Behind The Candelabra

Behind-The-Candelabra

Is this Steven Soderbergh’s last movie? I hope not, but if it is, it’s a brilliant way to go out.

I knew nothing of Liberace before this film, aside from the extravagant dress sense, that he played piano, and that he was gay. Michael Douglas brings all of that to life, and more. Liberace spent his life moving from one young man to the next while remaining the middle-aged woman’s entertainer of choice (so it seems). He was, at one point, the world’s best paid musical star, presumably being to the 70s what Elvis was to the 50s, the Beatles in the 60s, and Michael Jackson in the 80s. Behind the Candelabra tells the story of his (supposedly) most significant relationship, with a young wannabe veterinarian, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).

The film is very funny (with special credit going to Rob Lowe as a plastic surgeon), though not a comedy, and in many ways is as sweet and innocent as Damon’s Thorson is. Reportedly considered too gay for US cinema (it was produced by cable TV network HBO), the charge is ridiculous, especially when you consider that it is aimed predominantly at an art house audience who are far less likely to be turned off by the subject matter than the mainstream crowd.

Too gay? Come on...

Too gay? Come on…

Anyway, back to the film. It’s great fun and rarely lags. The only problem I felt was that it never fully delved into Scott’s emotional investment in Liberace and I never truly felt the two were in love, and as such the emotional kickers that arrive at towards the end of the film never truly land. But it’s still fabulously designed and fabulously entertaining. Douglas’ performance is a masterpiece and is so far away from anything you’ve ever seen him do before, it’s such a shame that he won’t be able to collect a little gold statue next February.

B+
Length – 1hr 58mins – Feels – 1hr 45 mins

I’m So Excited!

Los-Amantes-Pasajeros-Im-So-Excited-Posters

Pedro Almodovar is one of the giants of European cinema, starting his career back in the mid-70s, and rising to fame in the late 80s with films such as Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. While I haven’t seen anywhere near the entirety of his extensive back catalogue, perhaps my favourite of those I have seen was his last, 2011’s The Skin I Live In, a brilliant, beautiful and sickening sexual revenge fantasy starring Antonio Banderas.

Banderas is present again in the opening five minutes of I’m So Excited, the development’s in his and Penelope Cruz’ relationship leading to the malfunctioning of the landing gear of an aircraft bound for Mexico. While that sounds like the potential set-up for drama and tragedy, the film is positioned somewhere between sitcom, sex comedy, and farce.

The story involves the pilot, co-pilot and three ‘outrageously’ gay air stewards trying to keep six outspoken members of business class under control while the plane tries to find a safe runway to attempt an emergency landing. Among the passengers are a madam/prostitute/dominatrix, a Spanish soap lothario, a mysterious Mexican bandit and a virgin with a sixth sense for death. Somewhere amidst the occasionally frantic goings on is a satire on the poor health of the Spanish economy, with the banks, the government and even the King all fair game, but for those of us with (at best) limited knowledge of Spanish politics, this is all rather wasted on us.

I'm So Excited

Unfortunately, much of the comedy seems to have been lost in translation. The dialogue requires the rat-a-tat-tat delivery of a 50s screwball comedy but suffers from delayed readings (to allow for laughter?) and poorly translated subtitles. It certainly suggests that different cultures breed different senses of humour, and perhaps we Brits just won’t get the joke. But this isn’t the only problem, there are occasional segues off the plane which dull the pace and open storylines which are never really resolved.

That’s not to say there aren’t things to delight in, and while marvelling at the art department’s work is often a way to damn with faint praise, it doesn’t mean that praise isn’t well earned. Equally, there are individual moments of humour that give you a glimpse of either a) what the Spanish audiences will get from the film or b) what the film could have been, depending on your view.

Also, it is hard not to admire the frankness of the sexual expression on view which, when raised in most English language films, is usually either a sign of repression or a desire to shock. Here it would be more appropriate to call it flirtatious and, deep down, I wouldn’t be surprised if Almodovar wanted his audiences to have the same kind of fun in the theatre that his cast do once the mescaline cocktails have been passed around.

One final note – a much touted sequence of the cabin crew lip-syncing to The Pointer Susters’ I’m So Excited is, while well choreographed, a little bit of a let down and I can’t help feeling it would have been better if the stewards had been singing it themselves, in the manner of The Singing Detective and Blackpool.

C+