Friday, May 10, 2013

Glitz, glamour, director flourishes cloud 'The Great Gatsby’s' base story

By Steve Crum

Had it only been the use of rap music on the soundtrack of this tale set during the Roaring Twenties, an invasion enough on one’s sensibilities, The Great Gatsby would nearly have failed. But Baz Luhrmann, the director and co-screenwriter, went so much further in his overwrought presentation. Luhrmann, lauded by many for his flamboyant movies (Moulin Rouge, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), surely won’t disappoint his followers with Gatsby. It is all about style: ultra colorful, superb costuming, knock-out set design, and all in 3-D. That last ingredient pops the imagery past one’s eyes and deep into the brain cells. Way past my comfort zone. 

Luhrmann’s Gatsby is a movie of and for our times. That is, it’s purely targeting the teen to 30-something watcher with glitz and glamor. The demographic raised to think the mediocre shouters on American Idol are instant superstars and the real superstars surround themselves with pyrotechnic special effects will surely savor and devour this lower-the-bar treatment of The Great Gatsby. All its smoke blocks a classic F. Scott Fitzgerald story.

So what is enjoyable about this tragic tale centered on the lush life of the 1920’s upstate New York rich? For one, there is a strong cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio as title character Jay Gatsby. He is the mysterious, charismatic, wealthy bachelor who lives in the mansion across the sound from the Buchanans, Daisy and husband Tom (Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton). No one knows much about Gatsby, except the fact he throws parties, big parties, and throws them often. People know his abode much more than they know him. DiCaprio, ever an underrated actor, impresses in a role demanding because it is so repressed. Gatsby is a troubled, driven soul given to faint smiles, and hidden glances. He is so insecure, there are scenes with him literally hiding in the bushes on his estate. He has issues, yes. 

The root of his psychological imbalance, as the millions who have read the novel already know, is the exasperating love and obsession of his life, Daisy. Mulligan has similar challenges in portraying Daisy, since she is virtually the female counterpart to Jay Gatsby. Again, it is her underplaying that is required. This means numerous sequences of darting eyes and reflective glances by both DiCaprio and Mulligan, when together or apart. Director Luhrmann, of course, embellishes these scenes, like he does everything throughout Gatsby, with extended slow motion takes. Egad, even when a character gets hit by a car and is shown airborne in slo-mo, Lurhrmann chooses to repeat the ghastly occurrence in a flashback. I was looking at my watch each time like it was an Olympic time trial. 

Told from the viewpoint and narrated by bond broker/writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), The Great Gatsby lumbers along quite spectacularly. Again, the 3-D sets and costumes are pretty enticing...for about the first half hour. Unfortunately, the film clocks at 143 minutes.

Gatsby’s story is of unrequited love, friendship (Nick and Jay become fast friends due to unexplained reasons, except both are loners), and ultimate tragedy on several levels. These are the same reasons the novel has sustained and is still required reading in American high schools. Of course, the 1925 novel also has the style and distinctive voice of its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Part of its credence is the knowledge that Fitzgerald was himself a mix of Carraway and Gatsby, and suffered many demons in his life. This movie version, the latest in adaptations dating from black and white, silent movie days, seems more caricature than real in depicting the pretentiousness of the wealthy. Maybe the next version of Gatsby will connect better than this one. 
GRADE: On an A to F Scale: C-
Glitter and glamour are evident in this trailer:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Featuring near nonstop action, this flick should be named ‘Iron Man 3 X 3’

By Steve Crum

Kudos and a solid “A” to the marketing machine for Iron Man 3. Co-star Ben Kinglsey, who plays the evil villain Mandarin, has been touting the movie and his part in it on various talk shows. What’s fun and intriguing about the film clip he shares is its clever deception. No, I will not spoil a key plot twist. Just prepare to be hoodwinked, thanks to screenwriters Drew Pearce and Shane Black. Black also directs this terrific Iron Man installment, which both exhilarates and exhausts. There’s a whole lot of good versus evil shakin’ goin’ on. Iron Man 3 rocks.

Although Jon Favreau does not direct this time, after helming the previous Iron Men, he reprises his Happy Hogan role. Hogan, if you recall, is the overprotective bodyguard of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Iron Man. Favreau is is also executive producer, which befits this talented multitasker. Also returning is Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s vivacious assistant/secretary/girlfriend/now CEO of Stark Industries, Pepper Potts. Along for the high flying is Don Cheadle’s Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Rhodes is not only Stark’s buddy, he is also the Iron Patriot, our government’s red, white and blue Iron Man wannabe. 

Then there is Guy Pearce, portraying the brilliantly warped villain, Aldrich Killian. It turns out that Killian and The Mandarin have much more in common than is first apparent, which relates to the previously mentioned plot twist. Pearce, a much under-used actor in his film history, grandstands spectacularly here. Possessing superhuman strength, regenerative healing powers, and heated hands, Killian is the iron guy’s ultra-foe. 

The per se real time plot takes place in a present day America wherein frequent terrorist bombings have put our military and Commander-in Chief, President Ellis (William Sadler), on high alert. It would help if Iron Man were available, but he is pretty much retired. The government’s colorful Iron Man clone, Iron Patriot, is supposed to fill the void as he targets The Mandarin, a Fu Manchu-looking maniac who interrupts TV broadcasts to make threats, which he carries out, graphically live. 

Tony Stark seems unmoved until he is directly affected. Soap operatics aside, it is the action sequences (the oil rig finale) and plot detours (the Air Force One attack, kidnapping, and mass rescue) that make IM3 so jaw dropping awesome. Sandwiched between all the pyrotechnics and flying scenes is a great sub-story involving Stark and a youngster, Harley (Ty Simpkins). Their teamwork should really delight the younger viewers in the audience. 

By the way, moving Stark away from his self-centered, arrogant persona is a welcome character development. Unlike other Marvel heroes, Tony Stark has rarely been depicted as a sensitive guy. Then again, he obviously has issues, being subject to panic attacks.

If the grand, and I emphasize, grand finale, does not excite and soothe the savage Iron Man fan, what in the world will? It worked for me. Big time. 
GRADE on an A to F Scale: A
This trailer sets the proverbial stage for one exciting movie: