What an unexpectedly pleasing, touching movie.
When I first heard Michael Douglas had been cast as arch showman Liberace (someone I remember on TV from my youth) I thought what inspired casting it was. What I didn`t suspect was just how moving and believable an impression of the man he would give.
Liberace was as camp as they come, and a very closeted gay man in an America not quite ready to embrace such a concept, particularly someone whose persona was that of an unthreatening, cosy, mildly outrageous middle-of-the-road entertainer. Things evidently haven`t come that far, as director Steven Soderbergh couldn`t get funding from the studios for a feature film (too overtly gay, apparently!) so his project became a TV movie, though you`d never know it, such is the lustre of the finished film he managed to make, despite the puerile queasiness of American sensibilities even now.
What is so effective about Douglas`s considered performance is that, rather than overplay his hand, making an already flamboyant, often flippant man into a vapid caricature - which is what I`d feared - he in fact underplays, to great effect, leaving the script, sets, costumes - oh, the costumes! - to go OTT, while he allows us to see the real man `behind the candelabra`. It`s an intelligent decision, which repays great dividends.
I`ve rarely seen Douglas so relaxed in a role. Like his dad, he`s quite an intense actor, and can be a showy one, so the fact that he reins it in here is to be applauded.
Matt Damon, as his younger lover Scott Thorson, on whose memoir the film is based, is a revelation. We are used to seeing Damon in buttoned-up, self-contained, rather unsmiling roles - from Ripley to Bourne - but here he lets rip, and then some! With long floppy hair and a bod in disgustingly fine fettle, he plays the part with exactly the right combination of youthful brio and wounded innocence. He can be a witty actor, and he uses his propensity for dry wit here, though mostly he is either wide-eyed, drugged up, or livid at the latest example of his lover-daddy`s perceived selfishness. It`s a bravura piece of acting from this invariably superb actor.
Rob Lowe...well, what can I say? Inspirational casting, once more. He plays a droopy-eyed plastic surgeon with dodgy teeth, and seems to be permanently either stoned or in some otherwise beatific state. It is one of the oddest performances in a film I`ve seen for some time, and I`m undecided whether Lowe should be proud or thoroughly ashamed of himself. (On balance, proud.)
Dan Aykroyd is barely recognisable as Liberace`s long-suffering manager, and turns in a terrific, credible performance, while none other than Debbie Reynolds is completely unrecognisable as Liberace`s mother: Mrs Liberace, for that was indeed his real surname.
By the end it would take a hard heart not to be moved, and I was, both by Liberace and his lonely, sad demise, and by Douglas`s performance.
I wouldn`t go so far as to call this a great movie, but it`s so much better than anyone had any right to expect it to be.
An appropriate quote (surprisingly not used in the film) from the man himself:
`Gee, you`ve been such a wonderful audience that I don`t like to take your money. But I will!`
Classy. Like this movie.
on 18 October 2013
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA  [Blu-ray] Funny and Fabulous! Simply Outrageous! Exceptional! Magnificent! Too Much Of A Good Thing Is Wonderful!
Before Elvis Presley, before Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Liberace the infamous pianist, outrageous entertainer and flamboyant star of stage and television. A name synonymous with showmanship and extravagance, he lit up every stage he performed on, as bright as his candelabras and with a unique flair that gained him millions of devoted fans across the globe.
From Academy Award® winning director Steven Soderbergh of ‘Behind The Candelabra' is the outrageous and gloriously entertaining true story of Liberace [Michael Douglas] and his secret love affair with the young and handsome Scott Thorson [Matt Damon] who have an intense rollercoaster ride of hedonistic fun, flamboyance and excess.
FILM FACT: At the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Baby Boy, a dog that appeared in the film as one of Liberace's pet poodles, won the Palm Dog Award. This is not an official part of the festival but takes place at the same time. `Behind the Candelabra' won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Movie or Miniseries and T.C.A. [Television Critics Association] Award for Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries, and Specials. The film won Eleven Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries or Movie and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for Michael Douglas. British Academy Film Awards: Matt Damon for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Richard LaGravenese for Best Adapted Screenplay. Best Production Design. Best Costume Design. Best Makeup and Hair
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Eric Zuckerman, Eddie Jemison, Randy Lowell, Tom Roach, Shamus Cooley, John Smutny, Jane Morris, Garrett M. Brown, Michael Douglas, Pat Asanti, Debbie Reynolds, Casey Kramer, Cheyenne Jackson, Tom Papa, Dan Aykroyd, James Kulick, Bruce Ramsay, Paul Witten, Deborah Lacey, Rob Lowe, David Koechner, Susan Caroll Todd, Nicky Katt, Austin Stowell, Francisco San Martin, Boyd Holbrook, Anthony Crivello, Mike O'Malley, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Charlotte Crossley, Josh Meyers, Harvey J. Alperin, Paul Reiser, Jerry Clarke, Lisa Frantz, Shaun T. Benjamin, John Philip Kavcak, Marc Abbink (uncredited), Kelly Allen (uncredited), Gregg Atwill (uncredited), Lita S. Bowman (uncredited), Baby Boy (Liberace's Blind Poodle uncredited), Barbara Brownell (uncredited), Cici Leah Campbell (uncredited), Johnny Carson (archive footage uncredited), Richard Allan Jones (uncredited), Adam J. Kassel (uncredited), Peggy King (TV archive footage uncredited), Brittany Perry-Russell (uncredited), Jimmy Scanlon (uncredited) and Ryken Zane (uncredited)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Producers: Gregory Jacobs, Jerry Weintraub, Michael Polaire and Susan Ekins
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese
Composer: Marvin Hamlisch
Cinematography: Peter Andrews (Steven Soderbergh)
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 LPCM Audio Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 119 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Entertainment One / HBO Films
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: If you had asked me a few years ago if I thought Michael Douglas and Matt Damon could make for an engaging and believable romantic couple, I probably would have laughed in your face. If you then continued to tell me that the pair would actually be portraying Liberace and his young lover, I probably would have continued to laugh in your face. Now, don't get me wrong, both actors are more than capable performers, but the odd pairing just doesn't scream "captivating chemistry." Well, it turns out that such an assumption from me would have been dead wrong, and now we have the proof. I mean, just look at that the beautiful Region B/2 Blu-ray embossed cover!
Directed by Steven Soderbergh of 'Behind the Candelabra' presents an intimate, funny, and genuinely dramatic peek into the colourful pianist's personal life, exposing a romance that starts off innocent enough but soon becomes increasingly chaotic, twisted, and unhealthy. As passion transitions into spite, and affection transforms into jealousy, the two tormented lovers engage in a roller coaster ride of emotions, all set against the backdrop of the over-the-top glitz and glamour of showbiz wealth and fame.
Based on the 1988 memoir "Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace," the film focuses on the real-life relationship between Scott Thorson [Matt Damon], a young aspiring veterinarian, and an aging Liberace [Michael Douglas], the flashy superstar pianist. After being introduced to each other backstage at one of the musician's shows, the two instantly take a liking toward one another, and soon Liberace hires Scott to be his personal assistant. Their relationship then quickly becomes romantic, but things ultimately start to take a darker turn. As plastic surgery, drugs, and jealousy take hold, their coupling becomes damaging, threatening to unravel both their lives.
The story is essentially told from Scott Thorson's perspective, and he serves as our window into Liberace's lavish world. At first overwhelmed by the flashy entertainer's extravagant lifestyle, the once modest and innocent young man eventually comes to embrace the many perks that come his way. In fact, he ultimately goes a little too far, and Matt Damon does a great job with the stark transformation, gradually shifting the character's personality until he's barely recognisable (inside and out). Forced to have plastic surgery and take drugs for weight loss by Liberace, Thorson has a bit of a crisis of identity, and the actor plays up the man's increasing confusion and frustrations perfectly illustrates all while remaining infatuated with the very source of his problems.
Of course, as radical as Matt Damon's transformation is, it's nothing compared to Michael Douglas' impressive metamorphosis into Liberace. I must admit, at first I couldn't help but see the famous actor behind the facade, but as the runtime continued, Douglas gradually disappeared into the role, truly embodying the character. With a solid approximation of the flamboyant star's distinct voice and mannerisms, and some great costumes and makeup as his groundwork to build upon, the actor goes on to offer a multifaceted portrayal that never feels like an imitation or a caricature. Instead, he feels like a real person, full of insecurity, loneliness, longing, eccentricity, and vulnerability, exposing the actual man behind the larger-than-life persona.
Together, Matt Damon and Michael Douglas form a completely believable couple, and at first their courtship is more or less positive. A lot of the film is dedicated to pillow talk between the two, and their conversations feel intimate and natural. Likewise, the film doesn't shy away from their physical interactions, providing a frank depiction of sex. A great deal of loving humour is also derived from the characters' innate eccentricities (again, just look at that cover!), and the filmmakers play up some of the inherent silliness and strangeness of the subject matter to great effect (Rob Lowe's character is especially memorable and should of got some form of a gong) without ever really sacrificing emotion or drama.
With that said, as funny as a lot of the runtime can be, the narrative does eventually take some increasingly dark and unsettling turns, revealing the affair's more disturbing elements, including a particularly creepy desire from Liberace to adopt Thorson and literally re-shape him in his own image. This all leads to an interesting examination of emotional control, facades, fickle infatuations, the pitfalls of fame, and the consequences of insatiable desires. What starts out as a supportive relationship grows ugly and petty, and it becomes hard to watch as the two lovers try to spite each other in painful ways.
Though the subject matter might seem inherently flashy on the surface, Steven Soderbergh mostly plays against expectations, and instead offers a rather restrained approach, opting for a more functional and modest cinematic form that adheres to a fittingly vintage look. Often letting the characters and situations simply speak for themselves, the director engenders a personal, intimate mood with well-crafted shots and movements that, while artistically designed, don't really draw attention to the filmmaking. That's not to say that the film is completely without spectacle, however, and there are key scenes where Steven Soderbergh definitely turns up the dial on his style knob.
Several recreations of Liberace's on stage performances are all appropriately showy, with a few quick cutting close-ups of the talented artist's impressive finger work gliding across his piano. Some later scenes that follow Thorson through his drug addiction are also home to more kinetic visuals, with disorienting moving shots that go in and out of focus, replicating the characters' own distraught and paranoid state of mind. As one might expect, the production design itself is also dazzling, bringing the performer's shining costumes and extravagant homes to life, adding an invaluable sense of outrageous character and personality to the proceedings. And then of course there's the film's finale, which features a brief excursion into the surreal, playing up Liberace's penchant for glitzy excess one last time to great success.
Richard LaGravenese's screenplay works in fine little dabs of detail, and serves up one or two aces. When Liberace's ageing mother (Debbie Reynolds, also totally awesome and terrific) hits the jackpot on the mansion's one-armed bandit, the machine refuses to cough up its reward. (He's forgotten to fill it again.) Scott goes to fetch Liberace, who apologises to his mother for the lack of coins. Her reply: "I'll take a cheque."
According to reports before the film's release, Steven Soderbergh apparently shopped the project around to several major studios, but all of them balked at the notion of making a film based on the topic. After watching the completed film, I really can't see what they were objecting too and us brits had no problem with the film, in fact we welcomed it with open arms of celebration, as we Brits are not upset with its subject matter. Sure, the concept isn't exactly commercial (OK, it's pretty damn far from commercial), but with Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, and Steven Soderbergh all on board, it at least had a good chance of drawing critical success and perhaps even some awards recognition (all things it has indeed garnered even in its small screen incarnation). Regardless, thankfully HBO snatched up the project, and the results are more than worthwhile. An intimate examination of jealousy, romance, overindulgence, and the crazy, hurtful things we can do to one another when love is involved, 'Behind the Candelabra' successfully peels back the surface layers of Liberace's later life, offering an emotional, humorous, thoughtful, and appropriately sparkling piece of filmmaking.
Blu-ray Video Quality – The film is presented in a beautiful 1080p encoded image transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot on the Red Epic, the film has a distinct style that looks quite nice on Blu-ray, enhancing the glittery, retro content of the story well. The digital source is mostly clean, but there is a light layer of noise visible from time to time, and a few isolated spikes in noise during darker scenes that can be a little distracting. The picture adheres to an intentionally soft appearance with a faintly diffuse glow that helps to create a certain "vintage" look. Though this softer quality does limit detail, clarity is still good and there is a solid sense of depth and fine textures in characters and wardrobe choices. To this end, all of Liberace's extravagant, glittery costumes sparkle off the screen and one can make out every speck of sequins. Colours are often cast in a golden sheen, and while the palette isn't particularly varied, the aesthetic fits nicely with the 1970s and 1980s setting. Thankfully, contrast is well balanced with steady black levels and good shadow delineation. Appropriately stylised with a soft, golden glow, 'Behind the Candelabra' looks very good on Blu-ray, preserving the director's intentions without any major issues.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The HBO film is provided with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and a 2.0 LPCM Audio Stereo track. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. Modest but relatively engaging, this is a solid, albeit restrained mix. Speech is clear and well prioritised, giving ample presence to Michael Douglas' distinct take on Liberace's trademark voice. The track is fairly front-loaded, but effects like crowd reactions and applause during shows do hit the surrounds. Likewise, other ambient effects like crickets or background clatter in a rowdy club are dispersed naturally around the soundstage. Directionality is decent as well, with a few key sounds (like a door slamming off to the side) being relegated to the appropriate speakers. The piano music itself comes through with wonderful clarity and dimension, bringing great range and depth to the musical performances. With that said the film as a whole is rather quiet, with a subdued sense of space. Likewise, bass activity is negligible. The sound design is a little subdued, but the more delicate approach works well with the intimate subject matter. A bit more texture and immersion would have been welcomed, but as a whole this is a fitting mix.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Special Feature: The Making of Behind the Candelabra  [1080i] [14:00] This HOB Special Documentary is presented with a 2.0 LPCM Audio Stereo and the same subtitle options as the main feature, this is a standard behind-the-scenes documentary with cast and crew interviews and on-set footage. The participants discuss adapting the source material, approaching the characters, and what is was like to work with Steven Soderbergh. Crew members also elaborate on recreating Liberace's extravagant homes and costumes, and there's even some brief archive footage of the man himself. Though this offers a little more than usual promotional stuff, the documentary is sadly is far too brief. Appearing in this HBO Special Documentary are Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Marcus LaVoi, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds and Jerry Weintraub.
Finally, 'Behind the Candelabra' offers an intimate peek into superstar pianist Liberace's personal life and his turbulent affair with a younger man. Through their story, director Steven Soderbergh shines a particularly glittering light on a fascinating real-life figure, while simultaneously examining interesting concepts dealing with love, jealousy, excess, and fame. The Blu-ray features a strong video presentation that respects the director's intended aesthetic, and a solid audio mix. Sadly, we only get one brief documentary, but it's still worth a look. While this isn't the most impressive disc, the technical presentation is good and the film itself is a well-crafted biopic that will likely even appeal to those who might seem apprehensive about its subject matter. When I purchased the Region A/1 Blu-ray, I had no sound and so instead purchased this Region B/2 Blu-ray and it is absolutely stunning and the beautiful designed Embossed Slip Cover is definitely far superior to the Region A/1 Blu-ray Cover. So all in all this is a stunning film and presentation and has gone pride of place in my Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
on 8 August 2013
This is a lovely, endearing, and thoroughly well-meaning film that ranks amongst the best I've seen this year. For me, it was a perfect antidote to the loud, angry, fight-fests that have been plaguing our multiplexes lately (I saw it directly after Man of Steel), and I quickly felt soothed by the gentle pacing and dialogue-based delights of this film. Two hours of people talking about genuine human feelings- how wonderful!
The plot concerns the 6 year relationship between Liberace (Michael Douglas, nearly unrecognisable), the well known pianist/entertainer/comedian and the much younger aspiring vet Scott Thorson (Matt Damon, in a quiet but very effective role). The film is unclear as to Scott's age (it could be anywhere between 25 and 35), but in real life Scott was only 17. We see their relationship nearly in full, from the moment they met to the moment they parted, and their tender, final moments, and as a result the film gives off the imitable and wonderfully rewarding feeling of having to got to know two lovely, flawed, but basically good people. Liberace is loud, showy, very insecure, and, we sense, deeply missing something in his life- Scott is quieter, ready to listen, good of heart, and also deeply missing something in his life. They are a perfect match for each other.
The primary pleasure of this film, as you might have gathered, is simply getting to know both of these people, and the film takes great steps to ensure that neither one of the pair is focussed on in particular, and both are given equal time and care (despite being called Behind the Candelabra, which hints at a Liberace-oriented biopic)- the film begins with Scott, and continues that way for about fifteen minutes, but when Liberace is introduced, we do indeed go "behind the candelabra", seeing Liberace behind the piano, something audiences of the time would never see. Soon, Scott has also gone behind the candelabra with Liberace, and how the two play off against each other make for small scale, lovely cinematic fireworks.
There is also a small, dark vein of comedy under this film, as the film dissects, in its own way, celebrity culture and the plastic surgery fixation- Rob Lowe's surgeon being a grotesquely comic creation- all while never losing focus of the central relationship.
There is a single image in this film, contained in one scene, which defines why I loved it so much. It occurs about a third of the way through, and it is an image of Liberace and Scott sat next to each other on a sofa, talking about something or other, Scott's legs in Liberace's lap, Liberace gently rubbing Scott's calf. It was the moment at which I fell in love with the film, the gentle unforced intimacy of the scene perfectly conveying the nature of any true, meaningful relationship.
See this film if you care about human beings. It's an absolute treat, and you'll come away feeling profoundly, quietly touched.