Cinema Review: Last Vegas

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Dir: Jon Turteltaub  Wri: Dan Fogelman • Pro: Amy Baer, Joseph Drake, Laurence Mark • DOP: David Hennings • ED: David Rennie • DES: David J. Bomba • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline

Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline: these men are near death, relatively speaking. Sorry to ruin Last Vegas for you, but that’s supposed to be the punchline. How hard you take it depends on a couple of factors – your age, your IQ, whether or not you sat through those Hangover sequels. As with said sequels, what’s missing here is a plot structure as convincing or enjoyable as the blackout whodunnit of the original.

The men are in is Las Vegas to celebrate Billy’s (Douglas) engagement to a much younger woman. Having been friends since childhood, Billy and Paddy (De Niro) are no longer speaking, and the other two hope to save the friendship. From then on it’s just like a golden wedding anniversary down the local; someone sticks a drink in your hand and insists that you enjoy the supposed incongruity of senescent debauchery. Meanwhile, Mark Mothersbaugh’s score will give anyone who hasn’t experienced it a solid idea of what it’s like to spend time in one of those glass-bottomed Las Vegas elevators.

The thing is, these actors have been around for a while for a reason – they’re really good at what they do. Every time the film wants us to laugh at Morgan Freeman’s dodgy hip or whatever, some internal reflex of actorly dignity kicks in and the joke is tossed back – at the audience, usually. Even with Kline, whose comportment doesn’t quite have the gravitas of the others’, the fact that he’s in Bob’s Burgers is enough to let us know that he gets the joke. And anyway, everyone looks far too physically fit to really be identifiable with the sorts of old men we know and just-about tolerate. So the MTV-circa-1998-style bikini-wearing competition, the 50 Cent cameo, the younger women they all improbably tangle with, none of it is plausible enough to be funny. Encourage the septuagenarians you know to spend their golden years a little more wisely than these guys.

 Darragh John McCabe

12A (See IFCO for details)

105  mins

Last Vegas is released on 3rd January 2014

Last Vegas – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Behind the Candelabra

behindthecandelabra
DIR: Steven Soderbergh  WRI: Richard LaGravenese • PRO: Susan Ekins, Gregory Jacobs, Michael Polairey • DOP: Steven Soderbergh • ED: Steven Soderbergh • DES: Howard Cummings • Cast: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd

Behind the Candelabra shines a glittering spotlight on the tempestuous relationship between Liberace, the famed pianist, and his younger lover, Scott Thorson.

 

A hazy opening shot sharpens to reveal young Scott (Matt Damon) frequenting a Los Angeles gay bar in 1977.  Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” plays on the soundtrack.  Scott meets Bob Black (Scott Bakula), who introduces Scott to Liberace after they attend a concert of his in Las Vegas.  Scott’s attention to Liberace’s favourite poodle, the blind and deaf Baby Boy, endears him to the piano maestro, and their relationship develops.

 

Behind the Candelabra is an entertaining showbiz biopic genre piece distinguished by its gay romance.  The film makes clear that Liberace and his manager, Seymour Heller (Dan Aykroyd), promoted an image of Liberace as heterosexual.  When we first see Liberace’s camp antics on stage, Bob tells Scott that nobody in the audience thinks Liberace is gay.  It’s hard to believe there was a time when such high camp passed for straight.  Soderbergh’s film looks behind the façade to present a look at the “real” Liberace.

 

Drawing on Thorson’s memoir, Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, P.S. I Love You) provides an engaging script that features Liberace recounting to Scott stories of his childhood, his relationship with his mother and how he developed his stagecraft.  The film charts Scott’s relationship with Liberace from 1977 through to Liberace’s death in 1987.  Scott acts as friend, lover, son and husband, caring and listening to the older man, accepting his lavish gifts, before becoming increasingly jealous and feeling trapped before the relationship breaks down.  Liberace decides at one point to adopt Scott as his son, though they maintain their sexual relationship.  It’s an odd plea for recognition of gay marriage, with Scott declaring that they were married during negotiations for settlement after their break-up.  All this may seem melodramatic and serious, but it’s frequently funny and generally entertaining.

 

Michael Douglas contributes a fabulous performance.  His turn as Liberace benefits greatly from excellent make-up and glitzy costumes, and he works wonders with his voice and mannerisms, relishing in witty one-liners.  Both Douglas and Damon undergo physical transformations.  Scott’s requires him to appear like a younger Liberace, while AIDS ravages the great entertainer.  Damon’s understated turn complements Douglas’ flashy histrionics.  While Douglas takes the spotlight for much of the film, Damon comes into his own in the latter stages.

 

Rob Lowe almost steals the show playing Dr. Jack Startz, who provides advice on the surgery and Scott with dieting drugs.  Frequent glances to his wineglass break up his otherwise vacant stare, which makes him seem such an unreliable surgeon.  Lowe also benefits from make-up, topped off with a high camp wig.

 

The detail in the sets and costumes is excellent.  Soderbergh adds some nice visual touches too, such as a flashback filmed in black-and-white when Liberace recounts his encounter in hospital with a messenger from God after the Kennedy assassination that converted him, as he tells Scott, to becoming a devout Catholic (who happens to enjoy visiting sex shops and wants to fuck his boyfriend for a change).

 

The title, also drawn from Thorson’s memoir, suggests that the film is getting behind Liberace’s kitsch persona, exploring and revealing the details of a gay romance of a celebrated entertainer.  While the costumes and sets provide delightful visuals, the script provides funny lines and the performances entertain, Soderbergh’s work still rings hollow.  It fails to transcend the conventions of the showbiz biopic.  Tackling the loneliness of celebrity is hardly new, and taking a gay romance at its centre is not enough to make it groundbreaking or important.  The showy performances of Douglas and Damon, despite tenderness in their scenes together, always feels like their acting.  The film suffers badly by contrast to the naturalism of recent gay romances such as those seen in Weekend (2011, Andrew Haigh).

 

Soderbergh presents a complex shot that reveals the film’s weakness.  Liberace dallies with members of the Young Americans, a dancing troupe now performing at his show.  It’s just before his performance at the 54th Oscars, where On Golden Pond was in competition.  Liberace commends Jane Fonda for abandoning her protests and political campaigns and for making a sweet film with her father.  He advises his young audience that stars should seek only to entertain.  All this take place in the background.  In the foreground, Scott drinks, worried about his relationship.  Soderbergh focuses on their emotional and relationship difficulties.  Taking Liberace’s advice, he avoids any political context, protest or political campaigns, in the late 1970s marked by such events as Harvey Milk’s assassination.

 

Soderbergh had problems with financing the film.  Eventually, HBO came on board.  Hence, Behind the Candelabra will not screen theatrically in the USA and will not be eligible for Oscars.  The gay romance Soderbergh chose to explore is that of a very rich entertainer and his lover, played by Hollywood stars.  For all its entertainment value, Soderbergh’s stylish effort functions as a fine example of ostentation:  a pretentious, if glamorous, display.

John Moran

15A (see IFCO website for details)

118 mins
Behind the Candelabra is released on 7th June 2013

Behind the Candelabra – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Haywire

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DIR: Steven Soderbergh  WRI: Lem Dobbs  PRO: Gregory Jacobs, Alan Moloney, Michael Polaire,Tucker Tooley  DOP: Peter Andrews  ED: Peter Andrews  DES: Howard Cummings  Cast: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan Mc Gregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Michael Angarano, Antonio Banderas

Director Steven Soderbergh has averaged a film a year since his acclaimed 1989 debut Sex, Lies & Videotape, an incredible work rate by modern filmmaking standards especially for one who frequently works within the political vagaries fof the studio system. A slippery stylist, Soderbergh’s films hop from genre to genre with creative restlessness appearing to be his defining characteristic whether filming glossy,  expensive star laden confections such as the Oceans series or experimenting with digital video and unknown actors on low budget conceits such as Bubble or The Girlfriend Experience.

With Haywire – his 23rd full length feature – he takes another stylistic left turn this being an independently financed, relatively low budget B-movie style action film of which a large portion was filmed in Dublin back in 2010. Mixed martial arts star Gina Carano portrays Mallory Kane, a covert operative for hire who performs certain ‘tasks’ for shady global organizations such as rescuing a Chinese journalist held hostage in Barcelona  which is the first instance in the film that we witness Carano’s and Mallory’s athleticism and asskicking skills as she fights her way out of a corner.

After a successful mission, Mallory is then dispatched by her handler Kenneth (Ewan Mc Gregor) to Dublin. Her mission is to assassinate an Iranian ambassador with the help of a suave British operative portrayed by Michael Fassbender but things go awry and she soon finds herself doublecrossed and left for dead. On the run, she flees back to the States where she devises a plan to exact revenge on those who’ve betrayed her.

The  generic plot of Haywire could have been lifted from any ‘international’ action thriller stretching back from 1960’s to the present day. In fact, one could easily imagine Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson or James Coburn or on the lower end of the scale Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal inhabiting Carano’s role in decades past.

What makes Haywire stand out from the pack? Well probably the only thing for this reviewer were the fight scenes which crackle with realism, vigour and fluidity meaning there is none of the fast editing/shakycam technique that has become the signature style of Hollywood action films since the success of the Bourne franchise. Obviously the fact that Carano is quite a formidable physical presence in her own right  adds to the believability of these expertly choreographed confrontations and we get a sense of the sweat, the struggle and pain of close combat in Soderbergh’s long takes.

The film makes light use of  a fairly heavyweight cast: Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas  in particular come and go, act in a couple fo scenes and then leave without making much of an impression. Of course, Carano is the star here and Soderbergh is subverting a male dominated genre so maybe the point is to make these iconic actors subservient so that their mere presence doesnt detract or overwhelm the female lead. Fassbender makes the strongest impression but then he does get to take on Carano in a violent hotel room one on one.

So as a showcase for Carano’s natural abilities, sultry good looks and relaxed screen presence, the film is enjoyable but outside of the action, the film feels rather lethargic, which is only exacerbated by the rather flat dialogue and understated David Holmes score. It feels like a detached exercise rather than a project which the director was passionate about, a chance for him to develop his skillset in another genre and while there is certainly nothing wrong with a stripped down action film too often Haywire feels diffuse and perfunctory.

Derek Mc Donnell

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Haywire is released on 20th January 2012

Haywire – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU_v6Wl3tBw

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