Tag Archives: Matt Damon

Gay friends go Looking for happiness on HBO

The new HBO series 'Looking' premieres Sunday on HBO.

Frankie J. Alvarez, Jonathan Groff and Murray Bartlett (from left) star as three gay friends looking for love and success in San Francisco in ‘Looking,’ a new HBO dramedy series premiering Sunday.

Looking, a new half-hour dramedy premiering Sunday on HBO, follows three closely knit gay men in San Francisco as each enters a period of transition.
At 31, Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), a frustrated artist, has nervously just agreed to move from the heart of the city to share quarters with his long-term boyfriend (O-T Fagbenle) in suburban Oakland, while Dom (Murray Bartlett) is staring down the barrel of his 40th birthday, painfully aware that he has spent most of his adult life as a waiter and kept his dreams of opening his own restaurant on hold for far too long.
As for their mutual best friend, Patrick (Jonathan Groff, Glee), he has just found out that his ex, the only real boyfriend he’s ever had, is getting married four months after their break-up. True, Patrick is the one who did the dumping, but that doesn’t mean he’s any happier about this development, which sends him, at 29, into a frenzied online search for a new boyfriend (and, since Agustin is moving out of their apartment, a new roommate).
As Looking unfolds during its eight-episode first season, each of these characters will, on some level, come to question where he is in his life – especially Patrick, who likes to present himself as relationship-oriented, but never has stayed with a boyfriend for more than five months. He’s equally unfocused in his job as a video games designer, where he spends too much of his time trolling dating sites like OkCupid.
“I don’t think either of us is very good at being what we think we are,” he tells Agustin in a rare moment of self-candor. “Maybe we need to try a little harder.”
Looking is not, of course, the first premium cable series to take a frank look at the lives of gay men. In that respect, the 2000-05 Showtime series Queer as Folk got there first. QAF often featured simulated sexual content so graphic that the series seemed intent not just on pushing the envelope, but setting it on fire and scattering the ashes. Looking is more interested in charting the emotional life of its characters. Yes, there are same-sex love scenes in this new HBO series, but at least based on the first four episodes HBO made available for preview, audiences saw more explicit footage with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.
As more than one character in Looking says, “It’s more about intimacy than sex,” which could almost be a mantra for the series. This show is less interested in getting its characters out of their clothes and into bed with each other than in capturing the relaxed, affectionate closeness between these men: the teasing, the flirting, the shared sense of both joy and regret.
Most of the cast probably will be unfamiliar to HBO subscribers, but they have an easy chemistry together that evokes a mutual history. If you only know Groff, a leading man on Broadway, from his two-dimensional guest role on Glee, you’re in for a revelation here, because he’s sensational, capturing every facet of Patrick’s complex personality – especially in his scenes with British actor Russell Tovey (The History Boys), who joins the show in its third episode as Patrick’s new boss (and, one suspects, future love interest).
Looking may revolve mostly around gay men in a Northern California city, but its issues and themes are universal and relatable to anyone with an open heart and mind. If there’s any justice, this smart, beautifully crafted show will find the audience it (and HBO) deserves.
Russell Tovey has a recurring guest role on HBO's 'Looking.'

British actor Russell Tovey (‘The History Boys’) joins ‘Looking’ in its third episode as Patrick’s new boss.

TBS’ Pete Holmes joins crowded late-night pack

Pete Holmes stars in 'The Pete Holmes Show' premiering tonight on TBS.

‘The Pete Holmes Show,’ premiering tonight on TBS immediately following ‘Conan,’ features Conan O’Brien protege Pete Holmes in a fast-paced half-hour of interviews and sketch comedy.

The lucrative but increasingly crowded late-night talk show lineup gets even more populated tonight as The Pete Holmes Show joins the TBS schedule in the Monday-Thursday half-hour timeslot immediately following Conan (Conan O’Brien is an executive producer on the series).
The new series, which reportedly combines comedy sketches and video pieces with celebrity interviews, premieres with a filmed visit with Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show as well as an in-studio chat with Kumail Nanjiani, the Pakistani-American stand-up comic and actor who co-stars as agoraphobic sci-fi nerd Pindar Singh on the TBS sitcom Franklin & Bash. Additional guests scheduled to appear during this first week include actress Allison Williams of HBO’s Girls, comic Jim Jefferies, NBA All-Star James Harden of the Houston Rockets and actress Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine).
Based on a clips reel TBS sent of sketches that may or may not make it into the show, Holmes, 34, looks to be a good fit with O’Brien, as both comics are tall, gangly guy-next-door types who exude an air of bewilderment with the show-biz nuttiness around them. I’ve never caught Holmes’ stand-up act or podcast, but some of the comedy bits included on the screener made me laugh out loud, such as a very high-concept sketch purporting to be previews from a new revised and remastered Criterion Collection DVD release of Good Will Hunting, in which we see actual footage from that film with Matt Damon and Robin Williams, with Holmes edited in as co-star Ben Affleck … except it’s Ben Affleck playing Batman.
Another bit finds Holmes auditioning for the role of James Bond and becoming increasingly hammered during multiple takes from the very real vodka that, due to a promotional deal with Smirnoff, is being used on-camera (that one doesn’t really lend itself to summarizing, but Holmes lands all the slurry jokes).
I’ll wait until I see tonight’s premiere before I decide whether to add another late-night entry to my DVR, but Holmes is very likable and funny. I wish him well.

New on home video: Two Emmy nominees from HBO

Director Steven Soderbergh had no luck finding a commercial distributor for Behind the Candelabra, his movie about the turbulent relationship between flamboyant showman Liberace and his erstwhile lover Scott Thorson, but the lavish production certainly found a cushy home at HBO, where the film pulled some of the highest ratings in the premium channel’s recent history and snagged a staggering 15 Primetime Emmy nominations.
This Tuesday, HBO Home Entertainment releases Candelabra in both DVD and Blu-ray single disc formats in a pristine transfer that allows fans to revisit the sumptuous design detail as well as the exceptional Emmy-nominated performances by co-leads Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as, respectively, Liberace and Thorson. Despite the sensitive nature of the material, which includes a couple of fairly graphic same-sex love scenes, both actors really throw themselves into their roles with a commitment that is both fearless and ego-free.
“You forget about us (as actors) pretty quickly,” Douglas comments in The Making of Behind the Candelabra, a 14-minute behind-the-scenes extra included with the set. “And you pretty quickly also forget it’s two guys. You’re just watching (a film) about a relationship.” The short documentary also includes several pieces of production trivia, such as the fact that the exterior of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s residence in Los Angeles stood in for Liberace’s Las Vegas mansion.
The large supporting cast also includes fellow Emmy nominee Scott Bakula, along with Rob Lowe, Cheyenne Jackson, Dan Aykroyd and a virtually unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds in a memorable cameo as Liberace’s mother. Soderbergh and screenwriter Richard LaGravanese also scored Emmy nods, and the film itself is up for the outstanding movie or miniseries trophy.
If Behind the Candelabra is largely about capturing the glitzy, over-the-top extravagance of Liberace’s world, Parade’s End, another recent HBO Home Entertainment release on two discs, charts the repressed but explosive World War I triangle encompassing an English aristocrat and the two women who love him. Superstar-in-the-making Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as Christopher Tietjens, a morally upright chap who is seduced into marrying pregnant socialite Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) even though there’s a very good chance the baby isn’t his. Bored and restless, Sylvia is aghast that her husband is too decent to be angry about her infidelity, and she treats Christopher pretty abominably over the course of the five-part miniseries.
Both Hall and Cumberbatch, who earned an Emmy nomination for his performance, are so good and deliver such multifaceted performances that they keep you switching allegiances as you watch this catastrophic couple clash again and again. Newcomer Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby) also stars as Valentine Wannop, a suffragette who loves Christopher but must endure a chaste relationship with him, since he’s too nice a guy to divorce his wife. The strong cast also includes former Oscar nominees Janet McTeer and Miranda Richardson.
The only extra in the set is, somewhat oddly, a half-hour radio interview between screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), who earned an Emmy nod for his work, and film critic Elvis Mitchell. Not surprisingly, Stoppard has a lot of fascinating stuff to say about adapting the four 1920s-era novels by Ford Madox Ford that form the basis of the miniseries, but Mitchell more than holds his own in this cerebral chatfest, demonstrating a capacious grasp of both Ford’s novels and Stoppard’s own plays. In fact, at one point, Stoppard stops to tell Mitchell, “I haven’t been interviewed by a man so well briefed for about 40 years.” If you’re up for a challenging but very rewarding drama, I highly recommend this set.
Parade's End

Douglas, Damon shine in HBO’s ‘Behind the Candelabra’

The prospect of doing a film based on flamboyant performer Liberace is fraught with booby traps, and frankly, when I heard that HBO had scheduled Behind the Candelabra for the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend – when many channels schedule repeats and other less-than-stellar programming – I started to fear that this high-profile project starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as, respectively, the bedazzled piano man and his most well-known companion, Scott Thorson, was going to be a misbegotten same-sex remake of Mommy Dearest, with sequins.
Not to worry. Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and his screenwriter, former Oscar nominee Richard LaGravanese (The Fisher King), have delivered a film that embraces its inevitable camp elements while never losing sight of the humanity of its principal characters.
It certainly helps that the production, which would fit comfortably on any movie house screen, seems to be staggeringly authentic in its physical details. Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick reconceived many of Liberace’s onstage ensembles, which were as remarkable for their weight as their glitz, to be more camera-friendly and wearable for Douglas, but beyond that, there seems to be little if any fudging. Soderbergh filmed in Liberace’s actual Los Angeles penthouse (redecorated in period detail for the film), and the musician’s matching pianos, separated after Liberace’s death, were reunited on the stage of the Las Vegas Hilton, where the current audience seating area was gutted and “re-remodeled” to look exactly as it did while Liberace played there. The silver Rolls-Royce Landau that Thorson drives onstage during one scene is the actual vehicle Liberace incorporated night after night in his Las Vegas act. And the list goes on.
But all those cosmetic details would have counted for little without the presence of Douglas and Damon, who are a remarkable double act. I’ll go on record right now and say that if Douglas doesn’t win an Emmy for his performance I will be stunned, but Damon is just as good, and has the good sense to know when to defer to his colleague.
The film opens in 1977, when the teenage Scott, an aspiring veterinarian, is picked up in a gay bar by handsome choreographer Bob Black (Scott Bakula). While it’s never spelled out, the implication is that Bob is informally pimping for Liberace, because very soon he’s spiriting Scott away to Las Vegas, where the pianist is playing the Las Vegas Hilton.
After the show, Bob takes Scott backstage to meet the performer, but the atmosphere in the room in tense: Liberace’s current “protégé” Billy Leatherwood (Cheyenne Jackson) fumes and rolls his eyes as Liberace works his charms on Scott. We can tell this is a scene that has played out many times before. And we also know it’s going to play out again before the movie is over.
Liberace – or Lee, as he calls himself to his intimates – and Scott initially bond over the pianist’s cherished dogs, but it’s not long before Liberace, nearly 40 years Scott’s senior, mounts a full-court seduction of Scott, while throwing Billy out of his mansion. It’s a collision of two worlds. Liberace, in his late 50s, is a devout Catholic and world-famous celebrity who is independently wealthy and keeps his adoring and very conservative older fans happy with elaborately spun fictions about how he never has found the right woman, but currently pines for Olympic figure skater Sonja Henie.
“People only see what they want to see,” he’ll later tell Scott, and he counts on that.
Scott, by contrast, is naïve in many respects, having been raised largely by two affectionate foster parents on a Southern California ranch, but once Liberace offers him a job as his new companion, Scott jumps at the chance, telling his protesting guardians that he knows exactly what he’s getting into. He also seems to have very few hang-ups about his sexuality, and as time passes he will struggle to understand why Liberace insists on keeping him sequestered away from the public.
As expected, Liberace showers Scott with extensive bling and a fancy wardrobe, but as recompense, he wants to control Scott. “I want to be everything to you,” Liberace says. “Father, brother, lover, best friend.”
That creepy combo platter takes an even weirder turn after Liberace catches himself on a 1979 telecast of The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and is horrified by how old he looks (“I look like my father in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte!“ he shrieks to Scott). He immediately books an appointment with celebrity plastic surgeon Jack Startz (a hilariously mummified Rob Lowe), then drops a bombshell: He also wants the doc to remake Scott’s face to resemble Liberace’s.
It’s Startz who starts Scott on a life-threatening combination of drugs – sorry, “vitamins and natural energy boosters” – that sends the formerly clean-living Midwesterner on a downward spiral, while his controlling partner indulges his libido via porn and promiscuity, leading to a devastating moment when Scott, waiting to make his entrance during one of Liberace’s Las Vegas shows, sees his obvious successor – a handsome young member of The Young Americans – literally waiting in the wings.
The cast also includes a completely unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds in a delightful turn as Frances Liberace, the performer’s Polish mother, and Dan Aykroyd as Seymour Heller, Liberace’s very protective manager. They’re both splendid, but make no mistake, it’s Douglas and Damon who elevate Behind the Candelabra to truly memorable status under Soderbergh’s assured direction. You may start out laughing at this dysfunctional relationship, but you’ll just as likely get a lump in your throat watching the scene near the end where the AIDS-stricken Liberace summons Scott, now banished from his home, to his bedside to make sure he’s still healthy.