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Review: The Great Gatsby by Jamie

Warning: This review may feature spoilers for a book that was first published in 1925 and that you can easily read in an afternoon…

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any film,” he told me, “just remember that all the movies in this world haven’t had the advantages that Jaws had.”

In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has led to the discovery of many curious hidden gems and also made me the victim of not a few films that were best left not viewed by the eyes of anyone.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit… I’m sorry, I’ll stop now. The point is that I saw ‘The Great Gatsby’ after reading/listening to the book and watching all four of Baz’s previous films. At the end of all this preparation I came to two conclusions. The first was that I really liked F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 book which is beautifully written and a mesmerizing account of regret, the decay of the American dream and unfulfilled hope and a stunning portrayal of decadently rich youths during the 1920s in America. The second was that for the most part I really like Baz Luhrmann films. There are quibbles here and there and none of them are making it into my top ten but for the most part all four films are entertaining in one way or another. So it was with somewhat raised expectations that I went into the Great Gatsby.

I shall spare you the normal lengthy synopsis because, as I believe I may have mentioned earlier, The Great Gatsby is based on a novel from 1925 which can easily be read in the course of an afternoon. Now the important things. Is it any good? Well, yes and no. As a film it’s certainly the kind of entertaining thing you’d expect from Baz Luhrmann. It’s bright, it’s brash, it’s glitzy and it’s glamorous. It’s a visual feast that’s at times reminiscent of ‘Moulin Rouge’. As an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, however, it’s woefully inadequate. Sure, the major beats of the story are there but that’s all it feels like Luhrmann’s doing, making sure he hit’s the very basic beats of the story without any of the substance. It’s as though he brought in an exorcist that removed the soul from the story.

At it’s very worst, the framework of the novel feels like it’s being used as a means for Luhrmann to get from one elaborate, raucous set-piece to the next. At it’s best you’ll walk away from the film knowing what the story is without really knowing what it’s about.

In the novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald manages to make you feel something for the characters be it revulsion, sympathy or at times a strange mixture of the two which I have dubbed revulpathy. In the film I end up feeling very little for anyone, not that it’s any of the actors fault in particular. They’re all perfectly serviceable with the exception of Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. To me, Maguire almost seems like he’s just playing his Peter Parker but in 1920s era costume. Somewhere along the line, Maguire seems to have been the go to guy for wide-eyed naivety but to me he always just seems to come of more as something of a gormless buffoon.

DiCaprio, on the other hand, is on the other end of the scale. He does more than a serviceable job. He’s the one bright star in the film in that his portrayal of Gatsby is pretty damn great. Out of the whole thing, his was the character I came closest to caring about though still the nature of the movie left me just short of that.

As for Debicki, well, she’s actually fine it’s just that the character of Jordan seems to be almost completely cut from the story after Gatsby’s first party and any further relationship between her and Nick is barely even hinted at.

The same goes for other characters who have vital scenes in the book such as the Owl-Eyes and Meyer Wolfsheim, both of whom I would argue are vital to the books ending, who are here little more than cameos early on in the movie. Then there’s the case of Henry C. Gatz who is cut altogether. The fact that Luhrmann seems to pay far more attention to the beginning of the book rather than it’s conclusion just seems to add more weight to the accusation that the director cares far more about putting scenes of big, glitzy 1920s era parties, most of which occur in the first half of the book, on film than he does the actual story he’s supposedly adapting.

Then there’s the music. Oh boy. You see, these big, glitzy 1920s era parties all feature music which blends jazz of the time with modern hip-hop and other modern music styles. I can understand what they were going for. I get that you wanted to get across the point that hip-hop today is like jazz was in the 20s. And I liked the use of modern music in Moulin Rouge. It fit there because the 1900s of that film is portrayed as some kind of insane, cartoonish reality, it shows the characters as being really ahead of their time and it just works. This, however, is supposedly an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. It’s jarring. Really jarring and it completely took me out of the film every time. Don’t get me wrong either. For the most part, I really liked the music. It just doesn’t fit.

And so we come to the end the review and what’s left to say? Well, like I said, as a film it’ll keep you entertained and it’s pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from Baz Luhrmann but as an adaptation of such a wonderful book, it’s a miserable failure. There was nothing stopping Luhrmann from making an original film set in the 20s with an anachronistic soundtrack. Hell, he could have made it a spiritual sequel to Moulin Rouge and everyone probably would have been perfectly happy with it. Instead it feels like he wanted to make a film set in the 20s but didn’t want to go to the work of developing a story for it so he took The Great Gatsby and filmed the visually stunning party scenes he’d been dreaming of. Then he realised that shit, he’d probably better try and actually adapt the actual story too and he did so, paying lip service to it and stripping away anything that made said story special in the first place.

As far as I can tell none of the various attempts at adapting the book into a film have been particularly successful with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald themselves famously walking out of the 1926 effort. Maybe a good adaptation will come some day. Maybe not. It eluded us this time, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Two pints out of five. Laterz.

It's The Great Gatsby, Old Sport!

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2012 BEST PICTURE ROUND UP: Django Unchained by Jamie

Finally the UK has the chance to see the latest revenge epic from Quentin Tarantino. It’s a formula that we should all be pretty familiar with at this point. Take an established genre and weave a stylised revenge narrative through said genre’s filter. It was the kung-fu genre in Kill Bill, the World War 2 genre in Inglorious Basterds and it’s the turn of the Western (or Southern as it’s being promoted) in Django Unchained.

The film essentially follows the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave freed by the German dentist/bounty hunter Dr King Schulz (Christoph Waltz). Schulz frees Django because he has need of his help hunting down some of his targets. Along the way Schulz makes Django his partner, training him in the ways of the bounty hunter with the promise that, when the winter passes they will go and free his enslaved wife who Django became separated from as punishment for trying to escape from a former owner. In order to rescue her they must travel to the Candyland plantation owned by Mandingo fighter trader Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

That’s probably about as bare-bones as I can keep the synopsis without giving away too much away so let’s get in to the meat of the proceedings. Django Unchained is Tarantino at his Tarntino-est. That’s probably the best way to sum up this film in a simple, single sentence. Basterds was the film that showed what he could get away with up to a point and Unchained is his next logical evolution. It’s the kind of film that no one else in Hollywood could get away with. In fact, if anyone else had tried to make this film it probably would have resembled something more like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a low budget affair which would have gone largely unwatched and rightfully so. With Tarantino at the helm, this is pure unadulterated awesome. Everything is over the top and it’s beautiful to revel in.

It has everything we’ve come to expect from the director. Gratuitous violence, excessive bad language, extreme nods to exploitation cinema (including an appearance from the actor who originally portrayed Django) and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s all here. Again, these are all elements that could add up to nothing more than a shitty B-movie under the eye of anyone else but amongst all these elements, Tarantino also manages to include an incredibly engaging story that’s beautifully shot and a joy to watch.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about this film is that Tarantino removes one of his most common reference points by the time period this film is set in: cinema. Now obviously the film is still peppered with cinematic references throughout but this time it’s merely through style. There’s no dialogue referencing film as there is in everything else. Hell, even Inglorious Basterds has it in spades. And yes, overall I think this makes Unchained all around a better film with Tarantino really having to focus on the script without having the particular crutch of characters just discussing film and film philosophy for minutes at a time to fall back on.

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the controversy surrounding the film. Yes, the word ‘nigger’ is used a lot in this film. It’s uttered 110 times to be exact. I can see how some people would find this offensive and it’s probably that style that I mentioned earlier that would make it seem that way. If this were a sedate, “serious” movie like Amistad which gets a sheen of legitimacy because it’s based on an actual historical event and portrays the horrors of the slave trade without the filter of exploitation film making. It’s because Tarantino makes his movies in this particular style that his decision to use the word so many times can be seen as gratuitous as his use of violence. It’s in this film, however, that the bad language does serve a purpose. It’s a representation of what the South was like during that time. Would it be OK to show white people treating black people as nothing more than property but not have them using racial slurs? It’d be unrealistic. Yes, you can be politically correct and all that jazz but what you can’t do is whitewash a politically incorrect past. To do so is to belittle the suffering of the people who lived through those times and to learn absolutely nothing from that shameful past. It also helps from the point of view of the film in making the revenge aspect that much more satisfying.

Hell, this review is getting all over the place a bit now so let’s try and wrap things up a bit succinctly. This might just be Tarantino’s best film yet. The music is, as always, great particularly that opening theme. It looks amazing with the kind of beautiful shots that often make Westerns just incredible to look at. The performances are all pure class. I was going to say that Waltz and Jackson in particular stand out but honestly everyone is on the top of their game with DiCaprio playing the charming yet sadistic slave owner Candie with almost mustache-twirling finesse and Foxx playing Django slightly subdued, yet with dreams of vengeance always simmering beneath the surface, which is a nice counterbalance to everything else that’s going on. (Jackson is great though. It’s nice to see him playing someone other than Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson.) This might also be the funniest film the director has done is a while with the proto-KKK scene in particular standing out. If I do have one criticism, it’s Tarantino’s cameo. His Australian accent is fucking terrible. I mean, really, really bad. But thankfully it’s a small scene.

So yeah, in summation, fuck me this film is great. It’s really fucking great. It absolutely deserves it’s best picture nomination. Go and see it. See it now. Five pints out of five. Fuck me, what a great fucking film. Laterz.



Review: Inception by Jamie

Another spoiler free review. Well, I say spoiler free but since the plot of Inception has been kept so quiet, pretty much everything is a spoiler. No endings or anything will be given away though. Also, I’m sorry if this review seems a bit weird or if there are more spelling or grammar mistakes than usual but I hit my head pretty hard on Saturday night and I’m having a hard time focusing on what I write for too long. Anyway, enjoy.

Christopher Nolan has certainly made quite a name for himself round Hollywood way. The man seems to be a master story teller with a real flair for incredible visuals. Essentially he’s a world builder, taking odd or interesting concepts which could easily seem otherworldly and bizarre and manages to ground them in some sort of plausible reality. Take ‘The Dark Knight’ for example. He managed to make a man dressed as a bat trying to stop a terrorist dressed as a clown seem perfectly rational. That takes quite a bit of genius to achieve.

So when the hype began to build around his latest film, ‘Inception’, the world began to take notice. The trailer didn’t give too much away and the plot remained fairly under wraps until the films release. In fact the secrecy surrounding the film is probably the most impressive thing given that we now live in the internet age where things are leaked or crew members accidentally give things away on Twitter to such a degree that you often know the plot of a film before you go in. Somehow Inception managed to avoid all that which must have been pretty sweet for a big summer blockbuster.

So what exactly is the film about? Well, to tell you exactly would be kind of spoiler territory so how can I do this properly. Well, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team are a bunch of extraction experts who use their special skills and equipment to head into peoples dreams and extract important information and secrets. The title Inception comes from actually implanting ideas inside peoples heads which is apparently very difficult to do.

The film looks about as stunning as you’d expect something from Christopher Nolan and his cinematographer Wally Pfister (Hehehe, Pfister) to look. From the streets of cities to snow covered mountains, it’s all very crisp and clear. The CGI is impressive as well, particularly the scenes you’ve probably seen in the trailer of streets rising up to a 90 degree angle. The important thing and something Nolan seems to be pretty consistent with is that the CGI is used very sparingly. After all, as one of the characters says in the film, dreams are generally pretty normal and you don’t realise you’re in them until you notice something amiss or something really crazy happens.

There’s also a nice sprinkling of physical effects as well. For example there is a scene in which a fight occurs in a zero gravity environment and, as I understand it, all of that was done practically with a giant tube that span around a lot of something. I did know the technical term for that once but the smack to my noggin seems to have knocked it out of my brain box. Fuck. The point is that it’s a kick ass action scene as most of the action scenes are.

In fact there seems to be a lot of hype surrounding this film about how complex and intricate everything is but to be fair I didn’t really see it that way. I actually thought that the whole thing played fairly straightforwardly as a slightly more intelligent than average action film would. Of course I think the level of complexity that you consider the film to have all depends on how you take the final scene. That’s all I’ll say about that. If you have seen the film and you want to know my take on it then you’ll have to ask me in person, over twitter or over facebook or something.

All of the acting is fairly solid though some of the characters were the kind of stock characters you’d find in any heist film (and yes, at heart this is kind of a heist film). You’ve got you’re intelligent and cautious character who just wants to get the job, you’re comic relief who’s a bit cocky, you’re character who’s providing the money and the job in the first place who’s never done a heist before but insists on coming along anyway and you’re rookie who’s brought in because they’re skilled in a specifically specialised job that the team needs for this mission. In a lesser film this kind of thing would annoy me but here it all works fairly well and most of the characters are fleshed out a little better than what I’ve just written would suggest. Fuck feeling woozy again.

There is one major problem I did kind of have with the film though and I’m afraid that in order to address it I’m gonna have to enter some very light spoiler territory. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t want anything at all revealed then perhaps you should go away now. I was going to give the film four and a half out five anyway and highly suggest you watch it so there you go.

Right, are they gone? Good. Ok, the only real problem I had was the fact that everyone keeps on going on about how difficult inception is, how hard it is to implant a fresh idea in someone’s head without them realising that it’s been planted there but to be honest it kind of seemed as though it wouldn’t have been that difficult if not for the fact that their target had had his mind trained to protect itself from extraction and one of the crew had severe problems that was infecting the targets dream state. Honestly, it looked their mission would have been pretty damned easy if not for those two elements but hey, I guess I’m kinda nitpicking here. Oh, speaking of nitpicking it did seem to me as though Joseph Gordon Levitt was kinda young to be an expert at extraction but hey, he turned in a solid performance so I guess I can let it slide.

Right, I’m sorry, I’d love to write more on this review but I’m just having trouble concentrating on words being typed on a screen without feeling really dizzy so I’m gonna have to stop. Maybe I’ll have another, fuller review written when the Blu-Ray comes out and everyone’s had a chance to see it. I’ll sum up by saying Inception is a damn fine film but I didn’t find it as complex as everyone’s been saying. In fact, I found the Joker’s plot in ‘The Dark Knight’ and the way he played everyone in Gotham City to be far more complex but again, I think it all comes down to how you take the ending. That’s it, apologies again but I have to end this now. Four and a half pints out of five. Laterz.




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