By Chris Azzopardi | Q Syndicate
“Behind the Candelabra”
Looking beyond the razzle-dazzle – though plenty of sequins shake out in this Emmy-loved HBO telepic – director Steven Soderbergh evades camp kitsch for a sexually fearless and captivating exposé on the vanity, fame and obsessions of the iconic Liberace. The intimate/bizarre story takes a magnifying glass to the entertainer’s mutually toxic relationship with younger beau Scott Thorson (his 1988 memoir inspired the film) – and it’s a dark, dangerous rabbit hole they go down, rife with insecurities, codependency and superficiality – all the way through Mr. Showmanship’s AIDS-related death in 1987. Michael Douglas slips into the role – and in and out of some very feathery fabooshness – with an uncanny ease, illuminating every idiosyncrasy of Liberace’s narcissism and musicianship (he, and/or some really convincing camera tricks, even works that piano with impressive finger-dancing dexterity). Displaying as much skin as he does dramatic acting chops, Matt Damon, as Thorson, is also spectacularly uninhibited. And Soderbergh, who’s already demonstrated you can make magic out of male strippers, does career-best work finding the humanity in an otherwise cartoonish story. He bails, though, on the special features, leaving just a short EPK featuring the two leads.
The television adaptation of gay novelist Armistead Maupin’s classic saga premiered 20 years ago – and it looks it. That’s no reflection on the greatness of this zeitgeisty miniseries, which ran for six episodes back in 1993; it’s a terrifically scripted coming-of-ager about a fish out of water getting acclimated with the bohemian, anything-goes lifestyle of pre-AIDS San Francisco in the ’70s. There are gays and pot gardens and nakedness and … wait, this was on PBS? Considered ahead of its time, the series cast a riveting Laura Linney, as a Bay Area newbie, into the limelight, and endeared us even more so to Olympia Dukakis, the free-spirited trans woman who takes Linney’s character under her wing. The show, of course, is an absolute delight – a time-capsule yarn that revels in an emphatic cast of colorful characters as seen through the innocent eyes of Mary Ann Singleton (Linney). Its DVD is not. The two-disc set is marred by the same distracting graininess of its initial now-out-of-print 2003 release, which is to say it looks a lot like watching it on VHS. Carried over from that same set: cast commentaries on three episodes, nearly 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and a color insert with a Maupin intro.
How do you hate something with Motown music? With a heartwarming story based on fact? And with Chris O’Dowd, the Irish dreamboat who wanted to make cupcakes with Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids”? You don’t. You can’t. Unless you also hate kittens. So while its trite, shameless sentimentality and loosely explored social commentaries can seem a little Lifetime, this entertaining-but-flawed musical dramedy – about singing Australian sisters and their gal pal who get a gig in 1968 Vietnam performing for the troops – is big on charm, laughs and soul sing-alongs. And O’Dowd, as the bum manager with a heart of gold, is a delicious lead – a role requiring tart humor, bold dramatic turns and unexpected sweetness that he handles with awards-caliber capability. His sudden romance with one of the girls rings false in the end, when the film falls into sappy histrionics, but a few sour notes can’t ruin the flash and fun of seeing these girls make their dreams come true. The real Sapphires talk about the movie and their lives in a too-brief bonus interview.
The drama gets heavy in season two of Lena Dunham’s Emmy-winning HBO hit show, where Hannah (Dunham) and her girlfriends continue navigating life as a 20-something: being broke, complicated, relationship-challenged … and, you know, letting Patrick Wilson put it in you. The second season makes the piss-in-the-shower scene of the first look like batting practice, because here, Dunham – whose riskier writing polarized as much as it titillated the water-cooler talk – goes in some very unexpected and audacious directions that make your 20s look so boring. HBO gives the sophomore chapter an impressive set of special features, most notably Dunham’s sit-down with the show’s male ensemble.
There are moments so real in Oscar winner “Amour” you forget those are actors you’re watching. You forget there’s a director behind the camera. And you certainly forget, as is often said about horror films, that this is just a movie. Michael Haneke’s “Amour” is the worst kind of horror – the real kind. It’s what Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) experiences when his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a heart attack, putting their love – and his loyalty – to the test. It’s grim, poignant and wrenching, and the roles Riva and Trintignant play are beyond performances – they’re as honest as life. They discuss their parts during a short making-of.
Call it a kid classic if you want, but the Muppets – going from TV variety show darlings to silver-screen stars with this 1979 flick – did more than entertain with songs and silliness; they got to your heart. But aside from “The Rainbow Connection,” this road-trip rollick about hope and dreams and destiny, where Kermit and his flamboyant puppet posse (and real peeps like Cloris Leachman and Steve Martin) hope to bring people to their happy place, is a film for the ages. All ages. With just some sing-alongs and a short Kermit interview, this Disney release surprisingly skimps on extras. But still, these are the Muppets. This is their first film. For all you dreamers, this is a must-have.
—Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at chris-azzopardi.com.