Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004). Mike Nichols’ first film as a director was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (see below), which got the audience’s attention in part by giving us Elizabeth Taylor, at the time 34 years old and one of the most beautiful women in the world, puffed up by 30 pounds, playing a much older character, drinking way too much and emasculating her husband in front of others. It was harder to shock audiences in 2004, so we get Julia Roberts saying she likes it when Jude Law’s characters comes on her character’s face. Closer isn’t quite as focused as Woolf ... while the latter features one couple battling each other in front of a second couple, with one cross-couple attempt at sex, in Closer, Dan and Alice are a couple, then Dan and Larry have cybersex without knowing who the other is, Larry and Anna become a couple and then marry, Dan and Anna become a couple on the sly, then openly, Anna sleeps with Larry one last time, Dan gets pissed, Anna goes back to Larry, Alice (remember her?) goes back with Dan, but by then she had slept with Larry, and at the end, we find that Alice’s name was really Jane. It’s enough to make one yearn for the simpler times of George and Martha. Some of the dialogue is cutting, and the actors give their all (besides Roberts, there is Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen). Roger Ebert loved it, drawing particular attention to how articulate the characters are. I found everything rather tiresome. #832 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 6/10.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966). Nichols’ debut won five Oscars, including Best Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Best Supporting Actress Sandy Dennis (Richard Burton and George Segal got nominations, as did Nichols ... there were 13 in all, Best Picture among them). The actors all seem to be trying just a bit too hard, with the possible exception of Segal, and Nichols (and Haskell Wexler, who picked up the Oscar for Best B&W Cinematography) pulls a reverse on the usual trick of “opening up” a play for the screen. Instead, Nichols fills the screen with close-up after close-up, as if seeing the pores on Liz’s face will convince us she’s really acting. Which is unfair ... everyone pulls their weight here, and no one embarrasses themselves. If it gives a bit of “much ado about nothing” after all these years, a decent fire remains. Try as they might, though, this isn’t anywhere near the level of A Streetcar Named Desire. #695 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. For a companion to either of these movies, try Wit, yet another play adaptation from Nichols, but much better than the above.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005). I’m in a hurry, and this movie doesn’t deserve much of my time, anyway. Black is very bright and is happy to show off, Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan are game for anything, and so fucking what. #739 on the TSPDT list of the top films of the 21st century. If you figure out why, keep it to yourself. 5/10.