Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Behind the Candelabra” (Film Review)

Long before Justin Beiber (or even Michael Jackson) began collecting million dollar paychecks, “The World’s Highest Paid Musician” title was once held by none other than, Liberace. Mr. Showmanship, as he was affectionately known, lived by the motto of “Nothing succeeds like excess”, flaunting his wealth and enviable lifestyle both on stage and in real life. 

Thankfully, “Behind the Candelabra” is not one of those usual Hollywood biopics, which usually falls flat in the process of painting yet another celebrity portrait. It is rather a tale of Liberace’s secret relationship with Scott Thorson, an animal trainer from Wisconsin, who later became Liberace’s personal chauffeur and lover. 

The tight and steadily-paced script, masterfully directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”, “Ocean’s Elven”), explores the complexities of a common gay relationship; a powerful wealthy gay daddy and his kept boy, while exposing the essential elements such as ego, promiscuity, indulgence, jealousy, power struggle and the drug use, played out in their doomed affair which ended in an ugly court battle.

Douglas as Liberace
Michael Douglas has made a successful decades-long career playing the alpha male roles. But here, he miraculously morphs into the fur-coat-swirling, jewelry-loving, piano-strumming Liberace. Although his piano-playing scenes are pure work of technology, Douglas as the Vegas veteran, is effectively eccentric, egoistic and extravagant with a slight hint of vulnerability and madness of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”. A certain Jacuzzi scene may spoil the fantasy of those who are still dwelling on his iconic bathroom scene in “Basic Instinct”. One word: Gravity. Nevertheless, Douglas should be writing his speeches by now for the upcoming award season starting with the Emmys in late September. 

Damon as Thorson 
The same can be said about Matt Damon. Flexing his acting muscles (and a bunch of 'other' muscles for that matter), Damon not only holds his own against the captivating Douglas, his portrayal of Scott Thorson, from a young and na├»ve small-town boy to a vain and confused drug addict, is pitch-perfect. Debbie Reynolds’s cameo as Liberace’s Polish mother, with accent and all, is just an icing on the cake while unrecognisable Rob Lowe’s supporting role as the creepy plastic surgeon, Dr. Jack Startz, is the true scene-stealer. In addition to a few of Liberace's famous tunes, which will hopefully attract a whole new fan base, the HBO film also features the beautiful poignant score by Marvin Hemlich (“The Way We Were”, “A Chorus Line”), sadly his final work.

Rob Lowe as Dr. Startz
“Behind the Candelabra” offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of celebrity all the while transporting us back to an era where homosexuality and AIDS were very much taboo. It is interesting, in fact quite amusing to see how people including many of Liberace fans were willing to be fooled or help him mask his homosexuality. In one scene, an ardent older female fan asks Scott Thorson “Are you Mr. Liberace’s son?” as though the glitter man’s campy costumes and outrageous persona weren’t the big reveal.

With so many celebrities coming out and issues such as Gay Marriage being a hot topic these days, "Gay" is becoming a lot less taboo but much more mainstream. While it is still not an ideal world that we live in, we certainly have come a long way.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Applause" ~ Lady Gaga (Single Review)

No one does throwback like Lady Gaga. She does it well and she has her way. Of course, with that I mean, she routinely steals elements from artists of the past, sometimes labelling it as " simply drawing inspiration" or oftentimes, blatantly lying that it's her very own in fact ("Born This Way" Vs. "Express Yourself", anyone?). What matters most here though is that she has guts and she has a huge following. Many of her Twitter-era fans are way too young to know that much of what she sings, writes or performs is nothing but recycled anyway. So it comes as no surprise that she offers what she does best on her much ballyhooed latest single “Applause”, a boring synth-pop dance track that takes us back to the days of Disco era. "Applause" starts out innocently as though a long lost Grace Jones’s track from the 70's has just been unearthed. Only when the chorus kicks in, one realises that it is yet another Lady Gaga track. In other words, predictable and phony. Honestly, "Applause" is rather weak to lead one of the most anticipated albums of the year, "Art Pop",the title which, again, may sound to many as a flipped version of a certain art movement, coincidence or not, that was fronted by a prominent artist named, Andy Warhol. Nevertheless, it does give a glimpse of what we could expect from Gaga's third studio album- the Studio 54-era flavoured pop tunes painstakingly Instagram-ed to meet the needs of this retro-hunting generation. Her vocals on "Applause" are auto-tuned so heavily that even ardent Gaga fans would not recognise their Mother Monster at first listen. Luckily, this mundane song will get the visual oomph that it desperately needs when she performs it for the first time at the upcoming VMAs or once she releases the video. By the time it happens anyway, the song would have grown on many of us, thanks to radios and social media. Written and produced by Gaga herself and DJ White Shadow, whom I give credit for making the song somewhat current, the single sadly does not offer anything fresh or noteworthy musically. In the chorus, Gaga sings, 

"I live for the applause, applause, applause 
I live for the applause-plause, live for the applause-plause
Live for the way that cheer and scream for me
The applause, applause, applause"

mirroring once again the theme she used on her first two discs, "Fame". Well, it seems, in 2013 as well, mindless pop tunes still have their place. What can I say? Let the world dance. Just dance, as Gaga once said.