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.

Shame

January 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale
Directed by: Steve McQueen (“Hunger”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) and Steve McQueen (“Hunger”)

Over the span of a year he’s played iconic comic-book villain Magneto in “X-Men: First Class,” classic literary character Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre,” and groundbreaking Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in “A Dangerous Method,” but it still took Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) showing off a little more than his acting ability to get some serious consideration this awards season. Not that Fassbender going full frontal in “Shame” was the only reason he’s received universal acclaim for his portrayal of a New York City sex addict. The role, which Fassbender nails with unflinching confidence, is meaningful to witness. It’s impossible to turn away from it.

While most warm-blooded Americans enjoy sex, clean-cut businessman Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) craves it like a heroin addict needs a fix. Brandon sleepwalks through each day – going to work, downloading ridiculous amounts of porn, and trolling the city at night for his next female conquest. At times, he doesn’t even have to make much of an effort. One seductive glance at an attractive red head on the subway and she’s practically having an orgasm in her seat. The life Brandon is accustomed to is disturbed when his equally troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment and triggers painful memories he’s always ignored.

In “Shame,” all those unearthed emotions are exposed brilliantly by both Fassbender and Mulligan, who through their brother/sister relationship demonstrate their lack of boundaries when inhabiting the same space. Director/co-writer Steve McQueen (“Hunger”) skirts the idea of sexual abuse or incest in their past, leaving the audience playing a kind of cinematic shrink.

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place,” Sissy tells her brother during one powerful scene. McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) don’t reveal those nightmarish scenarios she’s referring to, instead focusing on the emotional destruction it has caused. What we’re left to watch is a damaged man whose addiction controls his lifestyle; someone who only finds contentment through physical pleasure. Retreating to a bathroom stall during the workday to masturbate, one might wonder if instead of coming, he should be crying.

Stamped with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, Shame does have its share of fairly explicit sex scenes all necessary in context. The sex, however, isn’t what should arouse intrigue. Fassbender and Mulligan deliver on each of these complex roles an artful take on the fear of intimacy. Together they explore a taboo subject rarely confronted in film and prove there are more important issues than just what’s happening between the sheets.

Drive

September 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”)
Written by: Hossein Amini (“Killshot”)

As the final frame faded and the credits rolled, the silence in the theater was deafening.  An almost palpable sense of confusion hung in the auditorium as moviegoers tried to comprehend what they just saw. Where was the adrenaline filled heist movie that all of the trailers and TV spots promised? What happened to the quiet and sweet Ryan Gosling from the first half of the movie? How many ways can a human head be split into pieces, and did we have to see all of them? In many ways, “Drive” almost feels like two movies, as it takes a pretty innocent, by-the-numbers first half and then catches you off guard with some of the most graphic violence seen this year.

Gosling plays an unnamedHollywoodstunt-driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. His mechanic friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) decides to go to mobsters Nino (Ron Pearlman) and Bernie (Albert Brooks) to secure their investment in a racecar team headed by Gosling. As “the driver” forges a relationship with neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, their bond is quickly threatened when her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail. In order to protect Irene and Benicio, Gosling agrees to help Standard with one last job. After the robbery is botched, Gosling is finds himself on the run from the mob, entangling all of the characters in a bloody mess along the way.

Ryan Gosling’s performance as “the driver” is a difficult one to evaluate. For the first half of the movie, he is a soft-spoken man of few words who can’t seem to stop smiling at the girl he is crushing on. But midway through, he exchanges his smiles for piercing stares as he morphs into a very familiar revenge-driven tough guy. The character comes off as shallow, as most of Gosling’s performance relies on emoting with his eyes rather than true character development, which is more of a fault of the script than his. Carey Mulligan isn’t given much to work with, but her beauty commands the screen and there is decent chemistry between her and Gosling. As for the other supporting roles, Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman prove to be unmemorable as a pair of mobsters, with Pearlman being almost comical in his delivery at times.

One absolute positive about “Drive” is the skillful direction by Nicolas Winding Refn. His deliberate style is marked by perfectly-constructed shots with fantastic camera work and well-composed scenery. In a single scene, and in some cases a single shot, Refn shows beautiful images juxtaposed with brutal violence in ways that are completely unique to his style. The pacing of the film is purposely very slow and matched with plenty of lingering shots, sometimes of people just gazing at each other. The script itself is filled with clichés from several film genres, however Refn infuses stylized violence to break them up, a move that is executed well from a technical standpoint, but is perhaps better in theory than in the context of the film. One thing that is clear is that Refn was able to achieve his exact vision for the film, even if its results vary in success.

For a movie that boasts one of the most popular young actors inHollywood, and has a marketing campaign that implies a car-chase filled thrill ride, the unorthodox presentation of “Drive” leaves it with such minimal mainstream appeal. While Refn should be applauded and respected for attempting such a bold film, this strange and unique art-house take on a heist movie lacks the substance and character strength to match the level of quality of the direction.

Never Let Me Go

October 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield
Directed by: Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”)
Written by: Alex Garland (“Sunshine”)

With such an original concept, it’s unfortunate when “Never Let Me Go” simply trails off without much emotional impact. The artful cinematography is remarkable by Adam Kimmel (“Capote,” “Lars and the Real Girl”), but the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name leaves a lot to be desired in the dreary dystopian world it has created.

Part coming-of-age British drama, part science fiction love story, “Never Let Me Go” is a melancholic narrative that follows three life-long friends – Ruth (Keira Knightley), Kathy (Carey Mulligan), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) – as they grow up together in Hailsham, an boarding school where special rules to ensure their health and safety are enforced so their sole purpose in life can be fulfilled.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the film explains that scientific breakthroughs have increased human life expectancy to over the age of 100. Children raised at Hailsham are one of the reasons people are able to live longer than ever.

During their stay at the boarding school, Ruth and Tommy begin an innocent relationship. Kathy watches them casually as she conceals her own feeling for Tommy, which last throughout their childhood and into their teenage years. After graduating from Hailsham, the trio is sent off to live in an area known as the Cottages where they are given a bit more freedom than before, but are still well aware of thier ill-fated future.

Directed by music video veteran Mark Romanek, who’s only other film credit is 2002’s creepy drama “One Hour Photo,” “Never Let Me Go” is a delicate and surreal story that doesn’t provide enough answers in a script that seems to ignore its most obvious flaws.

As the melodrama rises, it becomes more evident that screenwriter Alex Garland (“Sunshine”) has backed himself into a corner. No matter how faithful he stays to Ishiguro’s source material, the film’s lack of balance between genres is irresolvable. It’s undoubtedly one of the more profound movie premises of the year, but never gets paid the attention to detail it deserves aside from its technical accomplishments.

An Education

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”)

More mature than any coming-of-age story in recent years, director Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” is a beautifully-written character study about a teenage girl blinded by the idea of love in 1960s London.

Adapted by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) from a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, the film follows Jenny Miller (newcomer Carey Mulligan who has often been compared to Audrey Hepburn), an intelligent 16-year old girl whose aspirations for her future surpass anything her boring little schoolgirl life is giving her at the moment.

Set to go to Oxford University to study English – partly because she wants to and partly because her father (Alfred Molina) has always hovered over her shoulder to make sure she doesn’t get off track – Jenny is prim and proper, independent, and never lets her inexperience direct her next step in life.

Things change, however, when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older, well-to-do man who quickly takes a liking to Jenny’s youthfulness. Jenny, too, is immediately charmed by David who isn’t anything like the fresh-faced boys smitten with her at school. None of them drive around in sleek sports cars like David does nor can any of them afford to take her to Paris, treat her to fine meals at posh night clubs, or outwit her doting father who allows the courting to continue despite some initial hesitancy.

As their relationship blossoms, the idea to attend Oxford becomes less and less important to Jenny. What woman really needs an education when there is a man in her life who will marry and provide for her? It’s the same type of traditional idealism encountered in 2003’s “Mona Lisa Smile.”

There is, however, a deeper sophistication to “An Education” brought in by screenwriter Hornby and director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”) that magnifies these themes more than any films may have attempted before. Beneath David’s charismatic exterior, Hornby gives just enough of his menacing quality that you can’t be sure whether or not you saw it yourself. The always reliable Sarsgaard plays the part to perfection.

As the film slowly reveals itself, Mulligan continues to dominate the screen. As Jenny, she conveys everything a love-struck teenage girl would under the same circumstances of that era. From her vulnerability to her naivety, the layered role Mulligan has embarked on is career-defining and one that is sure to earn her an Oscar nomination.

As Jenny struggles through an emotionally-charged journey to womanhood, “An Education” allows us to feel the same exhilarating liberation and heartbreaking disappointment she is experiencing. While the film wraps up in a peculiarly ordinary fashion, the overly-cautious third act doesn’t hurt the movie much. By then, we’re devoted to Mulligan and the nearly flawless production Scherfig has created right before our eyes.