Behind The Candelabra


Behind The Candelabra offers a fascinating look at life of Liberace, a man whose glamorous public persona disguised a dramatic and often dark personal life. The film provides a compelling insight into his complex character and relationships, focusing on his time with Scott, a young gay man with no family of his own. The film is entertaining throughout, offering an unflinching look at a relationship in turmoil while deriving humour from the often ridiculous circumstances of their lives: Liberace’s army of elderly female fans who fail to realise he is gay and the LA plastic surgeons who recommend multiple procedures for the 20 year old Scott.

There are two distinct sides to the film. On one hand, it is a wry comedy which celebrates the opulence of Liberace’s life, his showmanship and the 1970s entertainment industry. But it also has a much darker undertones as it explores the unravelling of a toxic relationship against a backdrop of Hollywood excess.

There was controversy surrounding decision to cast straight actors in the lead roles of the film. It is a testament to director Stephen Soderbergh and actors Michael Douglas and Matt Damon that the film works so well. The performers wholeheartedly embrace the challenge, focusing the audience’s attention on the story of a relationship shattered by insecurities and fame. The film successfully conveys the immense pressures which were put on gay men in society at the time which forced them to live a lie, as well as the stigma which was attached to HIV.

Micheal Douglas gives a phenomenal performance in the lead role, embodying the larger than life character. Liberace is presented as the ultimate diva, obsessed with youth and appearance, with more concern for his audience than for those closest to him. With Scott, his manner is almost childlike and self-pitying, as if his fame has kept him in a state of arrested development. Despite this fragility, he is able to change in an instant revealing a fierce and controlling nature. One of the most powerful moments in the film comes when he suddenly answers back to Scott, reminding him of the control he has over every aspect of his life.

The film was shown on HBO in America, making it ineligible for any Oscar nominations at this year’s ceremony. Based on the strength of the film and performances, had it been shown on screen, it seems likely that it would gain acting and directing nominations. If Behind the Candelabra is in fact Steven Soderberg’s last film, he can feel proud to have left on such a high note.
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Girl Model

Girl Model is a documentary by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon which offers an unflinching look at the international modelling industry. The film follows former model and scout Ashley Arbaugh as she searches for ‘new faces’ to represent in the competitive Japanese market.

The film begins at a model casting in Siberia where hundreds of girls, some as young as 12, have arrived, hoping for the the chance to model overseas. Like many girls of their age, they are drawn to the fame and glamour they associate with the modelling industry. However, for these girls, the stakes are higher: Modelling offers the otherwise unimaginable possibilities of travel and a chance to help their families escape from poverty.

The film follows the experience of Nadya, a 13 year old girl from rural Siberia. She describes herself as a ‘grey mouse’ but to the model scouts, her youthful beauty is perfect for the Japanese market. Her family share in her excitement at being scouted. Her father talks about his dream of expanding the small family home, which houses three generations.

Any sense of optimism quickly fades as soon Nadya reaches Japan. She speaks no English and is left without a chaperone, struggling to find her Tokyo apartment. The jobs she was promised fail to materialise and, along with other young models, she forced to attend endless castings. Her days are spent surrounded by stern business people who are impatient with her attempts to communicate in English. When she is finally able to speak to her family over the phone, she bursts into tears.

Nadya’s only comfort is her roommate Madlen. Madlen is also a Russian model but speaks better English and is the more confident of the pair. Sensing their exploitation, the girls rebel by eating cookies and chocolate. Madlen gains 2cm to her hips and is sent home. The lesson is clear: In this industry, models have no control.

The filmmakers do not explore the instances of prostitution in the modelling industry however, watching Girl Model, it is easy to see how this situation could emerge. Aspiring models like Nadya are often left in debt by their agencies, with no means to pay this money.

Girl Model is a powerful and important film, which plays a crucial role in exposing the gross inequalities which exist in the modelling world. Although these children are being recruited for the modelling industry rather than the sex trade, this film shows the differentiation between these industries is often shockingly vague.

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Melissa McCarthy’s Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids was well-deserved. She played unlikely bridesmaid Megan who was frank, out-spoken and unafraid of making bold sexual advances. She was a character audiences recognised but never seen before in film. McCarthy may not have won the award but her original performance set her on track for leading lady roles. She is perfectly cast in Identity Thief as Diana, a QVC-loving fraudster, scamming an unsuspecting family man played by Jason Bateman.

Identity Thief may not be as laugh out loud hilarious as Bridesmaids but McCathy brings her trademark sense of mischief and charm to the role. She lets the audience into Diana’s world, making us sympathise with a character who is almost incapable of honesty. This character also feels very familiar – we’ve all met someone who, despite morally dubious behaviour, is able to charm their way back into favour.

The funniest moments in the film are when Diana is behaving badly: Drinking champagne from the bottle and indulging in for expensive beauty treatments. It’s rare in film to see women engaging in this kind of rebellion and even rarer to see it done by one who looks like a real woman.

McCathy and Bateman’s characterisation may be great but the action scenes in Identity Thief are less interesting. It’s becoming increasingly common for Hollywood to add expensive action sequences comedies (Due Date, The Bounty Hunter), while these scenes may add excitement to the trailer, they often seem out of place in the wider context of the film.

Identity Thief won’t win any awards for originality but it is charming and entertaining. If you enjoy the thought of an unrepentant convict duping her way into high society or just have a burning desire to see Jason Bateman punched in the throat, this is the film for you.

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The Mindy Project is finally being shown in the UK (Tuesdays on E4). If you haven’t seen it yet, the show revolves around the world of Mindy Lahiri, a 30 something doctor negotiating her way through the world of work, dating and friendships. She may be girly but she has a definite edge – writer and producer Mindy Kaling was one of the main writers of the US version of The Office so she knows what she’s doing.

Mindy (Lahiri) loves fashion, romantic comedies and ice cream dates and a lot of the comedy in The Mindy Project comes from her attempts to incorporate these interests into her choatic life. Mindy may be a ‘Carrie’ but her friends and colleagues disappointly fail to fulfil their Sex And The City roles (particularly male nurse Morgan Tooker, played by Ike Barinholtz).

Here are some of my favourite moments from the first season so far:

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Skyfall Sees Bond Refreshed And Reenergised

It’s hard to think of a film which has opened to the same levels of anticipation and expectation – The 23rd Bond instalment promises an in-depth look at Bond, complex supporting characters and ‘Bond girls’ for the 21st century. Remarkably, Sam Mendes has been able to deliver on these promises, offering a film which is modern, fast-paced and exhilarating.

At the centre of the film, and it could be argued the Bond franchise, is a tension between traditionalism and modernity. The Bond films of the past with sinister Soviet ‘bad guys’ and helpless female characters seem out of place in the modern world – Mendes acknowledges this shift and presents us with a Bond who is undergoing a transformation, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The character is masterfully handled by Daniel Craig, who is well-versed in shifting from brooding Alpha males to vulnerable tortured characters.

Similarly, the villain in Skyfall is not a menacing megalomaniac, but Assange-esque cyber-terrorist who seems, at once, terrifyingly more powerful and deeply flawed than any of Bond’s previous villains. Despite his extremes, Javier Bardem provides the character with humanity and is able to inject moments of light relief into this otherwise breakneck adventure.

It is clear that Mendes has listened to the criticisms levelled at female roles in the Bond series. Judy Dench’s M plays a prominent role in Skyfall, providing the driving force behind Bond’s resurrection. The ‘Bond Girls’ have been similarly made-over – Noamie Harris is captivating as field agent Eve and it seems likely she will continue to feature in further instalments.

Mendes appears to have achieved the impossible: Skyfall is a film that will satisfy loyal Bond fans while answering the questions of asceptical new audience. But with so much of the legend of Bond explored in Skyfall, the only question is: Where does he go next?


TED conferences bring together the greatest speakers from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design and challenge them to deliver ‘the talk of their lives’ in 18 minutes or less. The results are often funny, insightful and inspiring. Previous speakers include Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs but often the best talks are given by people outside of the spotlight. Here are my top TED talks and reasons why I chose them:

Rory Sutherland: Life Lessons Of An Ad Man

Rory Sutherland is the vice chairman of Ogilvy and a champion of behavioural economics. He was one of the first advocates of ‘360 branding’ – the idea that companies should consider the holistic experience of the consumer in developing their brand strategies. His presentations are lively, funny and full of brilliant and common sense ideas.

Hans Rosling: Stats That Shape Your World-View

Hans Rosling is a Swedish professor who brings to life complex data on global health and economic trends, using his own visualisation software. He presents data in a way which is engaging and often surprising, particularly his insights into poverty and the developing world.

Stroke Of Insight: Jill Bolte Taylor

This is a remarkable presentation, delivered by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor who suffered from a stroke ten years ago. As a expert, Jill was able to analyse the effect that the stroke was having  on her mind and body, as she experienced it. The talk is incredibly moving and provides unique insights into how our brains connect us to ourselves and each other.

Jamie Oliver: Teach Every Child About Food

Jamie Oliver was awarded the TED prize in 2010 for his work in the UK and the US on anti-obesity projects. In this presentation, he talks about working with young people whose lives have been severely impacted by obesity. Jamie’s particular focus is on teaching children about food: helping them identify healthy options and teaching them basic cooking skills. He emphasises that while big corporations have to take action to tackle these problems, ordinary people have a responsibility to educate themselves about food and make wise choices.

Sara Blakely: The Story Of Spanx

Although this is not strictly a TED talk, I wanted to include it as an example of a fantastic CEO presentation and a must-watch for aspiring entrepreneurs. Sara describes the process she went through to transform her initial idea for Spanx underwear (noticing the way that wearing tights under clothes flattered women’s bodies) into a reality and the many setbacks she faced along the way. Sara’s passions for her product and audience are clear. She discusses the decisions she made about the distinctive brand name (noting how many successful brands names contained ‘s’ and ‘k’ sounds) and the choice to use illustrations instead of models in advertising, something make up brand Benefit have also done really nicely.

Women in Business

Since starting on a graduate scheme in London a year ago, I have become aware of what it means to be a woman in business. I work with clients across practice areas, from small creative companies to large multinational organisations.

I’m very lucky to work in a company with a culture where creativity and innovation is encouraged for all, regardless of their level. Many of our practice leaders are women and our managing director is a woman. However, I’ve become aware that these opportunities do not exist in all companies and men continue to outnumber women in top PR and advertising roles, despite of the high numbers of women in these industries.

The disparity between numbers of men and women in senior roles has been attributed to cultural differences: While women often meticulously prepare for presentations or exams, men will often take a laid back approach, confident to ‘wing it’ on the day.

I am frequently in meetings where I am the youngest and the only woman in the room. While initially daunting, I have found that, as I gain greater experience in my field and learn more about business issues, I have greater confidence to voice my opinions and hold my own in these situations.

(Image available here)

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Project Nim

I came across ‘Project Nim’ browsing through films on Netflix. The film is about a chimp who was raised by humans in the 70s and taught sign language, in an experiment taking place at Columbia University. The researchers were interested in carrying out studies relating to the ‘nature / nurture’ debate, prevalent at the time.

The film provides a remarkable insight into Nim’s development over 26 years, as he interacts with humans and memorises hundreds of signs. The footage conveys Nim’s mischievous personality, as he discovers ways to trick his handlers to get what he wants.

The film reveals how significantly attitudes towards the treatment of wild animals have changed over the past few decades. I was shocked at times to watch the way in which these obviously intelligent animals were treated. I would advise against watching this film if you are especially sensitive around these issues.

Towards the end of the film, the researchers explain how their own attitudes have changed since the project took place. They recognise that while there may be capacity for greater interaction between humans and animals, it must be ensured any animals involved in such projects are provided the best quality of life.

(Image available here)

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Caine’s Arcade

This video is a must watch. It’s about a little boy who makes arcade games from old cardboard boxes in his dad’s garage. Filmmaker Nirvan Mullick was inspired by Caine’s story and started making a film about Caine and his family. The result is incredibly touching video, which has been seen by over 3 million people and has led to Caine receiving a scholarship for a prestigious engineering degree. It’s a brilliant example of the kind of innovation and creativity which should be encouraged in schools.

(Image available here)

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The Conversation

My friends and I have been enjoying ‘The Conversation’ – one of the few American TV shows available to watch online. The series is produced by Demi Moore and hosted by model turned photographer, Amanda De Cadenet. It’s a chat show but not in the conventional sense: All of the guests are female and the conversations focus on topics such as bullying, body image and divorce. It’s refreshing to see instantly recognisable  women dressed down and discussing relevant social issues. The fact that a programme like this is so rare serves as a reminder of the sexism which still exists in the media. As brilliant journalists Grace Dent and Caitlin Maran have pointed out, the majority panel and chat shows in the UK are dominated by men. Programmes such as The Conversation and Girls on HBO seem to suggest faster progress is being made in the US to even this balance.

(Image available here)

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