The Great Gatsby

May 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann (“Australia”)
Written by: Baz Luhrmann (“Australia”) and Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge!”)

For having a reputation of delivering gaudy visual feasts even when his scripts aren’t always spot on, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann has surprisingly become a party pooper with his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” the classic tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald set in the early 1920s. In the past, Luhrmann has been able to take a celebrated writer like William Shakespeare and turn a story like “Romeo and Juliet” into his own fantastical creation. His work might feel overblown to some (“Moulin Rouge!,” especially, may cause a few epileptic seizures), but his more-is-more approach without apology is what makes the Australian director spectacular despite his flaws. Still, in “The Great Gatsby,” Luhrmann promises a grand circus and shows up with some really expensive silly string.

The year is 1922 in New York City. Business is booming, liquor is cheap, and the roaring jazz music is turning everyone into wild animals. For a good time on the weekends, most find their way to the mansion of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire whose shindigs are the bee’s knees. When Jay meets his new neighbor Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), he seizes the opportunity to become his friend in hopes of reuniting with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Daisy is a girl from Jay’s past who is now married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a hulking polo player and philanderer who beings to question Jay’s new-money success.

Considered one of the great American novels, Luhrmann somehow squeezes all the romance and emotional value from “The Great Gatsby” and diminishes it to a series of soap opera-like encounters. Where other renditions capture at least some of Fitzgerald’s social commentary (the most famous being the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which isn’t groundbreaking either), Luhrmann hides his under era garb and confetti just long enough for indiscriminate viewers to get sidetracked by the fireworks (and the Jay-Z hip-hop).

That’s not to say a more contemporary soundtrack brimming with anachronistic hits is never welcomed. Director Sofia Coppola did a fantastic job spinning Bow Wow Wow songs inside the walls of Versailles in 2006’s “Marie Antoinette,” but Luhrmann seems to use the music in a much broader way rather than have it support the narrative. Sure, a song like “$100 Bill” drops Gatsby’s name, but it all feels very overproduced and forced.

As Carraway, Maguire is a boy in men’s clothing. Never do we get a sense of the person he is or why he is enthralled with Jay’s lifestyle. He becomes a fly-on-the-wall kind of character and an afterthought long before the credits roll. While DiCaprio is sufficient as the leading man, he, too, is unable to assemble the emotion needed to make Jay’s longing for Daisy soar. It’s not until his two hot-blooded scenes with the well-cast Edgerton that DiCaprio lifts the vale from his enigmatic character. By then, however, all the Cristal has finished, everybody’s gone home, and not even Luhrmann’s decision to scroll Fitzgerald’s poetic words on screen can give another cinematic “Gatsby” reason to exist.

Australia

November 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”)
Written by: Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”), Stuart Beattie (“30 Days of Night”), Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist”), Richard Flanagan (“The Sound of One Hand Clapping”)

To say “Australia” is structurally fragile is an understatement. The film is like the Sydney Opera House made of Styrofoam. Stand back far enough and you’ll swear it’s flawless. But cross the harbor for a closer look and the darned thing might topple over.

While director Baz Luhrmann has capture original beauty and character well before in 1996’s “Romeo and Juliet“ and 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!,” there’s nothing holding up his newest feature other than it’s extravagant production value and big-name leads.

Even then, ruggedly-handsome actor Hugh Jackman (“X-Men”) and Oscar-winning starlet Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”) seemed camouflaged in the Outback. There’s not much for them to do as two strangers, Lady Sarah Ashley, a British socialite, and Drover, a brute cattle driver, are thrust into the country’s Northern Territory pre-WWII to herd some 2,000 head of cattle from a ranch left to Lady Ashley after her husband’s murder. With King Carney (Bryan Brown), a ruthless businessman who wants to monopolize the beef industry, on their backs, Sarah and Drover must lead the livestock across sweeping landscapes all while protecting the life of an aboriginal child named Nullah (Brandon Walters).

Since Nullah’s mother has died and trackers are capturing aboriginal children and turn them over to the church so they can re-educate them and control the population (if you really want to see a great movie about this subject rent “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), Sarah and Dover take him along for the dusty cross-country adventure. From the very start, Luhrmann seems to profess a larger-than-life promise to the audience. It’s broken when his attempt at making a classic romance turns out to be more inelegant than it should be.

“Australia” does scream epic for its almost three-hour runtime, but mostly whimpers in inconsistently between fits of fusty emotion and gorgeous cinematography. Built on ambition alone, Luhrmann’s ode to Down Under isn’t guided to the level of films like “Gone with the Wind,” “Giant,” or in sentimentality’s case “The Wizard of Oz,” although it tries wholeheartedly. With some disorganized scripting by four talented screenwriters, “Australia” might well be the most disappointing film of the year.