The wonder of opulence, the sadness of greed. – The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann (screenplay) and Craig Pearce (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (based of the novel by)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, and Jason Clarke.

Who is Gatsby? The question that haunts and taunts throughout the novel and throughout Luhrmann’s film. Firstly, I have to admit that I love Fitzgerald’s writing but hate the story of Gatsby. It took me a long time to pick it back up after reading the first chapter and I struggled to get through it because I despised the characters, even Nick Carraway. Their selfishness, opulence, disregard for life and love, and use and abuse of the people around them made me sick. But that is what Fitzgerald intended to some degree. He slowly reveals our darkest secrets and shows us our reflection in each of the characters features and flaws. I was anxious going into the film. With Baz Luhrmann’s reputation for over the top theatrics and in your face metaphors it was hard not to be really, especially after watching the trailer for the film. And yet, from the moment the lights dimmed in the cinema and that title sequence began I knew it would all be okay.

The Great Gatsby is a film that transports you back to the mid-20s whilst keeping your feet firmly planted in 2013. The atmosphere, the light, the music, the sounds, everything screams at you with a haunting whisper of our reality. Gatsby (DiCaprio) is the ever hopeful and Carraway (Maguire) is the witness to the demise of hope and innocence. DiCaprio is brilliant. He shines so brightly and broods so grotesquely that there is rarely a moment that you can not believe that he is Gatsby. He is the lost soul who is trying to grasp something he never had a chance of possessing. Carey Mulligan is teamed with DiCaprio like the second side of his coin as the foolish Daisy Buchanan. Her flittering eyes, constantly on the verge of tears, and vacant looks convey the truth of Daisy.

But the man who really steals the film is Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s racist, bigoted, cheating husband. The slow brewing act of Tom is built throughout the film until the moment he takes Gatsby down in a small room of a hotel in New York. Edgerton’s performance is stunning. You are both repulsed by and drawn towards him like Daisy. You want to hate him but you know that in some small way that he is right about Gatsby, and you can’t fault him for that. Everything else, sure, he is a douchebag 100%, but he is right about Gatsby, and Joel Edgerton plays the balance remarkably.

The trailer to this film shows the opulence, the extravaganza, the pomp and ceremony of Gatsby, but what it fails to show is the great moments in between which make this film fantastic. It is the moments of slowness, the moments of Carraway’s reflections, the glimpses of Gatsby’s past, the brokenness of life in the world, and the calm before the storm that make this film great. Baz Luhrmann has managed to give life to Gatsby and Carraway’s friendship and to provide a film that shows both the wonder of opulence and the sadness of greed.

4/5

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Perfect Portrayal – Hitchcock

Hitchcock - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Hitchcock – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Hitchcock (2012)

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson

I’ve never been able to sit and watch a thriller without getting scared out of my brains or laughing at how ridiculous it is. Alfred Hitchcock films are different though. I still remember watching North by Northwest as a young teen and not really understanding who made it or what it was meant to be, but it was in black and white so I was interested. It turned out I have a love/hate relationship with thrillers. I also studied Rope at university as part of a film studies class and from that moment onwards I was both enthralled and petrified of Hitchcock. So when my friend suggested we go see a movie about Hitchcock and the making of Psycho I wasn’t completely sold on the idea, but friends will make you do amazing things, and it was a very hot day…

I was blown away. Utterly and completely. Hitchcock is an incredible film about an incredible man. Strange and sometimes scary, Alfred Hitchcock – portrayed perfectly by Anthony Hopkins – is a man who needs to be in charge and who needs to be engaged with a project. The thing that is terrifyingly brilliant about this film is how Hopkins brings Hitch so much to life that you feel like you are watching the man himself. It’s not just the mannerisms or speech, it’s his air and the delivery of every second of every scene. And with Helen Mirren by his side as Alma Reville, Hitch’s wife and script editor/writer, the world of Psycho is lived out on screen for the audience. The perversity of Hitch’s obsession of his lead ladies and his want of control over their lives is very evident but done in such a way that you are both repulsed by him and pity him at the same time, but above all you come out with an admiration for a broken but brilliant man who was and still is the master of suspense.

Special mention needs to go to Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Lew Wasserman) who held the supporting actor roles with such integrity that the film would not have been as convincing without them.

4/5

Justification of violence – Gangster Squad

Ganster Squad - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Ganster Squad – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Gangster Squad (2013)

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Will Beall, Paul Lieberman (book)
Stars: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

I have been seeing a trend in American pop culture of the justification of violence. It’s apparently okay to kill the bad guys as long as you only kill the bad guys. If you look at Dexter, Arrow, Justified, Burn Notice, among other TV shows and films, you see this trend of the “good guys” fighting against the “bad guys” using the bad guys techniques against them. I’m not sure I agree with that philosophy of justice. There is something wonderful about Law & Order and the process of justice and law that treats the bad guys as people. The idea that you are innocent until proven guilty has meant that a lot of innocent people have been able to prove their innocence even with the authorities trying to prove them guilty. But what do you do when someone has bought their freedom and their position so far up the ladder that they can get away with tearing a man apart by chaining him between two cars? That’s the kind of evil you are dealing with in Gangster Squad. With all witnesses scared to death to testify you can get away with murder, literally.

This film is violent, that was what was expected, I mean it is a gangster film, but it’s not just violent, it questions the morals and values we have about justice and law and order. Both the good guys and the bad guys are as bad as each other. They are killing people left, right, and centre and show no remorse. It is a necessary evil for the good guys because of what they are dealing with. But in the end it isn’t the violence that takes down Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his gang, it is the testimony of a bold witness, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) who was Cohen & Sgt. Jerry Wooter’s (Ryan Gosling) lover. She was bold enough and protected enough to testify to take Cohen down. The justice system does still work; going against the law just amplifies the body count in the end.

Gangster Squad is an entertaining gangster film but it doesn’t do anything different to any other gangster film and so was slightly disappointing. It was dark and gloomy like other gangster films and even with it’s moments of light humour it didn’t move from the basic structure of a gangster film. To be honest I love the formula of gangster films, but I went in with the expectation that this would be different. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it wasn’t and it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it was just that it was unoriginal. Even with it being built upon a true story it was unadventurous. It’s a fun story and the acting is brilliant but it failed to inspire me.

2.7/5

Shot In The Dark – Red Dawn 2012

Red Dawn – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Red Dawn (2012)

Director: Dan Bradley
Writers: Carl Ellsworth (screenplay) and Jeremy Passmore (screenplay), Kevin Reynolds (1984 screenplay) and John Milius (1984 screenplay), Kevin Reynolds (story)
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas and Josh Hutcherson

When people take a movie to mean something completely different to what is portrayed in the film it really gets under my skin. Red Dawn has gotten a lot of flack because it has apparently incited racism in people (see this post). But the movie itself isn’t racist at all in my humble opinion. I think maybe it’s because I come from a generation where Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden was my favourite book series and the enemy isn’t described much at all I was never really cultured to be racist. It made me want to learn how to shoot straight and drive a manual car, but not to kill someone because of their race. However, apparently people are racist rather than actually understanding Red Dawn’s deliberate move to make it about political ventures rather than racism. Race is not the main theme of this film and anyone that comes out of the cinema making racist remarks incited from the film was racist to begin with and is just pulling at strings to justify their own racism.

The film takes place in our world, our time, with present day issues informing its setting. And like its original, the main “threat” to modern day America is those who would take down Capitalist America. The corruption of modern day America and Capitalism are the objects of the enemies fight, not the American people as such. The film is well constructed and the narrative flows well and keeps you entertained the entire way through. The acting is a little flimsy at points, especially when grand speeches are being made by the teens. All in all it was a fun ride and had a few surprises along the way. Red Dawn is an intense and deliberately fast paced movie, especially in comparison with the original. There was nothing about this film that made it stand out or made it the big remake that it should have been. The action is explosive but same-same.

I don’t know how people have come away feeling so mad at the North Korean characters, I feel angrier at the adults that don’t take a stand and wait for a few kids to take the charge than at the “enemy forces”. Also, unlike Tomorrow When The War Began, I don’t find the invasion of America believable. The fact that most Americans have ample weaponry in their homes makes me think from the get go: “Why don’t they just pull out their shot guns and shoot the closest invader?” But no one does that, which I find to just be bizarre for a country that is so trigger happy and insists on the right to bear arms to defend themselves. But hey, I’m an Aussie, what would I know, I’m not prepared for an invasion either.

2.8/5

For the woman he truly loves – Skyfall

Skyfall - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Skyfall – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Skyfall (2012)

Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan, and Ian Fleming (characters)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris

From the opening moments of this James Bond film you know it will be filled with everything that makes a Bond film great. There are the typical cheesy Bond moments of the classy casino, the car/motorbike chase, the Bond girl, and Bond kicking arse all around and surviving against the odds, and his one-liner wit. But you also see another side of Bond. The scriptwriters and Daniel Craig have given us better version of the rough-edged Bond you see in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. He isn’t the slick, nothing-ruffles-my-hair Bond of the Bronson or Connery age. He is a rugged and beaten up Bond. And in a lot of ways Daniel Craig has given James Bond a humanity that you don’t really see in the older films. The producers were on the right track when they convinced him to take the part. Daniel Craig looks sexy even as a beaten up alcoholic who comes back to life to save the woman he truly loves. I mean you can’t beat that.

The one thing that shouldn’t have surprised me but did was that Skyfall is a beautiful film. Sam Mendes has made an absolutely stunning film to watch. Every shot is gorgeous, and not just because Daniel Craig is in the shot. You can watch the music video for Adele’s Skyfall and see how visually brilliant they have made this film, but you don’t get the full effect unless you are sitting in a dark cinema with the full scale picture. I have no words for how delightful this film is to watch. It goes without saying that Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and the rest of the cast are brilliant but they have really stepped up the quality of this franchise all around.

I have to admit, I did take a moment during one of the slower parts of the film to work out whether my incredibly high expectations were making me love the film, or if it was just that I loved all Bond films – I even love Moonraker – or whether Skyfall was just a really good film. What was the conclusion I came to? It is an excellent film. From everything from the story to the actors to the justification for the fight scenes, everything fits together to make Skyfall a great film on its own. Even if you didn’t know anything about Bond you could still enjoy this film and appreciate it for a good action film. I don’t want to give anything away but there are some great hark backs to old Bond films that make this film a Bond fans delight.

Go and enjoy the fall.

4/5

Murphy’s Law Embodied in Film – Argo

Argo - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Argo – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Argo (2012)

Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman

As I sit in my comfortable bedroom feeling safe and warm, I write with a heaviness of heart for the parts of the world that live in true terror, not knowing if their streets will be safe tomorrow. I have become desensitized to war, crime, death, riots. I do not know what it is like to fear for my life. And yet I surround myself with entertainment that reveals these terrors to me; that engage and entertain me; that help me escape from my mundane and uneventful life. Argo is a film that has shocked the reality and terror of war and military resistance back into my heart and mind.

Based on a declassified true story set in 1979 Iran. The U.S. Embassy has been stormed and hostages are held for 444 days. Six American embassy workers escape and find refuge in the Canadian embassy. The rest of the film unfolds as the adventure of how they get out of Iran without being found and executed for being spies for the U.S. Affleck has composed a film that builds slowly and steadily the tension and stress of these people as the CIA tries to get them out as a Canadian film crew. With parts verging on the ridiculous side of tense, the film plays out Murphy’s Law in every way possible. It is a movie that you have to buy popcorn, because you will stress eat the entire way through the final third of this film.

What really made this film brilliant for me was the reactions of my friends sitting either side of me. It made me realise how unfeeling and desensitized to violence and war that I’ve become. This film captures the way fear and anxiety can play in war and uprising, and how innocent people can get trapped in the middle of military and government games. It’s the horrible truth of war and our world that people who have not called war upon themselves are thrust into the horrific arena of government power plays. You take the side of the Americans naturally throughout the ordeal of the film without considering much of what the Iranians were uprising against, and without wanting the American government to do what the Iranians want. I want to sit and question this position because I don’t know where I stand on this. Is it right for a country to play in the affairs of another country if it demands the people of that country to rise up against their authority because of oppression? Should they be held accountable for their part in the mess? What part does diplomacy play? I don’t have answers for these questions but I’m glad Argo has made me think about it.

All in all this is a brilliant and dramatic film with moments of both terror and humour. Affleck has brought to life a fantastic epic and has created a film that will be nominated for awards and will (in my mind) hopefully win a few. It is gritty and deals with a point in history that we don’t look at much. If you like action, drama, humour, hollywood, history, documentary or war themed films, go and see this. It’ll be a great adventure for you and will make the journey back to reality a great relief.

To make or to remake? – Footloose

Footloose - 2011 Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Footloose – 2011 Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Footloose (2011)

Director: Craig Brewer
Writers: Dean Pitchford (screenplay & story) and Craig Brewer (screenplay)
Stars: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough and Dennis Quaid

There is nothing new under the sun, or on our movie screens. Whether it’s book-to-movie adaptations, comic hero films, version 2, 3, 4 or 5 using the same characters over and over again, or just Disney rehashing the same old princess story again, it seems that the majority of the films nowadays aren’t showing us anything new or creative. Don’t get me wrong, there are some gems in this (including Toy Story 3 which I prefer over the second and almost over the first or unique films like Moonrise Kingdom) but studios want to make films that will earn the big bucks, and I will pay to see those big blockbusters like everyone else.

But when it comes remaking films there seems to be complete lack of creativity in this idea. Why would you re-do something that was perfect to begin with? Or at least perfect for the original idea. It confuses me when people think these remakes will be as successful as the original, or even come close to being as satisfying. So when I hit a low point last night and watched Footloose (the remake) for the first time after delaying it for as long as I could resist, I went in with the assumption that it was never going to be as great as Kevin Bacon dancing his arse off in the factory or Lori Singer dare-deviling between the two cars with the truck approaching. You can’t beat that classic 80s recklessness. We may be stupid and reckless nowadays but the 80s kids were competing with their hippy-turned-conservative parents, we were never going to be able to beat that.

The remake wasn’t awful, it had the moments of cheesy triumph over The Man and the brilliance of gentlemanly behaviour trumping the bad boy act. But the entire time I was thinking about the original and how awesome it was. The only improvement I could see (mainly because I didn’t really remember it from the original) was the aunt and uncle’s support of Ren.

With the lack of success that Total Recall has received, along with the remake of a bunch of other films coming to cinemas soon – including Red Dawn, Point Break, Annie, and A Star Is Born – it just makes me wonder, what is the point? I know there are so many brilliantly creative people out there with fantastic ideas for films, if we invested some more money into developing them we could create a new era of fantastic films rather than rehashing films that were fine to begin with.

What do you think? Are remakes worth it? Or should we rebel against the big studios and only support original screenplays and indie films?