees his own personal Mecca. The restaurant of Gusteau (Brad Garret), the man who famously said that anyone can cook before he was taken down by pernicious food critique Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole). After his tragic death, Gusteau’s lost two of its stars and that’s right about where a young man named Linguini (Lou Romano)  comes in.

He’s a bumbling nobody with little talent and only a note from his deceased mother vouching for his character. The incumbent tyrant of a chef (Ian Holm) reluctantly gives him a job as a wash boy which he barely is able to perform. In a fateful moment, he ruins a soup and Remy drops in to salvage the dish. Now after an initial berating, great things are expected of Linguini after a critic loves his new dish. Skinner suspects something is up.

In this predicament with nowhere to turn, Linguini looks to this little chef, and Remy decides to help him. Thus, begins the strangest of symbiotic relationships as Remy learns to control Linguini who acts as the front for the artistic genius who just happens to be a rat. For a while, it works really well. They keep Remy hidden under Linguini’s hat while also keeping Skinner constantly delusional with visions of rats.

Then, success continues to come Linguini’s way. Thanks to Remy the restaurant is a hot spot once more, he gets the girl Colette, and he has become the main attraction at Gusteau’s displacing Skinner. But it gets to his head a little too much, and he and Remy part ways.

The big night of Anton Ego’s return to Gusteau’s is fast approaching and the culinary dream team is no more. Once again Linguini is lost without his culinary partner. But the ever faithful Remy gets the support of his family and returns to the kitchen to aspire to his dreams. Linguini also finally has the courage, to tell the truth which ultimately loses him the respect of his staff.

However, Remy and Linguini both learn something about family and relationships, realizing the need to be who they are. In a brilliant stroke of genius, the ever resourceful Remy makes a simple yet elegant Ratatoullie. Everyone expects the disdain of Ego and yet it never comes. You see Ego also learns something about himself. Upon seeing the mind behind the dish that took him back to his early years, he remains pensive for once. He finally understands the wisdom in Gusteau’s simple adage.

The voice talents of this film are obviously wonderful, from the impeccably-casted Patton Oswalt to Brad Garrett as the jolly Gusteau and Peter Sohn as rollie-pollie Emile. However, I want to focus specifically on the late great Peter O’Toole.

It is rather extraordinary that just before seeing this film again, I took in How to Steal a Millionaire. It too is set in Paris, involves deception, and has its share of drama. Featured in that film is a younger O’Toole, handsome, blue-eyed and far from world-wearied. But the reality is, he had a hard life and you can hear it in his wonderfully Shakespearian, but still noticeably older voice. He brings such a wonderful lineage to this film, and he turns in one of his great roles. Peter O’Toole was part of a dying breed of theater-trained actors who will be greatly missed for their tour de force performances.  But once again many thanks to Pixar for doing the impossible. In some weird, disgusting way I love rats now.

4.5/5 Stars

“In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.” – Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego

How to Steal a Million (1965)

220px-HowtostealamillionHonestly, the main attraction of this film is its leads in Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole as well as its director, the great William Wyler. Otherwise, this film is a fluffy, silly caper comedy with a touch of drama. It falls somewhere in between a rom-com and an art heist film where everyone in Paris speaks English. Go figure.

Nicole Bonnet’s (Hepburn) father Charles is a master forger of all types of art which he supplements his own vast collection with. Many of his pieces have been sold for a pretty penny at auction, and he has yet to be found out.

He loans out a family heirloom, Cellini’s Venus, to a local Parisian museum for a large exhibition. Meanwhile, Nicole catches someone in the act of burglary and it ends up being a handsome young gentleman (Peter O’Toole).  She is given a fright but ultimately is taken by the man who hardly seems the thieving type. She lets him go without calling the police even giving him a ride home.

Eventually, they cross paths again and she recruits him to help her steal Cellini’s Venus from the museum. She doesn’t tell him why, but she has her reasons and he willingly obliges. It’s all good fun after all.

The caper scenes are no more harrowing than the rest of the film. In fact, it gives the perfect setting for more comedy as the two burglars get locked in a broom closet together after closing time, while also repeatedly setting off the alarm. But it’s all part of the man’s plan, because, after all, he’s a professional. And their plan works. They get away with the statue and the following day the news spreads like wildfire.

In the end, Nicole finds out that Simon Dermott is actually a private eye specializing in art and criminology. He’s no thief and so this was his first heist too. She thinks she’s in for it now, but they’re too in love for that to matter. He explains himself to Mr. Bonnet who reluctantly agrees to end his forgery career on top.

The two lovebirds drive off madcap down the streets of Paris with a beautiful life ahead of them. There’s not much else to say except Hepburn and O’Toole are fun together, while the score of a young John Williams has a recognizable bounciness. Hugh Griffin seems slightly miscast to be Hepburn’s father, and the film is far from pulse-pounding, but these small facts do not negate from its overall charm.

3.5/5 Stars

The Lion in Winter (1968)

ae367-lion_in_winter1The year is 1183 and the castle of King Henry II is a dark and dank place during the winter months. You would not think so by the opening moments where an energetic King (Peter O’Toole) duels his young boy John (Nigel Terry). His mistress takes in the scene from afar. On first glance, this whole scenario seems pleasant enough, but that would be far from the truth.

Young John is the King’s favorite, but his aged yet cunning wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn) has a special affection for the eldest brother Richard (Anthony Hopkins), who she desires to take the throne. Stuck between the two favorites is middle child Geoffrey (John Castle), who has plans of his own. Bring the French King Phillip II (Timothy Dalton) into the equation and the situation becomes even messier than before. What follows is an elaborate web of lies, deceptions, side deals, false motives, eavesdropping, and of course backstabbing. Henry and Eleanor constantly battle back and forth as their sons bicker among themselves. One big unhappy family to be sure.
Henry tries to marry off his mistress (Jane Merrow) to Richard to satisfy King Phillip, but his son will not have it. Next, Henry tries to compromise with Phillip only to learn that his sons were planning to gang up against him. Now he cannot trust any of them, and they find themselves in the dungeon. He makes a new plan to get remarried to his mistress so that he might have another son to be king, but his other sons will be a threat so long as they live. His dilemma is evident, but he cannot bear to kill them. Things seem to go back to the way they always were with Eleanor going back behind bars and Henry playfully barking at her. All’s well that ends well perhaps.

Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn were certainly two titans in this film. O’Toole, whether he is roaring or confiding in his former love, does everything with purpose and bravado. He does show his soft, vulnerable underbelly at times, though, as a man advanced in years. Hepburn on her part is absolutely acerbic, oftentimes governing the tone of the film with her barbs and snide comments. And yet with her, there is also at least a few instances of true humanity. She and Henry seem to be made for each other and their boys are seemingly just as loathsome and underhanded.

4/5 Stars


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

A film of truly epic proportions, in length, scenery, and brilliance, Lawrence of Arabia is essential cinema. Peter O’Toole delivers a stellar performance as T.E. Lawrence, a British soldier during World War I. The movie begins with his death from a motorcycle crash, which gives an early glimpse of the character.

Then, a flashback goes to his time in Arabia where his task was to unite the Arab tribes, and lead them in rebellion against the enemy so the British might win. Against the better judgment of his commanding officer, a Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau suggests Lawrence be sent to assess the possibility of an Arab revolt against the Turks. Lawrence heads with his guide to pay a visit to Prince Faisal. However, his guide is shot by another man and Lawrence resolves to make the journey alone. Their paths cross again in the camp of Faisal. There Lawrence interests the Prince because his ideas are far different from his commanding officer.

Showcasing his audaciousness Lawrence suggests a bold attack on Acaba which would allow the British to bring in supplies. He leads a group of men across the brutal desert knowing that this will be less expected. Sheriff Ali (Omar Sharif) doubts it will work and disapproves that Lawrence takes two young outcasts as his servants. It is later during the journey that Lawrence truly wins over the other men, including Ali, because he is relentless, even going back for a lost straggler. With some luck, Lawrence is able to gain the help of Auda Abu Tayi, but it is not without tension. Ultimately, his forces are able to take out the Turks, and Lawrence heads back to Cairo to relay his progress. However, on the way back he must struggle with the loss of a servant and the guilt of executing a man.

Lawrence is sent back to Arabia and there he leads his forces in guerrilla operations against the Turkish railroads. His exploits are documented by an American newsman, and by this point, he has become a mythical hero among his followers. However, after going to scout a town the seemingly invincible Lawrence is ultimately flogged and tortured, leaving him a broken shell of a man. He insists on leaving Arabia but his new commander, General Allenby orders him back for one final push towards Damascus.

This final mission sees a change in Lawrence, who has hired killers and missionaries to help him in his siege. Against the better judgment of Sherif Ali, Lawrence leads a massacre of Turks as they move onward. He takes Damascus, but his fragmented counsel of Arabs are unable to unite, and the city is given back to the English. Major Lawrence is promoted once more to Colonel, and then gets shipped home because his services are no longer necessary.

This is one of those films you want to see on the big screen because the scenery and cinematography is just that impressive by itself. David Lean had a skill at making epics, and this is perhaps his masterpiece. The desert is often stark and desolate, and yet striking in the same instance. The expanse of space that is viewed in a single shot is often mind-blowing. A human being on the horizon is hardly a speck, and the ever-present camels are hardly any more substantial. To complement these grand images is an equally magnificent score by Maurice Jarre, complete with overture and all. The cast must be mentioned too with such supporting stars as Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, and Anthony Quayle.

Then, of course, there is the man who played Lawrence. As portrayed so wonderfully by Peter O’Toole, Lawrence is an intelligent and, at times, arrogant man, who can be odd, distant, audacious, and also unscrupulous. That being said, he was an extraordinary man who was a mover and a leader of men. A very unique, at times controversial, and long unheralded man, who contributed to the war effort in a far different way.  In many ways, he was an adopted brother to the Arabs, and their country was also his. He was “Lawrence of Arabia.”

5/5 Stars