Friday, June 14, 2013


Black Sheep Reviews is moving! There are still boxes everywhere and I'm still trying to figure out where everything goes but you can come check it out now!

If you subscribe to the site by e-mail, you will need to subscribe to the new site to keep getting updates from me. Please do so when you have a minute. I would not want to lose a single one of you readers.

Currently on the new Black Sheep Reviews, there are all new reviews for THIS IS THE END and THE BLING RING, an interview with Brit Marling from THE EAST, as well as contests to win passes to see THE BLING RING and THE KINGS OF SUMMER. And there's more to come this weekend, like my review of MAN OF STEEL, as well as reviews for a bunch of Pixar classics from youngsters across the country.

So what are you waiting for? Get to the new Black Sheep Reviews right now!

Sunday, June 02, 2013


Written by Richard LaGravenese
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe and Debbie Reynolds

Liberace: I hate my life sometimes, I really do.

It all starts innocently enough, or as innocently as is possible given the surroundings, in a West Hollywood gay bar, or I should say, Steven Soderbergh’s version of a gay bar anyway. A yellowed filter sets the tone as a bright light burns behind the bar for contrast,  and one man is approached by another for a chance meeting that will change his life forever. Instantly, you know just by sight alone and without any question that BEHIND THE CANDELABRA is a Soderbergh film. What you don’t know at this point is that you’re about to see Soderbergh at his absolute best.

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA is essentially a love story but one unlike any I’ve ever seen. The relationship between famed piano virtuoso, Liberace (as played in the film by Michael Douglas), and Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), if we are to believe everything we see in this film, is truly one of the most troubled and damaging in the history of relationships. As it is told and shown here though, for all its difficulty, the love they shared was also the most beautiful either had ever known. Perhaps they just didn’t know what to do with it when they found it.

Or perhaps they doomed themselves from the very start. I will say that I am very pleased that Soderbergh, along with screenwriter, Richard LaGravenese (whose work has never been this direct, honest or subtle), took some liberties with the ages of their characters. There are only 26 years difference between Douglas and Damon. When Liberace met Thorson, there were 40 years separating them, with Liberace being 58 in 1977 when they met. (You do the math!) Their love story is a lot to get past but I doubt any viewer would have gotten past their age difference if they had cast it accurately.

Not too long after meeting Thorson, Liberace invites him to move in, which is his first mistake (if you ignore the 40 years between them). Thanks to some very convincing chemistry between Douglas and Damon, it is clear that there is an attraction, as well as affection, developing between them. All the same, and perhaps again because he just doesn’t know how to handle genuine emotion, Liberace invites him onto his payroll at the same time as he invites him into his bed. Thorson moves in right away and the rest of the film focuses on the time they spent together.

Misguided intentions run rampant throughout BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, and do, on some level, make for a strong case for gay marriage equality. Let alone that both of these gentlemen grew up without much love in their lives but, as gay men, especially as gay men in the public spotlight, they were not free to confirm that love openly. And so they sought out other ways to solidify their bond, from Liberace proposing adoption to Thorson so that they can technically be family, to Liberace eventually funding a plastic surgery overhaul so that Thorson would look more like Liberace himself, as though they were again, related. They both want to belong but they are going about it all wrong.

Communicating this delicate balance requires a focused screenplay, with a strong sense of purpose, as well as delicate yet determined direction. It also requires two incredibly fearless performances to make any of this circus seem even remotely believable. I would never think to pair Douglas and Damon in this way but they both blew me away. In fact, when they first meet, you can feel the sexual tension between them burning when Liberace stares directly at Thorson and states emphatically and cheekily, “That’s what I’m all about. I love to give people a good time.”

As Liberace, Douglas is flamboyant and unapologetically so. He never plays him as a joke though. This is a man who had a fancy for much younger boys, who enjoyed decadence and excess, who believed himself to be the reincarnation of a king and who was raised, not so surprisingly, by an overbearing mother. Douglas plays Liberace with tons of charm and charisma, but also with a great deal of awareness of how Liberace lived in a constant state of performance. He was lying to his public about his sexuality so as not to destroy his career and sadly, performance became a defense mechanism at home as well. At one point, it isn’t clear whether he’s fooling everyone else or just himself.

Clearly, Douglas has the showier role, and he prances up and down his stage in full glory. So it becomes Damon’s part to ground the picture. He is young and naive and just looking to be loved. Of course, once you add spoiled rotten to being loved, it can be difficult to separate the two. Thorson, whose biography this film is based upon, became a drug addict while he was with Liberace and, by the time their relationship was at its worst, was nothing more than a pill-popping, stay at home sex toy, and one that was getting older at that. Damon gives a very ernest performance, which allows us to see his life slipping further and further away from him in great detail.

Together, Douglas and Damon are the real deal, made only more believable by the brilliantly recreated sets and costumes that surround them, as well as the incredible supporting cast. Scott Bakula and Dan Aykroyd give solid performances but their show is stolen by, firstly, Rob Lowe, as a permanently stoned, yet highly skilled plastic surgeon, who can barely even keep his eyes open. And then there’s Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother. She is entirely unrecognizable, and with only three scenes in the entire film, she leaves a mark that is almost as unforgettable as the two stars.

Soderbergh is very selective in what he shows us in BEHIND THE CANDELABRA. Bits of information about Liberace’s life and his relationship with Scott are efficiently thrown in here and there so that you feel as though you’re getting the full picture of their lives. More importantly, by not focusing too intensely on any one piece of Liberace’s legacy, the relationship is allowed to feel more real as the central focus of this almost unbelievable tale. After all, amidst all of this excess and all this melodrama, were just two men from Wisconsin looking for love and hoping to hold on to it. That Soderbergh was able to find that center underneath all the glamour and glitter is what makes his work here truly dazzling.

Saturday, June 01, 2013


Written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent

Dylan Rhodes: Wait, did you say magicians?

They say the trick to magic is misdirection. Distract the audience with something flashy over there so they don’t see the nuts and bolts of the trick happening over here. This must have been the very same logic that was applied to NOW YOU SEE ME when they decided to cast it with a plethora of easily recognizable faces. The logic being that if I’m awed by seeing Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Common and Melanie Laurent on screen all at the same time, I couldn’t possibly see how thin and implausible the film I’m watching is. And just in case you’re savvy enough to see past that bunch of actors, why not throw in a couple of pedigreed thespians like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine into the mix? Between those two, all the younger faces and some non-stop special effects, maybe people will think they’re watching a Christopher Nolan picture. Alas, no. You’re actually watching a movie from the director of the CLASH OF THE TITANS reboot instead.

The following is what director, Louis Leterrier, is trying to draw your attention away from. Four individual magicians (Eisenberg, Harrelson, Fisher and Franco), all of which have various levels of success and talent, are mysteriously called to an abandoned apartment in New York City, all believing they are being summoned by one of the greatest magicians of all time. A plan is revealed to them there and they all gladly accept to partake in hopes that their careers will be boosted by the inevitable attention they will get. And so, the Four Horseman, which is what they call themselves, are born. They then embark on a series of magic shows that defy all expectation and capture the world’s attention because their particular brand of trickery also involves an element of thievery. Of course, whatever they steal, they give back to their public so they are naturally adored. And because their thefts are clouded by smoke and mirrors, the authorities (Ruffalo and Laurent), from the FBI to interpol, cannot figure out how they are doing any of it or what they will do next.

We are essentially instructed at the onset of NOW YOU SEE ME to not think too hard about what we’re about to see. Apparently, looking too closely at an elaborate illusion leads to seeing it less clearly. If you defy this advice though, what you do end up seeing is that Leterrier, along with his merry band of writers, are asking you to accept a number of highly unlikely scenarios that need to add up perfectly over a rather lengthy period of time in order for the Four Horsemen’s plan to come off as intended. You might also see how none of this extensive cast is pushing themselves very far past what we all know and expect of them. (What? Eisenberg is cocky? Caine is composed and authoritative? Craziness.) If you do follow this advice, which I’m sure the filmmakers would like you to do, then NOW YOU SEE ME can be reasonably entertaining at times, but if weren’t for the movie magic backing up their actual magic, the tricks themselves would likely just fall as flat as the film itself does.