TIME movies

Al-lelujah! A Pacino Double Feature at Venice

Al Pacino in The Humbling Allstar/Millenium Films

The veteran star plays two versions of a deposed king in Manglehorn and The Humbling

Al Pacino is still at it. At 74, four decades after the first two Godfather films, and more than a decade since his last starring role in even a minor hit (2003’s The Recruit), he remains eager for work. Any job that requires his surly majesty, in movies of modest budgets or minimal artistry, is an offer he can’t refuse. Last year he played a deranged version of himself, wandering off into the faux-reality of his most famous characters, in the Adam Sandler comedy Jack and Jill. Al Pacino and Adam Sandler! Michael Corleone would give them both the fatal kiss of dismissal.

Yet Pacino’s unflagging search for good roles makes him an endearing figure, especially at the Venice Film Festival, where three years ago he presented his finest recent work. Wilde Salome is a documentary of his stage production of the Oscar Wilde play (starring Jessica Chastain, in her first film work, as Salome), with charming side trips into Wilde’s biography. On opening night, the star charmed the audience with an impromptu monologue, some of it in Italian. The film never secured a theatrical release and, despite Pacino’s lingering star quality, it never played another film festival.

(READ: How Pacino wowed ‘em at Venice with Wilde Salome)

Venice, which is loyal to its favorite directors and stars, has brought Pacino back for a double feature tonight: Barry Levinson’s The Humbling and David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn. Each of his directors could use a hit, even a succès d’estime, as much as their star: Levinson’s last film in theaters, The Bay, grossed a total of $30,668; and Green’s Joe, which premiered at Venice last year, fell short of $400,000. A generation apart, the filmmakers deserve a break, especially when teaming with the bantam battler Pacino.

“Crazy emperors sort of work for me,” Pacino said about his Herod in Wilde Salome. That’s the role he’s played forever — either raging violently or sinking into monarchial despair — and gets to reprise in tonight’s films. In Green’s film he’s A.J. Manglehorn, a locksmith still pining over an affair he had a decade earlier with a woman named Clara; he still writes daily letters to his lost love. That leaves him little emotional energy to expend on his businessman son (Chris Messina), his tanning-salon friend (Harmony Korine) or the nice lady at the bank (Holly Hunter) who’s interested in pursuing a relationship but whose flirtation skills have rusted over: her conversation ascends quickly from “I like your shirt” to “Let’s take a bath together.”

Each of the main supporting character gets two big scenes — one edgy, one friendly — while Manglehorn lavishes what’s left of his love on his cat Fanny and his granddaughter Kylie (Skylar Gasper). This pensive, logy movie veers occasionally into magic realism: a couple (Tim Curry and Monica Lewis) singing the hymn “Love Lifted Me” when they meet at the bank; a mime who offers Manglehorn a special key to the film’s resolution. The rest, with Pacino in pensive mode as a deposed king of the heart, never reaches the tenderness or intensity of Green’s work with Nicolas Cage in Joe.

(READ: Corliss on Joe at the 2013 Venice Film Festival)

In The Humbling, based on Philip Roth’s 2009 novella, he’s Simon Axler, once among the greatest stars of the classical stage, who has lost his mojo, finding himself incapable of a powerful or even coherent performance, and resolved to end the fear and shame by killing himself. As Simon says in the book, “Suicide is the role you write for yourself. You inhabit it and you act it. All carefully staged — where they will find you and how they will find you. But one performance only.” One thinks of Robin Williams, who staged his last great scene with his death earlier this month.

(READ: TIME’s cover story on Robin Williams’ life and death)

Levinson, who directed Williams in Good Morning Vietnam, Toys and Man of the Year, also directed Pacino as Jack Kevorkian — the doctor who allowed his patients to achieve a calming form of suicide — in the 2010 TV movie You Don’t Know Jack. Simon could have used Kevorkian, since he is incapable of pulling off even his own last curtain call. He has kept a shotgun in his Connecticut retreat, even though “I’m not a gun person,” as a tribute to Hemingway. Yet when the big moment comes, he can’t quite reach the trigger. (“Hemingway must have had longer arms.”) The failure sends him to a psychiatric residence, where a woman (Nina Arianda) whose husband sexually violated their eight-year-old daughter begs Simon to shoot the brute dead. Can a man who botched his own death be persuaded to kill someone else?

The Humbling could pass as a love story: Simon has a twilight affair with Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), a woman half his age whose actor parents (Dianne Wiest and Dan Hedaya) were once Simon’s close friends. Pegeen is taking a break from 17 years as a lesbian to act out her childhood crush on Simon, but her adventurous sexual appetite abrades against Simon’s erotic conservatism.

But this is a movie less about the death of love and more in love with death. Having the 72-year-old Levinson directing a screen adaptation by the 83-yar-old Buck Henry of a novel that Roth published when he was 78 almost guarantees an old man’s meditation on dying as the final act in life’s tragicomedy. Will it be played the second time as farce or as great escape? Simon’s affair with Pegeen was a test to determine if life is worth living. Like Michael Keaton’s desperate, aging actor Riggan Thomson in Birdman, which opened the Venice festival on Wed. and is playing at Telluride this weekend, Simon makes his ultimate grand gestures on the Broadway stage — Riggin as a Raymond Carver character, Simon as King Lear.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Birdman)

With mixed results, Levinson juggles the awful and the amusing aspects of Simon’s life; The Humbling shifts without warning from tales of horror to deadpan comedy, until the ending, when Pacino, the street kid who loves Shakespeare, gets to play the Bard’s maddest monarch and achieves a trace of tragic grandeur. In the unlikely event that this Al Pacino double bill plays at a theater near you, see both films, and decide which Al sinks into your soul.

TIME movies

REVIEW: Spider-Man Has a Housing Crisis in 99 Homes

Hooman Bahrani

Andrew Garfield as a displaced home owner finds a shady mentor in Michael Shannon in this fiery social parable

A man slouches on his bathroom toilet, dead from a gunshot wound, on the day he and his family are to be evicted from their Orlando home for overdue mortgage payments. The bloody scene doesn’t faze Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a skilled, amoral repo man designated by the banks to take over forfeited homes. Joking that the man killed himself because he ordered pizza and his wife wanted Chinese, Carver brusquely instructs his gang to clean up the place, to escort the dead man’s survivors outside and dump their possessions onto the front lawn. Trespassers in their own home, the family has an hour to clear up and clear out.

This three- or four-minute shot opens 99 Homes with cool, brutal elegance. Set in 2010, Ramin Bahrani’s sharp drama, which has its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and will play this weekend at the Telluride festival, casts the recent and lingering housing crisis as a tense social parable of the domineering one percent and the imperiled 99. Much more cogent and coherent than Bahrani’s At Any Price, which investigated the ethical dilemma of a farmer driven to corruption, the new movie sets up a Faustian bargain with the Mephistopehelia Carver. His Faust is Dennis Nash, played by Andrew Garfield. Mothballing his Spider-Man Spandex, Garfield slips into the skin of a dispossessed tradesman who can save his family only by learning, and perhaps joining, the forces of evil.

Dennis, his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and his son Connor (Noah Lomax) are among Carver’s eviction victims, forced to move everything they still own into a small room in a motel packed with the dispossessed. To earn desperately needed money, and with the hope of repurchasing his home, he goes to work for Carver — first as a day laborer literally sweeping up the shit from a backed-up toilet, then as his boss’s mentor and executioner. Think of It’s a Wonderful Life, and imagine that, to get his home back, Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey had gone to work for Lionel Barrymore’s evil Mr. Potter. Then think of 99 Homes as a social parable in Exorcist terms: Can Dennis learn the brutal details of repossessing homes without letting the demon Carver possess his tender soul?

Somebody had to profit from the Great Recession that forced millions from their homes, and Carver is one of them. You could call him a vulture circling the carcass of the American dream of home ownership; he’d say he’s pursuing a (mostly) legal business, to which he applies a coroner’s dispassion and icy skill. Another unpaid mortgage, even if it leads to a man’s suicide, means another job for him. “Don’t get emotional about real estate,” he says. “They all got a sob story, but the law’s the law.” One might agree with Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, that “If the law supposes that… the law is a ass — a idiot.”

A spiritual cousin to the sensitive, fretful young men Garfield played in The Social Network, Never Let Me Go and The Amazing Spider-Man, Dennis at first doesn’t have the patter down when he knocks on doors to evict homeowners. He apologizes for, doesn’t command, the situation; and unlike Carver, he is loath to make eye contact with his marks. But he’s smart, and knows that making good money often requires a soiled conscience. He’s a bit like Eddie, the debt-ridden gambler in the 2008 Vegas: Based on a True Story (also shown at Venice, and directed by 99 Homes co-scripter Amir Naderi), who is told that robbers may have buried $1 million in his highly mortgaged property. As Eddie went prospecting for gold in his own backyard, so Dennis tries to reclaim his own home by throwing people just like him out of theirs.

Beginning and ending with a forlorn man’s gunplay, the movie sometimes uses the blunt tools of melodrama to make its points; and Garfield can get adolescently dewy in skirmishes with his Manichan mentor. But it’s a great showcase for Shannon, who magnetizes all eyes, like a cobra in the corner. “America doesn’t bail out losers,” he says. “America bails out winners.” Shannon as actor and Carver as charismatic scoundrel are winners, and neither needs a government bailout to possess every minute of 99 Homes.

TIME movies

Birdman at Venice: Can an Ex-Superhero Still Fly?

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman. Alison Rosa—Fox Searchlight

Michael Keaton has superhero issues in director Alejandro G. Iñárritu's impressive technical accomplishment

Riggin Thomson (Michael Keaton), who long ago played the movie superhero Birdman but now is struggling to be taken seriously as a New York stage actor, listens to the old comic-book voice in his head and miraculously takes flight on a Broadway side street. “There you go, motherf—er,” the Birdman voice growls triumphantly. “Gravity doesn’t apply to you.”

It does apply, a little, to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), the odd and oddly punctuated title of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s new comedy-fantasy that opens the 2014 Venice Film Festival tonight. Last year’s Venice opener was Gravity, directed and co-written by Iñárritu’s Mexican amigo Alfonso Cuarón, and photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki in sumptuous long takes, including the astounding 13-minute first shot. The director and his cinematographer both earned Oscars for their work, but the challenge they set for themselves was almost child’s play compared with the game that Iñárritu and Lubezki play here: to make virtually the whole movie look as if it were realized in one two-hour take.

Gravity upped its degree of difficulty with a cast of two (make that one). Birdman, which takes place in the week or so leading up to the opening of Riggin’s Broadway debut in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” has seven major characters running and snarling through the caverns of the St. James Theatre: Riggin and his costars Lesley (Naomi Watts), Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and Mike (Edward Norton), plus Riggin’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis). An eighth, the corrosive Times critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), waits for opening night to pounce on Riggin and write a review that would kill his play, because its success would underline Hollywood’s dark power over immaculate, endangered Broadway.

In his first bloom, when he was known as Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director collaborated with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga on three features —Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel — that wove a dozen or more fates, interlocking across a city or around the world. In Birdman , written by Iñárritu, the Argentinians Nicolas Giacobone and Armando Bo and New York playwright Alexander Dinelaris Jr., all the characters are cramped together inside the St. James, or wandering a block or two outside, united by space but separated by their individual needs. As theater creates an impromptu family of brilliant invalids, Birdman brings that theatrical unity to movies, which usually have 600 to 1,000 shots.

No question that Birdman is a breathtaking technical achievement, not a stunt. Shot in 30 days after a long rehearsal period, with the actors’ and the camera’s movements calibrated to the inch and the millisecond so the action flows smoothly, the picture has the jagged energy of a long guerrilla raid choreographed by Bob Fosse. In Gravity, Cuarón worked wonders with a solitary Sandra Bullock and the green screen behind her. Birdman has the aspect of naturalism: scenes lasting 10 minutes or more (edited together with invisible transitions) demand that a couple dozen performers and technicians all be in perfect synch. It’s a precision ballet whose most impressive effect is that it plays out like real theatrical life.

That life echoes other backstage dramas. The rivalry of Riggin and Mike suggests a man’s-world All About Eve. Charlie Kaufman’s insanely ambitious Synecdoche, New York investigated the same notion that the agony of putting on a show can seem like a military siege or a fatal sickness. For the movie versions of the creative and personal pressures, from actors, producers and ex-wives, that lead their directors to the brink of suicide, look no further than Federico Fellini’s 8-1/2 and Fosse’s All That Jazz. (Albert Wolsky, who created the costumes for All That Jazz, is on board here; he designed everything but the scaly, superb Birdman costume, which was the work of Mike Elizalde.)

And like any clever inside-showbiz satire, Birdman exploits its stars’ biographies. A quarter-century ago, Keaton segued from the title role of the demon in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice to the caped crusader in Burton’s two Batman movies, before leaving the Caped Crusader for a somewhat diminished career as a character actor. Norton, making the most of his gaudy role as a crazy-great stage actor, may dismiss popularity as “the slutty little cousin of prestige,” but he did a turn as Marvel’s Incredible Hulk; and Stone is fresh off two installments of The Amazing Spider-Man. Riggin has a nightmare in which he’s on a flight with George Clooney (a later Batman, as well as Bullock’s Gravity costar), and after the plane crashes the headlines mention only Clooney. Riggin’s nagging Birdman alter ego also dismisses the Iron Man work of Robert Downey Jr., saying, “That clown doesn’t have half your talent, and he’s making a fortune in that Tin Man outfit.”

That attitude could be Riggin’s sour grapes — the snobbery-envy of serious actors who aren’t in superhero movies toward the serious actors who are. But it fits with his decades-behind-the-curve view of all things digital. His neglected daughter Sam, just out of rehab and helping Riggin with the show, tells him, “You hate bloggers, you’re scared of Twitter, you don’t even have a Facebook page. You Don’t Exist.” In Birdman’s skewed comic vision, Riggin can succeed only by outlandish public embarrassment: a walk through Times Square clad only in his underpants, which gets him 300,000 social-media views in an hour, or a more explosive accident onstage.

Through Riggin’s eyes, the movie sees journalists as parasites, either pompous (quoting Roland Barthes) or gossipy (asking the actor to comment on an online report that he uses baby pig semen as a youthening agent). He agrees with Flaubert’s comment that “A man becomes a critic when he cannot be an artist, as a man becomes an informant when he cannot be a soldier.” His biases are justified when the Times critic warns him she’ll be showing up on opening night to eviscerate the production. (Flash: Theater critics see plays a day or more before the official premiere, so their reviews can appear on opening night. And they would be fired if their bosses learned they had threatened an actor with a pan, especially before seeing his play.)

When not focusing on Riggin, Birdman admits for some cogent backstage alliances and dalliances. Norton’s Mike can come to erotic life only when on stage, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Watts’s Lesley. (“You can’t get it up for six months, and now you want to f— me in front of 800 strangers?”) Later he plays a sexy round of Truth or Dare with Sam on the roof of the St. James. Lesley also gets a brief bond when Laura suddenly kisses her. “What are you doing?” she asks, and Laura shrugs, “Nothing.” Lesley says, “Do it again.” The movie is full of little nothings that can add up to something special.

That something starts with Keaton. Now 62, his face crisscrossed with lifelines, the actor uses the weariness of age more than his manic Beetlejuice energy. His Riggin, playing a Carver character that he calls “a deranged, deformed version of myself” (even as Riggin is of Keaton), seems ready to sag into defeat, not ascend into madness. Yet the star’s performance is the compass that guides all the actors who must play off him in their fiendishly compressed and extended moments. Birdman represents not just Keaton’s fictional apologia but also his defiant, nearly heroic comeback.

Finally, the Gravity comparison is unfair. The Cuarón film launched audiences into a stratosphere of emotions; Birdman is grounded by everyday worries. It’s a comedy, after all — one that takes its ex-hero’s career and personal anxieties and makes them fly high.

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Remembering Richard Attenborough, the Man Behind Gandhi

Richard Attenborough
NBC/Getty Images

Sir Dickie, as he was widely known and loved, directed many a sprawling epic — but his signal gift was as an actor of bold, powerful and often creepy range

When Richard Attenborough was a teenager in 1939, his parents wanted to adopt two German Jewish girls fleeing the Third Reich. His mother Mary presented the option to Richard and his two brothers, telling them it was the right thing to do but that the decision was “entirely up to you, darlings.” Of course, the boys said yes.

For the rest of his long, accomplished life, Attenborough used the same coaxing charm to get what he wanted from producers, actors and audiences. “Attenborough was an old-school British film mogul who nailed down huge funding or casting decisions over a good lunch,” Peter Bradshaw wrote in the Guardian. “When he started work on Gandhi in the 1960s, he simply got Mountbatten [Prince Philip's uncle] to introduce him to Nehru [India's first Prime Minister] and took things from there.” At the end of his 20-year campaign to make the movie, he charmed the Motion Picture Academy into giving his grand, stodgy biopic Oscars for Best Picture and Director over another, far superior movie about a strong, benign outsider: Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

(READ: Richard Schickel’s review of Gandhi by subscribing to TIME)

Attenborough, who died on Aug. 24 in London, five days before his 91st birthday, knew everyone, from assistants on movie sets to Princess Diana, whom at Prince Charles’ request he coached in public speaking, turning Shy Di into a figure of poised charisma. Diana — everyone — called him Dickie, or, as the official honors piled up, Sir Dickie or Lord Dickie. He had a name for them too: “darling,” his mother’s favorite endearment for her boys. “At my age,” he said in his later years, “the only problem is with remembering names. When I call everyone ‘darling,’ it has damn all to do with passionately adoring them, but I know I’m safe calling them that. Although, of course, I adore them too.”

The famously affable Attenborough had sworn off his 30-year acting career when he became a director, but Spielberg lured him back in front of the camera to play the entrepreneur John Hammond in the 1993 film of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. In the book, Hammond was a fiendish Frankenstein of capitalism, whose scientists had revived dinosaur species to stock his crackpot-genius idea of a prehistoric theme park. But Spielberg made Hammond a visionary with a kid’s reckless enthusiasm, and Attenborough portrayed him as a Santa Claus bringing kids presents — some of which want to eat their recipients. The following year, Attenborough was Kris Kringle in John Hughes’ remake of Miracle on 34th Street.

(READ: Richard Corliss on Attenborough in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park)

Cheerful beneficence may have been a family legacy: Mary Clegg Attenborough helped found the Marriage Guidance Council (now known as Relate), which dispensed sexual advice to those otherwise afraid of seeking it. Her husband Frederick was a don at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where Richard was born on Aug. 29, 1923. His youngest brother, John, who died in 2012, became an executive at Alfa Romeo; the middle brother is David Attenborough, the polymath host-producer of BBC science series. Richard and David shared an infectious intellectual enthusiasm and the gift for clarifying, perhaps simplifying, big ideas. But Richard was no scholar. He entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (for which he would eventually serve as president) and, after joining the Royal Air Force, was assigned to its film unit, having suffered permanent ear damage during test flights.

The curious and salutary aspect of Attenborough’s distinguished acting career, during World War II and for several decades afterward, is that he often played flawed, shady or malevolent characters. He was the cowardly sailor in his 1942 film debut, in Noël Coward and David Lean’s In Which We Serve, and the submarine seaman driven close to madness by claustrophobia in Morning Departure (1950). He used a British gunboat to smuggle wine and armaments in The Ship That Died of Shame (1955) and played an electronics expert who sold secrets to the Soviets in The League of Gentlemen (1960). The Attenborough smile may have crinkled into St. Nick benevolence in his 70s, but early on it was the chummy rictus of a man intent on taking your watch, your wife or your life.

His most notorious and revered early role was as Pinkie Brown, the 17-year-old crime boss in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock — first on the West End stage in 1944, when Attenborough was 20, and then in John and Roy Boulting’s film version three years later. Running a small gang in seaside Brighton, Pinkie shoves one man to his death from a haunted-house ride, pushes another off an upstairs landing in his rooming house and scars the face of a third with the straight razor he loves to fondle. Pinkie gets his own cheek slashed by the rival Colleoni gang — sounds like Corleone — and marries the innocent waitress Rose (Carol Marsh) just to keep her quiet or kill her. At her request he makes a recording to memorialize their affair. As Rose gazes lovingly through the booth window, he says, “What you want me to say is I love you. Here’s the truth: I hate ya, ya little slut. Ya make me sick.” When the law closes in, Pinkie nearly persuades the girl to take her own life in what he calls “a suicide pax. That’s Latin for peace.”

Turning his smooth, boyish face into a soulless mask and toying with a cat’s cradle of string like a killer’s rosary, suitable for strangling, Attenborough made Pinkie an indelible villain: the mobster as monster. “In those days,” he later recalled, “the character of Pinkie was a macabre novelty in British films. It was hard to understand how somebody like that would feel as he razor-slashed you, or as he told a girl to put a gun in her mouth to shoot herself. That is the kind of enormity I had to convey.” He did it brilliantly, without shouting invective or italicizing his evil. His glassy glance was a Medusa stare, its own mortal weapon.

Brighton Rock (named for a hard candy sold at the resort) was one of six films, in a wide range of tones, that Attenborough made for the Boulting twins. In the first, 1945’s Journey Together, he played an RAF cadet who must forsake his dream of piloting to become a navigator. In 1948’s The Guinea Pig (known as The Outsider in the U.S.), the 25-year-old convincingly played a 13-year-old working-class boy brought into a posh school as part of a social experiment. Later Boulting brothers films cast Attenborough playing his more familiar shifty persona, with harried upper-class twit Ian Carmichael as his comic foil. In Private Potter (1956) his character steals artworks captured by the Germans to sell them on the black market. In Brothers in Law (1958) he played a worldly-wise barrister with an eye for the ladies. And in the corrosive satire I’m All Right Jack (1959), he played a scurvy businessman who wants to peddle missiles to the Arabs.

By his 40s, Attenborough was a respected character actor with an adventurous taste in roles. He was the martinet who bends his own rules to save his men in Guns at Batasi (1964). He was a henpecked husband, either standing by his domineering wife (in 1964’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon) or murdering her (in 1962’s The Dock Brief, called Trial and Error in the U.S.). He was the practiced philanderer in the witty social comedies Only Two Can Play (1962) and A Severed Head (1971) and, most boldly, the serial killer John Christie — mousy of demeanor, ruthless of intent and execution — in 10 Rillington Place (1971). His Christie makes a perfect cinematic brother to the slick and just as sick Pinkie Brown.

But British films couldn’t contain Attenborough’s ambition. He broke into Hollywood with 1963’s The Great Escape — he was Bartlett, the brains of the operation that sprang Steve McQueen, James Garner and the rest from a Nazi stalag — and parlayed that blockbuster into important roles as World War II officers opposite James Stewart in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and McQueen again in The Sand Pebbles (1966). And then, having achieved international renown, he realized that what he really wanted to do was direct.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s tribute to James Garner)

His first film as director was his most audacious: Oh! What a Lovely War, an adaptation of Joan Littlewood’s bleak synoptic history of the Great War set to the songs soldiers sang as they marched to their mass deaths. The battlefield would be the focus or backdrop for many Attenborough films: World War I in Young Winston (a Churchill biopic) and In Love and War (Ernest Hemingway on the front lines), World War II in A Bridge Too Far and his last feature Closing the Ring. He documented the struggle for independence in India with Gandhi and South Africa with Cry Freedom — solidly liberal films of the furrowed middle brow that came to life with Attenborough’s inspired casting of the little-known Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma and the young Denzel Washington as Steve Biko.

Attenborough was carrying the epic torch brandished by David Lean, his first director, but without the spectacular visual acuity and understanding of obsessive personalities that elevated Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia to greatness. Lean was the movie poet, Attenborough the conscientious craftsman. And when deprived of Important Issues like war and death, he often stumbled. His film of A Chorus Line (1985) captured none of the original musical’s urgency; his 1992 Chaplin, despite an impressive performance by Robert Downey Jr., was a bloated catalog of the silent clown’s misfortunes with young women. Only the 1993 Shadowlands, with Anthony Hopkins as writer C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as the American poet he loves and tends through illness, found a pleasing balance of tone and emotional texture, of heart and ache.

(READ: Richard Corliss on Debra Winger in Attenborough’s Shadowlands)

No question, the man’s life was blessed and lucky. The Queen made him a knight in 1976 and a baron in 1993, which earned him a seat in the House of Lords (Labour, of course). And in 1952, as part of the original West End cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, he received a share of the profits of that play, still running in its 62nd year; he used what was left of that annuity to help finance Gandhi. But fate had some heartache in store. Attenborough’s eldest daughter, Jane, along with her daughter and mother-in-law, perished in the South Asian tsunami of Christmas 2004. Years later he said, “I can talk to people about Jane now, although sometimes I can’t get the words out. I can also see her. I can feel her touch. I can hear her coming into a room.”

Attenborough’s co-star in both The Mousetrap and The Guinea Pig was Sheila Sim, his wife since 1945. In 2012, after being diagnosed with senile dementia, she took residence in Denville Hall, the actors’ home that she and her husband had helped establish. Attenborough, who had outlived a stroke and coma in recent years but was severely incapacitated, moved into Denville Hall with his bride of 69 years.

Sim, now 92, survives Attenborough in the shadowlands. As for Lord Dickie, he may be charming a whole new stratum of celebrities. We imagine him rounding up a celestial cast for some new superproduction — but only if they want to. “Entirely up to you, darlings.”

TIME movies

REVIEW: Eva Green Is the Dame to Kill for in Sin City 2

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, from left: Eva Green Josh Brolin, 2014. ph: Rico Torres/©Dimension
From left: Eva Green, Josh Brolin in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, 2014. Dimension Films

The actress brings sex and violence in one killer package to this second installment of Frank Miller's neo-noir

“You cannot defeat the goddess,” says her protector, the brute Manute (Dennis Haysbert). “She cannot die.” He’s talking about Ava Lord (Eva Green), the wife of a Basin City plutocrat and the embodiment of irresistible evil in Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Green has described Ava as less a woman — and she is all woman — than a weapon, an improvised erotic device that explodes in the heart, guts and gonads of every man she meets — like Dwayne McCarthy (Josh Brolin), a crime photographer whom Ava played and betrayed some years back. He knows she’s poison, telling her, “I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night,” yet he returns for another toxic dose. The woman is bad.

Eva’s Ava is the essential new ornament to the gaudily entertaining, occasionally wearying sequel that Robert Rodriguez has spun out of Miller’s Sin City comic books. Using motion-capture technology to duplicate the pulp originals — same settings and visual points of view, same dialogue, same black-and-white palette dabbed with flashes of lightning and splashes of blood — this movie and its 2005 predecessor proudly brandish the neo-noir aesthetic (or faux noir, if you think it doesn’t work). The men are tough, growly and haunted; the women are all sexy, and either sisters of mercy or, like Ava, angels of death. The viewer is encouraged not to hover above the dank, alluring milieu but to wade in and wallow there, to get as dirty as its denizens. It’s a movie mud bath that I found nearly as restorative as a spa treatment at the Dead Sea.

(READ: Lev Grossman and Corliss for two takes on Frank Miller’s 300)

The four stories in Sin City 2 reconvene many of the first film’s characters. Marv (Mickey Rourke in a more battered face than he displayed in The Wrestler) enforces his own outlaw law with the maxim, “Nothin’ wrong with killin’ a bunch of bad guys. It’s practically my civic duty.” He watches over Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), a sad stripper whose old protector John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) got killed last time but keeps a postmortem watch, his forehead bearing the X scar of a villain’s bullet.

Down in Old Town dwell a flock of Valkyries — righteous babes skilled in archery and knife-craft, led by the dominatrix Gail (Rosario Dawson, outfitted in the world’s bustiest bustier). Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) dishes out pain to those who would challenge his corrupt hold on the city, and Dwight (Brolin taking over the role from Clive Owen) is again on the receiving end of broken hearts and limbs.

(READ: Corliss’s review of the first Sin City)

A few newbies are added into the mix: Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky card sharp who underestimates the price of beating Roark at poker; Kroenig (Christopher Lloyd), a shady medic who tends to Johnny’s busted fingers; the sado-master Joey (Ray Liotta), photographed by Dwight during a sick tryst; the entrepreneur Wallenquist (Stacy Keach, encased in Jabba the Hutt facial flab and a polka-dot bow tie), whom Ava has use for; and Mort the cop (Christopher Meloni), who falls hard for Ava, directly to his doom.

Movies are rated R for sex and violence, and A Dame to Kill For has plenty of both. There are no fewer than three eyeball-ectomies, and a cutlery scene that turns a villain’s redoubt into a decapitorium. A despondent Nancy scars her own face, leaving phosphorescent Frankenstein stitches. But the mayhem is mostly aestheticized by the black-and-white-and-red-all-over visual scheme. A fight may be shown in silhouette against a brick wall — a throwback to the first animated feature, Lotte Reinger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, and an old trick wielded by Rodriguez, the try-anything magician. Even if you don’t care for the characters or the story, you should agree with Dwight, after he takes his snoop photos of Joey: “The sad thing is, some of the compositions are pretty good.”

(FIND: The Adventures of Prince Achmed in the all-TIME Top 25 Animated Features)

As for the sex: that’s Ava. She is the prime force of evil, and Green is the new movie’s reason for being. In a film era that mostly ignores womanly allure for guy-on-guy battles and bromance, Green has played the unregenerate temptress from The Dreamers (her debut) to 300: Rise of an Empire, with the miniseries Camelot and Penny Dreadful in between. But Ava was the role waiting for her. Her huge emerald eyes glare above a blue silk gown in the monochrome murk; her body is often shown nude, in a swimming pool or on a bed, in the Cubist caress of Venetian-blind slats. Ava’s siren call summons Dwight there, imploring him to take his revenge on her body: “Make me hurt like I hurt you.”

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is heavy on comic-strip hurt. It’s a big hurt but, for a late-August time-waster, a good one.

TIME movies

REVIEW: If I Stay and Life After Beth: What if She’s Not Dead?

Life After Beth
Aubrey Plaza, center, plays Beth Slocum in Life After Beth A24

Submitted for your late-summer dubious pleasure: Aubrey Plaza as a cute zombie with eating issues, and Chloë Grace Moretz as a comatose teen who must decide whether to rejoin the living

The drama that plays out in the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief has a happy ending — sort of. After denial, anger, bargaining and depression comes the balm of acceptance. But what if your beloved died from a snake bite and was buried, and then shows up undead? She (Aubrey Plaza) has forgotten that she was about to break up with you (Dane DeHaan) and now loves you more than ever. She’s also a decomposing cannibal. If that’s your lot, you may undergo the five stages of zombie-girlfriend response: depression, shock, lust, bargaining and throw-her-off-a-cliff.

Or how about this: You are the one who’s the near dead girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is in a coma after a car crash that may have totaled the rest of your family. As doctors work desperately to revive you, your spirit wanders through the hospital and into flashbacks of your love affair with a budding rock star (Jamie Blackley). You understand that you’ll come back to life only if you can summon the heroic resolve to carry on amid the most plangent heartbreak. Will you?

(FIND: Chloë Grace Moretz among TIME’s Top Movie Performers of 2010)

In the dying light of summer come two movies about girls who are not quite dead. Life After Beth is what Plaza, from Parks and Recreation, describes as a “zom-com-rom-dram” — it’s mostly com, but it puts a weird spin on the solemn subject of how the living rationalize the death of a loved one. If I Stay, based on Gayle Forman’s YA best seller, is a straightforward tearjerker that creates a union of two beautiful people (Moretz’s Mia Hall and Blackley’s Adam Wilde) so it can tear it apart, to pose the Clash’s eschatological question: Should I stay or should I go? Neither film is mandatory viewing, though each has its appealing aspects.

If I Stay
Chloë Grace Moretz plays Mia Hall in If I Stay. Doane Gregory—Warner Bros.

If I Stay, directed by documentarian R.J. Cutler (The September Issue) and scripted by Shauna Cross, rounds up all the YA clichés like cattle without applying the brand of its own personality — think The Fault in Our Stars, but substitute a car crash for terminal cancer. Filmed in Vancouver but set in Portland, Ore., the movie draws Mia’s family as an adorably boho bunch: father Denny (Joshua Leonard), a rock drummer turned music teacher; perky-cool mom Kat (Mireille Enos); and Mia’s much younger brother Teddy (Jakob Davies), who quotes Iggy Pop. It’s a Norman Rockwell portrait of an indie-rock clan, rendered in glaucomic soft focus and ripe for parody in the IFC sketch-com Portlandia — a connection soldered by Blackley’s resemblance to a younger, much cuter Fred Armisen. All the Halls overflow with such snug, smug warmth that the gods are pretty much obliged to punish them for excess adorability. Cue the family’s dreadful crash; the fault is their car.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of The Fault in Our Stars)

Something of a misfit anachronism in the family, Mia loves Beethoven and Bach, whose suites she listens to on her bedroom phonograph, and dreams of admission to the Juilliard School on the other edge of the continent. Yet following the folk wisdom that a girl marries her father, Mia falls for indie rocker Adam, who seems destined for stardom despite sporting neither skull tattoos nor outlaw attitude. He loves this cello girl and behaves like a gentleman, except for a few instances when the plot forces him into spasms of sullen prickitude over Mia’s ambition to follow her own star to New York City. In her coma state, as she wanders unseen by others but occasionally felt, like Patrick Swayze in Ghost, she is a Sleeping Beauty trying to decide if she needs a resurrecting kiss. (Not much suspense there, since fans of the source novel know that Forman wrote a sequel, Where She Went, featuring the same characters.)

The reason to catch this death-flirting, borderline-deplorable weepie is totally Chloë. Not long ago she was a preternaturally poised child star as the elfin superheroine of Kick-Ass and the vampire darling of Let Me In. Moretz has matured into a gorgeous 17-year-old whose wide face and pensive intelligence reward a viewer’s rapt attention. Usually playing a girl far hipper than her age, she must somehow convince audiences that she is a shy prodigy of the cello who, when sensitive stud Adam takes fond notice of her, nearly wilts in his love light and wonders, “Why me?” You may wonder how Moretz landed in the Cartoonistan of this dewy melodrama and chalk it up to alien abduction. Yet she almost convinces you, solely on the power of her commitment.

(READ: Mary Pols on Chloë Grace Moretz in Let Me In)

The vibe is deader, and more deadpan, in Life After Beth, the first feature from Jeff Baena (who co-wrote David O. Russell’s strenuously wacky I Heart Huckabees a decade ago). DeHaan is Zach Orfman, devastated by the loss of his beloved Beth. Shopping for the right gift for her memorial service, he asks a clerk if the store has black napkins. (That’s “more of a Halloween item,” the clerk replies.) He gets sympathetic counseling from Beth’s parents Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon) but soon finds they’re concealing something: the late Beth. Her parents want to believe she is not zombiefied but resurrected — Sleeping Beauty miraculously awakened. Evidence points to the contrary: her skin cracks in daylight, she has a habit of munching strangers and car upholstery, and she has developed a bizarre hankering for smooth jazz. Zach is at first elated and aroused, but cautious. “You don’t wanna eat me?” he asks as they loll by the backyard pool. “I mean, like, really eat me.”

Since George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead revived the zombie movie, filmmakers have played the genre for laughs (Shaun of the Dead) and love (Warm Bodies). Baena’s Romero-and-Juliet vamp could be called Night of the Laughing Dead or Yawn of the Dead, depending on whether you buy the notion of a nice girl who develops some unhealthy habits. At first Beth seems to be only chronologically addled; she’s “worried about my test tomorrow.” (“But it’s the summer,” Zach says, and Beth groans, “I wish.”) Soon, the movie tries to freeze that querulous smile on your face into a rictus. Beth starts to decay (“Sweetie,” Zach whispers as they kiss, “your breath“) and then to embrace her fate with wondrous fury. When Zach observes that Beth just “ate a guy,” she thunders, “What do you want from me? I’m a f-cking zombie. Zombies eat guys.”

(READ: Mary Pols on the zombies in Warm Bodies)

Packing its cast with veteran comic actors (Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines as Zach’s parents, Garry Marshall as a zombie grandpa) and one eligible youngster (Anna Kendrick as Zach’s long-ago, still smitten classmate), Life After Beth gets a nice defibrillating jolt from the two leads. Plaza, whose wide-eyed stare suggests a zombie as painted by Margaret Keane, plausibly navigates Beth’s journey into full-throttle Linda Blair demonic dementia. DeHaan, who made his first big impression on HBO’s In Treatment and played Peter Parker’s nemesis Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, always looks as if he had just been told of a loved one’s demise and has taken medication to soothe the shock. That makes Zach a role he was born to play.

For half the movie, Zach can ignore the Kübler-Ross guidelines. He’s just thrilled that Beth is back and hot for his caress. Sure, she’s a zombie — but nobody’s perfect.

TIME movies

Home Movies: Who’s the Bigger Criminal, Whitey Bulger or the FBI?

Mugshot of James "Whitey" Bulger. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Magnolia Pictures

Joe Berlinger's fascinating true-crime film suggests that the legendary crime boss may not be the most corrupt guy in Boston

In the Irish-American neighborhood of South Boston, parents wanted their children to excel. Kevin Weeks, whose brothers both went to Harvard, matriculated instead into organized crime. Weeks recalls that, as he prepared to commit his first murder, he promised himself, “I’m gonna be the best at it that I can.”

Whitey Bulger’s younger brother Billy was, as one journalist notes, “the most powerful politician in Massachusetts”: he ran the state Senate from 1978 to 1996, then served seven years as the President of the University of Massachusetts. Whitey served in juvenile jail, the Atlanta Penitentiary, Lewisburg and Alcatraz. Back home in the mid-’60s, he took over the Winter Hill Gang and, with Weeks as his enforcer, became the most famous and feared gangster in New England. Before Bulger was arrested with his girlfriend Catherine Greif in Santa Monica on Jun. 22, 2011, having lived on the lam for 15½ years, he ranked No. 2 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, just behind Osama bin Laden. As America’s top homegrown criminal, the kid from Southie had made it big.

How did Bulger run the Boston mob so long and with such impunity? (As his defense attorney Hank Brennan says, “He was never charged with even a misdemeanor.”) And how did he manage to elude the law when he went into hiding? Joe Berlinger’s engrossing documentary Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger, argues that he was shielded from prosecution by John J. Connolly, Jr., Bulger’s FBI contact and an old Southie pal, and federal prosecutor Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan — perhaps in exchange for inside information, perhaps not. Either way, the government enabled him. The film’s subtitle could be The United States of America in cahoots with James J. Bulger.

Whichever side you take, Whitey is a must-see. On VOD, where the film is widely available, viewers can savor each betrayal, replay the enormity of Bulger’s (and perhaps the FBI’s) crimes and study the eloquent pain of the victims. Sticking to the facts, this documentary is still a much movie-r movie than, say, Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed, starring Jack Nicholson as a fictionalized Bulger, or other Boston-based dramas like Mystic River and The Town, with famous actors doing their darnedest to mimic the distinctive Southie accent. (Next year we’ll see an official Bulger bio-pic, Black Mass, with Johnny Depp as Whitey and Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother Billy.) There’s truth, not art, in the handsome, meaty faces and broad vowels of the men and women Berlinger interviewed. The tears these tough people shed come not from the Method but from memories of what the ogre did to them and their loved ones.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Departed)

For Bulger returned to Boston like a dreaded ghost from the bedroom closet of a child’s nightmares. One difference: this scary figure left lasting scars on the victims and their families. Stephen Rakes recalls Bulger and Weeks visiting him in the ’70s, shortly after he opened the South Boston Liquor Mart; they dropped by to convince him to accept the mob as partners. If he didn’t, Whitey said, “I’ll stab ya and I’ll kill ya.” When Rakes declined the proposal, Bulger looked at the man’s year-old daughter and noted, “It’d be terrible for this kid to grow up without a father.” Rakes says he was never the same, but is now eager to testify against Bulger: “Thirty years ago he scared me to death. He don’t scare me to death no more.”

Rakes’ partner in grief is Steve Davis; he believes Whitey killed his sister Debbie, who had been a girl friend of Bulger hit man Steve Flemmi. (You need a scorecard to sort out all the Steves, Debbies and John J.’s in this movie.) “Steve and I,” says Davis, referring to Rakes, “we have something in common: this psychotic individual. We’re gonna bring justice. It has to be done” — as if they are the villagers who consider it their solemn duty to take communal revenge on the monster. Yet later, after Rakes is taken off the witness list, he is found dead seven miles from where his car was abandoned. He seems to have been the victim of a business dispute that had no connection with the Bulger case.

Weeks (who in Black Mass will be played by Jesse Piemons) has the roguish bravado of an insider who can rationalize crimes against anyone: the feds, or civilians caught in the crossfire, or his old boss. Of FBI agents, he says, “They have a badge that [identifies them as a] Special Agent. But there’s nothin’ special about them. They’re regular people. If you find their weakness, or their needs, or if they have a problem and you can solve it for them, you can corrupt them” — with payoffs of between $25,000 and $50,000 per transaction. He shrugs off the death of Michael Donahue, whose crime was to have shared a ride with one of Whitey’s enemies. Rules of the game, says Weeks: “You wanna spend time with gangsters and wise guys, this is what happens.” A serial perjurer who admits, “I’ve been lyin’ all my life,” Weeks defends his decision to inform on Whitey: “You can’t rat on a rat.”

Berlinger, who spent nearly 20 years on his Paradise Lost trilogy documenting the unjust convictions of the West Memphis Three, lets Bulger’s lawyers lay out the defense: that, yes, Whitey was involved in drug-dealing, bookmaking and loan-sharking but, no, not murder. He says Weeks, Flemmi and John Martorano committed the crimes, then turned informants to get shorter sentences. At issue in his trial, as Bulger saw it, was not his freedom — 83 when the trial convened, he knew he would spent the rest of his life as a guest of the state — but his legacy. On the phone with defense attorney J.W. Carney, he stoutly avers, “I never, never, never cracked [informed].” Says Fred Wyshak of the prosecution team, “He doesn’t want to be called an informant. Because where he came from, in Southie, that’s the worst thing you can be.”

(READ: Joe Berlinger on the West Memphis Three)

That, and a literal lady-killer. Bulger also strenuously denies the charges that he strangled Deborah Hussey and Steve Davis’s sister Debbie. “Whitey Bulger cannot have people think he murdered those two women,” says Kevin Cullen, a Boston Globe columnist who coauthored two books on Bulger. “And he cannot have people think he was an informant. This is not about getting acquitted. This is about changing the narrative back to the one he spent years cultivating. And that narrative is he is a good bad guy. He is a gangster with scruples; he is a criminal with standards. And gangsters with scruples do not murder women and bury them in shallow graves. Criminals with standards don’t turn on their friends.”

“Criminals with standards” are still criminals, while the feds are supposed to be the good guys. Yet long-time Boston journalists insist the FBI protected Whitey in exchange for information on the local Mafia. Connolly and his fellow agent John Morris, as well as federal prosecutor O’Sullivan, are said to have let the Bulger gang run unfettered for decades. One unsullied agent, Bob Fitzpatrick, who tried to bring the mob boss to justice and was determined to testify to the unholy alliance between Bulger and the feds, is treated nearly as a hostile witness by the prosecution. “I think the FBI is worse than the Mafia,” says Michael Donahue’s surviving son Tommy. “They’re the most organized crime family on the planet.”

“The real story here is that our government enabled killers to run free in this city,” says David Boeri, senior reporter for WBUR radio and a consultant on the film. So compromised was the FBI, Boeri claims, that it became “the Bulger Bureau of Investigation. And it was because they [the feds] were all crazed about getting the Mafia that they enabled the Irish godfather to run the show here. And he was far more dangerous than the Italians.” In the end, Weeks and his lieutenants wore out their loyalty to Whitey and agreed to help bring him down. As Steve Davis notes, “The Irish mob, every one of them, they were stumbling over each other, just to rat.”

One thing Boston mobsters and their victims have in common: they love to talk. The charm and blarney, the threats and alibis, form a spectacular symphony of verbal belligerence, which Berlinger listens to and sorts out for viewers. The director gives more screen time to the defense than to the prosecution, perhaps because he buys their assertion about government corruption, perhaps because they’re just better bullshitters. At the end, though, we learn that “The FBI declined to be interviewed for this film.” In this complex weave of Southie malfeasance, the Agency’s silence may be its own indictment.

TIME movies

How Lauren Bacall Got to Dine with President Clinton at a TIME Gala

Lauren Bacall seated on a bed
Mondadori/Getty Images

...and other memories of the stage and screen temptress who forged an indelible liaison with Humphrey Bogart

I’m at least 84% sure this story is accurate. Eighty-four percent because I was in the room at the time, the other 16% because I didn’t see what happened but only heard about it. Even if the anecdote is not red-check true, it provides tantalizing support to the domineering social legend that was Lauren Bacall, who died Tuesday at 89.

On March 3, 1998, TIME threw an amazing party for its 75th anniversary at Radio City Music Hall, across the street from the Time-Life Building. Tiers of tables, a hundred or so set on floorboards in the gigantic auditorium, held a glittering constellation of politicians, authors, scientists, athletes and artists, with each table of eight or 10 anchored by a TIME staffer. At table 38, which I hosted, the guests included Norman Mailer and his wife Norris Church, Tina Brown and Harold Evans, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Val Kilmer and a female agent from the Secret Service, ready to protect President Bill Clinton if necessary. Clinton, barely a month after the Lewinsky scandal had become public, was seated at table 1 with Toni Morrison, James L. Brooks, TIME Managing Editor Walter Isaacson and other luminaries. And at some table between Walter’s and mine sat Bacall.

But not for long. Clinton had come to Bacall’s table to speak with Barry Goldwater. When Bacall saw where Clinton was sitting, she strode down to table 1 and ordered a waiter to put another chair and place setting in that cramped circle. Voilà! She was sitting with the President.

(SEE: Barry, Bill and Bacall)

I relate this not to suggest that Bacall was a bully — though I know people who cringed and were singed by her hauteur — but because it illuminates the will power she thought she needed to demonstrate in the half-century after her early Hollywood stardom. In her 1978 autobiography, she paints an unflattering portrait of herself at 15: “tall, ungainly (I didn’t know I was ‘colt-like’ until a critic said I was), with big feet, flat-chested,… too inexperienced, shy, frightened to know what to do with a boy when I did have a date.” Yet by 18 the Brooklyn-born Betty Joan Perske had been a Harper’s Bazaar cover girl. At 19, she starred in her first film, To Have and Have Not. And at 20 she wed her 45-year-old leading man. Bogie and Betty, Humphrey Bogart and (her movie name) Lauren Bacall: a love affair for the ages.

Actually, their marriage lasted just 11½ years, ending with Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957. By then she was 32, and good starring roles eluded her. She moved back to New York, married actor Jason Robards Jr. — they divorced after eight years, in 1969 — and became the young doyenne of Broadway. The plays Goodbye, Charlie and Cactus Flower became movies, but with Debbie Reynolds and Ingrid Bergman, not Bacall. In 1970 she turned herself into a musical star and a Tony winner as Margo Channing in Applause, based on the movie All About Eve; and 11 years later won another Tony in Woman of the Year, a musical redo of the first film to pair Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. She continued to grace movies and TV dramas (usually supporting roles) and plays (as a star). But the Bacall that the world loved and lusted for was the teenager who taught Bogart the wolf whistle in her first film role.

Nancy “Slim” Hawks showed the Bacall Harper’s Bazaar cover to her husband Howard, director of such Hollywood classics as Scarface, His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire, Red River and Rio Bravo. Pleased with his reputation in discovering and nurturing female stars, from Carole Lombard to Rita Hayworth, Hawks imported Bacall to Hollywood and signed her to a personal contract. His studio, Warner Bros., wanted her teeth fixed and her hairline raised; Hawks refused. He liked her as she was, except for her already low voice, whose register dropped even further when she followed Hawks’ orders to shout out passages from a book (The Robe) into the canyons under Mulholland Drive. By the end she possessed that throaty voice that Tom Wolfe later called “the New York Social Baritone.” Smoking helped, too.

Bogart, in his third marriage (to Mayo Methot), paid little attention to Bacall at the start of the To Have and Have Not shoot, but he soon fell hard. In the movie’s famous early scene, Bacall stands at Bogart’s door and sultry-whispers, “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” She leaves and Bogart whistles appreciatively. That scene could be a documentary film of the middle-aged star realizing he loved his leading lady. Bacall was still a virginal “nice Jewish girl,” and she had adopted her eyes-up, chin-down tilt — what would come to be known as The Look — because she was a nervous ingénue with a case of the shakes. See how she projected herself into Bogart’s and the moviegoers’ erotic dreams? Acting!

Bacall had only one stage credit, an ensemble role in the short-lived Broadway play Johnny 2 x 4. But she had It. She arrived on screen grown-up. No other young actress could project her feline seductiveness — part lynx, part minx. Those qualities served her well in the three other films Bogart and Bacall made together. Hawks’ The Big Sleep, from the Raymond Chandler novel (and co-scripted, like To Have and Have Not, by William Faulkner), Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage and John Huston’s Key Largo were taut melodramas that sizzled from the combustion of Bogie’s weary machismo and Betty’s precocious allure. By her early twenties she was Hollywood glamour on ice. Her lips suggested she knew her impact on the opposite sex and found it less empowering than amusing; her eyes lasered through a man’s ego and into his id.

She chafed at the enduring connection to the love of her life — that fans and the press alike couldn’t think of Bacall without Bogart. (Everybody could think of Bacall without Robards.) The title of her autobiography, By Myself , asserts that she wanted to be known for herself, not just as Bogie’s Baby. Yet he was her costar in her four best films of the ’40s; the one she made with a different leading man, Charles Boyer in Confidential Agent, was a critical and financial failure and for her a humiliating experience. After Key Largo in 1948, and still in her mid-twenties, she was often cast as the older “other woman”: the brittle sophisticate to Doris Day’s ingenue in Young Man With a Horn, or Patricia Neal’s in Bright Leaf. In the 1953 How to Marry a Millionaire, Bacall was the third-billed brunet between two sexy blonds, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.

She was felicitously paired with Rock Hudson in Written on the Wind, stood up to John Wayne in Blood Alley and took some of the starch out of Gregory Peck in Designing Woman. That romantic comedy opened in 1957, the year of Bogart’s death, and effectively ended her movie-star career. In the ’60s, like other Warners stars of the ’40s — Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Olivia de Havilland — Bacall went gothic in Shock Treatment, a tale of a lunatic taking over the asylum. She was the crazy one. A decade later, between Applause and Woman of the Year, was one of a dozen stars in Murder on the Orient Express. Her savoriest late role was as Barbra Streisand’s haughty mother in the 1996 The Mirror Has Two Faces. In a telling scene shared by two generations of Jewish movie queens — the ’40s cover girl Bacall and the ’60s “ugly duckling” Streisand — Barbra asks the still-resplendent Betty, “How did it feel to be beautiful?” And Bacall’s face softens into a glow: “It was — wonderful!”

Maybe it wasn’t entirely wonderful, being Mrs. Humphrey Bogart forever. Maybe that need to be her own woman not only spurred her through a long, versatile, accomplished post-Bogie career, but also gave her the gumption to move down to Bill Clinton’s table at the TIME gala. Still, 70 years after it began, she couldn’t control her legacy. She remained half of a smart, sassy, poignant love affair on-screen and off. Their warmth and electricity was the stuff of romantic legend; it outlived him, and now her, because it seemed the perfect, sexual and intellectual match. As Bernie Higgins sang in his 1980 ballad “Key Largo”: “We had it all / Just like Bogie and Bacall.”

TIME movies

REVIEW: Stallone Reassembles the Old, Old Gang for The Expendables 3

Phil Bray

Sly hopes third time's the charm for his mercenaries on a mission, but the only standouts are those two outlaw stars, Mel Gibson and Wesley Snipes

In 1979, Sylvester Stallone made Rocky III, Mel Gibson released his first Mad Max movie and Harrison Ford was shooting The Empire Strikes Back. Thirty-five years later, the stars look great for their respective ages (68, 58 and 72) and can enliven a tight closeup with their weary urgency. Studying the topography of decay in a veteran actor’s face is one of the few worthy pursuits for moviegoers sitting through the epic-length (2 hours and 3 minutes), belligerently inconsequential The Expendables 3 — a picture whose very title proclaims its redundancy. The film, no less than the team that Stallone’s Barney Ross assembles to defeat Gibson’s supervillain Stonebanks, could be called The Unnecessaries.

You’d get an argument on that point from Lionsgate, the movie’s distributor, since the first Expendables, in 2010, earned $275 million worldwide and its 2012 sequel $305 million. (They also cost a lot to produce: $180 million for the pair.) Then there’s the Hollywood affirmative-action program of hiring marquee studs from three or more decades ago. Having a star — or his overworked stunt double — beat the crap out of the hundreds of interchangeable Slavs who served as camera fodder in the big set pieces of this movie, shot in Bulgaria, is probably more rewarding for an old-time action hero than a workout with his personal trainer. The stars get paid, and the audience pays to watch them. Up to their familiar geriat-tricks, the Over the Hill Gang rides again and again.

(READ: Corliss’s review of the first The Expendables)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, 67, reupped for the third movie, which features seven stars in their fifties — Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Antonio Banderas, Randy Couture and Kelsey Grammer. The top-billed kids in the cast are Jason Statham, 45, and Terry Crews, 46. Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris sat this one out, and Steven Seagal has yet to be conscripted. But there are dozens of grizzled macho men available for disposable movies like this Expendables (which was directed by Patrick Hughes). The pity is that one can’t even imagine a similar action-film showcase for a dozen or so actresses over 50. Lord preserve us from The Expendabelles.

(READ: Lily Rothman on Why the big summer movies have male stars)

In the script by Stallone and the writing duo of Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (who brought marginally more coherence to last year’s Olympus Has Fallen), Ford’s Agent Drummer of the CIA hands Barney a black-ops mission to capture Stonebanks, an art collector who’s peddling thermobaric weapons to every African dictator and Middle Eastern terror group. Turns out Stonebanks and Barney formed the original Expendables team way back when, but broke up over an issue of ethics: Barney had ‘em, Stonebanks didn’t. This strikes a clangorous chord in anyone who actually remembers the first film, in which Barney proclaimed, “If the money’s good, we don’t care what the job is.” This time, he doesn’t care what the money is. If Stonebanks is financing groups like ISIS, then the CIA must be good.

(READ: Aryn Baker on Five Things to Know about ISIS)

Believing that this assignment, or the one after that, may kill off his cohorts, Barney disbands the bunch. In the film’s interminable middle section he recruits a younger team of Expendables, who have unproved skills but apparently won’t mind dying in their thirties. This younger crowd (including MMA bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey as the token hot blond) has zero charisma. The only modest diversion is the belated appearance of Banderas as a desperately chatty jack of all dark trades. He stops babbling just when the gunfire begins in the long but thrill-deficient final assault on Stonebanks’s redoubt.

If you and The Expendables 3 are ever on a plane together, you could watch the first 20 minutes or so, depicting a helicopter and train attack on a prison that for eight years has held Snipes’ Doc in solitary confinement. The Blade star, out of big movies for a decade because of money disputes with the U.S. Treasury, easily and artfully dominates every moment he’s on screen. Snipes also alludes to his troubles when Doc is asked why he got locked away and replies, “Tax evasion.” Alas, this self-reflexive humor doesn’t extend to Schwarzenegger — no housekeeper jokes — or to Gibson, who is spared an anti-Jewish rant scene. The closest Mel comes to autocritique is the threat, to the younger Expendables, “You should see me when I’m angry.” Thanks, Mel — we’ve seen it on TMZ.

On that flight where you’re trapped with Expendables 3, check back in early in the second hour, when Stonebanks is held trussed and captive by Stallone. Gibson invests a soft-spoken, bitter logic in explaining the mercenary life; it’s a reminder of the actor’s quiet power, and, except for Snipes’s, the only scene likely to make viewers forget they’re sitting through a movie and, for a change, participate in it. You might also want to watch the climactic heavyweight fight between Gibson and Stallone. It could be Rocky VII, or a meaty brawl in an Equinox locker room reserved for AARP members.

(READ: Corliss on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ)

Skip the ending, where, having assembled a two-generation Expendables entourage a dozen strong, Barney must say goodbye to each of them; it’s got more farewells at the end than The Return of the King. Frodo, you’ll recall, was leaving permanently for the Undying Lands. But the new movie’s prime mover has to hope he’s saying au revoir, not adieu, to his old and younger pals. In another two years Stallone — who will be 70 then, exactly twice as old as he was in 1979 — may gift us with an Expendables 4.

Look, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Bill Wyman are all in their seventies, and the Rolling Stones continue to proclaim the Age — the advanced age — of Rock. Why can’t Sly and the family Stallone think that 2016 could still be the Age of Rocky under another name?

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