Category Archives: Film

This Year’s Comic Con Has Brought Tears of Joy

This might be the best Comic Con ever. It’s like… the perfect storm of nerdom. There’s just so much good happening right now. Between now and next summer there’s just so much stuff happening, not to mention the fact that there was a panel for the AVENGERS MOVIE. THE MOST IMPORTANT MOVIE EVER IN THE HISTORY OF FOREVER AND ALL TIME.

But The Avengers isn’t out for two more years, so I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I’m going to try to keep some kind of chronology to this, but I will probably fail the more excited about things I get.

Which I guess means I’m going to start with the True Blood stuff. We got a trailer for the second half of season three ( I seriously can’t believe the season is already nearly half over) which you can see here. It looks like things are going to start deviating from the books quite a bit, which both pleases and frustrates me. I kind of wish they would just go off book completely, because this whole “kind of knowing what’s going on, but not really” thing is… like I said, frustrating. But from the looks of it, we’ll be seeing Claudine by the end of the season, which is really, really awesome. I love Claudine, and I can only hope she brings her asshole twin brother with her. Claude is delightful.

Unfortunately, they revealed a few things about the coming season which make me none too excited, mainly the tidbit about how they will be following the amnesia storyline from the fourth book, which most likely means we’ll be seeing amnesiac pussy boy Eric. Don’t get me wrong, I think it worked pretty well in the books, but I don’t see it working on screen. At all. Unless all their silly coyness about it maybe not being Eric (yeah right) is true, and it ends up being Bill. Which would be even worse. But even worse than THAT is this bullshit about Bill and Sookie being soulmates. What. The. Fuck. No. Just no.

Next up, chronologically speaking, is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which… yeah. I can barely contain my excitement about it, and I didn’t need Comic Con to feel that way. Comic Con has pretty much just made the three week wait unbearable. Other than a terribly amusing panel, there really wasn’t much for those of us who didn’t get to attend Comic Con. Those who attended the panel got to see an advanced screening. Lucky bastards.

Tron: Legacy released a new, full trailer, which looks even cooler than the first one. I’m a fan of the original from way back in my childhood, so I’m having a hard time being objective about the whole thing, and I’m not sure how people who are unfamiliar with the first film will feel about this one, but all I know is that I’m pretty excited. I also didn’t know before now that Michael Sheen is in it. And I really, really adore Michael Sheen. The new trailer is here.

AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead is the only new series of the new television season that I’m looking forward to, and I’m really looking forward to it. I love the comics very much, a sometimes grim look at human nature in the face of one of the most horrific things imaginable. We found out via the panel that the music is likely to kick ass – Battlestar Galactica‘s Bear McCreary is composing. There were some scenes screened, but I haven’t been able to find any recordings or releases of them or anything. I’ll post them if I do. If you happen to find some, please let me know. English dreamboat Andrew Lincoln (he was the guy with the signs in Love Actually) is heading up the cast, and it was announced that Michael Rooker will also be on the show (you saw his butt in Mallrats).

I often feel alone amongst my friends and fellow Rotten Tomatoes posters, but I totally love Zack Snyder. I have yet to dislike a film I’ve seen from him, and have loved two of them. So I’m pretty damn stoked for Sucker Punch. Zack Snyder, doing a “chicks kick ass” movie with Abbie Cornish in it? Holy hell, I can’t wait. The footage they showed at the panel was apparently COMPLETELY FRACKING AMAZING. Though, once again, I have yet to find it. The film will be in the theaters in March.

Green Hornet continues to look great.

Movies that look good that hadn’t really been on my radar before now: Red, Super, Drive Angry 3D

In some “Well, yeah, duh” news: Robert Rodriguez says Predators 2 is likely (and I’m trying to decide if I care about a Predators movie without Walton Goggins in it) and Brad Pitt is officially attached to the World War Z movie. I guess the past two or so years of him being attached to it were completely unofficial.

It’s time to sleep, so I’ll update with the rest tomorrow.


Filed under Film

Six scandals that prove Hollywood was just as screwed up back in the day as it is now (pt. 2)

The “Suicide” of Thelma Todd

The Background: Thelma Todd was a beautiful star of comedies in the late 1920s and early 1930s, best known for her roles in Marx Bros. comedies. She also enjoyed danger. But not the kind of danger someone who usually says that “danger” is their middle name enjoys. The kind of danger where you date mobsters and do a lot of drugs. Her “steady” beau was producer/director Roland West. Her “danger” beau was gangster Lucky Luciano, who wanted her to allow illegal gambling in the club she owned.

The Scandal
: On the morning of December 16, 1935, Todd was found in her car in the garage a block away from her club. The cops ruled the death as a suicide. Which makes sense.

Except for the fact that her face was beaten in.

Oh, and the fact that her shoes were dirt free. Normally not a strange thing, but considering the fact that she would have had to walk down a long flight of outdoor stairs and across a dirt floor to get to her car, is strange. There was also a smudged handprint on her car, and it wasn’t hers.

She’d also had an argument with Luciano about the gambling in her club. He wanted her to allow illegal gambling in her establishment. Todd responded “over my dead body.”

So, it’s very possible (meaning, probable), that the mob killed her.

But, you know, it was LA.

The Aftermath: Well, other than the fact that a brilliant comedic talent was, dead, there wasn’t much.

Death on Hearst Yacht

The Background: Thomas Ince was one of the most important producers of early Hollywood, making his name with Westerns. But by the 1920s, Ince’s power was fading, and he was looking for a little help from his pal William Randolph Hearst, who was kind of a dick and wasn’t really looking to help Ince out.

Despite looking down on Ince and everything he did, Hearst decided to throw him a birthday party on his yacht. On November 15th, the guests boarded the boat. Among the guests were Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies, Charles Chaplin, novelist Elinor Glyn, columnist Louella Parsons, and Ince’s mistress Margaret Livingston.

And, if you listened to Hollywood gossip of the time, about  a million other Hollywood types were there, too.

It’s important to note two things that were happening before the boat trip. The first was that Marion Davies, Hearst’s longtime mistress, was having something of a fling with Charlie Chaplin (who had just robbed the cradle in a big bad way by knocking up his 17 year old leading lady Lita Gray), and Hearst was, obviously not pleased by this. The second was Ince’s aforementioned impending failure and Hearst’s reluctance to help him out.

On Sunday night, the group celebrated Ince’s birthday with the one drink Hearst would allow them (it was prohibition, after all). The next morning, Ince was taken by water taxi to the shore with Dr. Goodman, a guest at the party, who was a friend of Hearst’s and a licensed, though not practicing, physician. Two days later, Ince was dead…

The Scandal: …and things got weird. On Wednesday morning, a few papers carried the headlines “Ince Shot Dead on Hearst Yacht”. By the evening editions, the headlines had disappeared entirely, Ince’s body had quickly been cremated, and Ince’s widow Nell left for Europe.

Then Hearst, in an idiotic move that’s almost unexplainable for the man’s usual brilliance, issued a statement that Ince had fallen ill while visiting San Simeon with Nell and his children. A ridiculous move considering about half of Hollywood knew for a fact that Ince had been on the yacht over the weekend – and that he was there with Livingston, not Nell.

The way Hollywood legend tells it is that Ince took a bullet meant for Chaplin. One story says that Hearst mistook Ince for Chaplin and shot him. Another says that Hearst caught Chaplin and Davies getting busy and went for his gun. Davies screamed, Ince heard the screams, went to help, and the gun went off, the bullet hitting him instead of Chaplin.

An even more WTF?Really? version of the story has Ince raping Davies’ secretary Abigail Kinsolving during the weekend party, and possibly taking a bullet for that reason. Now, before you say, “Whatevs”, the unmarried Kinsolving gave birth to a baby nine months later, and then died in what is considered a “mysterious” car accident a few months later. Two Hearst body guards found her near Hearst ranch, with a suspicious suicide note. Her daughter was set up in an orphanage with support from Davies.

Chaplin’s secretary Toraichi Kono, claimed that he was waiting onshore when Ince was brought to the shore, and that the producer’s head was bandaged and bleeding. The story spread like some kind of bacteria through the servants of Hollywood, and in a few months the rumors were running so rampant that the DA had to step in.

Of course, this was California in the 1920s, so it’s not like that really meant much of anything. They only questioned one person, Dr. Goodman claimed that he had called Nell and another doctor to take care of Ince but that, in his opinion, Ince had either died of a heart attack or complications from his ulcers.

Even weirder, in the aftermath of it all, Nell Ince ended up with a trust fund set up by Hearst, and Louella Parsons, who had been on the yacht, ended up with a lifetime contract writing for Hearst papers.

The party guests didn’t help too much, either. In their attempts to deny the incident even happened, they ended up just making the whole thing look even more convoluted and suspicious. Chaplin claimed that he wasn’t even on the yacht, that he and Davies went to visit Ince in the hospital later in the week, and that Ince didn’t die until two weeks after their visit. Which is just factually incorrect. Davies then said that none of them had even been on the yacht at all, that she received a phone call from Nell on Monday night informing her that Ince was dead. Pretty impressive, considering Ince died on Tuesday. Though, in all honesty, Davies was drunk at least ¾ of the time, so she probably had no idea what day it was.

The Aftermath: After questioning Dr. Goodman, the cops basically said, “That’s good enough for us” and dropped the matter. Louella Parsons and her new contract reigned over Hollywood gossip for decades. Chaplin married Gray. They were married for three years and had two children together. Margaret Livingston worked in several silent films, including the classic Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, but she seemed to be the only person not to benefit hugely from Ince’s death. Davies remained in film throughout the 1930s, before retiring to take care of Hearst. The couple stayed together until Hearst’s death in 1951. And, unfortunately for Ince, rather than being remembered for his huge contribution to film, he’s mostly remembered today for the mysterious nature of his death. In 2002, Peter Bogdanovich directed the excellent film The Cat’s Meow, starring Cary Elwes as Ince, Kirsten Dunst as Davies, Edward Hermann as Heasrt, Eddie Izzard as Chaplin, and Jennifer Tilly as Parsons, about the weekend on Hearst’s yacht.

Paul Bern’s Suicide and Freak Funeral

The Background: In 1930, Jean Harlow burst onto the scene in a big way in a little film called Hell’s Angels (and by little, I mean that crazy bazillionaire Howard Hughes sank most of his money into the project). One would expect the blonde bombshell to take up with a sexy star, someone like Clark Gable or James Cagney. No, instead Harlow decided to show the whole world that she had daddy issues by marrying Paul Bern, an MGM producer 22 years her senior. He was also short, bald, and rumored to be impotent.

By all accounts, though, Harlow adored Bern. The issues in the marriage came from his end of things. He was generally sullen and depressed, and was rumored to be impotent. And if you’re a guy who can’t get turned on by the chick who rubbed ice on her nipples before takes, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

The Scandal: After only two months of marriage, Bern’s body was found in the couple’s bedroom, a bullet in his head, a gun in his hand. Naturally, the death was ruled as a suicide.

Harlow and Bern had apparently had an argument the night before, and Harlow went to stay at her mother’s house, where there was a dinner party planned, leaving Bern alone at their house.

There was a note, left by a picture of Harlow, that read: “Dearest dear, unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. I love you, Paul. You understand last night was only a comedy.”

Now, this would be enough to wrap it up in a nice clean suicide bow and be done with it. After all, it was hardly the first Hollywood suicide.

But look at the cryptic nature of that letter. What wrong exactly had Bern done to Harlow? And what about their last night together made it a “comedy”?

Again, thanks to studio interference and police ineptitude, evidence was tampered with and blah blah blah, so we’ll never know exactly what happened the night Bern died. The servant who discovered the body, instead of calling the cops, called MGM, and Irving Thalberg, Bern’s BFF, and Louis B. Mayer were the first people at the scene. Thalberg didn’t call the cops until an hour later.

Rumors circulated about Bern’s impotence, to the point that it was spread around Hollywood that the couple had never consummated their marriage. People theorized that the couple’s argument had been about Bern not being able to “seal the deal”.

Really, though, those rumors were mostly thanks to MGM. Terrified of a scandal that could come about from whatever secret troubles Bern may have really been having with Harlow or his quickly diminishing bank account, and despite any possibility of some other kind of foul play, Mayer told every single MGM employee that they were to say Bern killed himself because of his impotence, despite the protests of Thalberg.

Even then, though, not that big of a deal. Until the word “murder” started floating around.

As it turned out, Bern had a common-law wife named Dorothy Milette that nobody knew about. Milette was seriously unstable, had spent years in a mental institution, and had apparently been bothering Bern since his marriage to Harlow. She was seen visiting Bern the night of his death. She was last seen alive the next day, boarding a boat in Sacremento. Days later, her body was found in the Sacramento river, an apparent suicide.

Police discovered that Milette had been living in New York as Mrs. Paul Bern for the past 15 years, and that Bern had been in contact with her since he’d left her, paying her a weekly allowance. Questions swirled around Hollywood, wondering if Bern and Milette had ever actually been married to Bern, and if Bern’s marriage to Harlow was bigamous.

As if that all wasn’t bad enough: Anyone who’s read Evelyn Waugh’s biting satire The Loved One knows all about the bizarre business of death in Hollywood. It was almost as much of a show business as the film industry was.

The owner of the funeral home where Bern’s memorial was held decided that he was going to be something of a showman. A horrible, awful, probably going to burn in hell showman.

It started out as a nice, normal Hollywood funeral. There were $25,000 worth of flowers and pretty much every single Hollywood name was in attendance. Actor Conrad Nagel (a.k.a. “Sex on Legs”) delivered the eulogy: “This can’t be the end. His gentle spirit is still with us. We bid you godspeed, Paul Bern, on your journey to a better place and we say here in your own words and in all reverence: ‘We’ll be seeing you.’“

After those nice words, the funeral director asked that everyone take one last look at their friend. Then, a mechanical pulley that was attached to the coffin brought the coffin to a nearly vertical position and the lid slid open to show Bern, as though he was standing in front of everyone in the chapel. Thalberg burst into tears. John Gilbert, another close friend of Bern, vomited. Clark Gable ran out of the chapel as fast as he could. Friends managed to get a sobbing Harlow out of the chapel, where she was then mobbed by throngs of heartless fans, hungry for tear stained autographs.

Finally, Bern was simply cremated.

The Aftermath: The stress of his best friend’s death caused a huge strain on the already not well Thalberg, who suffered from a life long heart condition. A few months after Bern’s death, Thalberg suffered a heart attack that put him out of action for months. When he finally returned to work, he’d been demoted by Mayer from Head of Production to a mere unit producer. Thalberg never entirely recovered and he died in 1936 at the age of 37.

Harlow’s film career did not die, as many people feared it would. Rather, her popularity only grew. In 1935, she continued with her “daddy issues” streak and started dating William Powell, 20 years her senior. They were engaged to be married when Harlow died in 1937 of kidney failure.

As for Paul Bern, he’s said to still haunt the house he shared with Harlow. There’s a pretty terrifying story about Sharon Tate seeing his ghost and then having a premonition of her death while staying in the house that I won’t go into because I’d kind of like to sleep tonight.


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Six scandals that prove Hollywood was just as screwed up back in the day as it is now (Pt. 1)

With all the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons getting drunk and not wearing underwear, and with all the Tiger Woodses plowing their way through every single halfway decent looking girl in America, a lot of people might think that the depravity of Hollywood is at a new, never before reached level. You might even hear people wishing that things were as good and wholesome in Hollywood as they were “back in the day”.

Clearly, these people know nothing about Hollywood history. Because, really? There was some pretty fucked up shit happening “back in the day”.

The Death (Suicide? Murder? 100% Dumbass Behavior?) of Olive Thomas

The Background: Olive Thomas was the Most Beautiful Girl In the World. No, seriously, she won a contest. A former Ziegfeld Girl, Thomas started working in films around 1915-1916, under the tutelage (meaning she was probably banging them) of such Hollywood bigwigs as Thomas Ince. She was the first woman to be described as a “flapper”, pre-dating famous flappers like Clara Bow by several years.

In 1916 she met and married Jack Pickford, baby brother of Mary Pickford. You know, the most powerful woman in Hollywood at the time. Olive was, by Pickford’s account, the love of his life, and he was never happier than he was when he was married to her. He probably said that because they hardly ever saw each other. They were based on opposite ends of the country. When they did see each other, they fought constantly. And when they weren’t together, Jack was banging anything that wasn’t nailed to the floor (and probably a few things that were.)

Thanks to not being able to keep it in his pants, Jack contracted syphilis. Back in the early 20th century, Doctors prescribed  bichloride of mercury to treat syphilis, clearly not realizing that it’s incredibly toxic and, if not diluted correctly, can cause a person’s insides to disintegrate (if digested) or simply slowly burn through their skin (if topical). Of course, syphilis also causes people to lose their minds, so a bunch of syphilis patients screaming about “the burning” probably didn’t give a lot of doctors pause.

The Scandal: In September of 1920, the Jack and Olive took a vacation to Paris. On September 9, they couple returned to their hotel room at around 3am. The two had been doing some pretty hardcore partying, and had likely taken a pharmacy’s worth of  drugs. Jack fell asleep while Olive prepared herself for bed. At some point, she took Jack’s bichloride of mercury. Jack awoke to his wife screaming in agony as he insides literally burned away.  He summoned a doctor, but Olive was dead in less than an hour.

Whether she took the medication intentionally or not is still unknown. The French police chalked the death up to an accident and the case was closed, but theories still swirl about what really happened. It is entirely possible that Thomas, in her altered state, simply thought the bottle was full of water or sleeping aid or liquor.

Or, it could be more nefarious than that.

Some theorized that Thomas intentionally took the medication to commit suicide, after learning of her husband’s cheating ways when he passed his syphilis on to her.

Others thought that the existence of a life insurance policy, taken out on Olive the year beforehand, proved that Jack somehow fed the medication to Olive to kill her so he could collect on the policy. Because, you know, it’s not like he was already one of the richest men in the country.

Even more shady, some people thought that Jack’s big sister and mother, who apparently despised Olive, had plotted the death and had made it happen. Despite the fact that they were on a completely different continent at the time.

The Aftermath: Officially, Olive Thomas’ death was 100% accidental. It was the first celebrity funeral Hollywood had ever really seen, and thousands of people showed up for the event. Because she died at what would likely have been only the beginning of her success, Thomas is mostly forgotten today. Jack Pickford’s career remained fairly steady throughout the silent era. Olive’s ghost is said to haunt the New Amsterdam theater in New York, where she began her acting career as a Ziegfeld Girl.

The Rape and Manslaughter Trial of Fatty Arbuckle

Background: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was an America film comedian hugely popular in the 1910s. He become famous for his work with Mack Sennett, mostly in films alongside Mabel Normand, no stranger to scandal herself.

In the summer of 1921, Fatty signed a contract with Paramount for three years at $1 million – higher than any paid star at the time. To celebrate, he threw a huge Labor day party in San Francisco. He invited several friends and business associates.

Not invited were party crashers Maude Delmont and Virginia Rappe, both of whom were notorious in Hollywood. Delmont was something of a Hollywood madam who specialized in the blackmail of her clients.  Rappe was notorious for a simpler reason. She was pretty much the biggest slut in Slut City. Which, in this case, was Hollywood.

The Scandal: At around 3pm on September 5th, Arbuckle left the party to retire to his room to get ready for a site seeing trip. He found Rappe in his bathroom, passed out on the floor. He took her into his room and settled her into his bed.  Thinking she was just drunk, he left her there for a few moments. When he returned, she was on the floor. He put her back in the bed and then went for help.

And this is where things get a little fuzzy.

According to Arbuckle (whose account is now the one accepted as fact) he had tried to revive her by holding ice to her chest and thighs. This was when Delmont walked into the room, and Arbuckle again asked her to get help. This was when Rappe started tearing at her clothes.

According to Delmont, what she saw was Arbuckle holding ice to Rappe’s “unmentionable” areas.

Rappe started to scream while she tore at her clothes (because the crazy isn’t complete without screaming), which drew the attention of the party goers, some of whom came in to watch the spectacle. Hey, this was the Hollywood crowd, and film was still in their infancy. They couldn’t be sure what was real and what was fantasy.

Several party goers helped carry her out, and it was at this point that Rappe screamed “What did Roscoe do to me?”

Now, she could have been referring to him raping her. Or, considering she was looking down at her nearly dripping wet dress, she could have been referring to the fact that Roscoe’s attempts to revive her had left her cold and wet. And not in the fun way.

She was placed in a cold bath in an attempt to sober her up, and then put in a bed in a different room. A doctor arrived a few hours later and decided she was just drunk. Yeah, doctors in the 1920s were stupid. Satisfied with the conclusion. Arbuckle left for his sight seeing trip, and the party continued. Little did Roscoe know that, while he was out having fun seeing all the sights of the city, Maude Delmont was back at the hotel, badmouthing him. And when I say badmouthing, I mean telling everyone who would listen that he’d raped Rappe. According to her account, Arbuckle had dragged Rappe into his room and raped her, and that’s when she started to behave ill. However, even the doctor Delmont had in her pocket found no evidence of rape.

A few days later, Rappe had not recovered, and she was rushed to the hospital. It was there that they discovered that Rappe’s bladder had burst. Several days beforehand.

Yeah, for those of you who don’t know, dying of a ruptured bladder is among one of the most horrific ways you can die. For one thing, it takes DAYS to die from it, and the longer it goes undiagnosed, the worse it gets. First of all, it’s unbelievably painful. You’re then unable to urinate.  So, where does the urine go? Oh, it’s just finding its way into your blood stream, poisoning your blood and driving you insane.

So this was what was wrong with Rappe. And she’d been sick for days, which meant she was at the most advanced stages of the illness. Which pretty much meant she was going to die. On September 9th, she died in the hospital.

When the question came as to how Rappe’s bladder managed to burst, Delmont again claimed that Arbuckle had raped her, and that his enormous weight on Rappe’s body had caused the rupture. And while the authorities were busy ignoring other ways that it could have happened, Arbuckle was arrested for rape and manslaughter. Arbuckle maintained his innocence. Because, really, with this  broad, all he’d have to do was ask. If he even had to do that much.

Hearst, who for some reason had a hard-on for making Arbuckle’s life miserable, ran some of the most damning stories anyone possibly could in his publications. And if Hearst believed it, America believed it.  Even the whole “he raped her with a broken Coke bottle, and that’s why her insides were ripped to shreds.”

Well, mostly. Thankfully the people on Arbuckle’s three juries weren’t entirely stupid. The first two juries were hung, and the final jury voted unanimously that Arbuckle was innocent, and even drafted an apology to the man for the ridiculousness he had to go through.

As it turns out, there’s no way Arbuckle’s external weight could have caused as much damage to Rappe’s insides as the prosecution claimed. It’s likely her injuries came about from a very poorly done abortion she’d had a few weeks before. And it probably wasn’t helped by the fact that somebody at the party had kicked her in the stomach while they were dancing.

The Aftermath: Though Arbuckle was cleared of all crimes, the public wasn’t really ready to forget. Arbuckle’s career was pretty much over. For most of the decade, he barely worked, despite the efforts of BFF Buster Keaton. Later in the decade, he did direct several films under a different name, including the silent masterpiece The Red Mill, starring Marion Davies. But he never really got his career back, and he died in 1933 of a broken heart (I assume).

The Unsolved Murder of William Desmond Taylor

The Background:
William Desmond Taylor was one of the biggest directors in Hollywood in the early 1920s. Between 1913 and 1922 he directed 64 films. He also managed to romance pretty much every starlet  in Hollywood. Whether intentionally or not.

The Scandal: On the evening of February 1st, 1921, Desmond met at his home with film comedienne Mabel Normand, his girlfriend. At about 7:45pm, he walked her to her car and said goodbye.

The next morning, at about 7:30am, Taylor’s valet, Henry Peavy, found Taylor’s body in the front room of his bungalow.

Now, I’m not saying that the LAPD was, you know, competent back in the 1920s. But they might have been able to find something resembling the truth halfway up their asses (you know, where their heads were) had Taylor’s Hollywood cohorts not come to his house before the cops did and remove any evidence of Taylor’s “bad behavior”. Many of the things taken from the house could probably have helped point the cops in the correct direction.  Among those items were love letters from teenaged actress Mary Miles Minter, who was in love with Taylor. In the way that John Hinkley loved Jodi Foster.

The suspect list is long and complicated. It includes Minter, her mother, producer Mack Sennett (who was in love with Mable Normand), and other Hollywood folks.

It Gets Weirder: One of the strangest suspects was Taylor’s former manservant, Edward Sands. Well, that’s the name he was using at the time. When he worked as Taylor’s valet, he sported a cockney accent and was such a dedicated manservant that one would probably think he was totally gay for his boss.

The only problem was that his name was not Edward Sands, he wasn’t English, and he wasn’t gay (well, we don’t really know about that last one). He was also a criminal mastermind. He waited until Taylor went out of town and then made a move, cashing a blank check for millions of dollars, and leaving the house with several of Taylor’s more pricey possessions.

On Christmas Eve, Taylor received a letter in the mail from Sands, with a pawn ticked for a pair of cufflinks Sands had stolen, with the note “So sorry for the inconvenience to inconvenience you, even temporarily. Also observe the lesson of forced sale of assets.”

Sands didn’t really make sense as a suspect though, since he had pretty much gotten away with his crimes scott-free, and there was nothing missing from Desmond’s house. He was also very likely dead from suicide. The cops probably knew this, but, well…it was the LAPD. So they kept looking for him anyway.

And It Gets Even Weirder: It couldn’t have helped investigators that William Desmond Taylor wasn’t William Desmond Taylor at all. It was simply the second identity of one William Cunningham Deane Tanner, a man who had a pretty strange past. He moved to the US from Ireland when he was 18 and worked all kinds of jobs, from miner to antiques dealer, which is where he met his wife Ethel. The pair had a daughter, Ethel Daisy, in 1903. In 1908, he went to lunch and never came back.

Apparently, abandoning your family was in the Deane Tanner family blood. William’s brother Denis did the same thing. He also spent most of his life leaching off of his big brother.

William Deane Tanner became William Desmond Taylor when he became an actor, and then later a director. The truth is, though, that not much is known of his life during his pre-US years, or during the few years after he abandoned his family.

What Probably Happened: This case is too big for a small piece of an article, so I suggest you check out’s page on the murder. It’s likely that Taylor was killed because of Normand. Normand had quite a cocaine problem, and Taylor was determined to put and end to it, even if it meant he had to destroy the mob to do it.

In the 1920s, the mob would send pushers to the studios to basically stand around and wait for people to buy drugs off of them. This was how Normand got hooked, and Taylor was so determined to save the woman he loved that he went to the FBI to work with them to bring an end to it.

So, basically, the mob probably sent a hitman to kill him.

The aftermath: Well, the murder was never solved, but Minter’s career never recovered. Neither did Normand’s, who managed to make a few more movies before dying in 1930. And, yeah, the LAPD continued to suck ass for a few more decades. There was a deathbed confession decades later by former actress Margaret Gibson, who had known Taylor professionally. Gibson had ties to many notorious underworld types, so her confession is quite possibly true.

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A Big Chunk of 2009 Films

Those limited release movies always start to open everywhere else in January and February of the next year. So there’s always period of one or two weeks early in the year where I’m trying to cram in as many of these previously limited release films before the Oscars. While I still have a few left I’d like to see, I crammed last week full of 2009 movies.

The first one I saw was Tom Ford’s A Single Man. I knew going in that it was probably going to be a very stylish movie, and that it would probably make me want to watch Mad Men. The film was very stylish, but it was also an extremely emotional experience. The style actually lends itself to that. There’s a deep ache to the film and the story that is absolutely perfect for this despairing man. I am a HUGE Colin Firth fan. Not only do I think he’s a dreamboat, but I’ve also always thought that he’s a better actor than people give him credit for. In A Single Man, he proves it. It’s definitely the role of a lifetime. I imagine it can’t be easy for actors, once they start to get older, to start again, to take on a role that’s very much about getting older. First plays the role without any fear at all. It’s a brilliant performance.

The next night, my friends and I watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs OnDemand. It’s based on a children’s book that I adored growing up. My mother has problems with Hollywood adapting books like this and Where the Wild Things Are. She gets all pissed because she thinks that making a movie of it ruins a kid’s imagination. Whatever. This movie was awesome. It was easily one of the funniest movies from last year. I actually liked it more than Up (but not as much as Coraline). I love this trend in animated films, where the humor can work really well for the adults, too. This one was a bit of a surprise, and I highly recommend it. I can’t believe the Academy didn’t nominated it for Best Animated Feature. Shame on you, Academy.

The day after that, my friend and I went to see Crazy Heart. I was really excited to see it, but in the end I wasn’t blown away. Jeff Bridges’ performance is amazing, and I’m having a tough time choosing between him and Firth for Best Actor. While The Dude is still my favorite of his performances, this is neck and neck with Seabiscuit for my second favorite. Maggie Gyllenhaal is also incredible, and I’m so happy she was nominated for it. She’s been one of my favorite actresses since Secretary (which she totally deserved a nomination for) and this performance is perfect. Colin Farrell is also quite good, as is Robert Duvall. The performances are what make this movie. That’s the reason to see it, and they make the movie really good. But it’s slow moving and kind of dull in spots.

Finally, a week later, we saw The Messenger, another movie I was really looking forward to. And this one didn’t disappoint. In fact, I’d say it exceeded my expectations. It really is a heartwrenching movie, filmed with a bare honesty and acted to perfection. Woody Harrelson was nominated, and he was wonderful and completely deserves it. But I can’t believe Ben Foster isn’t receiving more attention for this film. His performance is phenomenal. Samantha Morton, who I always love, is also really great.

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The Book of Eli – A Really Violent Movie About How Awesome the Bible Is

I’m Catholic, so I’m pretty down with the Bible. I think it’s pretty great, both spiritually and storytelling-wise. I mean, the Old Testament kind of rocks. There’s murder, there’s sex, there’s violence. It’s all pretty damn exciting. I don’ t need to be sold on how great the Bible is on either front.

The Book of Eli is a story that resembles one of those Old Testament stories. A righteous man of God, chosen for a divine task and placed under holy protection to complete this task.

But there’s evil in the world, and in this movie that evil comes in the sexy package of Gary Oldman, hamming it up like the old pro he is. Though… I don’t really know why he’s evil. We’re given some vague reason why he wants the book (to help the people in his town or some such), and no real reason why he shouldn’t have the book other than that he’s not a nice dude. Yeah, the storytelling fails here massively, and that’s actually my biggest problem. Stock bad guy, no real reason why. But really, Oldman is almost worth the price of admission alone.

For a pro-God movie, it’s really, really violent. Yeah, the Old Testament is really violent, but I can’t imagine people who might see the movie because they’re down with the religious themes of the film being okay with all the stabbing and shooting and hands-getting-cut-off. In face, right after the first violent scuffle in the film, two women got up and left.  So this movie must be for those of us who are young, love God, and love violence. However few of us there may be.

And I may be one of those, but this movie still doesn’t work for me. Filmmaking alone, it’s pretty “meh”. It’s a visually beautiful film. Stunning cinematography, a beautiful depiction of a desolate post-apocalyptic world. But the movie’s first hour is so incredibly boring. So little happens. And then the rest of it is sort of messy and cryptic. It’s fun and interesting at times, but just not enough of the time.

And then there’s the spiritual stuff. Like I said, I already think the Bible is great. So maybe that’s why I found the movie so uninspiring. The spiritualism is just so general and on the surface that I just felt like… “yeah… this is the stuff I learned in fifth grade religion class”.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This isn’t a typical review. I could do the usual review thing, talk about all the technical aspects. Comment on the haunting cinematography, the perfect pacing, the stunning performances, the natural dialogue. But in the end, I don’t think that kind of review would do it justice. Because while all of these elements of the film are top notch, what’s important about it is how profoundly it effected me. It’s been a long time since I had an emotional reaction to a film this strong.

I see a lot of people comparing it to Forrest Gump. Which surprises me. Because I hate Forrest Gump. Benjamin Button may take the “ordinary man, extraordinary life” route, but it does everything perfect where I’ve always thought Forrest Gump falls on flat on its face over and over again.

But Benjamin Button does more than just explore an enigma of a life. Its main themes focus on the mystery of life as a whole, the mystery of growing old. The mystery of death. And I think this is where it becomes a sort of  “case by case” thing with different viewers. This is one of those things where life experiences factor hugely into how much a film effects you. I’ve been surrounded by so much death in my life, starting at a very young age. I’ve seen many people grow old and die, but more upsettingly, I’ve seen a huge amount of very young people die as well. Death has always been an extremely difficult thing for me to deal with, and the thought of death, my own and others’, is the most terrifying thing I can think of.

Benjamin Button examines the ideas of growing old and dying, but it does it neither in a sad, horrifying way, nor really in an uplifting way. It explores it as a mystery. THE mystery. It explores they way death effects every single person around it. It’s not just about exploring the end of your life, but the end of everyone’s life, and it’s the one thing that we all have in common. We will all die.

With Benjamin’s backward aging, it sets up the obvious idea that youth is wasted on the young. Surprisingly, it doesn’t dwell on that as much as one would think. I liked the way they film kind of used Benjamin’s aging to highlight the idea of using old age to finally live life to the fullest. Though young on the inside, he is old on the outside, so to others it looks as though he is an old man still living all the life he can. And that inspires the people he meets. It comes full circle later in the film when, years later, he sees the fate of Tilda Swinton’s character. I loved the way it turned that idea on its head. Everyone seemed to be expecting the “youth is wasted on the young” idea, but it completely turned it around.

And, of course, there’s the theme of true love. While Benjamin’s aging certainly makes it something of a unique relationship, in the end Daisy and Benjamin’s love is like any other, it would be the same even if he aged normally. Daisy’s love for Benjamin is the one thing that will not die. She loves him until the very end, no matter how young he has become. And through Benjamin’s journal, documenting their time together, their love will never die.

One of the things that really hit me as well is how the film really focused on the idea of what a huge effect people we know even for a short time have on our lives. Every person that Benjamin meets, from the people in the old folks home, to the woman he meets on his travels, to the captain of the ship, even though he doesn’t know these people physically through his entire life, they each give him something that he carries with him, connecting them so that he knows them spiritually throughout his entire life.

And, overall, it’s a film about life. Whether you age normally or backwards, life is a great mystery, and we never know what’s in store for us. This is just a stunningly beautiful picture.

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Top 10 of 2007

2008 has come to a close. In the next few months, I’ll be seeing all the movies that I missed in the theater on DVD, and all the movies that had limited release in December that open wide in the next few months.

It usually takes me about a year to see all the movies I want to see from the previous year. Really, I haven’t even seen all the movies I wanted to see from 2007. But here it is, my top 10 from that year…

10. Waitress

I get really excited about good romantic comedies that are unique. Waitress may seem like it follows the typical “boy meets girl” setup, but it’s actually “pregnant girl married to a jerk meets married boy and they have a clandestine affair”. It’s extremely charming, very funny, really sweet, but it has a darker emotional side to it. Keri Russell’s performance is absolutely fantastic. It’s a crime that she ended up being so overlooked during awards season. And I’m such a sucker for Nathan Fillion. That man needs to marry me.

09. Charlie Wilson’s War

I have what one of my friends calls “a great big girl hard-on” for Aaron Sorkin. This is the truth. As far as I’m concerned, the man is a god, probably the best writer in Hollywood right now. The West Wing is my favorite show ever, and Charlie Wilson’s War follows in the same vein of a really great story with a dramatic center, treated with a wonderful lightness. This is one of my favorite Tom Hanks performances, and Phillip Seymore Hoffman just completely owns.

08. Knocked Up

Yet another unique romantic comedy. In this one, the boy and the girl fall in love after they’re already expecting a baby. It’s definitely not traditional, but it turned out to be one of the most honest romances in recent years. Judd Apatow is a fantastic comedic filmmaker. He has a great, kind of dirty sense of humor, but he also has a great big heart to back it up.

07. Eastern Promises

Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen are two of my favorite working actors, and they both give really great performances in this movie, and have a really wonderful, tense chemistry. The structure of this film is perfect. It moves at a leisurely pace, but it’s still so full of tension and suspense.

06. Atonement

This movie is a fantastic exercise in perception. One might not think that a film like this would have twists and turns like it does, but it’s one of the most consistently surprising movies of 2007. It tests both the characters’ perceptions and the audience’s. I can’t believe James McAvoy didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this. He was the heart and soul of the film and turned in a beautiful performance.

05. There Will Be Blood

This is a really beautiful movie. Its cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. Paul Thomas Anderson paces the movie perfectly, never going too fast, always taking time to develop the characters and the tensions between them. It’s a story about how dark the human soul can get, and Daniel Day Lewis displays that perfectly in his brilliant performance.

04. Gone Baby Gone

I don’t think this movie got the attention it deserved. It’s so many things. Like Atonement, it tests the audience’s perception. It’s a really involving mystery, but it also packs a hell of an emotional punch. At its core, its about the difficult decision of what’s right and what’s wrong. Amy Ryan gave my favorite supporting performance of the year.

03. 3:10 to Yuma

I’m such a sucker for westerns. I don’t know quite what it is about them. I guess I just really love the old fashioned kind of action. This is one of the best remakes I’ve ever seen. I adore the original, and this one completely holds up. The story is supported by its two lead characters, its hero and its villain, both of whom are extremely interesting and fascinating characters in their own right.

02. No Country For Old Men

Is there anything the Coens can’t do? This isn’t a movie you’d think would be creepy, but it does have a really eerie feeling to it. It’s so quiet, there are whole stretches of film without dialogue, and it shows how truly intense and frightening the silence can be. It’s a wonderful film about how ambition can be the downfall of a man. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

01. Sweeney Todd

I’m a huge Sondheim fangirl, and Sweeney Todd is one of my very favorite shows. Initiall, I was not looking forward to the movie. I sure it would be terrible. But Burton completely exceeded my expectations. He captured Sondheim’s vision perfectly, while still making the movie his own. Depp’s performance is really stellar. And it was just plain exciting to see some of my favorite songs up on the big screen.

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