Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Great Gatsby – 2013

THE GREAT GATSBYI feel like I have two opinions of this film. The first, an opinion of the film as it stands, just a film that one can go and see for some amusement. The second is my view of this film as an interpretation of The Great Gatsby that “classic American novel” we’ve all heard too much about and I happen to have been studying for the last six months.

Perhaps surprisingly I think that this film is far better as an adaptation than it is as a film. Allow me to explain. Throughout the film the visuals are highly ‘polished’; there are great sweeping shots through computer generated cities and bays. Flashbacks appear dramatically in clouds and the whole world seems to be over-saturated and unrealistically in focus. So, much as I would love this film to have been exempt from all criticism, this is often very vulgar and unpleasant to watch. However when taken in accompaniment with Nick Carraway as the unreliable narrator of these events it seems that this gaudy, slick atmosphere is a by-product of his reaction and an intrinsically important part of his narrative. The story is, after all, the memoirs of a man utterly disgusted with the high-living loose-moral glamorous society of New York in the 20’s. This vile, over-airbrushed and slimy image is exactly what Carraway remembers of his time among the casually rich and philandering.

This is not to say that the film is an exact replica of the book. Liberties are certainly taken, most sadly in the reduction of Jordan Baker’s role to a near cameo. The film takes an aspect of the book and expands it to a massive scale. Suddenly he story is barely about Gatsby and Daisy but more about Carraway’s own state of mind and his friendship with this enigmatic millionaire. Its not a new approach, but it is a thoroughly and intriguingly executed interpretation of Fitzgerald’s novel. The film seems to position itself solely as a vehicle to question the very foundation of the story it is telling, which certainly makes for an odd viewing experience as you realise that you are being captivated by a story that may not even be true. With Tobey Maguire pointedly cast because he resembled F. Scott Fitzgerald and additionally the systematic emphasis on his blue eyes, matching those of Dr TJ Eckleberg it is clear that this film has an awful lot to say about it’s own narrator. If “God sees everything” as is so often said in reference to TJ Eckleberg then we can only wonder who this “God” is. The creator, the shaper of the world, the writer through whose eyes we see the story unfold. The one that can, at will, erase a name or face from the story as it suits and indeed the only one who knows all of the facts.

While I don’t begrudge any director a few trademarks or motifs it seems as though Baz Luhrmann has borrowed rather too extensively from his previous work, most obviously Moulin Rouge. Of course there are similarities in theme and plot but there is no need for Baz Luhrman’s Klipspringer to resemble Moulin Rouge’s resident mad musician Audrey so much. Additionally the portrayal of Nick Carraway as an intelligent bereaved writer is acceptable until he too picks up his typewriter to write about freedom, truth, beauty and love. It seems that the line between “a coherent body of work” and “films that are companion pieces” has been crossed somewhere along the line.

Apart from Maguire’s Carraway the film is blessed with stunning performances from, well, from everybody. DiCaprio’s Gatsby is tragically naïve and childish, a boy lost in a world of gangsters and money and should be suitably recognised for his nuanced performance. The effortless way in which Gatsby lights up in the presence of Daisy is caught perfectly by DiCaprio. Gatsby seems physically younger, lighter and more carefree at the mere mention of her name. For her part, Carey Mulligan does not fall into the trap of making Daisy a cardboard cut-out airhead. Some of her reactions are genuinely gut-wrenching. She is a lost, naïve and scared child among the others but she is still undoubtedly present.

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Star Trek Into Darkness – 2013

startrekDispensing with the title system used by the previous ten Star Trek films, Into Darkness continues where the 2009 film left off, in a parallel universe with no major differences except that Spock now exists twice. A useful fall back for the writers when actual exposition or ingenious schemes are too difficult.

Director JJ Abrams pushes his cinematographer to add more lens flare, rendering scenes blindingly blue to the point of obscuring who is speaking. An honourable mention goes to every single lens flare added manually to a CGI shot. By the next film I reckon the screen will be 50% flare.

Apparently the Enterprise now goes where “no one has gone before”. In a move of outstanding equality and political correctness Into Darkness also features two female characters, one of whom gets naked, the other one fawns over Spock. Additionally prepare for a crew containing more aliens than people of colour.

Speaking of which, this parallel universe, which only branched off at the point of attack on the USS Kelvin about thirty years before this film is set apparently now has the power to change the race of previously established dual-universe characters on a whim. Although with Scotty now speaking in a, debatable, accent and McCoy slipping in and out of Texan one wonders just how multicultural San Francisco is at this stardate.

With more banter than ever before it’s no surprise that the crew of the Enterprise is often caught off-guard as our terrifying super-villain maniac John Harrison interrupts them in the middle of some high-quality bickering and manly bonding.

Anticipation is apparently not something that is necessary in a film these days. Watch in wonder as the ending is pre-determined from halfway through the film by the magical process of reusing scripts from previous films.

Spock and Uhura are still dating, miraculously. Their relationship is somewhat awkward and serves only to create yet more inter-crew bickering. After fifty years of homo-erotic undertones Star Trek is now an exclusively heterosexual place. Unless you’re counting all of that concerned, brotherly love.

As a Star Wars and a Star Trek fan there is something essentially wrong about Kirk flying through a small gap in a debris field by turning his small, circular, not-at-all-similar-to-the-Millenium-Falcon vessel sideways.

A film best seen in cinemas. Revel in the four-dimensional viewing experience as die-hard Trekkies will quote along with a film they have never seen before, hum the theme tune at random intervals and groan confusedly as Uhura continues to kiss Spock.

The Place Beyond The Pines – 2012

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Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stuntman, turned criminal trying to provide for his infant son. On the other side of the coin is Avery (Bradley Cooper), a police officer also blessed with a young son. In many ways this is a film about fatherhood. Luke becomes a bank robber, stealing from and terrorising innocent people for the money they have power over. His actions are born not from hate or greed, but the simple desire to provide for his son. He is a good father but a bad citizen. As the film progresses, the idea of citizenship becomes more and more murky. Avery, a trained lawyer with impeccable moral values, becomes a local hero and rises through the ranks – while all the while betraying his own moral code.  Tragically, in all his success, he has failed to raise his son with any care or affection. By getting rid of ‘the bad guy’, he has deprived two children of the love of their father: and he fails to relate to his own son knowing that there is another son without a father because of his actions.

 

This story unfolds gracefully and slowly. We see all the details of this tragedy. The line between criminal and police officer becomes more and more blurred. Avery is deep in a deeply corrupt system. He, like Luke before him, objects to the double standards and turns to corruption himself. It seems that these two men stand alone against a sea of the selfish and entitled residents. The film loses momentum about halfway through and seems to be a cynical, self-involved tragedy that is going nowhere. It has been beautiful, cinematographically excellent, and engagingly written, but it has no point. This changes with a single title card:

 

15 Years Later

 

In the third act of the film the tensions are finally played out, not by our earlier protagonists, but by their children. In a dance of divine retribution the two sons have become mirrors of their fathers and each other. Jason, Luke’s son, is in a stable home, he seems to be doing well and is loved and supported by his mother and step-father. Avery’s son AJ, meanwhile, has grown up disturbed in a broken home. His mother doesn’t know how to relate to him and his father refuses to. A cruel reversal of what their fates would have been.

 

Much is made of the similarities between the two men and their children. Both boys in certain lights are almost identical to their parents. As the parents once echoed one another, the children do too. Even reacting in the same way as their fathers when threatened or angered . The parallels are subconscious, yet more and more it does not matter whether Jason interacts with Avery or AJ, the effect is the same, the father and son are continuations of one another. At these points the cinematography, which, while beautiful throughout (courtesy of Sean Bobbitt who also brought us ‘Shame’ and ‘Hunger’), becomes truly breathtaking. The encounters between Jason and AJ echo scenes from earlier in the film. The camera angles are repeated almost shot-for-shot at times, making for haunting, almost subconscious recollections.

 

The real tragedy of the story is that these people, all of them, are not making their own decisions. They are caught up in a fight for karmic balance, which takes seventeen years to become stable after Luke destroyed it. When we first met Luke he was part of a travelling fair, he did not belong in this leafy town. This was clear from the moment we saw him: tattooed, chain smoking and wearing threadbare clothes even in church. The balance of this town is changed by his arrival and two families are touched by his presence. Nothing can return to its level until Jason, the spiritual continuation of Luke, closes the circle.

 

Blue Velvet – 1986

blue-velvetOnce more we find ourselves with a director lifting the lid on the dark underworld behind manicured lawns and respectable townfolk. It’s a common trope: almost as soon as the suburban Americana took hold there were cynics seeing through the gaps.

So it is not so much the concept or plot which makes Lynch’s film a modern classic, rather it is the style. Lynch’s characters are Freudian archetypes gone wrong, and the script, with its concise and sharp dialogue indulges this spectacularly. Perhaps one of the most depraved sex scenes ever is seen through the eyes of a secret voyeur. Great emotional or physically torture is accompanied by infantile song and dance. Lynch’s camera seems to hide in corners capturing only the most sordid and unsettling aspects of these lives.

Kyle MacLachlan as gawky teen detective Jeffrey gives a sterling performance. Through him we see the character come of age. The rude awakening of his sexuality, violence and survival instinct propel him into a new state of being. At points he seems disturbingly close to becoming another member of the dark, mad underworld but is always saved at the last minute.

But is he really saved? Anyone I’ve ever spoken to about this film reports a dreadfully unsettling viewing experience. Everyone seems to forget the hope offered at the end of the film. I think that this is the power of the film. Lynch shows us the reality of life. It may be unpleasant, but it is never false. As such you simply cannot walk away happy that Jeffrey has gained the perfect suburban lifestyle. We saw him become the most strong and powerful man amongst drug dealers, murderers and cops yet by the end he has been reduced back to his small role as a dutiful teenage son and grandson. “It’s all over now” he is told, but is the loss of any visceral, emotional reality a worthwhile price for a quiet life?