The Great Gatsby: What makes Gatsby Great
First off, I’m not talking plot, so no spoilers ahead. And second, many people are going to pan this film, so I’m going to frame my point of view by saying that if I had one TV channel to get on a desert island, it’d be Turner Classic Movies. For me, nothin’ soothes late night like the comfort of a black n’ white. With that in mind, and with my having been no fan of Baz Lurman’s other movies, including the suffocating excess of Moulin Rouge and the truly dreadful Australia… the first piece of good news is that Nicole Kidman ain’t here. And the second is to forget all the excess of those past movies and get into the over-the-top brilliance of this one.
Dichotomy? Naw. This is the Roaring 20’s and BL’s created a mad Citizen Kane on Koke celebration of it through the machinations of a lost-boy mega-rich Gatsby, played with disarming nuance and comical dysfunction by Leonardo DiCaprio, and here, it works, because in this version, we really get into his head. The dynamic between him and Toby Maguire’s Nick Carroway is relentlessly human, and frames the film in a panicky sheen that keeps it glued to the earth even as it’s spinning wildly out of control.
Checklist: What would endless fountains of money do for the ultimate parties of the era, check. How does this reflect on the mindset of the protagonist and back out to the partiers, check. What does it all look and sound like and how could you possibly do this without spending a fortune on creating a movie about recklessly spending fortunes… check!
What‘s great: The camerawork is, and post fx are, gorgeous. This movie is in 3D though neither sci-fi, horror or thriller – imagine — a talkie in 3D! I sat there thinking about Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World when he described Feelies, the movies of the future. Talking heads floating off the screen at once unreal, yet eye-candy cool.
The screenplay and acting is unexpected, unnerving and profound at times. And the music is a very clever amalgam of Charleston cum Hip-Hop that works seamlessly into the story. It just floats past, snug in the storyline until you poke yourself and ask wait a minute, what was that?
It’s not often you get a big film that is as provocatively thoughtful sans explosions and shoot-em-ups. This brand of excess cum sexless hit to the solarplexes is a new talking heads paradigm and I just loved it for that. Those old black n whites with people relating in love, pain, fear, struggle, connection? Here’s your update in a glorious dollop of abundance.
Man of Steel
It’s hard being Superman. You’ve got big secrets to keep, confusing ideals to ponder. And growing up pre-teen with all those amazing powers? Fuhgeddaboudit. Because this is Superman 4.0, the shocking TMC-style insider story, and oh, how painful the underscore will make it!
OK, assuming you grew up on Earth, you know which superhero stands above all, you’ve lusted for Lois and Lana and you’re ready to live the fantasy and use your x-ray vision… responsibly. And that’s where the problems begin. Because that ideal, embodied in previous film versions, has been overwhelmed with the explanation of the fantasy – in, at times, exhausting detail. This is Superman the bullied, the bothered, the phantom fathered, self-bothered, angst-laden, why-me and how will I ever find my special purpose, guy.
Meanwhile, huge swaths of detailed CGI numb the audience into a kryptonite-induced malaise and it’s all based on a production vision of how things would have been if Superman were really real and a super villain came and made super trouble and how many windows you’d break if the two of them were in a fight to the finish. Which is a whole lot of windows, because this movie is about what would really, REALLY happen and I’m sorry, but like, deal with it!
What a super soup. Hans Zimmer delivers the same brooding score he created for Batman and Inception. Director Zack Snyder makes damn sure to make it last 2 hrs 23 minutes and how grateful we should be to have a new God grimacing his way to becoming the savior of our planet. Muscular, pain-riven Henry Cavill wears a cool new super suit without the red underpants, enduring one hand-wringing dilemma after another, replete with cape snapping in his supersonic wake. Villain Michael Shannon wreaks of his Boardwalk Empire persona, the casting is full of entertaining picks and the 3D is oddly vague and ineffective.
Nonetheless, you’re probably going (I would – it’s SUPERMAN, fer cryin’ out loud), so take a buddy and bring rations for the ordeal. The two of you are going to be there for one comically serious encounter.
Blue Jasmine: Tangled Up in Blues
He turns out a film a year and has been doing it for most of the 40+ he’s been in the business. He’s famous for laying so far back from normal directing, he rarely rehearses his actors and encourages them to improvise on the first take. And no matter who works in his films, they’re paid union scale. That’s the allure of appearing in a Woody Allen film along with the instant “yes” he usually gets when he calls whichever actor he wants.
And this little film – with its paranoid, panic-stricken, overwhelmingly dysfunctional train-wreck of personalities who can barely catch their next breath before they figuratively walk directly into the nearest bleak wall – should make your eyes roll with the sight of most of them virtually passing out in normal daylight. And yet… it’s wondrously entertaining, groaningly funny and superbly acted by a brilliant cast that has you constantly identifying with 90 minutes-worth of urban life gone wrong challenges and identifying with one character after another in their adult predicament of the moment.
This is the most provocative film Allen has done since Matchpoint (which, if you haven’t seen and love a good murder mystery is a mind-blowing sophisticated popcorn classic for the couch). And the cast is sensational, led by the astonishing Cate Blanchette, delivering the best screen performance of the year, who plays a shell-shocked widow coping with the death of her Bernie Madoff-type husband, who’s recently offed himself in prison and left her dead broke. And assisted by the likes of Andrew Dice Clay, of all people – who can act – and Lewis CK, to boot. Add a Baldwin and two of the baddest bad guys from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Michael Stuhlbarg and Bobby Cannavale (here playing a muddled pussycat and evoking Streetcar Named Desire imagery) and you get one surprise after another, not the least of which is how this sodden mess of ruminating roustabouts comes off so brilliantly.
Maybe it’s my East Coast roots – I grew up with Woody roaming Manhattan in a clammy, neurotic haze (him, not me, no, really!). Or maybe it’s his unblinking fixation on the absurdity of the modern, elusive goal we all seem to share: happiness at any price. I usually walk away from blubbering big screen dysfunction and despair but this film’s a doctoral degree course in how to make it eminently entertaining.