Behind the Candelabra

Oh, haven’t we all done things we regret? But poor Scott Thorsen – he gives up his job, his loving family, his health and his face (yes, his face) for that vile carapace of ego and guile, Walter Liberace. Soderbergh’s movie of the abusive, controlling and utterly dyspeptic relationship between between the two of them is actually quite brilliant – uncomfortable, cringe-worthy, repulsive, camp-as-christmas – and Scott’s downward spiral as he battles to keep a relationship he doesn’t know if he really wants is quite tragic.

Behind-The-Candelabra

Matt Damon as Scott is great, and Michael Douglas as Liberace himself is so good, so revolting, so abhorrent, so compellingly self absorbed you almost forget there’s an actor behind all that wig and rhinestone. Stand out too: Rob Lowe as a dodgy plastic surgeon with a face like Michael Jackson. It’s all a bit bizarre, but like a car crash, it’s impossible to take your eyes off.

Side Effects

Wow, Side Effects is a good movie. It begins with the tale of a depressed young society wife whose medication plays really nasty tricks on her….but then becomes so much more.

Side Effects

To be honest, I was really expecting a Sodeburgh procedural exposing the iniquities of Big Pharma – a Contagion-esque whodunnit following the insistent thudding steps between mild depression, drug popping and devastating side-effect breakdown. I certainly wasn’t expect an old style noir-ish psychological thriller.

I won’t tell you anything more about the plot except it’s magnificent, and twisty, and joyfully cruel. Rooney Mara is electrifying, Jude Law is fantastic. Great stuff. Vivid New York locations too.

Contagion

I guess when you’re Steven Soderbergh, you’ve got your pick of A-listers prepared to do bit parts in your films. And I guess you also get to pretty much choose where you’re going to shoot. And I guess, therefore, when you’re Steven Soderbergh, and a script like Contagion lands in front of you, you get to bring together your game team of cast and locations in perfect harmony.

Well, yes, that’s true enough, in principle. And it’s also true that – unlike some unfocussed, heart-stringy Roland Emmerich block buster – Soderbergh takes the high road with the story line. He treats it dead seriously that a working Mom returns from a business trip to China trailing a disease in her wake that’s both airborne and transmitted by touch. The ensuing pandemic ultimately takes out several million people whilst Scientists struggle try to isolate a cure and the woman’s surviving husband attempts to fend for his surviving child.

So I found the sociological parts of the story really fascinating – yes, even the close ups that remind us ickily of the gazillion objects we carelessly touch each day. But in spite of the excellent cast and the glorious range of places he puts them (Illinois did stand in for Minnesota), it just fails to connect on any visceral level. Perhaps that’s apt: in a movie where human contact can be fatal we are held at a very safe distance from the characters. So: Contagion? Good, but not, sadly, great.

The Informant!

I knew someone once who was a prolific and inventive liar. When he came to South Africa to visit, he was so busy dishing out the whoppers about his relationship with a certain Royal that the whole story ran away with itself for a while. I didn’t follow the fall out – I’d drifted away in embarrassment by then – but all I can say is that I didn’t find being press-ganged as an enabler of someone else’s fantasy life very amusing at all. I added no exclamation mark whatsoever to that experience….

All this is probably why I found The Informant! so troubling. Matt Damon plays chubby Mark Whittacre, a bumbling, haphazard, self-destructive senior manager at a food production plant who seems to lie for the hell of it. He becomes a snitch about the company’s humungous price fixing tactics, but at the same time he’s ditching dirt to the FBI, he’s simultaneously defrauding the business of millions of dollars on his own count. All very uncomfortable.

The movie shot in Decatur, Illinois – the actual location of the true-life drama. It also filmed at Whitacre’s own family “compound” just outside the village of nearby Moweaqua (pop. 1923).