Must-see new movies

The summer is almost over (unless the fabled Indian summer happens soon) which is a bummer BUT the one thing that cheers me up at this time of year is the fact that we get a bumper crop of decent movies to watch. Summer is always a bit of a wasteland for good movies and I rarely go to see much in the cinema, however in the months ahead there’s lot of stuff coming to the big screen that I am looking forward to. I’m starting tomorrow night with Elysium which looks awesome from the trailer. (I was particularly interested to hear that Jodie Foster instructs her agent to look for roles written for men, as they’re often juicier and more complex.)

 

 

Next up is Lovelace, already in theatres and starring Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace, the 70s porn queen. It looks really good but somewhat harrowing if you know Lovelace’s story.

 

 

Dallas Buyers Club is already generating Oscar buzz for Matthew McConnaughey, who famously shed 38 pounds to play Ron Woodruff, an AIDS patient who decided to import medication from Mexico to stave off the progression of his disease. IMDb lists the UK release date for next year so we have a while to wait for this one.

 

 

Regular readers of the Multiverse know that I harbour a deep and permanent love for Robert Redford, so of course I’m looking forward to seeing All Is Lost. Redford plays a man lost at sea and the movie is directed by J.C. Chandor who wrote and directed my favourite movie of last year, Margin Call.

 

 

Lastly American Hustle boasts an amazing cast and is due to hit our screens in December. It tells the true story of the 1970s FBI Abscam operation and looks like a fun movie.

 

Behind The Candelabra

I finally saw Behind The Candelabra, the HBO film about Liberace that I first blogged about back in April. The film, directed by Stephen Soderbergh, chronicles the last ten years of Liberace’s life, from 1977-1987, and focusses on the relationship between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).

Seventeen-year-old Scott Thorson is introduced to Liberace by a mutual friend at his show in Vegas in 1977. Liberace, by then fifty-seven, takes a shine to Scott and invites him to his home, eventually asking him to be his “assistant”. Liberace, while lonely and distrusting of people, is also a libidinous man who gets bored of his conquests after a while, and the viewer knows that inevitably Scott will go the way of all the rest.

Scott moves in with Liberace and his head is quickly turned by the life of sex, wealth, shopping and glamour that he offers. They grow so close and co-dependent that Liberace changes his will and even begins proceedings to adopt Scott. The viewer’s disbelief is echoed by a character who says, “Why would a grown man want to adopt another grown man?” Quite.

The casting in the film is excellent. Damon plays both the younger naive Scott and the older disillusioned and somewhat cynical Scott perfectly. Rob Lowe is hysterically funny as Dr. Jack Startz, Liberace’s plastic surgeon whose face is pulled and stretched so much he resembles a plastic pixie (Rob Lowe describes his appearance in the film as that of a “transgendered Bee Gee“). The revelation in this film is Michael Douglas, who flexes his impressive acting muscles for the first time in a long time and gives a career-defining performance. His Liberace is spot-on: his voice, his mannerisms, his flirtatious manner, his wicked sense of humour. Liberace was closeted for his entire life but when one sees him on-stage one wonders how anyone, anywhere, could have thought he was straight. He was the personification of camp and Douglas could ham it up to the rafters and still not be over the top.

Soderbergh first conceived of the project in 2000 and eventually commissioned a script to be based on Thorson’s book from Richard LaGravenese in 2008. Douglas and Damon signed on immediately, but the project spent years in development as Soderbergh could not get a major studio interested – they all thought the movie was “too gay”. It’s seems astounding to me that even with A-list stars and a respected director, studios were unwilling to participate. (I suppose it shows that not a hell of a lot has changed in the twenty-six years since Liberace’s death. How depressing.) HBO released the film in the US so Behind The Candelabra will be classed as a made-for-TV movie and will not be eligible for the Academy Awards, but if Douglas doesn’t win a Golden Globe for this performance I’ll be shocked.

As Liberace says about Thorson’s childhood during the film, “What a story. It had everything but a fire in the orphanage.” This is also true of Behind The Candelabra so make sure you see it in theatres soon!

Behind The Candelabra

HBO Films continue to impress with this latest trailer for upcoming feature Behind The Candelabra directed by Stephen Soderburgh. The film stars Michael Douglas as Liberace, the flamboyant pianist beloved by the American public for decades, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson, Liberace’s chauffeur, lover and friend who sued him for palimony at the end of their relationship. The film is based on Thorson’s book which details their relationship, Liberace’s love of excess and extreme ambition, and how Liberace’s denial of his homosexuality made him a deeply unhappy man.

When I visited Las Vegas in 1999 with my Dad, we went to the Liberace Museum, one of the very few cultural experiences to be had in Vegas. It was chock full of his extravagant costumes and jewellery – velvet hotpants, a mink cape weighing ten stone, a pink feathered coat, a suit with battery powered lights and flames made of sequins, and high heeled custom made boots were some of the more unforgettable items. There were customised cars (including a hybrid of the back end of a VW Beetle with the front end of a Rolls Royce), bejewelled pianos, and the largest rhinestone in the world. Honestly, having walked through it, you wonder how anyone could ever have doubted he was gay. No straight man cares that much about jewellery. The museum closed in 2010 but apparently there are plans to reopen a version of it, entitled The Liberace Experience, in 2014.

The film premiers on HBO in the US on May 26th. Who knows if it will get a release here or if we’ll have to wait for it to be available on DVD but it looks like one to watch.

 

I will accept no substitutes

Seeing photographs in the paper today of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in the Baz Luhrmann directed Gatsby film to be released later this year underwhelmed me in the extreme. As everyone knows I am possibly Robert Redford’s biggest fan and to my mind his performance was the perfect Jay Gatsby and cannot be improved upon. (Mia Farrow in the same film is another story – she irritated the life out of me as Daisy and I think Carey Mulligan could be infinitely better in the role.) If you need any convincing just look at this…

DiCaprio on set.

And now this…

Sorry Leo but THIS is Jay Gatsby

And furthermore…while we’re on the subject…making a new Bourne film without Matt Damon is a huge mistake. Damon bowed out of the Bourne Legacy as Paul Greengrass wasn’t interested in directing a fourth installment of the series. Instead they have brought on board Jeremy Renner as another CIA Treadstone operative. The trailer was released yesterday and while it looks good, I won’t be rushing to the cinema with the same sense of urgency as if Damon had been starring in this.

Moviemakers, why do you insist on messing with an unbeatable formula?!

A new gangster movie with Damon and Affleck

The news that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are developing a movie based on the notorious American mobster Whitey Bulger filled me with good cheer! As you already know I am a big fan of gangster films and Bulger’s story is chock full of potential. In fact Bulger’s story inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in Scorsese’s The Departed. After 16 years on the run Bulger was finally apprehended in June of this year, thus ending a criminal career that had spanned 67 years and included drug dealing, extortion, theft and 19 counts of murder.

Matt Damon when interviewed by GQ last month confirmed that the Good Will Hunting duo would work on the project, with Damon starring and Affleck directing. I think Affleck’s real strength is in directing; Gone Baby Gone was brilliant and The Town is one of my favourite movies of 2010. It looks like the Untitled Whitey Bulger project (as it’s called on iMDb) won’t be released until 2014 but it’s definitely one to watch out for.

FBI Poster for James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger

Gerry, Ordinary People and dialogue in general

I recently watched a Gus Van Sant movie, Gerry, about two guys who get lost in the desert after a hike. Part of Van Sant’s Death trilogy, preceded by Elephant (inspired by the 1999 Columbine shooting) and succeeded by Last Days (inspired by Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide) Gerry was released in 2002. Casey Affleck and Matt Damon star and also co-wrote the script.

To me Gerry stands out as a shining example of how not to write a movie. Perhaps cinematographers may get something from Harris Savides‘ stunning work, or maybe actors might get something from the minimal performances, but as a writer I thought it was woefully lacking. The film had almost no dialogue and no backstory and therefore I knew as much about the characters at the end of the film as I did when it began. To be honest I didn’t give a rat’s ass whether they lived or died which is a bit of a drawback when one is supposed to be biting one’s nails to see if they make it out of the desert at all.

 

 

I always view movies as a writer; it’s inevitable I suppose. These days there aren’t many movies that really stand out in terms of dialogue as audiences don’t seem to have the attention span for character driven pieces. I recently watched Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford and starring Timothy Hutton, Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore. The script was written by Alvin Sargent who rightfully won the 1981 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on the film.

I thought the movie was remarkable for the dialogue. Timothy Hutton’s character has just come out of a psychiatric institution and his stay there is not discussed much throughout the film. The one exception to this is when he meets a girl who was in the institution and she remarks on how well his hair has grown back. He rubs his head, looks at her with embarrassment and says what a stupid thing it was for him to do. With this five second exchange of conversation the viewer learns so much about Hutton’s character. We imagine how he may have hacked at his hair in a moment of madness and it deepens our understanding of him. It allows the audience to use their own imagination, to interact with the story, and this enriches the experience. (If you have never seen Ordinary People you should rent it immediately, even if you’re not a writer!)

 

 

I think much can be learned from cinema in terms of good dialogue. It can convey so much to the viewer without necessitating laboured backstory or spoonfeeding. Do any readers have any movies to recommend on this basis?