Random Triple Bill

Around this time of year, I panic because I see other film reviewers - proper, dedicated ones - starting to prepare their Top 10 of the Year lists and it occurs to me that I've only seen around 10 films from the year past. Well, I say panic, it's more of a mild disgust at myself for idly watching I'm a Celebrity... and Masterchef rather than knuckle down to watch a film or two. Anyhow, once the panic/disgust sets in I try to rectify it with a flurry of catch-up views. Here's three for starters.

Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh, 2013) focuses on the relationship between flamboyant, Las Vegas boogie-woogie star Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his much younger, star-struck lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Notwithstanding Liberace's magnificent costumes, there's nothing that spectacular about this biopic, but it's assembled in typically assured fashion by Soderbergh and benefits from strong performances. Douglas has got all the plaudits for his 'brave' portrayal of the famously gay star, but for my money Damon is much better as the sensitive, slightly gullible Thorson and - holy shit! - isn't that Scott Bakula and Dan Aykroyd in there too?!? Anyhow, it plays as a black, camp comedy, which is fine, but I'd have liked to see a bit more edge to the story in exploring the dark side of Liberace's manipulative character. Because of the rise-and-fall nature of the story structure and the matter-of-fact sex scenes, it's been tagged as Boogie Woogie Nights. You'll see that joke elsewhere- just remember it was me thought of it first. Incidentally, when I was young, I genuinely thought Liberace was an Italian dictator like Mussolini. No, really, I actually did.

Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2013) is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories about Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), an effete mortician in the small town of Carthage, Texas, who murdered his rich 81-year old friend (and possibly lover?) Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Tiede was so popular and well-respected in the community, whereas Nugent was utterly reviled, that the murder was almost endorsed by the town as a good thing, making Tiede's conviction a distinct uncertainty, despite confessing to the crime. It's an odd and fascinating little story, fashioned here as an enjoyable mockumentary, with Black really good in a much more restrained performance than his usual onscreen persona. The talking head sections provide some good moments and it actually ends up being quite a celebration of American small-town life, as well as a tidy docudrama-slash-black comedy.

If you haven't seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, there's not much point in starting with Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013). Go and watch those first. For everyone else, this continues the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who are now in a long-term relationship. As in the first two films, we are privy to their (changed?) feelings for each other, as they converse through semi-improvised dialogue during a series of long, meandering takes. I caught this following a few eventful weeks in my life, which had left me particularly susceptible to the musings and philosophical discourse contained. As such, I liked it a lot, even though some sections feel a little too much like actor workshops, and I can see how the characters may not appeal to some, depending on what you personally bring to the film. But even if you think they are irritating, navel-gazing, and immensely slappable, with oh-so-middle class problems, their relationship with each other feels honest and real, and it's a worthy addition to a trilogy which celebrates love and romance, warts and all. More, please.

Okay, that's some catching up done. Only another 200 films from 2013 to squeeze in by Christmas.

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