Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Film: 'BEHIND THE CANDELABRA'

It's true that throughout this film I couldn't get out of my head that I was watching its two main stars performing their characters rather than seeing Liberace and Thorson on screen. But even so, I found it a highly entertaining experience, both Douglas and Damon giving their all  More's the pity, then, that they'll be denied their chances of Oscar nominations because of the film's not qualifying for such, due to its absence of an initial American theatrical release. However, I'd find it gratifying if Douglas, at least, manages to achieve a BAFTA nomination. He'd deserve it as I don't think he's been better - and probably the same goes for Damon too, notwithstanding the fact that at the start of the film he is playing a young man still in his teenage years.

The film ought to work even better for those who didn't know of Liberace, as Douglas' portrayal then wouldn't be encumbered by memories of witnessing the real man's act on screen.  But I think some of those of younger generations might only see the off-putting duplicity of this unique individual, whose closeted-life paranoia was hardly a shining advertisement for progressive gay politics.
L's reputation as a global superstar seems now to have been all but been expunged from memory, not only surely because of the manner of his demise during an infamous series of denials as to the true nature of his illness (I still clearly recall the publicity announcements of his loss of weight being due to a 'water-melon diet' -  this being still at a time when ignorance and scare-stories about AIDS were rife and precious fodder for the tabloids) but also because there is hardly anything of permanence that he has left behind, other than a few films of TV appearances. There is certainly nothing of lasting significance in the recording field.
In the U.K. he had just the one Top 20 'hit' - 'Unchained Melody' which reached the dizzy heights of number 20 itself for all of one single week in 1955!
In Mark Kermode's positive review of this film for the BBC he tells of a younger member of staff pronouncing the name 'Liberace' to rhyme with 'face'. So far have 'the mighty' fallen!

This film, beginning in 1977 at the start of his relationship with Thorson, takes the story up long after Liberace's popularity had peaked , which had probably been in the late 1950s. But even at a date as late as the start of the film he did still have a loyal fan-base (particularly of blue-rinse ladies) - and he did still possess big-name allure that few could compete with, right up there even with Sinatra himself.

The story is an interesting one. I haven't read the Thorson book on which the film is based but it's still fascinating. One knows there will be a 'car crash' in the relationship between the men but I didn't know at what point it would come and what particular event would trigger it, apart from guessing that it would be one of jealousy, justified or not.

Rob Lowe, as the unintentionally funny plastic surgeon, is remarkable. Good also to see Debbie Reynolds on screen again, if only twice briefly. (I didn't even think she was still with us!)

Although we get good sight of some of the man's outlandishly garish costumes it was a pity that we didn't see a like impression of the adulation in performance he got almost universally, all his performances here taking place in the one theatre, and all with a curiously muted audience, and a barely visible one at that. But, as indicated, the action takes place long after his own 'bubble' had burst so it may have been factually accurate. However, apart from a retinue of house staff and bodyguards, it still provided no illustration of his continued status as a 'living legend'.

One particular curiosity I noted. How was it that in the late 1970s and into the 80s he could not afford a colour TV? Even I could!


I feared I might have been disappointed by this film. I wasn't - and I mark it with a commendable......................7.5

Friday, 7 June 2013

Film: 'THE BIG WEDDDING'

The justification for this hopelessly flat 'romantic-comedy' was, presumably, that if you take a quartet of big-name stars (from the 'mature' range), give them some bland sentences to utter, including a few, oh-so-daring oral sex references, then, hey presto, we'd all be laughing our socks off. If only.

Robert de Niro (yet again determined to show that he can 'do' comedy - yawn!) and Susan Sarandon are a living-together couple following his divorce from Diane Keaton, the formerly married pair having an adult son and daughter as well as an adopted son, the latter being about to get married. The prospective groom's non-English-speaking natural mother is coming to the wedding but, being a devout, traditional Catholic who doesn't accept divorce, there is the problem of her being disapproving towards her son's foster parents. Solution? De Niro and Keaton will pretend that they are still married for the duration of the mother's stay. Sarandon doesn't like the idea and leaves the home in a huff - but to everyone's dismay, unexpectedly pops up as official wedding caterer. I'd have thought that this situation, though totally unoriginal, might have provided some entertaining fireworks as there is comic potential in having her embarrass the 'pretend-married' couple in various novel ways - but that idea doesn't  get off the ground. I can only think that the director had to find some way of keeping Sarandon in the film after her walk-out.
      Robin Williams appears in three brief scenes as the officiating priest - with nothing of note to add.
Mother duly arrives, with her predatory adult daughter who sets her eyes on groom's single brother (note: not gay), played by one, Topher Grace (a name I didn't know, but pretty damn hot!). And there's also the  presence of De Niro's and Keaton's daughter in sour mood. having just broken off a relationship with her partner. Will they manage to get together again before the film ends? What suspense! Ha ha! Oh, what a hoot this all is!  
     Film culminates in one of those alfresco wedding-dos that seems to be a feature of so many American films since 'The Godfather' - and where revelations tumble out, jaws drop, reconciliations offered, refused, then accepted - and everyone finally, happily and willingly drowns in a treacle of gooey sentiment.
   One of the things that really bugged me about this film was the frequent presence of music which nudges one when to laugh or, at least, when to wear a favourably-disposed smile. It's one of my pet hates. If a situation or a line in a film is funny then I'll laugh without any assistance, thank you. I do not need to have it underlined, as though giving me permission to do something which I may not wish to do!

It's one of those films which I wished I hadn't bothered with and saved my money. But, having succumbed to be drawn to it by the big names appearing, I'm obliged to give it a score. So, with one point each for the mere presences of Sarandon, Keaton - as well as for the newly discovered hottie, Topher Grace - it achieves a grand total of.......................3/10!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Liberace's 'Desert Island Disc' choices

Oh blow! Enough of this shilly-shallying! Further to my blog of yesterday, let's now get this over and done with before I bore myself to death in a fog of torpitude.


Liberace's disc choices in this 1960 radio programme were:-

1) Rachmaninov - 18th variation from 'Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini' - the composer as soloist.

2) Tchaikowsky - Violin Concerto (soloist's 1st movement entry) - Jascha Heifetz as soloist.

3) Rimsky Korsakov - Scheherezade - opening of 4th movement, Sir Thomas Beecham conducting.

4) Glen Miller - 'Hallelujah'

5) Mantovani - 'September Song'  [one of two selections, along with Nr 8, of compositions by Kurt Weill].

6) R.Strauss - 'Death and Transfiguration', conducted by Bruno Walter

7) Puccini - La Boheme, Mimi's death scene - Renate Tebaldi

8) Frank Sinatra - 'Lost in the Stars' (title song from Weill/Anderson musical)  [a show of which I've never heard].


If he was forced to make do with only one of the above it would be the Rachmaninov.


His chosen luxury was, predictably, a piano - and his book of choice was 'The Magic of Believing' by Claude M. Bristol.


He felt his biggest consolation in leaving the world behind and to have to live alone on an isolated desert island, would be that he'd have no need to dress. "I hate dressing!" he said. (Who would have thought it!)

His biggest phobia was of bugs - flies, spiders, mosquitos etc.

His unfulfilled ambition at this time was to appear in a 'show' and in films as an actor. (Hardly a surprise that that was never realised!)

He liked to 'create things ' - and he loved fishing and gardening.


And that's it!




Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Liberace on 'Desert Island Discs'.

In the wake of the film 'Behind the Candelabra' which opens in cinemas here on Friday, and which I plan to see next Tuesday, I don't know why I hadn't thought of this until now.

The BBC has got available on one of its websites over 1,500 past editions of its radio programme 'Desert Island Discs' - and I've just searched out the one in which the subject was Liberace, which was broadcast on 23rd May 1960, when he'd have been approaching the age of 49, and four years after he'd won the then considerable sum of £26,000 in damages against the British reporter William Connor (under his nom-de-plume 'Cassandra'), for daring to suggest in a national newspaper (in a 'read-between-the lines' kind of way), that he, Liberace, was a homosexual.
     Given the date of broadcast of this 30 minute programme, the subject is treated quite formally and deferentially by today's standards - and nothing is said of the court case or his relationships. (Roy Plomley, the programme's innovator and regular presenter until he died in the late1980s, addresses him as "Mister Liberace.")

    There were several postings made last year by myself and by a few other bloggers expounding on the idea behind the 'Desert Island Discs' radio programme, which has been running since 1940s, in which a celebrity (of any renown at all - actors, show business, sport, science, writing etc -  including a large number of Americans), is asked to nominate which eight gramophone records s/he would take with him/her to a desert island on the assumption that these would be the only music (or speech) which would be heard for the remainder of that person's life. (Choices are to be of single tracks i.e. no more than three or four minutes long - the original idea being that each would occupy no more than the space of an old-style 78 r.p.m. record on a wind-up gramophone - so no complete musicals, operas, oratorios, large works etc)
In addition the subject is allowed to take one luxury (of no practical use in enabling survival) plus one book apart from the Bible (or some other 'spiritual' text appropriate to the castaway's beliefs, if any) and a complete Shakespeare, which are already on the island awaiting the subject's arrival. (If you don't want them you just don't read them!)


I fear that the programme may not be available to those outside the U.K. but here's the site just in case:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/p009y780

Anyone within these shores wanting to listen should have no problem in connecting.


If you are interested but can't connect to the site I'll do another blog revealing Liberace's choice of eight discs as well as some things he said in the interview, which actually wasn't very deep. He didn't give much away.


Btw: Now that the 'Candelabra's' trailer is being shown in cinemas I can already see that Michael Douglas, however praiseworthy his performance, doesn't quite seem to capture the sheer 'smarminess' which exuded from the guy. I ought to add that, personally, the presence of Liberace on the TV screen never repulsed me as he might possibly have done to others. There was always an intrinsic fascination about him in everything he did or in anticipation of what he'd say. There's no denying, he was a class act - impossible to follow. 




Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Film: 'BENJAMIN BRITTEN - PEACE AND CONFLICT'

Documentary (narrated by John Hurt) on the internationally renowned English classical composer, 1913-1976, recounting episodes of his school life (reasonably well re-constructed) - and other aspects, with an emphasis on his loathing of cruelty (to man and beast), his being influenced by W.H.Auden during his 2-year stay in America, his being a conscientious objector in WWII and his espousing of pacifist causes and leftish politics throughout his life. His life-long relationship with tenor Peter Pears is openly referred to, though questions arising in recent years as to whether he may or may not have had paedophilic inclinations are not addressed. (There has never been any suggestion that he ever, even once, indulged in such).
     I didn't learn much new about him, though I hadn't known he'd been such a prolific composer while still a child. He reached his 'Opus 100' still in his teenage years, including piano sonatas, chamber music and a large-scale symphony - though he didn't attempt to get any of them published.
     There was passing reference to his well-documented habit of permanently freezing out of his life anyone who let him down musically or disappointed him professionally, not even acknowledging their presence  although the day before they'd been the best of friends. Something else I'd heard, which actually wasn't mentioned in this film, was that his attraction to the treble voices of boys, for which he wrote many compositions, was likewise only for as long as that particular boy could sing within that high range. The moment his voice broke, Britten would again cruelly ignore the boy from then on. Some have seen a liking for boys' voices which extended beyond admiration to an infatuation with them. Maybe - I just don't know. (I'd also heard that both he and Pears were singularly lacking a sense of humour - particularly when a joke was aimed at them.)

   I've always had a problem to some extent with Britten's music. For a long time after I first became aware of him I often had the feeling that he'd so obviously try to avoid composing a hummable tune, veering off, as though in a conversation he was changing from an embarrassing subject. There was a 'contrivance' there which I didn't find with many other 20th century composers. In other words, there seemed to be a lack of spontaneity. Even now I occasionally get the same feeling - though it varies from piece to piece.
    It took me many years to appreciate his operas. I've heard them all now, and though I really needed at least two listenings for the magic to work, some of them are truly extraordinary. I suppose I know 'Albert Herring' the best, having seen it on stage at least three times, and it's great fun - and quite melodious too. It also boasts possibly his best libretto.
  And his largest-scale work, the 'War Requiem' is just phenomenal, something about which I could write a complete post.

A pretty good film, quite informative to some degree, perhaps more useful for those who know little about the man. Despite the inevitable gaps in his life story I did spend a fairly satisfying morning's viewing.
   

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Film: 'REALITY'

Despite the title this is an Italian film - and quite an attractive one at that.

Given that the subject matter - an unassuming member of the public chasing fame by applying to appear on TV's 'Big Brother' - is such a contemporary one, I'm surprised that, for all its dramatic potential, the situation hasn't been tried on film before, at least not in any one of which I am aware.

A Neapolitan fish-stall owner is egged on, mainly by younger members of his extended family, to have a go at the preliminary stage of B.B. when Naples is visited by the show's organisers scouting for 'talent'. His initial lack of enthusiasm gradually gets the better of him when he's given a glowingly promising assessment - which leads him on to thinking that just appearing on the programme, without necessarily even winning it, will bring him such lucrative fame that his and his family's lives will be transformed. When it appears that he hasn't been called as a member of the team he doesn't lose hope as it's immediately revealed that during the course of the particular run two new members will be introduced into the house, and he's convinced that he will be one of them. He therefore starts to burn his bridges, much to the dismay of family members and friends around him, who think he's 'lost it'. I won't reveal whether or not he does get to appear in the B.B. house - but the film follows an engaging track, starting light-heartedly when he does a drag act at a wedding, and then getting pretty deep, without its depth being an encumbrance.

I think the film has a message for many people, though it's perhaps doubtful that even those who catch it outside Italy (which, I'd imagine, will be very few) would think that the depiction of the central role could possibly apply to them. I've never watched a complete Big Brother series. I did sporadically dip into the very first one out of curiosity, but not since then as I just find them a crashing bore. But the application goes wider than B.B. Consider the ubiquitous talent shows where just about everyone appearing thinks that he or she has found the key to instant untold wealth and fame, often being totally deluded as to the presence of any special 'gifts' they may or may not possess. Nothing wrong with dreams, of course, but if riches were so easily attainable we'd all be rolling in money for our entire lifespans.

'Reality' kept me absorbed, I having no idea how it was going to play out. A fairly modest film, and no worse for it being so, I award it a commendable ................................6.5


Oh, and btw: The answer to the crossword clue in my previous post is 'KINGS' - at least I hope it will be when the solution comes out on Sunday. I think the clue is rather neat.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

One for the cruciverbalists.

I thought this clue was rather good, from this morning's 'Observer' crossword:-

Two-part book from Henry James, or Edward Lear? (5)


It didn't take me long to solve it but, even so, it comes close to what might be regarded as a 'classic'.
(I'll append the solution to my next blog which, I hope will be on Wednesday after I've attended the showing of a certain film.)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Film: 'THE EYE OF THE STORM'

This 2011 Fred Schepisi film, only now given a limited cinema release here, is based on a novel of Australian novelist Patrick White, of whom I am an admirer, though I've not read this one of his. I found it a film where the focus of the story seemed to be running away from my grasp. The more I tried to get in tune with where it was going, the further out of reach it seemed to recede. This was exactly the feeling I had when I first saw the 1985 Meryl Streep film, 'Plenty' - which I later got to like a lot. It hit me during the course of this film that the same director was responsible for both films.

This boasts a starry trio of principal roles - Charlotte Rampling as the aristocratic, bed-ridden, senility-approaching, widowed mother to Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis. (Both women are particular good).
Set in and around Sydney, the photography is ravishing. Rampling (actually only a very few years older than the actors playing her son and daughter) convincingly portrays the mother fully aware of her approaching end, and determined to die only when she ordains it. She has no obvious physical ailment apart from the normal ageing process. Her children visit her palatial home where she's lived all her life and their talk to her is of encouragement and a denial of facing reality. But she knows how things stand. There are significant flashbacks to a younger Rampling, some with Judy Davis, revealing a long-standing prickly relationship between them. The principal complications in the main story come from the female nurses, and their conflicts between professional loyalty to their patient and emotional involvement, one of them with Rush's character.

It was about half-way through this two-hour film that I felt I was starting to 'get it' - and from that point on I could sit back and enjoy it more. I'd class it as a 'challenging film'. Worth seeing, definitely - and unusual too. I wonder if on a second watching my opinion will change (For 'Plenty', seeing it again resulted in increased regard for that film.). I think my view will improve and on that expectation I'll award this film a...............6.5


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Film: 'STAR TREK - INTO DARKNESS' (in 2D)

Not much to say about this.
I've seen all the Star Trek films at the cinema though I've never been a fan - and never even sat through an entire episode of any of the TV series. But I would marginally rather watch a Star Trek film than one of the 'Star Wars'. The former's stories tend to have rather more human interest. However, in this film, when one takes away the fortississimo soundtrack gunfights, crashes and explosions, most of which occur in airless (and therefore what ought to be soundless!) space, the basic plot-line seems fairly perfunctory. Having said that, I didn't find the film as bum-numbingly tedious as some of the previous efforts in the series. But it's really one for those who have 'bought into' the Star Trek notion - and that obviously excludes me. I'm pretty sure it would leave most hardened fans thoroughly satisfied, which is all it was really intended to do.

In terms of 'pleasure' (or not) obtained for this viewer.....................3.5

Monday, 20 May 2013

Film: 'THE GREAT GATSBY' (in 3D)

In 1974, when I first saw the Jack Clayton version, I had not yet read the novel. My impression then was that Robert Redford was portraying a sympathetic, yet misunderstood, character. Then I did read the book (and again at least twice more since) and discovered that the Gatsby persona is much more complex and questionable. In this new film DiCaprio captures his shifty and shady aspect perfectly, a facet which is obvious from near the very start, and soon afterwards revealed explicitly to be so.


Baz Luhrmann applies his trademark frenetic visuals as though playing to an audience suffering from attention deficiency syndrome. Everything is busy, busy, busy - completely at odds with the spirit of the short novel which, though it can be read comfortably in a single sitting, is rich and languid in temperament, consisting of beautifully structured prose, best enjoyed when gently savoured and pondered over. Not for nothing is it regarded as one of the peaks of western literature, some going so far as to maintain, not without some justification, that it's possibly the "greatest American novel ever written". Luhrmann's film seems to be based on the idea that the greatest fault a film version could have would be to bore the audience. He doesn't do that. And you know what? I really liked it!

One could go through and tick off which cast members were better in this new film than the 74 one, and vice versa, (I've never seen the 1949 Alan Ladd film) but it all comes down to personal choice. I would just say that I missed Karen Black, given a more substantial role as Myrtle in the earlier film. And then there was Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in the new, sometimes looking alarmingly like Ricky Gervais! Carey Mulligan I thought was good and caught Daisy's vulnerable, flighty and troubled personality so well, very different from Mia Farrow who also was at least as good in an equally valid interpretation. Tobey Maguire as the colourless narrator was okay, but it's a rather thankless part. Why he had to narrate the entire film as a reminiscence, several years on, of a recovering alcoholic was, I think, a misjudgment, giving an unnecessary and distracting weight to a character who is essentially merely functional as a witness to the Gatsby/Daisy saga. It must have been some notion of connecting that character with the tragic reality of Scott Fitzgerald's own later,  alcohol-heavy life.
I'm not sure I cared for the frequent appearance of Fitzgerald's actual words on screen. I suppose it was as a kind of homage to the source work. It seemed needless when a huge proportion of the dialogue came straight from the novel anyway - but, not only that, I also became extra-conscious of those parts of the dialogue that had not made it into the final script. Several times I was waiting for certain lines to come up which had been lodged in my memory, but which just weren't to be voiced at all.
There are only a very  few extended scenes in the film. One of them, the longest, and near the film's end, is absolutely electric - the final confrontation between Gatsby and Buchanan, with Daisy, Carraway and Jordan looking on in utter horror as it inexorably escalates.

The music anachronisms didn't worry me so much (including the fact that Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' was actually composed shortly after the 1922 setting of the film/novel - I wouldn't have known that myself had I not read it!) but it's all par for the course with any Baz Luhrmann film.

Some of the reviews I've read have been openly hostile to this film, essentially on the grounds that its spirit is so far removed from the author's intentions. Although I agree with that, I must say that as a film I think it can more than stand on its own feet. As an entertainment in its own right I'm going to award this version of 'The Great Gatsby' a satisfyingly hefty........................7.5




Sunday, 19 May 2013

Eurovsion - The Final

So, Denmark won. Not too disappointed by that though I'd have put it in about 10th place. Her song, 'Only Teardrops', achieved most of its appeal, I imagine, because of its 'hook' on the title words. But I didn't think it was even the best hook - that was surely the plucky Belgian teenager's oomphy  'Love Grows' (finishing a disappointing 12th).



The other top places went (in order) to - Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Norway and Russia - whereas they ought to have been (i.e. my order of preference) - Netherlands (to which I gave my telephone vote), then Hungary, Malta, Belgium and Iceland. Hungary's simple, understated song was the one which really stood out for me on a second listening.

None of the songs I really liked were placed near the bottom. Difficult as it is to be objective about Bonnie Tyler's U.K. entry, 'Believe in Me', it wasn't an especially arresting song, and I think 19th is only a little below where it deserved to finish. Still, it was a six-place improvement on last year's last-but-one result.
Must have been humiliating for Ireland, which has won the contest more than any other country, finishing in last place, though once again it wasn't a particularly memorable song.

Biggest surprise for me was the rowdy, jokey song from Greece finishing as high as 6th - those bearded he-men in skirts doing a knees-up was the sight of the entire event and they had me transfixed.




But the undoubted winner of the night for me was Sweden's staging of possibly the best Eurovision contest I've ever seen - and I can go back a very long way (in fact to b/w TV). They got the balance exactly right between taking it seriously and humorous irreverence - and with more than one oblique reference to the contest's gay fan base (without which I bet the event would long ago have folded) and including a very brief but explicit depiction of a gay wedding, which must have caused considerable tut-tutting (and worse) among some viewers in more conservative societies.

For overall presentation I award Sweden...............douze points






Friday, 17 May 2013

Eurovision - Second Semi-final

On the whole, more entertaining than the first part, this year may go down as the contest which included an exultation of equal marriage - Finland's entry with a 'bride' enthusiastically chirping "Marry me!", only at the end of the act to clinch it with a full female-on-female kiss. Marvellous! - even though the song itself was nothing special. But it's got through to tomorrow's final.


Any slight regret about the first semi displaying a lack of 'hottie-ness' was dispelled by the Greek entry which also made it to the final -  a group called 'Cosa Nostra', cavorting around in kilts while fool-dancing to a ridiculous, disposable, raucous song, "Alcohol is Free!" . If it wins I'll be a monkey's uncle! Though having said that, I still can't understand how hard-rock act 'Lordy' of Finland, performing in rubber monster suits, won the title a few years ago.
The combined testosterone level of this Greek act (well, from at least three of its members) made up for any lack elsewhere. Very satisfying indeed!


I'm glad I didn't have an inkling of what was in store from Romania's brave entry. One had to hear it to believe it. It's also through - and the song wasn't bad either.


The surprise of the evening for me (as opposed to 'shock' - pleasant or otherwise) came from Norway - a sober song sung by one of several acts consisting of a single lady in a white dress, but a song I found highly appealing. A strong entry to actually listen to without any visual distractions.


But, when it came to declaring oneself, if we Brits had been allowed to vote in this second part, I think I would have cast mine for Malta, with its simple, cheery ditty. Hardly outstanding and unlikely to linger around once the competition is over - but pleasant to listen to and delivered with gentle, radiant optimism.

Okay, now that I've heard all the songs at least once (apart from France, Germany, Italy and Spain, who did not participate in the semis, though I'll correct that omission before tomorrow's final), on second hearing tomorrow night my opinion may well shift. But as at now I think I'd give my overall vote to the Netherlands. If my own vote concurs with the actual result it will be the first time it's happened for decades! Let's see what transpires.