Behind the Candelabra (review)

Behind the Candelabra - LiberaceAcclaimed director Steven Soderbergh and HBO Films teamed up to for the biopic Behind the Candelabra.  Based on the 2013 novel by Scott Thorson, the movie recounts the relationship Thorson (Matt Damon) had with famed American pianist, Liberace (Michael Douglas) from the late 1970s to mid 1980s. Matt Damon and Michael Douglas create two multi-dimensional characters in what could best be described as some of the actors’ finest work, and one of Soderbergh’s finest features.

The whirlwind romance begins in 1977 after Liberace and Scott are first introduced through a mutual friend named Bob (Scott Bakula).  Liberace is taken by Scott’s youth; Scott is taken by lavishness and excess – and personalized affection, something vaguely known to him as a child raised in foster care.  Together, they navigate a pleasant, loving world that gives way to rage, jealousy, and opposing downward spirals – one born of lust, the other from drugs.

Visually, from its period appearance (1970s, 80s) to its opulent costumes and visual makeup effects, Behind the Candelabra is wondrous.  It’s a stunning and “candid” glimpse into the famous, secret life of an American celebrity, and it constantly asks us to consider Liberace’s sexuality.   Was he or wasn’t he?  It’s the question hanging on to every cinematic moment – from the winks and smiles to the nuanced glances and touches, to the overt sexualization of Damon’s physique, to the mink coats and opal rings.  Soderbergh and Thorson’s suggestions are clear, and the performances are equally convincing.

Behind the Candelabra is a great character study.  As Scott Thorson, Matt Damon does great work.  Damon (and the screenwriter) arcs the character by embracing naivety and subtly, and slowly transforms his innocent, gentle attitude into one marked by aggression and paranoia.  He’s an innocent boy and devoted companion who becomes a spoiled brat and drug addict under pressure to maintain his youth and beauty in the eyes of Liberace.  As Damon’s character physically and emotionally struggles, Michael Douglas delivers and maintains Liberace’s vivacity.  Douglas’ flamboyant performance is strong already, but moments of weakness – of lust and desire, sorrow, or confrontation – enhance the portrayal and show a mere mortal behind the glamorous facade – a mortal who rejects aging through his obsession with youth and beauty .

Damon and Douglas aren’t the only actors to deliver – the supporting cast features Dan Akyroyd as Seymour Heller and Rob Lowe as Dr. Jack Startz.  As Heller, Akyroyd excels as Liberace’s no-nonsense talent agent and Rob Lowe gives a transformative, almost robotic  performance (in a good way) as plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz.  Due to prosthetics, Lowe’s face appears stretched as tightly as possible, making every part of his performance unsettling, in an a way sci-fi-horror fans are accustomed to.  Appropriately, this alien-like character is a catalyst for the rift between Liberace and Scott.

Behind the Candelabra is a well-acted and visually appealing portrayal of Liberace and Scott Thorson’s relationship.  How substantive Thorson’s claims are about his life with Liberace is unknown, but it’s an interesting consideration and pleasant movie all around.  Behind the Candelabra runs runs 118 minutes, is rated TV-MA, and airs on HBO.

Grade:  A

Coming Soon: Diva Dream Matches


In the coming weeks, I’m going to begin presenting Diva Dream Matches.  It’ll be a list of bouts that never happened and that I think people would pay to see.  Some are contests fans have been clamoring for, others are the result of my own fantasy booking.  Regardless, these bouts would have main-event appeal and would generate interest in the women’s wrestling product.   The criteria for each post will be:

1.  The Bout:  Match type, competitors, championship

2.  Competitors:  Name and career synopsis of each competitor

3.  Platform:  Would this match take place on RAW, Smackdown, or PPV?

4.  Booking:  A play-by-play of how I think the match would/should develop.

5.  Winner:  Here is your winner…

6.   Likelihood:  Is the contest likely to ever happen?

7.  Missed Opportunity:  Was it possible for WWE to book this match?  When?

The Great Gatsby (review)

The Great GatsbyBlitz Review:  I wasn’t expecting much from Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby adaptation, but I was pleasantly surprised, with both the visuals and soundtrack/score.  DiCapiro was fantastic, and that idealistic world was a romanticized spectacle.

Notable Qualities:  Art Direction, Cinematography, Acting, Soundtrack/Score, Costume Design, Directing, Original Song (“Together” – listen below), DiCaprio’s performance.

Grade:  A+

Follow the link for my As Seen By exclusive, full review.

The Great Gatsby (film review)

Listen to “Together,” as performed by The XX.  My favorite song from Gatsby that plays over one of my favorite scenes.


elephantDawn breaks across the savanna of Tsavo-East National Park in Kenya, Africa.  A family of twelve elephants stirs in the morning sun.  The humidity begins to climb and a mother nudges her calf.  The little one flaps his ears and trumpets, awake.  At dusk and dawn, the iron-rich soils of this untamed land are illuminated – red.  This day, the calf, his mother, and his family would have basked in the sun, and dusted themselves to stay cool; by dusk, they’d have become Kenya’s “red” elephants.  Instead, their flapping ears and morning rumbles were silenced during a downpour of lead.  Ambushed by poachers, blood from their ivory-stripped bodies poured into the ground on January 10, 2013.

The incident in Tsavo-East is one of the worst concentrated murders of elephants in Kenya since the 1980s, highlighting an alarming trend.  Throughout the past decade, poaching incidences have risen, matching the increased ivory demand from the Asian black market.  Ivory’s soaring profitability means poachers will, by any means necessary, invade any territory to gain access to elephants – and ultimately their ivory. On May 6, 2013, twenty-six elephants were slaughtered in an area known as the “Village of Elephants,” in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park – a protected sanctuary in the Central African Republic.

View the “Village of Elephants” massacre article on National Geographic (Graphic Photos)

The attack coincides with the country’s current political unrest and was so significant, that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) evacuated its conservationists.  As a result of the increased attacks in protected sanctuaries, many leading wildlife organizations, like the WWF and National Geographic, have called for increased attention to elephant conservation.  On May 7, Richard Carol, the WWF-US Vice-President for Africa Programs released a statement: “Urgent help is needed to prevent a wholesale massacre of elephants.  WWF is committed to supporting efforts to protect the irreplaceable natural heritage of the Central African Republic at this critical time.”

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While Carol’s statement makes elephant conservation seems like an issue for the global community, as opposed to a local concern, Susan Gallagher of the St. Louis Zoo said, “You can help by contributing to an organization that supports elephant conservation in the wild, like the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), [by] supporting companies that realize the increased demand for palm oil is fueling destruction of the rainforest habitat of Asian elephants, [or by] writing letters to decision makers about the need to conserve elephants.”

Learn more about the International Elephant Foundation (IEF)

In 1900, African elephant populations were believed to be near 10 million, while their Asian counterparts were believed to number around 100,000.  By 1989, their numbers had plummeted – African elephant populations had decreased to approximately 600,000 and Asian elephant populations dwindled to around 50,000.  These steep population declines led to the “Ivory Ban” of 1989, which was enacted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  The ban outlawed the international sale or trade of ivory.  Subsequently, populations began to stabilize and climb.

Today however, population estimates are lower still.  Gallagher said, “Asian elephants are facing extinction in the wild.  Between 35,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants are estimated to remain in the wild.  [We] take seriously [our] responsibility to conserve this species – to improve the welfare and protect Asian elephants in Sumatra and other countries in Asia.  We also support conservation and protection efforts to benefit African elephants in Kenya.”

African elephant populations are estimated around 450,000.  Gallagher stated the St. Louis Zoo has provided over $1.5 million for elephant conservation to the IEF, in the last five years.  It’s through contributions like this that Gallagher asserts, “[We] care about elephants, both here and in the wild, and [we] share a common vision – a vision that includes elephants in the world’s future forever.”

Click here to learn about the St. Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute and Conservation

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The #Virtual300 Survival Guide

survival guide

Okay, listen.  Nobody said you had to be a “techie” to produce good news articles, op eds, or blogs (which could be a mixture of both) – but if you’re going to survive the wild land of Virtual 300 – then I’d suggest reviewing this TOP 10 list, to increase your chances.  Lurking in the jungle all around you will be due dates and an assignment fiend known as Jill Falk – so beware!  Now, let’s survive – shall we?

10:  Time Management Tips – Kaplitz Blog – time management is of the utmost importance.  Unless you find a way to manage your time perfectly, you’ll run the risk of falling behind – so pay attention to deadlines and secure your interviews, data, and all multimedia, in an amount of time you know will be conducive to producing a good story.  Trust me, when you compound the work-load of Virtual 300 with your other coursework – time will be of the essence, and at least twice this semester it got away from me.  Brainstorm story ideas very early in the semester and make those your “milestone stories.”  Make one be your story one or two, and save others for story five and seven (or eight, if you’re a grad. student!).  This gives you a goal to work toward – and it’s never a bad idea to begin planning those interviews as soon as you develop your ideas.  Speaking of the interview process…

explorer29.  Future of News is Social – In 2009, Arianna Huffington (of Huffington Post lineage) identified the future of news as being a completely social experience.  The sooner you accept that the content you’re creating should inspire conversation and be “share-able,” the better off you’ll be. There’s no way around microblogging or doing things “the old way.”

8. 13 Tips for Effective Interviews – Okay, the text will give you examples and tips for interviewing – as will the link I provided, but there’s one big thing to remember here – generally, for the stories you’ll be creating – your interview subjects don’t owe you anything.  So the best advice I have for you?  Be polite, and friendly, and tough, but stay  conversational and approachable, even if this is a “hard news” story.  I promise you that your content will reflect the experience.

7.  State of the Media – familiarize yourself with the “State of the Media.”  Their reports identify key trends/shifts in the journalism world.  You don’t have to know everything on their site, and you don’t have to pretend that you do – but just be aware of what the major paradigms are in the media world (ex. Second-Screen Phenomenon, look how the WWE is using: WWE Active) – recognize them and become familiar with them, to avoid falling behind (Jill Falk has this whole “rabbit hole” idea that you’ll come to understand and appreciate – but be warned, “rabbit holes” could effect your time management!).

explorer6.  Video Editing – Video and news and journalism are interconnected in our digital age – and it’s one of the big options for multimedia (in Virtual 300, it counts as two forms) that you can add to your stories.  But unless you have video editing software already installed on your computer – or unless you know how to use the Avid lab at Lindenwood, you may want to check out this list of the “Top 10 Free Best Video Editing Software for Windows” (unless you have a Mac).  On the topic…

5. How to Create and Edit Video? (video) – this link offers you some basic information on how to be effective at capture, edit, and host video.

4.  10 Ways Twitter is valuable to Journalists – this blog author explores the many ways twitter can be used effectively by journalists…. trust me, you’re gonna want to read this – and you’re gonna want to be “tweet happy.”

3.  The Essence of Journalism – The Nieman Reports offer a brief article exploring the essence of journalism.  I think this is one of the most succinct and useful tid bits of information I read – about the practice of journalism itself.  Pay particular attention to their five tips for writing or presenting a story – and infuse those tips into your work.

explorer32. Photography Tips – we are visual people – that may be an understatement, but you’ll soon realize that photographs only enhance your story – and may sometimes even be their own stories.  Blog owner Patrick Latter is a programmer and photographer who regularly updates his site with amazing photographs and tips for how to capture those moments.

1. ‘Snowfall” by The New York Times – Read “Snowfall” by The New York Times first!  This piece is magnificent.  It will inspire you to push your own limits and boundaries during the semester.  Only you really know what you’re capable of, but I’m certain that after you experience “Snowfall,” you’ll push yourself harder to find out.

With these ten links, I hope I’ve given you something that inspires and helps you on your journey through Virtual 300.  It’s a process – that’s for sure – and it can be overwhelming, but in the end – if you’ve been inspired and you’ve been an effective time manager, and you’ve learned – there will be at least one piece of work you’ll be extremely proud of.  Personally, I navigated the course and produced four pieces I’m really proud of – maybe some of these could even inspire you:  “Never Going Back: the Fight for Marriage Equality” – “The ‘Cruel Mystery’ and Butterflies of Hope” – “#SaveElephants” – “Feminism Fading: the Rise of Social Media”

The ‘Cruel Mystery’ and Butterflies of Hope

Butterfly of Hope

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Imagine your life as an independent adult.  Now think of the decisions you’ve made in this life – where have they taken you, what have you become?  For one woman, this independence, and her decisions led to a career as a paramedic.  She was charged with working the streets of St. Louis, night after night – day after day.  She traveled the city and responded to various calls – a drunk had fallen, a man was stabbed, a child was shot.  Sometimes she prevented death – and other times, it was just too late.  Every time, her objective was the same – to rescue them, to aid their healing, or to ease their suffering – to save them.

Now imagine you’ve been diagnosed with a cruel and mysterious disease, as was the case of this paramedic – she can no longer roam the streets of St. Louis – to heal, to rescue, or to save.  This ability was taken away from her, so she repurposed her independence– to teach and to inspire.


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Charlene Jansen (a 2007 graduate of Lindenwood University), is this woman, and in 1995, her life changed forever.  Jansen said, “I had just went back to work for the St. Louis Fire Department as their training officer and realized that I was having extreme bouts of fatigue, some irritability, and some muscle and joint aches and pains that were not typical of what one would experience with that profession.”

Jansen was diagnosed with lupus – an autoimmune disease known for its difficult detection (an average of three to five years), inconsistent symptoms, and ability to ravage the body and its various systems and functions.  According to Megan McLean from the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is, “an invisible chronic illness.  Some of the most common symptoms include fatigue and joint stiffness [and] these symptoms can be incredibly debilitating [and] hard to explain to your family, friends, or coworkers.”

Visit the Lupus Foundation of America

McLean said, “We don’t know what causes lupus or how to cure it [but] many symptoms of lupus mimic those of other illnesses, which makes diagnosis more difficult.  Moreover, lupus can affect any organ system of the body, including the heart, kidneys, lungs, blood, joints, and skin.”

Lupus Infograph

For Jansen, the lupus diagnosis came alongside a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, “Initially they put me on very stabilizing medications and that didn’t work.  I ended up going on some chemotherapy.  At that point, they said that if I don’t go into remission, that I could have some very serious, debilitating health consequences within ten years.”

Jansen said, “In 1995, I worked for the St. Louis Fire Department as a training officer, could easily get on an ambulance and take care of individuals, walk stairs, stand for long periods of time.  I can no longer work on an ambulance.  I can no longer walk up steps without extreme difficulty.  I can no longer stand for extended periods of time.  Those things that [I] did before are things I cannot do now.”

Hope Butterfly

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According to McLean, “Lupus research remains underfunded relative to its scope of devastation.  A sustained, coordinated and well-funded federal research effort on lupus would lead to a better understanding of what causes the disease and could help lead to the discovery of safe, more tolerable and effective treatment or lupus.”

What is the Lupus Foundation doing about Lupus?

McLean mentioned that in March of 2011, the drug BENLYSTA was approved by the FDA as the first new treatment of lupus in 50 years, but according to Jansen, the treatment wasn’t as effective as its engineers hoped.  So where does this leave people like Jansen?

Jansen said, “What I want to happen is for there to be a greater awareness for lupus – more research into that – and I just think that’s going to take a voice to compete against some of the other diseases out there.”

The Lupus Foundation of America is currently petitioning Congress to increase funding to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to expand medical research for lupus.  Unless funding increases, McLean cautions, “people with the disease will continue to suffer its [lupus’] devastating effects.”

Add Your Name to the Petition

Blade Butterfly

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These effects, for Jansen, lead to frustration when others doubt her abilities, and inspire only one fear, “I fear my loss of independence.  I don’t fear death, I fear being a burden on my family.  One of the things that’s so hard with lupus [and rheumatoid arthritis] is that there are very few outward signs that are going to indicate to an individual the severity of illness, and so often times when you say ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I can’t do that,’ frequently you just see that doubt in someone else’s eyes.”

A resilient Jansen said, “What I did – since I couldn’t rely on being a paramedic anymore, which was the best job I’ve ever had in my life – I went to school – got my Master’s degree – and I teach paramedics.  I feel like I have to continue to do this, because if I sit at home, I think that’s truly the beginning of the end for me.  I think it would be really easy to cave into this disease process and not try at all.”

With her husband, David Jansen, by her side, she will continue to try – to live, to teach, and to inspire.  David Jansen said, “I know it’s going to be rough – but we’ll grow old together [and] make the best of what we have – we have each other.”

Charlene Jansen plans to begin coursework for her PhD, to continue instructing her students at Mineral Area College, and to enjoy life as it comes – day in and day out.  She’s independent, and she’s making decisions, but the life she’s saving now is her own.

 May is Lupus Awareness Month