October 18, 2015

tab hunter Greetings again from the darkness. “Made it, Ma. Top of the world!” That line was famously bellowed by James Cagney in the 1949 film WHITE HEAT, and it reasonably could have been shouted behind closed doors, a few years later, by Tab Hunter. Of course, that wouldn’t have been the only thing Mr. Hunter was keeping behind those doors.  In his 2005 autobiography, he came out publically as a gay man. Director Jeffrey Schwarz takes that book, and puts a very forthcoming Mr. Hunter in front of the camera, to deliver a fascinating, entertaining and educational glimpse at what it was like to be a movie and musical superstar at a time when being a gay man was not just a social taboo, but actually considered a mental illness.

Normally, “talking head” documentaries quickly become tiresome, but now in his 80’s, Mr. Hunter remains an engaging and delightful man, and he is so sincere and upfront in telling his stories, that we couldn’t possibly turn away. In addition, director Schwarz drops in interviews from those who were there. These include: Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, Robert Wagner (filling in his for his deceased wife Natalie Wood), John Waters, George Takei, and Robert Osborne. Each recall moments from real life, with the studio publicity romances (Reynolds, Stevens, Wood) providing the touch of melancholy that brings focus to the matter at hand.

Another entertaining touch added by Schwarz is his use of actual dialogue snippets from Hunter’s films to deliver punch to a point – sometimes comedic, sometimes more serious. Never succumbing to the career retrospective approach, the film does offer significant film clips, photographs and recollections of Hunter’s unique career that found him #1 at the Box Office, as well as #1 on the Pop Music Charts (his recording of “Young Love” knocked Elvis off the top of the charts).

The film could also serve as a historical documenting of the Hollywood Studio system, as Hunter’s success with Warner Brothers was never to be duplicated once he gained his contractual release (through buyout). We do go through the career re-birth brought about by Hunter’s work in the John Waters offbeat classic Polyster, where the former matinee idol finds himself making out on screen with Divine, the 300 pound transvestite who was a fixture in Waters’ films. Surprisingly, it’s Hunter’s fearless approach to the material that makes it click.

But beyond the Hollywood insight, the film is most effectively the story of a man who, because of his era, had to be one person in public and another behind the closed doors. Hunter describes this as “being rewarded for pretending to be someone you aren’t”. He speaks frankly about his relationship with Anthony Perkins, as well as a couple of other serious relationships. We also learn about his childhood, when he had an abusive father and was close to his older brother, who later died in Vietnam. Hunter speaks of being “lost as a kid”. Beyond the Hollywood years, it’s fascinating to hear Hunter speak of his time on the Dinner Theatre circuit, where he put up with the travel and drudgery so that he could pay the bills and care for his sick mother. We also learn that in addition to his staggering good looks, his on screen appeal, and his musical talent, Hunter was also a world class figure skater and competitive equestrian horse jumper. Yep, Tab Hunter is pretty much the guy we would all despise … if he just wasn’t so darned nice and likeable!

watch the trailer:



June 3, 2013

candelabra1 Greetings again from the darkness. According to director Steven Soderbergh, this is his farewell to film. He is taking his eye and camera and will concentrate on specialty projects … at least until he figures out that movie directors make more money (yes, I’m skeptical). This one has been “in the works” for years and is based on Scott Thorson’s autobiography.

If you don’t recognize the name Scott Thorson, you surely recognize his opponent in his 1982 palimony suit … Liberace. The story recounts how a 17 year old Scott fell under the spell of Mr Showmanship, and didn’t leave until 1982, when he was forced out. To understand what occurred during those years requires an understanding of the times. The gay culture had not worked its way into mainstream America. Despite his over-the-top flamboyance (on and off stage), candelabra2Liberace’s fans refused to believe he was gay … or more accurately, refused to even entertain the idea.  This “secret” was protected by Liberace and his professional camp.

Although their actual ages are way out of whack for the story, Matt Damon and Michael Douglas are both exceptional as Scott and Liberace, respectively. Much of this story focuses on Scott, but Douglas’ performance is what makes this work. He walks the fine line between predator and protector, lover and louse. When he tells a young Scott that he wants to be his “Brother, Father, Lover, Best Friend”, we are nauseated as viewers, while Scott is captivated.

candelabra3 Supporting work comes from Dan Akyroyd as Seymour Heller, Liberace’s fixer and handler; an exceptional Rob Lowe as plastic surgeon Dr. Startz; Scott Bakula as one of Scott’s first and the one who introduces him to LL; Paul Reiser; Nicky Katt; and Debbie Reynolds … yes THAT Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain) … who plays Liberace’s controlling and creepy mother.

Scott Thorson is really not a very interesting character, though there is no doubt that he and Liberace were exceptionally close for almost six years. The movies have shown us many “kept” women over the years, so it’s a twist to see a studly young man in the role. The slow spiral into drug addiction and paranoia is not fun to watch, and rather than follow Scott, the movie ends with Liberace’s passing due to complications from AIDS. Since then, Mr. Thorson testified against gangster Eddie Nash in the Wonderland murders, and was placed in the Federal Witness Protection program. Of course, his taste of fame would not allow him liberaceto live a quiet life and he has since been shot and arrested … even giving interviews from the Reno jail just one month before the premiere of this movie.  Only recently was his bail posted by the fine folks at Nevada’s The Moonlite Bunny Ranch. (yes, really)

Definitely worth watching thanks to the Michael Douglas performance, but also as a reminder of just how much innocence society has lost in the last thirty years. Soderbergh says that no studio would distribute the film because it was “too gay”. Maybe we haven’t progressed so much after all. Luckily HBO picked it up, though that prevents Douglas from being an Oscar contender. Brace yourself for the “creep factor”. Liberace (that’s the real one, pictured left) even tried to legally adopt Scott … a move that eclipses the wildness of even his costumes, pianos and cars.

**NOTE: Robin Williams was originally cast as Liberace

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you were a fan of Liberace OR you want to see just how far society has advanced in 30 years

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have no intention of allowing for the possibility that Liberace was in a relationship (other than professional) with Scott Thorson

watch the trailer:

TMI: LIBERACE bio coming soon

March 12, 2013

March 12, 2013

TMI: Today’s Movie Info


liberaceDirector Steven Soderbergh is putting the finishing touches on Behind the Candelabra, an HBO film based on the story of Liberace and his partner of 6 years, Scott Thorson.  The film airs May 26 and stars Michael Douglas (yes, that’s him in the Entertainment Weekly cover photo) as the flamboyant performer known for his extravagant costumes.  Matt Damon will play Thorson.  In typical Hollywood fashion, Mr. Douglas is older now than Liberace was when he died in 1987.  Thorson was a teenager when he first met Liberace, and 24 when he filed his 1982 lawsuit.  While Matt Damon is a young looking 42, very few would confuse him for a twenty-something.  Debbie Reynolds, who once appeared on Liberace’s TV show, will play his mother.  No trailer is available yet.


March 23, 2011

Even though she flirted with illness and death countless times over the last 50 years, it still came as a shock to hear the morning news of Elizabeth Taylor‘s passing.  Unless you are a movie buff or over 40 years old, you can’t understand what a glamorous, elegant movie star she was.  She truly was the last of Hollywood’s Golden Era.

She burst onto the scene as a 12-year-old in 1944’s National Velvet, but with the current release of Jane Eyre hitting theatres, it should be noted that she had a small, yet eye-opening role as a dying girl in the 1943 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.  For the next 68 years, Elizabeth Taylor never stopped opening eyes!

 Don’t make the mistake of thinking her popularity and notoriety came only from her beauty.  She was an immensely talented actress who received 5 Oscar nominations and won the award twice.  At the age of 18, she seduced (onscreen) Montgomery Clift into killing his girlfriend (Shelley Winters) in A Place in the Sun.  Movie watchers totally understood why he did it.  Those unique violet eyes set off by rare double eye-lashes (a genetic mutation), made her a stunning beauty to go along with her captivating spirit.

 She sizzled onscreen in back-to-back Tennessee Williams scripts: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly Last Summer (1959).  In 1963, her life changed dramatically.  When approached to play the title role in Cleopatra, she laughed off the producers and told them “only for a million dollars”, which was an unheard of salary for an actress in the day.  When they agreed, she became the first million dollar actress, and more importantly, met and fell in love with Richard Burton during filming.  “Liz and Dick” became worldwide phenomenons as stars and celebrities.  Living the “high life” was a normal day for these two.

 1966 brought about what I call the first Reality Show … Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?  With an explosive performance by Liz,  many assumed their characters mirrored the couple in real life.  The film received a dazzling 13 nominations, including a win for Ms. Taylor.  There were many additional performances after this, but by 1967’s The Taming of the Shrew, she had a 20 year career that was multi-dimensional and astounding.

Speaking of astounding, the only thing more amazing than her career was Elizabeth Taylor’s personal life.  She grew up in the public eye and never left.  EIGHT marriages, including two to Mr. Burton.  When husband Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash, she fell into the arms of his best friend, Eddie Fisher.  Unfortunately, Mr. Fisher was married at the time to American icon Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain) and they had a daughter, Carrie Fisher (the future Princess Leia of Star Wars).  Of course, Mr. Fisher ended up on the short end after Liz met Burton … but you start to get the idea.

After she divorced Burton the second time, she married U.S. Senator John Warner and became a true politician’s wife.  Her final starring role was in 1981, but she became renowned for her charity work … best known for her tireless fundraising for AIDS research – stemming from the loss of her friend, Rock Hudson.  They remained close after filming Giant (James Dean‘s last role).  Later, she became a friend and trusted advisor to the enigmatic Michael Jackson.  She was probably one of the few who could relate to his level of fame and the baggage it brought.

 While there will be no shortage of obituaries and tributes to Ms. Taylor, this may be one of the few that ends with a SPORTS story.  In 1989, Jerry Jones invited Elizabeth Taylor to perform the official coin toss at a Dallas Cowboys – Washington Redskins football game.  Ms. Taylor flubbed the moment when she actually called “heads” after flipping the coin … thereby requiring a re-toss.  Even at mid-field, she was a star!