MOVIE REVIEW | Ordinary People (1980)

Before watching Ordinary People, the directorial debut form Robert Redford, all I knew was it was the movie that beat Raging BuIl at the 1980 Oscars.  Not just for Best Picture, but also beating Scorsese for Best Director.  This has gone down as one of the great cock-ups in Oscar history, possibly only outweighed a decade later when Scorsese was again beaten.  This time it was his undisputed masterpiece Goodfellas, losing to the Kevin Costner wank-fest Dances With Wolves.  It must have taken the entire Academy working together to make a mistake that big.

So, does Ordinary People deserve to be remembered for more than just ruing Martin Scorsese’s night in March 1981?  The answer is…  Sort of?

First things first, this thing is out and out Oscar bait.

Story involving dead kids and/or suicide?…  Check.

Someone famous for comedy having a red hot crack at a bit of drama?…  Check.

A collection of just some of the most miserable people you’ve ever seen?…  Check.

A no bullshit psychiatrist who tells it like it is?…  You better believe it.

But all clichés aside, it is definitely worth watching, even if it’s just as a showcase of some pretty great actors doping some pretty great acting.  Donald Sutherland is the dad and most sympathetic character in the movie.  Mary Tyler Moore is the mother and afore mentioned comedienne trying her hand at drama.  Timothy Hutton is the suicidal son and Judd Hirsch is the bullshitless shrink.  Hirsch is also reason enough to watch Ordinary People.  Every scene he’s in is a relief from what preceded and gives you a little something to help get through what’s to follow.

As a director, it doesn’t seem like Redford was too interesting in reinventing the medium with his first at bat.  It’s a downbeat story and is shot that way.  He does work with some great locations though, letting his natural Illinois surroundings and weather do the heavy lifting in creating and sustaining just the right (depressing) mood.

All this sounds like I hated Ordinary People, and while I have no plans to ever watch it again, I definitely didn’t hate it.  The story is a little on the nose and designed for maximum heart string pullery, but the performances really do make it worth two hours of your time.

MOVIE REVIEW | Behind the Candelabra (2013)

If, like me, you’ve been kept up at night wondering, “What does Scott Bakula look like moustachioed and shirtless?”, the answer is waiting for you in Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra…   And the answer is glorious.  Liberace is a celebrity I’ve only ever known as a sketch show punch line, so going in, I was more interested in Behind the Candelabra as director Steven Soderbergh’s supposed final film before retiring from the medium, than I was in its subject.  Which lead to an awesome surprise…  Liberace is an amazingly interesting, tragic and compelling character.

The story of a years long affair between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), Behind the Candelabra is at its core, a cautionary tale built on a famous Liberace quote, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful”.  The movie wastes no time getting to the relationship.  Racing through their initial introduction and quickly moving the story along to Damon’s live-in status with Douglas, it also wastes no time mapping out what’s to come.  No sooner has Damon become comfortable with his lavish new surroundings, than the houseboy who’s seen it all is letting Damon know he’s just the latest in a long line of inevitably replaceable playthings.  But before the unavoidable comedown, the first half of the film focuses on two people very much in love, enjoying a life of extravagance and indulgence.  The second half gives us the flips side, focusing on two people falling (and eventually completely fallen) out of love, in a lot of ways caused by that life of extravagance and indulgence.

Douglas and Damon are both note perfect in the leading roles, but they’re almost outshone by some of the supporting players.  The afore mentioned Bakula is clearing having fun every second he’s on screen and Dan Aykroyd is in form rarely seen these days as Liberace’s manager, that makes you almost forget Blues Brothers 2000…  Almost.  But the MVP of Behind the Candelabra is, without a doubt Rob Lowe, as the plastic surgeon and distributor of his personally developed and fully pharmacological “California Diet” (patent pending).  If I was told Behind the Candelabra 2: The Legend of Liberace’s Gold was in production and consisted of nothing more than Lowe’s stretched face and dead doll’s eyes staring blankly into the distance, I’d be in the cinema opening day.

Will this be Soderbergh’s swan song?  For a filmmaker so prolific, he’s had to compete with himself for an Oscar, I’d be very surprised if it turns out that way.  But if it is, Behind the Candelabra is an impressive, lavish and more than satisfying end to an eclectic, sometimes brilliant (sometimes, not so brilliant) career.  He really has gone out in style.  Gouache, tacky, golden jewel encrusted grand piano, over the top style.

One great little added bonus, I finally get the “I wish my brother George was here” joke from the Warner Brothers short Three Little Bops, that has puzzled me my entire life.