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Yay Michael Douglas!

Oh, and the rest of the movie was awesome too!

Also, it kinda sucks seeing Soderbergh bowing out of directing after this film[1].  He’s strangely hit and miss (Traffic was fantastic, while the Informant! was a really weird film), but he takes a lot of chances, both large and small, and by the looks of his filmography (just direction wise), he’s made a lot of interesting films.  I have to see a lot of them still (I own his version of Solaris, and Magic Mike is now showing on HBO), but I say that for a lot of films period.

Anyway, Behind the Candelabra.  The film was adapted from Scott Thorson’s book of the same name, where Thorson detailed his relationship with Liberace from 1977 until the latter’s death in 1987.  The limited focus of the film helps a lot; other bits (Liberace’s deathbed vision from the 1960s, his lamenting of not acting more) is told through clever flashbacks and everyday conversations.  The focus seems to be more on Thorson though, given the autobiographical nature of his book: he encounters Liberace at one of his Vegas shows, and stays in contact with him until they start living together (Thorson is hired as Liberace’s chauffeur).  The story recounts other incidents as well: Liberace getting a face lift in 1979, amongst other things (with Thorson getting some changes made as well), the slow falling out between the two in 1981 and the eventual palimony suit in 1984.  There’s no singular fault either between these two, as Liberace was always one to eye younger men he found attractive (he made room for Thorson by kicking out his previous house guest), while Thorson fell into a heavy drug habit of diet pills and coke.

Liberace himself was an interesting individual.  I read the Wikipedia entry on him (as one would when they’d like to get some info on a person): he was outgoing and flamboyant, a showman in every sense of the word.  He was very Catholic, yet very materialistic.  He was secretive too, as he fought to keep his gay identity from being known (with settled lawsuits in the 50s and 60s, as well as the Thorson palimony suit).  This brief clip kinda explains most of that, actually:

Here he is playing his Boogie Woogie:

Crazy good.

The big appeal, besides a film on Liberace, was seeing Michael Douglas in a leading role again.  I forgot for a moment that he was in Haywire, though mostly in support.  Here, he’s pretty much in command, and he’s great.  He embraces what made Liberace completely: the showman, the flamboyant and outrageous, and the private and controlling.

Everyone else was good as well.  Matt Damon played Thorson well, despite being a bit overaged for the role (apparently Thorson was in his early 20s when they met?).  His caution gave way eventually to a deep love, both familial and sexual, though he did himself in with his hard drug use.  Dan Aykroyd was Seymour Heller, Liberace’s manager, and Rob Lowe was Dr Startz, Liberace’s plastic surgeon.

Actually, one thing that was really good was the makeup in the movie.  Besides making both Douglas and Damon look younger, both Aykroyd and Lowe were practically unrecognizable.  Lowe was especially creepy: I’m guessing Dr Startz was a result of his own face lift overuse, with his narrow slit eyes and a smile that barely crossed his face but was just weird.

Behind the Candelabra has been playing late on HBO pretty much all this past week since its debut.  Definitely check it out, it’s great.

[1] This interview with Soderbergh is really good, and also gets into the background of the making of the film.

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I explored aspects of this film – primarily, the idea of the hereafter or afterlife in general – in a post on my personal blog.  Obviously by reading this, I don’t find much credence in the societal ideas of the afterlife, that being Christianity and Islam (the movie also disposes of them as well).  Rather, the afterlife, if there is one, is rather muted, to the point of nonexistence.  People would argue against a notion, either because they’ve experienced the afterlife first hand from a near death experience, or because people need the afterlife to know that their loved ones aren’t living in hell or eternal darkness.

The film presents the afterlife in the question of whether one exists, and arranges its characters and plot lines as such.  George (Damon) has a gift – or curse, as he sees it – that allows him to find people in the afterlife by touching people with his hands.  He worked as a psychic before becoming overwhelmed by what he saw, and realizing that he would never have a normal life because of his abilities.  Marie (France) was on vacation in Thailand when a tsunami strikes (the movies incorporates actual real world events quite well) and left her nearly dead for a short amount of time.  It was enough to let her wander in the hereafter, and after this experience wishes to understand more about the afterlife.  Lastly, Marcus and Jason are twins in London, helping their mother try to recuperate from a drug addiction.  Jason dies after being struck by a car, leaving Marcus distraught and lost, trying to figure out what he should do with himself after his twin brother’s death.

If there’s anything that’s clear in what I wrote before and what should be expected, it’s that there are no definite answers to what the afterlife is.  That, to me, is a very satisfying presentation.  Life isn’t easy, which is why we have these notions of a beautiful afterlife, to give comfort to ourselves once we die.  The film understands this with several of the characters (both main and supporting) having to deal with the effects of losing a loved one and hoping to reconnect with them in some way.  Some are able to move on (George’s first reading, the one shown in the trailer, does it just to see if George is the real deal or not), while others, not so much, often to crippling effect.  How we deal with death often defines us as well for the majority of our lives.

Focusing on the movie as a movie, it by and large works.  The final act is a little too tidy in bringing the plot lines together, and the pacing is occasionally slow.  The ending is also low key, especially compared to the grandness of the opening minutes (the tsunami mainly), but it works because it closes out that portion of each character’s arc.  The acting is fine throughout, though the McLaren twins are rough at times (this isn’t the first time Eastwood has used young non-actors: see Gran Torino).  And the film is hopeful too, imploring action over inaction, forwardness over being stuck in time.  It’s challenging and mature, as all films should be with this subject matter.

B+

Somehow, you wonder, what exactly is the point of this movie?  Not in the sense of, does this movie have a point, which is does, in spades no less.  But, my asking of the question “what is the point of this movie” is in reference to, why was this movie made?

That’s not to say that this is a bad movie.  For what its worth, this movie is quite good.  Paul Greengrass is a terrific action director, despite his maniacal hand-held camera style.  The action scenes scattered throughout are visceral in design, and it makes you feel completely in the action the entire time.  The acting is decent, but this isn’t an acting movie.  Green Zone is very plot driven, and the characters respond to what happens next in the plot.  There are various maneuvers that lead the characters to the end game, and even then, the game isn’t over, as the game proceeds beyond the running time of the film.

The bulk of the movie takes place several weeks after the launch of the US-led invasion of Iraq in early 2003.  Chief Miller (Matt Damon in a not-a-Jason-Bourne role that so many people think he’s in) takes his company to various sites throughout Baghdag searching for those elusive WMDs (plot spoiler (if there was a need for one): there are no WMDs) but he keeps coming up empty handed.  He wanders around, looking for answers, but getting elusive ones, primarily from a Pentagon political person, Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a former CIA operative turned adviser Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson, who I get to listen to in The Secret of Kells this week), and a persistent Wall Street Journal writer, Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), who all know something that Miller doesn’t know, but then again, only Poundstone knows the truth of everything and will keep quiet on that truth.

Make sense?  I tried to make sense of it.

That’s probably as far as I’ll go with the plot.  Now, back to my original question: what exactly is the point of this movie?  This movie attempts to explain why America went to war in Iraq in the first place (those pesky WMDs).  There is a definite leftist slant to the movie, which will greatly anger right wingers indeed.  I don’t find complete justification in the anti-American criticism in the movie though.  If anything, it’s anti-utilitarian (the ends justify the means perspective, or as Google led me to, Consequentialism): we want Saddam out of power, so we will use whatever means necessarily to justify why we’re booting him out, eff all to ethics and morals.  I can imagine (though research is warranted) utilitarianism drove the country forward in the immediate months and years after 9/11, which is fine to a certain extent, but if you reach a point where you sacrifice ethics and morals for the sake of the end, as this movie suggests, then you face a seriously question in conscience and character.

Is that the final point with it though?  Who knows.  A movie like this desires discussion, even though it’ll split your audience in half.  Then again, we already know what happens, or rather, what actually happened in Iraq with regards to WMDs.  So, the discussion is already over, isn’t it?  Maybe not.  We’re still in Iraq, but on our way out.

So why are we there in the first place?  Green Zone attempts to answer why, and it manages to do so in a reasonable enough way.  Not everyone will agree, but not everyone is supposed to.

B