Friday, May 10, 2013

Gratuitous Excess: "The Great Gatsby"

   Baz Luhrmann is the latest director to take on the challenge of
bringing the American classic to the silver screen.  His
interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby”
turns a few swanky parties in the midst of wealthy Long Island towns
into a scene of chaos.
   The film is a flashback for Nick Caraway (Tobey Maguire).  He sits in
a sanatorium, reflecting on his summer in 1922 where he rented a
cottage in West Egg.  His neighbor, the notorious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo
DiCaprio), was known for throwing parties and not showing up to them.
After attending one of them out of sheer curiosity, Caraway gets
thrown into the world of chaotic excess and the secret-keeper to a
timeless love affair.  Caraway weaves together a memoir of his months
there, with Gatsby’s elusive nature as his focal point.
   Leonardo DiCaprio plays an awkward Jay Gatsby.  He is the ideal
pretty-boy Gatsby, who attempts to keep his cool and plays down his
wealth even though it’s impossible to ignore.  I couldn’t help but
laugh at how socially incompetent he was out and about, yet somehow
was able to brim with confidence with his “reassuring smile.”
Juxtaposing him with Maguire as his only friend was a good choice on
the director’s part. Casting overall wasn’t too bad.  Carey Mulligan
plays the airy Daisy Buchanan, a young woman torn between Gatsby and
her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton).  The cast, however seemed as drawn
out as Caraway did in the sanatorium at some points.  The passion is
subtle, which doesn’t represent the beautiful words of Fitzgerald.
As every director has their own artistic licensing to put into a film,
Luhrmann left out some things.  First, Jordan Baker (played by
Elizabeth Debecki-Caraway’s love interest) didn’t play as big as a
role in the film as she did in the book.  Luhrmann also fails to show
their relationship as well.  Daisy Buchanan also was blonde in the
film, as she is a brunette in the novel.
Second, when we meet Jay Gatsby, the book depicts it as an
anti-climactic moment, as Caraway stumbles upon him by happenstance at
one of his parties.  Here, we met Jay Gatsby at one of the final
crescendos of “Rhapsody in Blue,” as confetti flew through the air,
fireworks boomed and he raised his glass in triumph.  Fitzgerald made
it seem like anyone could be Gatsby with how he introduces him.
Lurhmann glorifies Gatsby as soon as he takes over the silver screen.
He matches the rumors and build-up we see with an immense grandeur, as
oppose to in the novel.  Gatsby subtly slips into the crowd to meet
Caraway, highlighting the elusiveness of his character as oppose to
turning him into the big deal he really isn’t.
The film ended with Gatsby’s death and left out a good portion of the
last chapter of Fitzgerald’s book.  Once Gatsby dies, so does the
film.  We see no after-math for Caraway as his summer ends.
As Gatsby tells Caraway about his life whilst driving in his yellow
convertible, he speeds and races his way from West Egg to New York.
This was effective cinematographically speaking, as Gatsby’s life
takes twists and turns unexpectedly, from his younger days up to what
we see before us.
   Filmed in Real D 3D, audience members are able to hover above the
bustling New York City, and swoop down and around the luxurious Long
Island estates.  Luhrmann wanted to pull his viewers even more into
the scenes unfolding in front of them.  This was rather effective,
since there was so much going on.  Too much, actually.
   The party scenes depicted in “Gatsby” did a fine job of showing all
the spending the wealthy would do during the Roaring Twenties.  Here,
the excessive suddenly becomes too excessive.  The parties Gatsby
threw in this interpretation became almost too much.  They seem
exaggeratory, even for one of the wealthiest men on Long Island.
The scenes unfolded, showing a world beyond my wildest dreams.  They
were pretty satisfactory, and indeed a valiant effort to make up for
what was missing from to book.  Butlers were fishing martini glasses
out from the pool, women were dressed to the nines doing the
Charleston, and confetti flew in the air like a rainstorm.  What a few
opulent 1920’s parties should be are turned into endless nights of
chaos.  But then again, Gatsby led a life that was anything but
   Overall, I commend Luhrmann for his interpretation.  It was a bold
move, mixing in so many anachronistic aspects such as his soundtrack.
I wasn’t surprised, as Jay-Z was the executive producer of the film.
Caraway says in the film “you can’t change the past.”  However,
Luhrmann tries to with the rap music and excessive beats.  I may be no
historian, but I am pretty sure that big band jazz was the thing in
the 1920’s.  Some jazzy tunes had been slipped into the film,
including Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in
Blue,” which fit the era perfectly.  As far as Jay Z’s music choices
go, they just don’t fit in.
   The underlying theme of the 1920’s excessive nature consumes the film
overall.  It is pretty effective, but it becomes a distraction.  Even
though with an obscenely flexible budget making the opulent jazzy
parties come alive from Fitzgerald’s pages was accomplished in such a
flashy way, it takes away from what Fitzgerald really wrote.  “The
Great Gatsby” is the quintessential American Dream novel, and all the
glamour and glitz in this modernistic interpretation takes away from
what it is meant to be-a tale of hope, passion and repeating past.
   My rating? C+

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

            May third was the premiere for the final movie in the “Iron Man” saga.  Action-packed, this movie quenched the thirst of more Tony Stark for many Iron Man fans.  For the die-hard fans of Stan Lee’s comic book character, the third film was a much-needed follow-up to the disappointment of Iron Man 2.  It could have been better as far as a film goes.  However, as far as a superhero film goes, “Iron Man 3” met the unwritten code of what a superhero movie should have-lots of action, a damsel in distress, and a villain with a kick-ass evil scheme.

            Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow return, as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.  New actors join the cast such as Ben Kingsley, who plays the Osama Bin Laden-esque villain, the Mandarin, along with Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a brilliant man looking to seduce Potts by means of his technological breakthrough. 

            “Iron Man 3” focuses on Stark’s relationship with Potts throughout the movie more than either of the other films have. It is clear that Stark loves Potts more than anything, but his obsession with his suits and technology create a barrier for him to show his true passion for the most important person to him. 

            Outside the walls of their California home, the Mandarin threatens society as he has built up a new army of super-humans.  He terrorizes everyone, adding more on the agenda for Stark as he sorts out the world and his world. 

The amount of explosions and action sequences will keep audience members on the watch, as everything flies through the air.  I was particularly impressed with the special effects in a few scenes.  The juxtaposition of the story and the strokes of excitement was excellent, not too much of either one. 

Tony Stark’s ego managed to fill the movie throughout, as the brilliant tinkerer uses the power of money to do what he wants.  His sarcastic wit makes us think Tony Stark is selfish, but you cannot help but love him.  The focus on Tony Stark is drawn from the first half of “Iron Man,” as though to probe further into Stark.  Audience members learn more about him, and the back story of a superhero is one of the most important things about them.  At one point, he loses everything.  His home, his girl, his technology and even his Iron Man suit; all gone.  The struggle is real for Stark, as his cleverness becomes the ultimate superpower. 

We even get a chance to study Stark on a more personal level as film-goers.  The silver screen becomes the fishbowl of Tony Stark’s crumbling world.  Looking in, we get to see him attempt to piece back together various aspects of his life that make him Tony Stark. 
            As far as I’m concerned, nothing compares with the first Iron Man movie.  The second one was a great disappointment.  “Iron Man 3” had just enough in it to make it a substantial follow-up to its predecessor.  Director Shane Black reflects on the how-to’s of the final film in a trilogy.  "Truthfully, the way to go about doing a part 3, if you’re ever in that position, as I’m lucky enough to be, is to find a way that the first two weren’t done yet. You have to find a way to make sure that the story that’s emerging is still ongoing and, by the time you’ve finished three, will be something resembling the culmination of a trilogy.”  He says, “It’s about, 'How has the story not yet been completely told?,' and I think we’re getting there. I think we’ve really found ways to make this feel organic and new, based on what’s come before, and that’s what I’m happy about."

Although “Iron Man 3” seemingly offers a lot of closure, it isn’t the end for Robert Downey Jr. as this superhero.  He will reprise this role once more in the next “Avengers” film, and there is indeed a chance that an “Iron Man 4” could be right around the corner!  So go see “Iron Man 3,” as it is the first of many this summer, cram-packed with sequels.