Behind the Candelabra (TV Movie 2013) Poster

(2013 TV Movie)

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9/10
The enigma is overpowering me
Steve Pulaski26 May 2013
I would not want to be the person shopping around a serious script in Hollywood about the life of the famous pianist Liberace. It would be the toughest of sells to a culture that would likely feel the material is too dry and the demand too little. A slightly campier script, with luxurious set design and intimate portrayals of characters the public wouldn't likely know about is what I'd like to get my hands on. The story of Liberace is stranger than fiction and dryer, more serious material could've corrupted its overall goals and ambitions.

The film with the campier script, luxurious set designs, and intimate portrayals is Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra, a wonderful, limitless look at the life of Liberace, an enigma in every sense of the word. In addition to playing many sold-out shows, the man had a lovelife like no other at the time, meeting and becoming fast friends with Scott Thorson, an aspiring veterinarian who was quickly made his lover. Thorson seemed to have a genuine understanding of the loneliness and lack of friendship Liberace had and provided him with great talks, great compassion, and great sex.

The relationship, however, resulted in drug addiction, intense plastic surgery, lies, mistrust, and ended with a lawsuit. Soderbergh and writer Richard LaGravenese don't hesitate to explore this and make it one of the deepest focuses in the picture. The relationships the men had had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The scenes when they are together in a hot tub are human and romantic. The scenes when they are fighting are heartbreaking because you realize that these men haven't just come so far to make their relationship work but losing each other after so long would be detrimental to their self-esteems and egos. They complete each other and that's where the magic is at its strongest.

Liberace is played by Michael Douglas in one of the bravest roles of his career. So brave and powerful that it's unfortunate that because of the film's TV movie status it is ineligible for an Academy Award nomination. Douglas is an actor who is never conventional with his role choice. The same man who played a common-man pushed off a cliff of sanity, an executive victim to a consuming, real-life game, and a worried father of a drug-addicted daughter is the same man playing a middle-aged, flamboyant pianist with a love for wonder, music, and men. The diversity in role choice is stunning.

Matt Damon appears at his youngest as Liberace's lover Scott, in an equally conflicted, complex performance. Damon fills the shoes of the role beautifully and effectively, giving off much in the way of creative energy and heart as he shows just how stressed and torn Thorson must've been in a relationship with someone who truly loved and understood him but wanted to manipulate him. Supporting performances from Rob Lowe as Liberace's doctor, prescribing medicines to both him and Thorson and Dan Aykroyd as his manager are terrific and often are seen providing strong comic relief.

For a TV movie to have the cinematography and atmosphere that Behind the Candelabra does is truly a feature worth nothing. It may not be as excessive as Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby - I don't expect anything of the next two years to be on par with that film - but rarely has a TV movie achieved such phenomenally vibrant and luscious standards. The only thing that could make it better is Soderbergh proving he knows how to work with it and he most certainly does.

HBO seems to be the go-to network for biographical films about figures that wouldn't likely make appropriate return in the theaters (Behind the Candelabra especially considering the summer movie season has already hit the ground running). David Mamet, just a few months ago, directed the delightful and shockingly unbiased Phil Spector, with actors like Al Pacino and Helen Mirren receiving top-billing. Seeing as a Liberace biopic is directed by none other than Soderbergh, I wouldn't be surprised at seeing a slew of films about eclectic media figures being made and released on HBO in the next few years. Networks that have the drive and willingness to air these kinds of films are a necessity to the success of film.

Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, and Dan Aykroyd. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.
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7/10
Master Class
Otto_Partz_97327 May 2013
By sheer coincidence, just two nights prior to the debut of 'Behind the Candelabra', I had the pleasure of viewing one of my favorite films, 1965's 'The Loved One', in which Liberace played 'Mr.Starker', a casket salesman. So it was with Liberace's voice, image and mannerisms fresh in my mind that I encountered Michael Douglas' portrayal of the man and boy, did he nail it.

The story itself is pretty much by the numbers with the kind of shorthand one expects from a TV movie bio; it's the performances that bring this to a certain level of greatness. Douglas all but disappears into the role, right from the start. It's truly an amazing thing to watch, and considering the subject, a brave and unapologetic performance. Matt Damon is equally impressive and while I have no idea if he does the real Scott Thorson justice, his transformation from an eager and innocent young man to a jaded, coked-up and surgically altered paranoid boy-toy is stark and convincing. Add to these chameleon-like performances an unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds and a truly unnerving Rob Lowe and you have two hours of truly compelling, master-class performances.

Highly recommended.
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8/10
They have no idea he's gay.
Ben Larson26 May 2013
The big studios passed on this film despite the fact that it is directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, Traffic), and would star Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. They thought is would be "too gay."

Well, thank goodness for HBO, as they jumped in and green-lighted the film, which is in competition for the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

All the action took place in the seventies and eighties. Liberace was about 40 years older than his new lover, Scott. Michael Douglas was fantastic as Liberace, and Matt Damon was also brilliant in the role of Scott.

Rob Lowe and Dan Ackroyd supplied outstanding support to the story.

Just the right amount of music; maybe there could have been a little more. This was a fascinating story about a man who was in love with himself far more than he could have been with Scott or anyone else.
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8/10
Point and Counter Point: Liberace's Life In Front Of and Behind the Candelabra
Armin Callo26 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Behind the Candelabra is not a biopic. Although the story revolves around the life of Liberace, the film is more than that. It is a love story that encompasses universal themes with a surrealistic twist.

It is well crafted by Steven Soderbergh, a veteran director with such films as Traffic, Erin Brockovich and Ocean's Eleven under his belt. And although Soderbergh describes the work as "Alice going down the rabbit hole," it is a surprisingly strong film with convincing performances and a tender, yet out-of-the-box, point of view.

Two of Hollywood's big-name alpha males – Michael Douglas and Matt Damon – play the lead roles delivering strong and convincing performances. It would have been easy to portray the over-the-top flamboyance of Liberace in high camp theatricality. But not here. Douglas is restrained, measured, and deliberate. His Liberace straddles both sides of the male persona. Douglas goes from being tender lover and father-protector to the excessive, power-hungry controlling tyrant driven to an addiction for acquisition: homes, jewelry, dogs, new lovers, and all things Louis Quinze.

Damon's Thorson is both a quintessential 70s male hooker and passive disco diva. All through the film, he is dazed and awestruck by his surroundings. As Liberace's latest boy-toy, he basks in the glow of rococo excess. And he is bewildered and confused when Liberace -- moving on to the next conquest – tragically, and predictably, takes everything away. Always, Thorson seems to be a man to whom things happen. He is not a figure who takes control of his surroundings but rather is controlled by them. This passivity is quite surprising in as much as the movie is based on a book written by Thorson who is hell-bent on casting himself in the best possible light.

In contrast to the one-sided take of Thorson's book, Soderbergh's film provides Thorson with depth and dimension. He is more than a victim. He actively plays into his victimhood. Soderberg shows Thorson as actively doing nothing to improve his life or circumstance. Instead of taking full advantage of his relationship with Liberace, Thorson lives in, and for, the moment. He piddles away the opportunity to make something of himself beyond the rentboy persona. It brings new meaning to the old Freddy Fender song "Wasted days and wasted nights." At the end, all he ends up with is another diet, addiction, a new face and a paltry $95K.

The supporting cast members are equally effective as the leads. The standout here is, unquestionably, Rob Lowe as Liberace's plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz. His face is wonderfully plastic and his acting sublime. Scott Bakula is Liberace's mustachioed procurer; Dan Aykroyd is his Foster-Grant-wearing manager/henchman; and Debbie Reynolds is Liberace's prosthesized-up-the-ying-yang Polish mother. All submit strong performances despite brief appearances in almost cameo roles. None of the supporting actors distracts from the focus on the two tragic lovers whose end comes as expectedly as any Shakespearean tragedy.

To convey that 70s and early 80s look and feel, Soderberg seems to have used old-fashioned film in lieu of going "straight" digital. The movie is bracketed by what appears as grainy home movies. It opens with the LA bar scene and 17-year-old Thorson at his outlying rural foster home. It ends with the melodramatic flourish of Liberace's death in Palm Springs and the resulting saga over the Riverside County coroner's attempts to autopsy the body despite the family's efforts to keep his AIDS-related cause of death from public view. The conflict is told via newsreel storytelling straight out of Orson Well's Citizen Kane.

In between, we are taken on a trip to wonderland. Like riding in a monorail, we are shuttled between houses in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Palm Springs. We enter rooms upon rooms replete with white painted pianos, crystal chandeliers and gold-gilt furniture. The journey is a magical mystery tour into a bizarre world inhabited by two larger than life figures beset with very ordinary problems. Like everyone else, they face issues of money and power; attraction and rejection; youth and old age; addiction and dysfunction; life and death. And weaving through it all, is the all-too-common story of "the next new thing; the next big fix." I guess in the end, the grass is always greener on the other side. And what we have is never enough.

Soderberg weaves a morality tale where choices have consequences and people get exactly what they deserve. In this movie, the consequences are cruel but quite sober and sensible. There are neither suicides nor any type of saccharine sentimentality. And while the pathos could be deliciously comedic – especially on a story about the avatar of kitsch when punctuated with high camp – Soderbergh is refreshingly restrained. He tells his story with a firm grip and a cautioned mannerism.

On stage – and in front of the candelabra – Liberace lived a life of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But behind the glitz and the glamour, we glimpse the flawed, all-too-human and imperfect everyman who is uncomfortable in his skin, seeking miracles from plastic surgery and sexual hedonism. He is not a hero or anti-hero; victim or victimizer; predator or prey. He is all and neither. Liberace's life is heroic because he was able to achieve much despite the odds. But his real life was lived in darkness cast by the shadow of the lights behind the candelabra.
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7/10
Damon and Douglas are superbly good
PlatoSays13 June 2013
For a film about a gay relationship - I had my doubts when I discovered the two male leads were to be played by straight men, but I couldn't be more convinced by their on-screen personas.

The kitch was eye-wateringly OTT, Douglas superbly needy yet controlling and Damon sucked into the whole charade. Rob Lowe's performance had me recoiling with his creepiness/plastic surgery face and it couldn't be farther from his more mainstream performances. For a role that appeared for only a few minutes - it stuck with me long after the film was over.

All in all, a very solid biopic film that unfortunately won't be Oscared as its been shown as TV movie in the USA. A great shame - Douglas and Damon deserve nominations - their *chemistry* is totally believable.

Final point - either Douglas is a superb pianist or the CGI of his hands on the keyboard is first rate!
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8/10
Unexpectedly great performances!
Jed from Toronto26 May 2013
I decided to watch this film on HBO because I thought it would be a hoot - one of those catastrophic and pretentious productions which are so laughable. Within 20 minutes I realized that the film was rather important. Michael Douglas captures the late Liberace's mannerisms and voice with astonishing ease. He is quite stellar in his performance, and I see him now in a new light. Matt Damon is excellent as Scott, his protégé. The personages involved are deeply complex, even if one is only familiar with the contemporary "National Enquirer" reports one realizes their is something one can not quite understand about "Lee & Scott's" relationship. Douglas and Damon are brilliant in delving into these characters. They are unrecognizable, at times, from the familiar roles we all know of them. I think the film well worth watching. As a bonus, Matt Damon shows his bum on several occasions, for those who are interested; if not, one cannot help but be interested in the wonderful performances from two of Hollywood's great stars! A courageous undertaking well done indeed!!!
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8/10
A triumph
gsygsy11 June 2013
This is a first-rate piece of work by Mr Soderbergh and his team (kudos to Ellen Mirojnick's flamboyant costumes and Howard Cummings' outrageous interiors). The otherwise excellent screenplay by Richard LaGravanese loses a little steam around two-thirds of the way through, but recovers to give a genuinely touching conclusion.

Nominally this is a biopic. In fact, it uses the biopic format to examine a particular relationship in depth. The narrative focus is on the dynamic between two people rather than the inner turmoil of one. This, as well as the director's good taste, has kept at bay the sprawling pretentiousness and sentimentality which usually infest the genre, regardless of how good the central performances are: films as diverse as LA VIE EN ROSE and MILK have been scuppered in this way. Not so BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, which is an altogether more sophisticated affair.

The acting is dazzling. Michael Douglas, in a beautifully-written role, communicates the complexity of a real human being, not just a two-dimensional celebrity. At the same time, he gives full value to Liberace's famous showmanship. A star performance, sure - the subject demands it - but also much, much more.

Matt Damon is a revelation. For me, up till now, he has represented the worst kind of dead-behind-the-eyes, don't-dare-express-anything movie acting. The nearest I came to thinking any different was his turn as the scout in the Coen Brothers' remake of TRUE GRIT. In BEHIND THE CANDELABRA he displays a range I never thought he had in him. The character moves from naivety through rage to despair and on to quiet understanding. Really, really terrific.

The two leads create a totally believable relationship between their characters, in all its aspects. A triumph.

The icing on the cake is the supporting cast, led by Dan Aykroyd and Scott Bakula, and spangled with cameos from Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds, Bruce Ramsay, Cheyenne Jackson and Paul Reiser.

Here in England we're fortunate to see this film on big screens. As is well known, it was financed by a TV company (HBO) and will not be released theatrically in the USA. That tells a sad story about the American movie industry, from which an independent-minded artist like Mr Soderbergh is wise to walk away.
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Liberace the Legend is served well
gradyharp27 May 2013
The film is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Scott Thorson (with Alex Thorleifson) adapted for the screen by Richard LaGravenese about the tempestuous 6- year relationship between Liberace and his much younger lover Scott Thorson. This film along with SIDE EFFECTS are purported to be Steven Soderbergh's last films he will direct.

The cast is very solid. Matt Damon embodies the role of Scott Thorson well - a young apparently bisexual man who has been tossed from foster home to foster home while he does odd jobs (he is 17 years old) tending to animals. In a gay bar he meets Bob Black (Scott Bakula) who takes Scott to a Liberace concert (his first exposure to the mega-star) and to meet Liberace afterwards. There is tension in the air with Liberace's current paramour and performing partner Billy Leatherwood (Cheyenne Jackson) and we soon discover that Liberace (impeccably played by Michael Douglas) only keeps his 'boys' around for a while before his manager Seymour (Dan Ackroyd) gets rid of them with a check. Liberace and Scott find common ground in being needy people without confidants and soon Scott becomes Liberace's next lover. All goes swimmingly until Liberace sees himself on a TV show and sees how aged he has become. He engages plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz (Rob Lowe in a very fine performance) to perform a youthful face lift and at the same time convinces Scott to undergo plastic surgery to make him look more like Liberace! And here begins the downfall: Dr. Startz prescribes pain meds to Scott who becomes addicted and moves into heavier drugs, and his behavior, along with Liberace's need for a 'new face' (Boyd Holbrook), signals the breakup of a 6 year relationship - the best relationship either has ever had.

There are excellent cameos by Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother, Paul Reiser as Scott's lawyer, and others, but the star of the film is in all ways the flamboyant showman Liberace in some of the most interesting outfits ever created. The on screen relationship between Michael Douglas and Matt Damon is entirely credible and neither of these fine actors has a problem with being sexually physical without seeming to be a parody. There are moments that could have been cut, but as Liberace says, less is more and more is wonderful.

Grady Harp
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7/10
Finally a film that suits Soderbergh's voyeuristic and clinical style.
Sergeant_Tibbs11 September 2013
It's starting to look like 2013 is Soderbergh's year. Side Effects and Behind The Candelabra seem to be my favourite of his career so far, though that's only relatively, as I'm not a big fan of him. I do have Out Of Sight on my to see list coming up soon and I do need to give Traffic another watch before I make any final assessment on him. Although Soderbergh is frequently the director, cinematography and editor on his projects, he may be efficient but he's far too clinical, pushing the audience as an observer that it's difficult to feel emotionally involved in his films. I can't get excited for his half-baked premises that most likely haven't been fulfilled to their potential. However, Behind The Candelabra may be the first film I've seen of his that suits his style ideally. His style is still distant and voyeuristic, but in this bizarre world where Liberace adopts his lover for a son and pays for plastic surgery to make him look like himself, it feels more deliberate to keep us at a distance.

Instead, the scenes of dramatic conflict, decision and choice are played off for jokes and it's really effective, always earning belly laughs with its brilliant one-liners without feeling like it's silly. Perhaps its nervous laughter but it makes for an entertaining and interesting film. Michael Douglas is terrific as Liberace. I've never seen him take a character on like this. He's nearly up there with Sean Penn's Milk. It feels like it's been a while since Matt Damon has been in films I've wanted to watch and with this and Elysium, I've forgotten how reliable a lead he is. The characters inhabit a flashy world, but its kept on the costumes and sets which are incidental more than anything and the style of the film is kept subtle, besides a great choice of swooping cameras. It does have its flaws with nearly soap opera-esque structure and conflict but my expectations were very low so this is a pleasant surprise. I think I even prefer it to Side Effects.

7/10
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10/10
Everything I like about a movie
Lisa Muñoz28 May 2013
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh as I find a lot of his films quite boring. But this film really blew me away.

It has everything I want to see in a movie: great performances, true stories, same sex love, a little bit of nudity, but not too much, truthfulness, warmth, minimum amount of violence and good cinematography.

I have a newfound respect for Michael Douglas, who becomes completely unrecognizable (with a little help of good make up) , gives it all in his performance as Liberace, and yet only just beat cancer a year earlier.

10 out of 10**
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8/10
HBO Is The Hero Here
Lechuguilla9 August 2014
Congrats to HBO for having the guts to produce a script which mainstream studios refused to consider. "Behind The Candelabra" gives us a story about Liberace's personal life, from the POV of his one time lover, "blond Adonis" Scott Thorson. The plot spans some ten years, from 1977 to Liberace's death in 1987.

Aside from his public persona, Liberace (Michael Douglas) comes across as egotistical, daring, self-absorbed, and to some extent old-fashioned in his values and beliefs. Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) comes across as passive, a tad lazy, and lacking in foresight and intellect. The plot's first half presents us with a love story. In the second half, reality sets in. One gets the feeling that though there may have been love between the two, Scott is just one more object for Liberace to collect, which was easy for him given his wealth. That kind of material relationship speaks poorly of both men.

This film has a big cast, and some well-known names. Rob Lowe is terrific as a humorously bizarre plastic surgeon. Debbie Reynolds, as Lee's elderly mother, is so good that she is unrecognizable. Nearly all of the actors give fine performances. Michael Douglas especially deserves credit given that Liberace's mannerisms and image are so well known.

Lavish custom costumes, detailed and elaborate production design, tons of subtle and not-so-subtle makeup all combine to add enormously to the story's credibility, as does the cinematography. Interior lighting makes Liberace's on-stage performances come alive. Music is, not unexpectedly, what Liberace liked, to some extent stuffy and old-fashioned.

I was never a Liberace fan. But he was a much-beloved entertainer and talented pianist, who had a long show business career. That the Hollywood studios turned this script down tells us a great deal about Hollywood. The real hero in this film is not a character so much as it is HBO. Maybe there is hope that quality films can still be made, despite cowardly industry insiders.
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8/10
Michael Douglas And Matt Damon As You Never Thought You'd See Them
sddavis635 May 2014
I can't honestly say that I know very much about Liberace. I was a teenager in the 70's - Liberace really wasn't my cup of tea. Still, I know about him. His flashiness, his sexuality, his ability with the piano - and I'm familiar with the "palimony" suit launched against him by his much younger lover, Scott Thorson. "Behind the Candelabra" is the movie adaptation of Thorson's book about the relationship, so it needs to be viewed with a grain of salt; it's hardly unbiased. But unbiased or not, it is a fascinating look into the glitzy, showy, and sometimes degenerate world inhabited by Liberace and Thorson, who was almost 50 years younger than Liberace when the relationship began.

The "world" is fabulously portrayed. The costumes and sets seem very authentic, and - with the above note about bias being kept in mind - the basic story of the relationship is believable enough. Liberace and Thorson were together for four years, and in those four years, things got weird. Liberace supposedly promised to adopt Thorson; and Thorson was given a part in Liberace's show. The movie portrays the relationship's breakup (due to Liberace's infidelities) and the final reunion between the two, as Thorson visits Liberace on his deathbed. It all seems very realistic, and provides an almost voyeuristic experience into the relationship between the two.

The highlight of the movie, though, has to be the performances offered by Matt Damon (as Thorson) and - especially - Michael Douglas as Liberace. Both were brilliant and totally believable in the parts. These must have been difficult roles. Two guys - both obviously straight - playing these parts in a movie which includes a lot of very passionate scenes between them could have come across as awkward, but credit goes to both of them for the fact that it never seemed awkward. They came across as natural together in what must (at times) have been very uncomfortable roles for them. I gained a new appreciation of the talents of both from this movie.

It's very enjoyable and it certainly offers a glimpse into a world that the vast majority of us will never see - and that the vast majority of us probably wouldn't want to see. (8/10)
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8/10
Driven actors, glittery characters, and a slice of very weird Las Vegas life
secondtake19 December 2013
Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Well, there's the story of Liberace, which is astonishing in its own way. Then here is Michael Douglas being Liberace in a true bravado performance.

So first things first—see this. It's just a hoot, and a well done biopic. Throw in Matt Damon's first rate performance, and some other secondary believable parts, and you realize there is some serious discipline involved. Most of all it is Douglas who manages to not overplay the part of a man who overplayed his public life to an outlandish extreme.

If you don't know who Liberace is, you'll find out, but it helps to have a clue (and I have some memories of people liking him, and run across old records of his at junk shops all the time). He was a kind of piano force who decided not to be a serious concertizer but to simply entertain. He wanted to make people happy, and that pretty much sums up his life.

Liberace also seemed to lack some kind of long term empathy that would see the damage he might cause young men who got sucked into his influence—and bedroom. It really didn't quite matter, and in his superficial way you can see why. It was a trade off of one kind of oversized entertainer for a more compassionate and giving person—or something like that. It's hard to sum up here but in fact, the big point somewhere, is people of all stripes were playing immediate pleasures against deeper commitment.

There is ultimately something thin here as a movie, and it only filled in a bit by watching some Youtube filler on my own afterwards. You might do the same. Comparing fact and representation is pretty amazing.
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8/10
Majestically Carved! Genuine Depiction! ♦ 82%
Tejas Nair9 June 2013
So what if it is a gay movie and was shown on HBO before the theaters? Steven Soderbergh, I salute you for having moxie to show the world what to make films about. Matt Damon is so enchanting as Scott Thorson, I should admit, he is the star and not Michael Douglas, of this lovely movie.

You probably know the story but here... the screenplay will amuse you, the music will enthrall your ears, the performances will enrapture your mind, the ideologies will ravish your mindset and the glitterati will dumbfound you to heavens. The intensity of gayness is very strong and that is what makes this a wonderful watch because it doesn't hesitate to decipher. I can't figure out the hate involved with multiplex owners not allowing it to be showcased? Too bad. Or did I hear a rumor?

All the shining wardrobes, the lights, the piano melodies... and what- not... there is so much than meets the eye. I truly relished it because it is genuine and full of life. You may even learn a lesson or two. The pleasure of clearly watching the down & fall of characters is rife. 8.2/10.

BOTTOM LINE: Shun the negation, go & dissolve yourself into the world of Liberace & Scott & their exploits.

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

Profanity: Strong | Vulgarity: Critical | Porn: Critical | Sex: Strong | Nudity: Mediocre | Foreplay/Mouth-Kiss: Very Strong | Violence: No | Gore: Very Mild | Alcohol: Strong | Smoking: Mild | Drugs: Mediocre
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10/10
Yes, gay movie... the best I've seen!
tobyric26 May 2013
I just watched this movie and I felt immediately compelled to write a review. Michael Douglas carries the movie amazingly well. I have seen him in many movies but after seeing him playing Liberace tonight I have only respect for him. Matt Damon did a good job too but certainly not near as great as the job Douglas did. I am amazed that no studio wanted to do this movie. I liked Brokeback Mountain but I never connected with the gay relationship it portrayed. Here, the relationship feels sincere, much more natural. Douglas never looks like a caricature, a path that could have been easily to go for, He looks like a real person (I never saw Liberace perform). Great job Mr. Douglas, you have won a fan!
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6/10
The facade crumbles Warning: Spoilers
It happens far too often to us Europeans that we have to wait for weeks, often months to see a popular film after it was already released a long time ago in the United States. An especially extreme recent example was "Albert Nobbs", which brought Glenn Close another Oscar nomination, it took two years after its first airing in the US after it finally came to Germany. But enough moaning now: Of course we have lots of French, Italian, German etc. films that make up for it because we get to see them earlier and they may not even have a release at in the United States. And then we very rarely have a film like "Behind the Candelabra", the big winner during 2013's Primetime Emmys, which wasn't distributed for the big screen in the USA, but was over here in Europe.

It stars Michael Douglas, evidently completely cured from its cancer, as the colorful entertainer Liberace and Matt Damon as its young lover Sctt Thorson who also wrote the book this film is based on. I listened to Liberace quite a while ago and enjoyed some of his music. Also I really like Matt Damon in almost anything (most recently "Gus van Sant's criminally underseen "Promised Land"), so I was kinda curious about the film. Don't care too much about Douglas, but that's mostly as I haven't really seen that much of his work. And my expectations weren't disappointed. It's definitely elevated a lot by the great acting from the two protagonists, but also from most of the supporting cast, like those who played Liberace's first co-star and the plastic surgeon whose unique expressions made him such an unlikeable character. It's hard to judge how accurate Douglas' portrayal was as I was born only shortly before Liberace's death, so I have no live memory really, but thankfully we live in the age of videos and the footage i've seen is very similar to Douglas, especially a magnificent job on the voice. And besides that, most of what we see about Liberace here is not really his shows, but his private life which wasn't in the public eye back then anyway.

My favorite scenes mostly centered on Damon due to my previously mentioned preference. Of course his character is not such an icon and that's why he probably lost the Emmy to his costar (I wonder if Douglas could have won the Oscar for it, especially as the Academy Awards were referenced in the film with performing there was one of Liberace's main goals), but i thought he was equally good as Douglas and portrayed nicely how he was stuck being attraction and disgust for Liberace's plastic world. I wasn't moved as much as I hoped I would by the scenes of Liberace's mother passing away or finally at his own deathbed near the end, but my favorites were more those where Thorson is informed via phone that his foster mother died or when he has his breakdown and realizes that everything is gone, including his face. Another scene I liked was their conversation when Damon breaks into tears and says something like it's been so long and he forgot how it was when they were nice to each other.

The surgery scenes were short, but quite graphic indeed, pretty off-putting just the way it should be. The vanity of Douglas' character is exactly what made him so interesting. He always switches between despicable, pitiful and admirable, the latter mostly when we saw his music which wasn't as frequent as I liked. The only longer part is pretty much right before Liberace and Thorson meet for the first time and Damon's character is rightfully wowed by Liberace's talent. Before writing this review I listened to his 1970 appearance on Lucille Ball's "Here's Lucy" where he performs a wonderful rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You" with Lucie Arnaz. Well.. obviously the film focuses almost exclusively on Liberace's later private life as an "old bag" how he called himself jokingly in the film. The early years are completely left out and the career aspect is not frequent either. We only learn that he basically sues everybody who dares to accuse him of homosexual tendencies. The two completely opposite references to ice skater Sonja Henie were very well-done to depict the political climate and the perception of homosexuality and AIDS back then. That song would have been a truly nice inclusion. But that's just a minor criticism.

I probably disagree with the Emmys that it's the best TV movie of the year and it's definitely not among the very best I watched in theatres this year, but it still made an entertaining watch and dragged almost never during its 2 hours. The acting is outstanding and so are pretty much all the visual aspects like set decoration, art direction and, last but not least, the makeup of course. Somebody ahead of me in the ticket queue asked the seller if Liberace did really exist and I have to say I was shocked when I heard that, especially as he was clearly older than me. I hope the success of this movie brings this legendary entertainer back in the minds of the younger generations.
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10/10
Love is love and may be killed by lust to be reborn by death
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU20 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Let's remain short on this one.

Liberace is a myth in show biz. A gay piano performer who all his life hid his orientation under a fake heterosexual liaison that had no real material density at all. All his life he ran after younger twinks to feel his youth back again, with a few implants. That was before the blue pill of Viagra. But one day he tried a new one who was probably slightly better than the others, more special. Description from the urban Dictionary: "An attractive, boyish-looking, young gay man. The stereotypical twink is 18-22, slender with little or no body hair, often blonde, dresses in club wear even at 10:00 AM, and is not particularly intelligent. A twink is the gay answer to the blonde bimbo cheerleader."That Scott accepted to have his face reshaped into a semblance of Liberace's. He accepted all kinds of crazy sex but he refused to be taken from behind, some old fear of the dark I guess, since he was let's say an orphan who had been raised in foster care and who found the perfect foster family to support him. In other words he was not "a blonde bimbo cheerleader.3

He was attracted by the light, the gold, the gems and jewels, the white uniform though it looked more like a sentimental sweet Halloween costume to impress old ladies, or old queens, white fur coat included. He resisted nothing except that visitor at the back entrance. Pathetic! I guess then Liberace was impressed and as long as the resistance was active he went on trying. He even tried to compensate the frustration by trying to adopt Scott as his proper son, or was it a con from a con- artist? But that kind of theatrical sublimation did not work at all. So time had come to get rid of the gnat. And Liberace did in one swat.

Till death them parted! And just before that sad AIDS moment he called Scott to come and take his last words, watch his last tears, shed some crocodile tears out of confusion and frustration. We are not told what the will gave him.

The film ends up with the cardiac arrest caused by a heart failure, turned into the sequels of the AIDS virus by some coroner's office.

The film tries to end the show, that must go on anyway, with a love song, in fact a long poem recited by Liberace to his own piano music and that song is a marvelous love song indeed, the love song of an older man to a younger man – though it could be to a younger woman all the same. The age difference that Liberace could not deal with made him over sexual whereas there comes an age when a man can love with love and not lust with sex. Liberace never found that epiphany that would have redeemed him from total fright in front of his own age. It is so good to love someone who is younger, a lot younger than you even, just for the love of him or her, for the heat and the emotion you feel in your heart that is not invaded by some hormonal and endocrinal greed.

There comes an age when the wolf in man can finally go to sleep and let the platonic emotions of the loving phoenix come out of the shadow of the receding night that will bring the illumination of the last call. To be reborn instantly from its own empathetic ashes. To be reborn instantly in the lasting memory of the loved one's responsive soul.

A beautiful film about a time when love was not accepted in the narrow circles of the straight fundamentalism of fairy bashing.

But let me give you the final sentimental, slightly over sugary love song that sounds like a Hallmark Valentine's.

Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are, But for what I am when I'm with you I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, But for what you are making of me. I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me, And for accepting the possibilities of the good in me. Why do I love you? I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, And for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening. I love you for helping me to construct of my life Not a tavern but a temple I love you because you have done so much to make me happy. You have done it without a word, without a touch, without a sign You have done it by just being yourself Perhaps after all, that is what love means And that is why I love you.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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4/10
Another mediocre biopic
Chris L30 September 2013
A true story doesn't always equal success and this umpteenth biopic that is Behind The Candelabra proves it once again.

If you put aside the extravagant aspect of Liberace and the huge age difference between him and Scott who was only 17 (!) when they met — an important detail that almost goes unnoticed —, what remains is an almost banal love story, with its ups and downs, struggling to convince. The viewer ends up enduring laborious scenes, sometimes very linear, often little constructive, and of more than debatable interest.

One could also question the veracity and partiality of the story given that the script is based on the memoirs of Scott Thorson.

Anyway, Steven Soderbergh can be thankful to the cast in general and Michael Douglas in particular for their very good performances, because if it wasn't for them, the movie would be a flop.
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5/10
Depressing but well done
This movie about Liberace's relationship with Thorson is wonderfully acted by Douglas and Damon, effectively filmed, well written, and, for me, not especially enjoyable. I found Damon's powerlessness in the relationship depressing, and while Douglas makes Liberace seem pretty likable, his actions are insufferably egocentric and inconsiderate. Since the book this was based on was written by a jilted lover, it may or may not reflect much truth, but it's still a depressing story.

It's hard to know how real any of this is. The plastic surgeon is so disturbing looking that it's hard to believe anyone would go under his knife (the single image I could find of him through google did not look nearly as freakish) and even though Douglas does a great job of nuancing Liberace into a real person in spite of his quirky voice and mannerisms, parts of the movie seem rather cartoonish.

It's nice we've reached a point where major Hollywood actors will take a chance on material like this; it's a movie that doesn't shy away from sex the way earlier movies about gay people did. But I just never could get into it.
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5/10
Surprisingly dull
bregund1 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Watch any clip of Liberace on youtube and, despite your awareness of his personal life, you have to agree that he was a natural showman. I remember seeing him on TV in the 70s and woman loved him, my mom went nuts. It's easy to see why, because he pulled the audience into his performances and made you feel like you were part of it. It's not easy to do this, and he made it look effortless in the way that some outstanding entertainers do, like Michael Jackson or Madonna. That critical element is missing from this film. When you peel back the layers of showmanship, you want to see what makes up the person behind them, and this film doesn't accomplish that goal or explain Liberace's complicated life. I had high hopes for Douglas, but for some reason he just doesn't click, his delivery is off, and you can't buy him as Liberace, you just see Michael Douglas in heavy makeup. Matt Damon gives a suitably understated performance and he is a dead ringer for Scott Thorson.

Ironically, given what are supposed to be colorful main characters, the real stars of the show are the supporting characters: an unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother, Dan Akroyd as Liberace's snappy lawyer, Scott Bakula as Bob Black, and of course Rob Lowe, who steals every scene he's in. Maybe Rob Lowe should have played Liberace.
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A tender love story, but where's the music?
The_Film_Cricket30 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
If you believe the persona that Liberace displayed to the public, then you might well believe that the man never had a dull moment in his life. "Too much of a good thing is wonderful," he told his audience and he didn't just speak it, he lived it. His stage shows were a garish over-the-top monument to the joys of wretched excess and over-indulgence, a garish display dripping with diamonds and glitter and color and music. It was an image that went with him when he left the stage. His gaudy and lavishly over-decorated Hollywood Hills mansion was a monument to his image. The Tsar of Russia never had it so good.

Liberace didn't know the meaning of the word 'subtle' and it could be suspected that his flash and glitter were a snowjob, a way of battling those who tried to bring his homosexuality out in the open during a dark time when such a headline could ruin a performer's career. When the tabloids tried to expose him, he sued and won. The audience, made up mostly of middle-aged housewives, adored him so much that they were either blind or pretended not to notice. All of his professional life, Liberace fought a never-ending battle to keep it in the closet, even going so far as to plant rumors about his love affair with Olympic figure skater Sonja Henie.

Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" does a good job of showing us the side of Liberace that the great musician spent his entire life trying to hide. This is a movie about a gay man who, feeling the approach of age, tried to keep time in check, not only through plastic surgery, but also through the presence of a rotating series of young and hansom lovers, one of whom (the movie has us believe) became the great love of his life.

"Behind the Candelabra" is not so much a biography of Liberace as a story of the five year relationship between the musician and aspiring veterinarian Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Thorson becomes our eyes to this story. We see this young and handsome Adonis who comes to Liberace's service and is quickly seduced, not by the lifestyle but by the man himself. Liberace is an old rascal, a lusty old queen with the slithery voice of a child molester. Their lust turns to love and eventually we partake of their romance that eventually becomes a marriage. As you might expect, there is no subtlety here. This is a film dripping with the lifestyle of a gay man. How much you like the film may depend on how much of a flamboyantly gay man's lifestyle you're willing to sit through. It's strictly up to you.

Michael Douglas might not seem the first choice to play the famed musician, he's always been the symbol of masculinity, but playing Liberace offers him the challenge of stepping into the mink of a man who was so well known that occupying his skin might come off as mere imitation. Liberace's sweet nasal voice is hard to capture but Douglas takes it off the shelf of impression and makes it organic. It takes some getting used to, and so does the persona. As the movie begins, his approach to Thorson feels more like a pedophile than a man looking for a potential lover, but we quickly get use to him. After a while we begin to feel for him, a man who is feeling his age, who must hold on to a much younger man – much as a straight man might hold on to a beautiful young blonde – in order to feel young.

Matt Damon finds a saintly note in which to play Thorson, a man who takes an uneasy approach to Liberace before dedicating himself to a commitment that he knew that the man was possibly incapable of sticking to. We aren't surprised by the development of their relationship, but what is surprising is the bond that they form, which lends emotional weight to the disappointment in Thorson's eyes when questions of infidelity begin to surface. This is a film very much about a gay partnership, but it could easily have been about a heterosexual marriage. What we come to understand is that, gay or straight, relationships are fraught with difficulties and struggles.

Their romance is sort of touching. It's not all sex and sweat (although those things do surface), but a tender bond between two men that becomes so tight that eventually Liberace decides to adopt him. This is Liberace's way of getting around the fact that he can't marry another man. As we might expect, things don't go well. As with any married couple, they fight, they develop trust issues. Yet, there is a sense that they do love one another despite all of their problems. "Behind the Candelabra" presents us with one of the tenderest, but also the most bizarre marriages we've ever seen. That's especially true when it comes to Liberace obsession with plastic surgery, and for the bizarre suggestion that his young lover had surgery to make himself look, well, like Liberace himself.

Yet, while Soderbergh gets the details right, he overlooks the most astute aspect of Liberace: his music. The movie is bookended by his stage performances, but there's very little music or stage bravado in this movie. The director is happy to close the doors of Liberace's mansion and watch the man soak in a hot tub or lounge on the couch, but we miss the music, the garish and gaudy glitter-and-rhinestone stage show that made the man such a legend. We are looking behind the candelabra but there's something missing and it might have been present in a longer film. The movie is wonderful at portraying Liberace's love affairs and his wandering eye, but you can't help feeling that it should be mixed with his love for his music and his audience.

*** (of four)
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1/10
repellent
Robert D. Ruplenas17 November 2013
This is truly a repulsive piece of film making. Contrary to all the highfalutin hoopla about making a movie about "the truth," this rancid flick is a poorly disguised piece of soft core pornography which luxuriates in emphasizing all the tawdriest and most sensational aspects - of which there are plenty - of this lurid tale. Everyone knows that Liberace was gay. This movie certainly tells us about his sex life, or at least the version of his sex life as told by his paramour Scott Thorson in his tell-all book. There are always two sides to any story about a relationship, and here we never get to hear Liberace's. The fact that by all accounts Liberace was a generous contributor to charitable causes, encouraged rising talent, and was a congenial and loyal companion to his many show business friends - all of this is absent from this shockfest, or maybe shlockfest. As far as the acting, I was curious to see how Michael Douglas, whose work I admire, would handle the role. He turns in nothing more than a simmering, mincing, lisping, one-dimensional caricature. Evidently movie makers will sink to any depths to make a buck, and this is Exhibit A. Avoid this disgusting piece of trash at all costs.
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An ugly movie about ugly people
gibbons-131 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
LIBERACE has been relegated to HBO because it would not make a dime in theaters, outside of a very few zip codes. The Gay aspect is not the reason, Brokeback Mountain did just fine. No, LIBERACE is an ugly mess with a jumble of sex, drugs, manipulation, degradation and betrayal passing for story. Half the actors look like they are trying to hide, Aykroyd in particular. The words 'brave' and 'courageous' are being used to describe the work itself and Douglas' and Damon's performances as openly Gay men. Since being Gay is natural, healthy and as normal as being straight then where is the courage in pretending to be Gay? LIBERACE is semi-pornographic exploitation masquerading as heroic film-making. Perhaps that's where the bravery can be found...in two genuine stars appearing as the leads in a porno-flick.
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4/10
Choppy and confusing and not about Liberace at all
tsmith41711 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I remember watching Liberace on television when I was very young. Even at that tender age I knew something was odd about him, but he was perhaps one of the greatest showmen of all time and seemed to thoroughly enjoy performing for people.

WARNING! Spoilers throughout!

But this movie doesn't show any of that. Since it's written from Scott Thorson's POV the movie doesn't concern itself much with Liberace's life as much as Scott's life with him, which occurred long after Liberace became famous.

Frankly, I thought the movie could have been about any two gay men's relationship; that Liberace was one of those men was coincidental and a very small part of the story.

I found the storyline to be very confusing. Thorson is shown in a gay bar and he meets Scott Bakula's character and in the next scene they're driving off together like they've known each other for a long time. We aren't told who this character is. I assume he works for and is a procurer for Liberace, but I have no idea how he came to be in that position or what his ties to Liberace were or how long he's been doing this.

For all Thorson's protests that he's bisexual and likes women too, we never see him with any women at all. He doesn't like to watch gay porn because he thinks it's disgusting and wouldn't want anything like that done to him, yet he has no qualms about doing it to someone else. Huh?

When Liberace's mother -- played by Debbie Reynolds, who is completely unrecognizable and I had to watch the movie twice to make sure it was really her -- he shouts, "I'm finally free!" but we, the viewers, have no idea why he felt so trapped by her.

The palimony case went by too quickly.

When Liberace dies and the state forces an autopsy, the results are revealed and then that's it, they don't show anything about the public's reaction to the news the way they did with the Rock Hudson gay revelation.

What really bothered me about the movie was the part when Liberace is on his death bed and Thorson visits him. Liberace begs him, "Please don't tell anyone I looked like this," and Scott promises he won't, yet there it is.

Did he tell in his book how Liberace looked? I don't know, but he allowed it to be shown in the film. He broke his promise to a dying man, a man he professed to love deeply. There's no excuse for that.

Michael Douglas was phenomenal in his portrayal and literally became Liberace for me. I'm not a big fan of Matt Damon and I don't have anything to judge his performance by because I don't know anything about Scott Thorson, but he seemed comfortable playing the part. Dan Akroyd's part could've been played by anyone because it was small; maybe he just wanted to be in the movie. Rob Lowe's performance was, shall I say, a bit over-the-top, and once again I don't know if the real person was like that, but I can't imagine someone like that not being stripped of his medical license a long time ago.

If writing his book was a catharsis for Scott Thorson I don't know, but as a movie on its own merits, it was unnecessary. It bordered on soft gay porn at times, it couldn't decide whether it was supposed to be a tribute to Liberace or a "queenie dearest" kind of story, and I really can't say I liked it.
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6/10
A Thin, Inconsequential Movie
tickin30 May 2013
The movie is uninspired. Structurally it's solid but from a story telling point of view it's bland. It's so thin that I spent most of my time wondering how far Douglas and Damon were willing to go on the gay thing. It seemed more like they wanted to simply add 'a gay character' to their CV's - neither of them was particularly convincing, nor interesting. Soderbergh might be more the blame though. He knows how to storyboard and block but he hasn't a clue how to empathize with characters and plot.

However, Rob Lowe breaks away from everyone. He gives an inspired performance - it's sinister and funny - but it's too short to save the movie.

Don't bother with this one, it's not worth the two hour run time. If you want to see an actor imitate a star watch My Week with Marilyn, close your eyes and listen to Branagh imitate Olivier, it's remarkable. Then go back and watch Douglas stumble around Liberace - just for the laugh.
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