This weeks new movie reviews, including After Earth, Last Exorcism Part II and Behind The Candelabara
BEHIND THE CANDELABARA
Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) finds his life changed when he enters into an incredibly secret but loving relationship with showman Liberace (Michael Douglas). Based on the true story of Thorson and Liberace’s relationship, the film examines the life of one of the most secretive entertainers, and the impact this had on both Scott and Lee’s lives.
Behind the Candelabra screened in Cannes to rapturous reviews, and the good news is that the film is as good as you have heard. Originally made for HBO, the film will not receive a cinema release in the US, which immediately disqualifies it from the Oscars. Roll on the Golden Globes!
Michael Douglas is perhaps the best he has ever been as the enigmatic and charming Liberace. Known as Lee to his friends, Douglas allows the character to be effeminate but never camp, vulnerable and ferocious at the same time. Douglas’s performance makes it obvious that to Lee; Liberace was the performance of his life, used to cover up truths about himself that he felt would not have been accepted. Douglas is subtle and compelling throughout the film and his interactions with every member of the cast are delightful.
Matt Damon captures the starry eyed essence of a 17 year old asked to move in with a massive star. As time goes on though, Damon also allows Thorson to become as much a brute as Douglas’s Liberace, albeit one who the audience sympathises with. Again, Damon allows Thorson to be just effeminate enough to get the point across but, like Douglas, even when he is drenched in furs and rhinestones, he is never camp or over the top. In fact, Damon’s walk as Thorson is a joy to behold, as it is the only hint that he gives the outside world of the secrets he and Lee are hiding.
Star turns are also made in supporting roles; Debbie Reynolds is unrecognisable but wonderful as Liberace’s mother, but it is Rob Lowe, as a plastic surgeon with some questionable ethics, who steals the show. Lowe is comically monstrous throughout the film, his tightly pulled prosthetic face only adds to the illusion, as his presence and influence slowly pull the lovers apart.
Steven Soderbergh has been saying he is going to retire for so long now that it has become a running joke. I mentioned in my review of Side Effects that if that was the film he was going to bow out on, it was a good ‘un. Well, the same goes for Behind the Candelabra. Soderbergh allows tensions to ebb and flow and the tone throughout the film is spot on. Under his direction, Douglas and Damon play their relationship straight, the comedy is comedic, the tragedy is heartfelt and the demons build in the shadows until they have suffused Thorson and Lee’s entire world. The relationships are at once complex and simple and the narrative, while comparatively straightforward, is utterly engaging, although the pacing does falter towards the end of the second act.
Behind the Candelabra is a riveting look at a man who maintained secrets throughout his life, and the damage these secrets did to those who kept them. Damon and Douglas are wonderful together, but Rob Lowe steals every scene that he is in… Like he does in Californication.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE ICEMAN (USA/16/105mins)
Directed by Ariel Vromen. Starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, James Franco, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer.
THE PLOT: Charting the life and crimes of New Jersey career criminal Richard Kuklinski (Shannon) who managed to kill over 100 people before he was eventually arrested in 1986, we open in New York, the 1960s, and our boy hides keeps his dark side hidden to his girlfriend, Deborah (Ryder), telling her he dubs Disney animation. After marriage and a baby, Kuklinski gets involved in porn piracy, his talent as a cold-blooded killer bringing him to the attention of the Gambino crime family. Cut to 11 years later, and Kuklinski is still working for Gambino, and still hiding his real livelihood from his wife. When he hooks up with another killer, ice-cream truck driver Robert Pronge (Evans), the two start working together. Which doesn’t please the Gambino clan…
THE VERDICT: With quite the talent for playing troubled-verging-on-Biblical souls, Michael Shannon is a perfect piece of casting when it comes to the cold-blooded contract killer that is Richard Kuklinski. The only trouble is, Kuklinski didn’t exactly lead a perfect story-arc of a life, his story being as splattered and messy as, well, the corpses he regularly created. Director Ariel Vromen (making something of a career leap here) seems to have bitten off more than he can chew here, never quite hitting those longed-for Scorsese highs, and so we’re left with some striking, trailor-worthy scenes (a noisy nightclub hit being particularly brilliant), and, especially in the closing act, a whole lot of busy, as multiple backstories and characters vy for our frazzled attention. RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne
THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (USA/15A/88mins)
Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly. Starring Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen, Tarra Riggs, Louis Herthum.
THE PLOT: Our young demon Nell (Bell) somehow survived the fiery inferno that awaited her at the end of the previous movie, and so is now once again making life miserable for some unsuspecting victims. In this case, it’s a nice young couple who get to enjoy Nell’s special attention before she’s whisked off to a halfway house for the faintly bewildered. There, Nell gets to live the life of your average troubled American teen girl, listening to rock music and flirting with boys. Soon, all the wrong kind of things are going bump in the night though, as Nell is visited by her father’s ghost, and her friends start, you know, being all possessed and shit…
THE VERDICT: Well now, there’s a title that has a catchy ring to it. Then again, no one – including the filmmakers themselves ever suspected that their small 2010 offering would end up becoming a franchise. Otherwise, they might have called it The Second-Last Exorcism. Or The Tenth-Last Exorcism, if they’d gotten Disney onboard.
As it is, there’s every chance that this might actually be the last exorcism, given that director Ed Gass-Donnelly – and his two co-screenwriters – fail to come up with any new twists to a well-worn genre here. More significantly, when it comes to the all-important box-office, they fail to come up with any real scares. Which is what the teenagers who flock to these schlock-horror outings ultimately only care about.
If you’ve ever thought that you just can’t keep a good demon down, well, it turns out, all you have to do is create a dull sequel. RATING: 2/5
Review by Paul Byrne
COME AS YOU ARE (Belgium/15A/113mins)
Directed by Geoffrey Enthoven. Starring Gilles De Schryver, Tom Audenaert, Charlotte Timmers, Roos Van Vlaenderen, Robrecht Vanden Thoren, Isabelle De Hertogh.
THE PLOT: Sharing not only a love of wine-tasting, buddies Philip (Thoren), Jozef (Audenaert) and Lars (De Schryver) also share physical handicaps. Philip is quadriplegic, Jozef is blind and Lars is confined to a wheelchair with a terminal illness. The three Belgian buddies discover that there is one other trait they share – each has a deep desire to lose his virginity. And so it is that our three determined Don Juans head to Spain, where there’s a brothel specialising in meeting the needs of people with disabilities. After a false start or two – parents discovering that it’s not a wine-tasting excursion; Lars’ doctor refusing him permission to travel – the boys are on the road, with paroled husband-basher Claude (De Hertogh) at the wheel. Soon, there’s more love in the air that the trio had planned on…
THE VERDICT: Having picked up the top prize at the Montreal Film Festival in 2011, it’s taken a surprisingly long time for this Belgian comedy to hit Irish screens. Then again, when you’re dealing with three disabled guys hitting a Spanish brothel to lose their virginity, it’s not exactly the stuff Foreign Film Oscars are made of. This is more Carry On than Nights Of Cabiria, but far more huggable than The Sessions, and a film that isn’t afraid to suggest that disabled men are just as sexist and boorish as the rest of us. If Ian Dury made comedies, I’m guessing they might have been something like this. Inspired by the true-life tale of Asta Philpot, the subject of a 2007 BBC documentary, For One Night Only, there is, of course, an American remake in the works. RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne
THE STONE ROSES: MADE OF STONE (UK/15A/96mins)
Directed by Shane Meadows. Starring Ian Brown, Gary Mounnfield, John Squire, Alan Wren, Shane Meadows.
THE PLOT: Charting the recent comeback tour by the shortlived iconic early 1990s Manchester band The Stone Roses – basically the missing link between The Smiths and Oasis – filmmaker Shane Meadows uses his backstage access to the band’s announcement, their gig rehearsals and early warm-up dates to largely wax lyrical about his all-time favourite band. So, beyond the spills, thrills and potbellies – including some choice, lovingly-shot and flatteringly-lit rehearsal footage of the four reunited buddies blasting through some old favourites in a secret hideaway cottage, and a rousing, seemingly endless rendition of Fool’s Gold at Manchester’s 75,000-capacity Heaton Park – we get a potted history of The Stone Roses, from cocky upstarts to cocking it all up by the second album.
Not the most articulate of bands, it’s perhaps unsurprising then that the most revealing section here arrives courtesy of the wide-eyed, sweating crowd who rushed to grab tickets for a free, 11-song warm-up gig at Warrington’s 1,100-capacity Parr Hall on May 23rd, 2012. Most are now parents, many middle-aged, and their predictable belief – a belief that everyone holds for the artists who soundtracked their teen years – that The Stone Roses are the greatest band to have ever rocked god’s green earth is both touching and hilarious. That early elation for the band’s third coming gives way to a simple taking-care-of-business tour though, especially after drummer Reni bails before the planned encore in Barcelona. Suddenly, Meadows is out of the dressing room too…
THE VERDICT: They may have everything a filmmaker could ever wish for – buckets of attitude, Super 8 beginnings, a cute lead singer, one great album (that eponymous 1989 debut), and one tired, forced, joyless follow-up (1994’s The Second Coming), plus lots and lots of spills, thrills and bellyaches – but The Stone Roses are plainly far too precious and iconic a band to Shane Meadows for the noted filmmaker to deliver anything more than a loving promo. Which works mightily fine, when everything is indeed loving. Once the band start hitting some sour notes though – such as drummer Reni’s walkout – Meadows is left high and dry. Not only by his new bestest friends (who naturally don’t want to wash their dirty laundry in public, not when there are outdoor arenas still to fill), but also by his own killer instincts. A non-fan would have pushed the band harder about what it is that makes them shoot a gift horse in the mouth so regularly. RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne
AFTER EARTH (USA/12A/99mins)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz, Glenn Morshowe.
THE PLOT: A thousand years from now, and we’ve knackered earth’s environment to the extent that we’ve all had to move to Nova Prime – where, unfortunately, monsters designed to eat humans happen to live. They may be blind, but these monsters smell our fear, something that United Ranger Corps’ pin-up Cypher Raige (Will Smith) has managed to combat. By not crapping his pants, metaphorically speaking, every time one appears. Everybody loves Cypher, but for his young son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), that’s an awful lot of legacy to live up. So, father and son take a trip together. A trip that goes horribly wrong, leaving pop laid up whilst he guides his son, via camera phone, through a 1,000km trek for help…
THE VERDICT: Welcome to Will Smith’s Battlefield Earth. Getting more like Tom Cruise in just about every way – and those rumours have been building and building in the US – it’s hard to explain why Smith would make the downright bizarre move of trying to kickstart his jaded career by signing up for an M. Night Shyamalan movie. I repeat, an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
Not only that, but Smith puts his little robobrat son Jaden in the lead, even signing over the posters to his offspring. For a man who once prided himself on studying, 24 hours a day, what it was that people wanted out of their blockbusters, how could Smith get it all so incredibly wrong here? This film died a horrible, career-crushing death at the US box-office, and Smith seems already destined to play up more and more to those booming new Second World markets, such as India and China, for his ego-boosts. It can’t be long now before he’s in sunny Dublin, doing the soaking wet red carpet soft-sell shuffle with Xpose?
Review by Paul Byrne