Behind the Candelabra (2013)

behindthecandelabra_1rStarring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds, Scott Bakula, Tom Papa, Nicky Katt, Cheyenne Jackson, Paul Reiser, Boyd Holbrook, David Koechner

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High. I’m becoming quite the Soderbergh fan.

threehalfstar


As I sit here wondering where to start the review, I’m realizing that articulating what I liked and didn’t like about Behind the Candelabra is going to be tough. What I can easily say is that just about everything I loved about the film stems from the performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Liberace and Scott Thorson respectively. The duo is absolutely smashing together, so even when the film hits some dull, obvious scenes through its relatively standard biopic arc, it’s hard to knock the film too much because the sheer amount of acting prowess on display is huge. Douglas and Damon would be high on the contention list for the Oscars if this wasn’t a film made for HBO.

Behind the Candelabra begins by showing us how Scott comes to meet Liberace. Scott works as a dog trainer on films, hoping to one day parlay his passion for working with animals into a career as a veterinarian. His life path shifts when his buddy Bob (Scott Bakula) takes him to a Liberace show. The performance dazzles Scott (and every other audience member), and when Scott goes backstage with Bob, Liberace immediately takes notice of Scott’s youth and good looks. There are warning signs all around Scott, but in the face of such showmanship, he can’t help but get sucked in.

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Haywire (2012)

Haywire (2012)
AKA Knockout, Agent Mallory

Starring Gina Carano, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Julian Alcaraz, Eddie J. Fernandez, Anthony Brandon Wong, Michael Fassbender, Mathieu Kassovitz, Bill Paxton

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High.


Why make the same tired genre film with the same tired genre conventions when you can do something different? This is essentially the Soderbergh manifesto, and he continues to display his ability to subvert the genre film with Haywire. I really haven’t delved deep into Soderbergh’s filmography, but I always think of his movies as either “the big A-Picture” or “the low-budget B-Picture”. He seems to like to bounce back and forth between the two, with the low-budget ones being somewhat experimental. His last released film, Contagion, definitely feels like the A (while still being somewhat daring and experimental), while Haywire definitely feels like the B. I don’t mean that as a slight in any sense, merely as a point of reference for fans that might be seeking a way to classify this somewhat hard to peg movie. The cast would suggest a giant ensemble movie, but it’s really much more reserved than that.

Gina Carano plays a black ops contractor tasked with rescuing a Chinese hostage in Barcelona. The job is a simple one, but as the film unfolds we find that there is more going on under the surface than it would appear. The film’s story is not told directly, requiring the viewer to piece it together themselves. It’s rather simple when you boil it down, but Soderbergh’s editing and somewhat fractured storytelling help it from getting too clichéd. On the flip side of that, the presentation of the story also gives the film an aloof quality that makes it hard to connect with. It’s not a spy picture, and it’s not a Bourne movie, but it is a bit of both. I just think that it’s in your best interest to leave any and all expectations at the door that this will be an action film, because in reality it’s something truly different.

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