Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Abby Ryder Forsten, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Tip ’T.I.’ Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale
If Marvel Studios are going to release franchise instalments at the frequency they do – twenty superhero movies in ten years, five in the last 18 months – they can’t stick to the traditional blockbuster strategy of trying to outdo themselves with each film, of constantly striving to raise the bar with bigger stories and more extreme spectacles. Such an approach would be unsustainable, not to mention exhausting for fans. Instead, they opt for variety and modulation. Of scale, of tone, of stakes. The Ant-Man series is, fittingly, the smallest scale of the various strands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is some canny forethought from Kevin Feige’s team to offer up Ant-Man and the Wasp as a modest, low-stakes breather for superhero movie fans after the epic Avengers: Infinity War. Continue reading
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Abbie Rider Fortson, Judy Greer
You just can’t bet against Marvel Studios at the moment. Every time they announce a new project based on some obscure comic that raises your eyebrows and makes you think, “Surely this is the one that they makes them stumble,” they find a way to make it work. Boy did it work with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy last year and it has worked again, albeit not to quite as drastic an extent, with Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, a light, funny and surprisingly heartfelt superhero movie.
Decades ago, when working with SHIELD, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) invented the Pym Particle, a formula that alters atomic relative distance, reducing the space between atoms while increasing their strength. Using his discovery he became the original Ant-Man. However, after a terrible accident he gave up the superhero life and, concerned by the potential weaponisation of his technology, vowed to keep his formula secret. But now his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who took over his company Pym Technologies and voted him out, is on the verge of unlocking the secret of the Pym Particle, Continue reading
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. Between them they boast five Academy Awards and a further nine nominations. With Last Vegas the stars have aligned, enabling these four greats of the screen to come together and do the least ambitious work of their career. One can only assume that the lure of an easy pay cheque for a few weeks of not particularly demanding work with some old friends in Las Vegas was too good for them to turn down. However, just because they might have had fun making the film doesn’t mean that you are going to have fun watching it.
Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam have been the best of friends since they were kids, but as they hit their twilight years, life has got a bit tougher. Paddy’s wife has passed, Archie has had a stroke, Sam has lost his spark. When Billy, the eternal bachelor, announces that he is engaged to a woman young enough to be his daughter, Archie and Sam decide that a bachelor party in Las Vegas is just what the group needs to put a bit of a spring back into their step. But such an event means bringing together Billy and Paddy, who have had a falling out.
Obviously trying to tap into the success of The Hangover (at least the first one) and Bridesmaids – two films which in their best moments were quite subversive – this tale of old men behaving badly sets the bar pretty low. Last Vegas is exactly what you imagine it is going to be and nothing more. You get bombarded with cheap laughs about bad hips, medication, poor hearing, obliviousness to popular culture and, of course, Viagra.
Douglas, De Niro and Freeman are all playing to type; Douglas as the sleaze, De Niro as the curmudgeon and Freeman as the irreverent old guy with a bit of perspective on life. It is only Kline who succeeds in creating a vibrant and engaging character, which is problematic as the lion’s share of screen time goes to the less interesting dramatic conflict between Douglas’s Billy and De Niro’s Paddy. Mary Steenburgen, as lounge singer who catches the eye of both Billy and Paddy, is quite charming and proves herself to have quite a voice.
You can’t help but feel the whole film is summed up in one particularly low moment which sees Robert De Niro, one of the absolute legends of the American cinema, sit uncomfortably while LMFAO singer and X-Factor Australia judge Redfoo thrusts his speedo clad crotch into his face. In the end the goodwill engendered by the quality cast only goes so far in disguising what is otherwise an entirely unremarkable piece of fluff.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds
With Hollywood determined to play it safe and stick to generic cliché and recycling trusted ideas, subscription television networks like AMC and HBO have become the home of innovative and interesting filmmaking. So it is fitting that one of the most interesting films of the year should be a television movie. Based on Scott Thorson’s memoir Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, Steven Soderbergh’s film is a behind-closed-doors biopic of one of the world’s most flamboyant and conflicted entertainers.
Behind the Candelabra explores the final decade of Liberace’s life through the lens of his relationship with his young companion, friend and lover Scott. As time goes on, their relationship becomes more complicated with Scott’s identity disappearing into the world of Liberace as the entertainer seeks to adopt him and even buy him facial reconstruction surgery so they can look more alike, all in the name of being family.
Having been in gestation since 2008, the project was turned down by practically every Hollywood studio on the grounds that it was, as Soderbergh puts it, “too gay.” So it fell to HBO, who have made their name by taking chances that commercial networks wouldn’t dare, to make the picture. As a result, Behind the Candelabra was released on television in the US, but it has been given a cinematic release in Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom.
Today, it seems astounding to think that people would be unaware that Liberace was gay. But his fame predated the rise to prominence of gay culture and sensibility in America, and the film gives insight into how closely guarded and managed, not to mention litigated, his secret was. A scene in which Scott reads a passage from Liberace’s autobiography emphasises the extent to which the entertainer has been forced to live and perpetuate a lie.
The screenplay also touches on Liberace’s Catholicism, which he maintained despite that church’s stance on homosexuality, but doesn’t choose to make it a major issue.
With Michael Douglas attached to play Liberace, the production was delayed for a couple of years as he battled throat cancer, but it was worth the wait as Douglas’ performance is tremendous, some of the best work of his long career. In a role in which it would have been very easy to resort to caricature, Douglas gives Liberace incredible depth and complexity, showing him to be at once lonely, insecure, jealous, predatory, possessive and controlling. We also get some impressive scenes of Liberace working his magic on the ivories thanks to seamless digital work, compositing Douglas’ head onto a piano-playing double.
In the role of Scott Thorson, Matt Damon serves as the audiences entry point into the extravagant and glittery world of Liberace. He is as confronted as we are when he first arrives in Liberace’s home, but as he settles into his surrounding so do we. Casting the 42 year old Damon in the role of Scott, despite the fact that Scott was still a teenager when he met Liberace in real life, allows the film to focus on the authenticity of their relationship without having to deal with the awkwardness of the immense age difference.
The strong headline performances are backed up by an equally impressive supporting cast including Dan Aykroyd, Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and a heavily made up Rob Lowe as Liberace’s plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz, who is himself nipped, tucked and botoxed within an inch of his life.
Unsurprisingly in a film about the most flamboyant showman ever, the costume, set and production design takes centre stage with some fabulous recreations of Liberace’s signature costumes and his “palatial kitsch” home.
Despite being at times quite funny, overall it is a terribly sad, melancholy film, about an immensely talented, successful but conflicted man who is crippled by his need to please people, and who chooses to keep such a central part of who he is secret from the world so as not to be dismissed as a “silly old queen.”
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean