It's not particularly probing or insightful. In fact it's pretty puffy. But watching this two-hour survey of Elizabeth Taylor's glamorous, turbulent life is like leafing through a collection of old fan magazines. Once you start, it's so easy to keep going.
With her multiple marriages (eight, counting two to Richard Burton) and medical crises (including near-fatal pneumonia and a brain tumor), Taylor has had at least as much drama offscreen as on. As the documentary points out, her torrid affair with Cleopatra costar Burton in the early '60s—when her husband was singer Eddie Fisher—even drew a denunciation from the Pope. Now that's a scandal.
Given the subject matter, this Biography probably could have held our interest with movie clips, newsreel footage and the comments of celebrity chroniclers and friends (from a gushy Mickey Rooney to a candid but admiring Shirley MacLaine). But the profile's best feature is a fresh interview with the 71-year-old Taylor, who reminisces and emotes with a zest that indicates she's still enthralled by her own story. If you've wondered where she derived inspiration for her ferociously vulgar performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, check out Taylor's imitation of studio boss Louis B. Mayer in high dudgeon.
BOTTOM LINE: Good stargazing
Sci Fi Channel (Sun.-Tues., March 16-18, 9 p.m. ET)
If you haven't read a word of Frank Herbert's six-novel Dune
saga and you missed the 2000 miniseries based on the first book, abandon hope of fully grasping what the many characters are carrying on about in this exhausting six-hour sequel. Children of Dune
is like Shakespeare, Greek tragedy and a biblical epic rolled into one and set 8,000-plus years in the future. It's every bit as unwieldy as it sounds, but there are compensations.
Scottish actor Alec Newman gives a strong performance as an emperor so disillusioned with the corruption in his realm that he wanders off into the desert. Susan Sarandon, modeling a series of odd head ornaments, has fun as his evil sister-in-law. And the special-effects team should take a bow for those giant sandworms.
BOTTOM LINE: Only buffs will appreciate it
Show of the week
HBO (Sun., March 16, 10 p.m. ET)
It's a rare film that can be deeply moving while maintaining a sense of humor, and this one from writer-director Jane Anderson is truly extraordinary. Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom
) plays Roy, a seemingly ordinary Midwesterner who stuns Irma (Jessica Lange), his wife of 25 years, by declaring his urgent desire for sex-change surgery. Wilkinson presents a superbly nuanced portrayal of a man gradually unveiling his true self, and Lange works straight from the heart as she takes her character through a range of emotions—anger, sorrow, amusement. Irma doesn't shut her eyes to the absurdity of the situation, but she can see past it to Roy's unchanged soul.
BOTTOM LINE: A small treasure
Sunday, March 16 ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME CEREMONY VH1 (9 p.m. ET) AC/DC, the Clash and the Police are among the inductees.
Monday, March 17 BEAUTY IN A JAR A&E (9 p.m. ET) A dolled-up special looks at the cosmetics industry and the changing ideal of female attractiveness.
Tuesday, March 18 THE TONIGHT SHOW
NBC (11:35 p.m. ET) Dana Carvey and the Goo Goo Dolls join Jay Leno.
Wednesday, March 19 THE BACHELOR: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
ABC (9 p.m. ET) Has love lasted? Have the losers' tears dried? This special offers an update.
Thursday, March 20 ARE YOU HOT?
ABC (9 p.m. ET) Find out who's sexiest in the season finale.
Friday, March 21 AMERICA'S MOST TALENTED KID
NBC (8 p.m. ET) American Idol for juveniles is the general idea of this reality-show debut.
Saturday, March 22 INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS IFC (5 p.m. ET) Maverick director John Waters emcees a tribute to 2002's best indie flicks.
A&E (Sun., March 16, 8 p.m. ET)