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Happy Birthday, Peter O'Toole!

Peter O' Toole turns 78 today. To honor his astonishing career, why not buy or rent a DVD of the performance that won him an eighth Oscar nomination when he was just a strapping lad of 75? In "Venus" (2006), Peter O'Toole's eyes still glitter with curiosity despite a body that's near-cadaverous and a face that's unnervingly skull-like. And that curiosity mingles splendidly with arousal when his character, the aging British actor Maurice Russell, claps those orbs on a sullen, barely literate teenager named Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). Maurice responds at once to the banked energy that some adolescents exude simply lolling on the sofa. Jessie responds in her own slow and surly way to his appreciation. (You can see their chemistry in the still above.) The movie follows their May-December - make that March-December - semi-romance with an observant and unruly wit that overflows with insight about growing up and growing old. And O'Toole is phenomenal. He never begs for sympathy or adds an undue quaver to his mellifluous voice. His body is a close-to-toppling tree. What holds it up is his robust soul. O'Toole keeps creative distance from the character, so that we see Maurice in all his charm and fallibility. At the same time, he rouses a spirit of affirmative gaiety that emanates from his own essence as a performer and a man. What are your favorite O'Toole performances? Please consider his voice work as Anton Ego in "Ratatouille" (2007) -- the funniest as well as the most empathetic and realistic portrait of a critic in all movies.

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