REVIEW: The Great Gatsby

15 06 2013

Cannes Film Festival – Out of Competition (Opening Film)

I found F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel “The Great Gatsby” completely captivating and relevant in 11th grade English.  However, I acknowledge that plenty of people may have had the Jazz Age classic spoiled by poor instruction or a general classroom environment.

For all those people who think classic literature has to be boring and stuffy, let me introduce you to Baz Luhrmann, the world’s coolest English teacher.  He takes antiquated texts like Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” and reinterprets them for a modern audience, breathing new life into them in the process.  Though some scoff at the idea of combining Fitzgerald and Fergie or jazz and Jay-Z,  it’s that kind of madness that makes Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” such a delightfully fresh take on an old favorite.

It’s Luhrmann on all cylinders firing, which is the source of the film’s vibrant strengths.  On the other hand, it’s also the root of the film’s biggest flaws.  Though “The Great Gatsby” is brilliantly refashioned in the image of “Moulin Rouge,” it’s sometimes a little too pumped up for its own good.  Putting Fitzgerald on steroids comes with some loss of subtlety, particularly in the form of his recurring motifs: the green light and Dr. T.J. Ecklenburg’s eyes.  Rather than letting them sneak up on you, Luhrmann hits you over the head with them like a sledgehammer as if to say, “PAY ATTENTION! THESE ARE REALLY IMPORTANT!”

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REVIEW: Now You See Me

10 06 2013

Now You See MeNo one would ever mistake Louis Letterier’s “Now You See Me” for Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige,” that’s for certain.  But if not living up to the Nolan standard was a crime punishable by death in Hollywood, we’d have corpses lining Sunset Boulevard.

We pretty much know the drill in these magic movies by now and have come to expect the unexpected.  However, even if you know that the rug is going to get pulled out from underneath you, that’s better than watching a mind-numbing formulaic genre pic.  “Now You See Me” at least engages the audience and tries to get them guessing.  Granted, the film is only about as deep as the bag of popcorn.  But at least it’s something!

Leterrier does a half-decent job of playing to the film’s strengths: the off-color comedic stylings of Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, the allure of Isla Fisher and Dave Franco, and that singular authority commanded by Morgan Freeman when he comes into the frame.  Less effective is the FBI/Interpol duo of Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent that try to get to the bottom of the magic.  They’re an awkward pairing made worse by their segueing into a dumb and forced romance. (Sorry to semi-spoil, but you’ll see it coming the second they make eye contact.)

The film packs enough twists and turns to stay captivating and interesting even through the duller Ruffalo/Laurent segments.  Leterrier is smart enough not to dwell on the novelty and gimmickry of magic as audiences have been numbed to its power thanks to decades of CGI; his emphasis on the thrill and the audacity is what makes “Now You See Me” such fun.  Though it takes one surprise twist too many, it’s still a highly enjoyable movie that makes for great summer entertainment.  The fact that such a feat is accomplished with little more than a well-imagined story is quite magical indeed.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: Bachelorette

8 09 2012

When “Bachelorette” begins, it’s easy to see the structural similarities to “Bridesmaids” … and then just totally laugh them off due to the two films’ vast tonal differences.  Kristen Wiig’s comedy is like being tipsy on wine: wild, but also controlled and somewhat classy.  Leslye Hedland’s movie, on the other hand, is like what I imagine being high on cocaine would be like: messy, strung out, and utterly chaotic.

The three bridesmaids here have little in common with the Wolfpack of “The Hangover,”  rather, they all bear more than a passing resemblance to Mavis Gary, Charlize Theron’s protagonist of “Young Adult” whose mentality is stalled in high school.  The mean girls of the ’90s are back to wreak havoc on the wedding of poor Becky (Rebel Wilson), a girl that they didn’t really seem to run with then and don’t seem to care any more for her in the present.  I wouldn’t want anyone who called me “Pigface” at my wedding at all, much less as a bridesmaid!

But for a while, I was willing to overlook the plot holes and strap myself along for the drug-fueled shenanigans of harlot Katie (Isla Fisher), sassy Rashida Jones placeholder Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and their seemingly sober-ish ringleader Regan (Kirsten Dunst).  The humor is at first stingingly acidic and bitingly true in a way that recalls Lena Dunham at her most sour.  Caplan is the scene-stealer of the bunch, lighting up every scene even as she drains it of a significant portion of happiness.

Once again for the record, I’ve never been on cocaine, but I’ve been led to believe the high is followed by a big crash.  And like I said, “Bachelorette” is like a few lines of cocaine, so for all the fun it brings, it comes down with a large thud.  All the energy gets sapped out of the film’s second half as it veers away from a significant look at relationships and takes a turn down Formula Lane.  By the end, I had all but tuned out of the three bachelorettes’ stories, which is disappointing.  The characters were relatively interesting, but Hedland fails them with a predictable script that tantalizes with promise at the beginning.  C





F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 18, 2009)

18 09 2009

The “F.I.L.M.” (gentle reminder: the acronym stands for “First-Class Independent Little-Known Movie”) of the Week is “The Lookout.”  Released in 2007, the movie flew under the radar of most moviegoers.  But with the movie’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, now being hailed as the new Heath Ledger, perhaps there is no better time than the present to check out one of his hidden gems.  The movie is a spellbinding crime drama on the surface, but if you dig deeper, you will find that there is much more than meets the eye.  The film finds a quiet strength in Gordon-Levitt’s Chris, affected by short-term memory loss after a car crash that killed his friends, just trying to find a way to contribute to the world.  But his mental incapacitation makes it hard for him to do even the simplest of things, and he writes down his routine in a notebook.

Chris’ position as the night cleaner at a small-town bank attracts the attention of a gang of bank robbers who intend to exploit his shortcomings in order to get the money.  Led by the smooth Gary (Matthew Goode, “Watchmen”), the gang is able to coax Chris into helping, mainly through the strategic use of Luvlee (Isla Fisher, “Wedding Crashers”).  But Chris’ blind roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels), provides a foil for the gang.  He has street smarts and can see right through the gang.  And as time goes on, Chris begins to realize what Lewis can so clearly see.  The result is a wild and unpredictable third act, which excites and thrills.

I could speak volumes on Gordon-Levitt’s delicate performance, but I should let the movie speak for itself.  It is a refreshing take on the crime thriller, ranking up with “Inside Man” and possibly even close to “Reservoir Dogs.”  It is a very plot-driven movie, but “The Lookout” takes equally as much of its strength from the powerful performances of Gordon-Levitt and Daniels.  But now, it is time for me to stop writing and let the movie speak for itself.  Go give it a spin; you won’t be disappointed.