In which I review Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

Have you seen Moulin Rouge?

Did you like it?

Do you want to see it on the big screen again?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then by all means, go see The Great Gatsby.

However, if a “no” crept into your mind at all, I would save the $12 and the possible headaches from the unnecessary 3D.

I should probably say that I loved Moulin Rouge when I first saw it. It was something I’d never quite seen before, the colors, the music, and visual fireworks…it seemed magical. It was easy to get swept up in it all and allow myself to be absolutely and completely dazzled.

The thing about that sort of magic is that it doesn’t always work the second time around. And clearly that is the case with Gatsby.

If you can -can-can….

I should also probably say that although I’ve read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s permanent reading list contribution, I remember almost nothing. It’s one of those books that I know should have had a larger impact on me, but just didn’t.

(Side note and True Story: when I was in 7th grade I had to read Of Mice and Men. Being the last minute worker that I am, I waited until the night before and decided that with only a few pages left, I didn’t really have to finish the book to know what happened. When my mother and I sat to talk about what I was going to write about the book, I expressed sincere shock when she mentioned that Lenny died. She then sent me back to my room to reread the ending of the book. It’s amazing what a few pages at the end of a book can do)

Note: From here there be spoilers…

What this all means is that I came into Gatsby with minimal preconceived notions. I knew that the book ended with Gatsby floating face down in a swimming pool a la Sunset Boulevard, and that someone got hit by a car. But that’s about it. So I my mind was pretty open as the movie started.

It then snapped shut almost immediately.

The first hour or so of Gatsby is Moulin Rouge Part 2: The Rougening. And I really wish I were joking. Everything from the pacing to the camera angles to the voice over made me feel like I was back watching Luhrmann’s other film that featured anachronistic music and flashy costumes and a doomed love story. It wasn’t that it was bad – it was gorgeous to watch and the music was pretty good; it’s just that I’ve seen it before. And as I said, the second time around it all loses something.

Daisy, a beautiful little fool

My other problem with the film is that it tried so hard to make the focal point the doomed love story between Daisy and Gatsby, without really delving into the class issues and social issues going on behind the scenes. Just because Leo is in this, the movie doesn’t need to be a sequel to Titanic – and it shouldn’t be. And as I start to vaguely remember some of the issues in the book, I realized why I had such an issue with Daisy — don’t give Daisy depth just because you can’t figure out how to make her character worthy of a lifelong obsession. Carey Mulligan did a fine job with what she was given, but what she was given was a very strange interpretation of the character.

Nice to see you, Old Sport

I will say that Leonardo DiCaprio was fantastic. He captured everything you wanted Gatsby to be – dashing, charismatic, with the odd insecurities befitting his background. Leo is no longer that fresh faced young adult who won the hearts of all the teeny-boppers as he sunk to the bottom of the ocean. His body has filled out, he has developed lines on his now non-angular face. But this has just made him more appealing; looking like he’s actually been living a life gives him more depth.

Joel Edgerton was also great as bully and bigot and racist Tom Buchanan. Newcomer Elizabeth Debicki is also great as Daisy’s pal Jordan Baker. Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway did nothing for me. I find him too weak to really make an impact on me. Even as he yelled and raged at the end, I just found him wanting.

So should you see Gatsby in the theaters? If you were interested in seeing it at all, and of course answered yes to any of those Moulin Rouge questions, then go see it and definitely see it in the theaters – if for nothing else than the amazing sequence in which we are actually introduced to Gatsby himself, pomposity at its greatest. But if you were on the fence and weren’t really all that motivated in the first place, I wouldn’t rush. 

In the end, this version of The Great Gatsby is a 2 hr 20 minute movie that feel like a 2 hr 30 minute movie.

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Dr. Tobias Fünke’s Audition Reel

Actor, analrapist, Blue Man, Tobias Fünke has done it all.

I blue myself

Now, thanks to Vulture, we have his audition reel for Ron Howard.

It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect from Tobias, but my favorite grace notes include his obvious attempt to create a catchphrase (“Yippy dippy dippy”), the repetition of “Insert me anywhere” which utilizes Tobias’s great ability to be unaware of exactly what he’s saying, and the omnipresent Tobias in leather-daddy outfit.

With less than 11 days left until Netflix releases the new Arrested Development episodes, it’s little tidbits like this that whet my appetite.

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It’s here! The Arrested Development Trailer

Final Countdown

The stair-car


Unlimited juice

This return of this show is going to be off the hook!

While I have been very guarded in my enthusiasm for the return of Arrested Development, this trailer has me as happy as a spring breaker at Senor Tadpoles! Everyone seems back in full force and right back in character, some even with a bedazzled hook hand.

Though I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, this might just be the greatest thing ever.

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Room 237 – The Shining Conspiracies

The first thought I had about Room 237 was “Wow, these people have a lot of time on their hands.”

My second thought was “Wow, these people are INTENSE.”

My third thought was “I kinda admire them in all their crazy crazy intenseness.”

Because it is crazy. Just insane. But there’s also a sort of genius.

Now, I have to be honest: I don’t particularly care for the movie. I read the Stephen King book first and was fascinated by it. The way Jack Torrence, an essentially decent husband and father with a decidedly undecent alcohol problem, is destroyed by this evil hotel was an incredible story. Much like King, I felt that the casting of Jack Nicholson was the first mistake that Kubrick made; there was no incremental trip to madness – Nicholson’s Jack was a mean jerk from the very start. And don’t get me started on Shelley Duval’s utterly ineffectual and insipid Wendy.

So I do come to this documentary with my own set of baggage.

However, even I can see the seduction that The Shining holds for the right person. All you need to do is watch that opening, the little yellow car, climbing higher and higher in the Colorado mountains, the Dies Irae ringing in the background…the movie can draw you in. In fact so many of the documentary’s never-seen-only-heard-narrators talk about that opening scene and how it changed their lives.

Assuming that every frame of The Shining has a secret meaning put there deliberately by Stanely Kubrick,  there is a special group of people who watch, and rewatch, then re-rewatch the movie, both forwards and backwards. These uber-fans have decided that this movie cannot simply be a retelling of King’s brilliant horror novel about an epic evil that lived in a sprawling hotel in Colorado.  To this select group, Kubrick’s version is a testament to the glory of film in telling multiple stories, using visual and audio cues to reveal a secret to those willing to discover it.

And who wouldn’t want to think themselves worthy of discovering those hidden meanings?

At times these conspiracy theories seem almost rational – the movie tells the story of the genocide of the American Indian by the United States and the Westward Movement. Thinking about all the American Indian artifacts and decorative touches throughout the hotel, plus the statement that the Overlook was built on an Indian burial ground – a fact that was not remotely in the novel – and you kinda, sorta buy it.

Other theories aren’t that plausible, though to hear those disembodied voices of the throngs who have a fervent need to publicize these conspiracies, it is almost possible to get caught up.

Look, it’s a German typewriter! Just like the Nazis used!

Is it a stretch to say that The Shining is really about the Holocaust because the number 42 appears frequently, and because Jack Torrence uses a German typewriter? Let’s be honest, yes. It is an incredible stretch. But the man who believes this, sells it to you in absolute faith.

This sweater = no moon landing photos?

Is it even harder to believe that The Shining is really Kubrick’s way of telling the world he helped fake the photos of the moon landing? Yes. (NOTE: This theory posits NOT that the moon landing itself was faked, the author of this idea says probably did happen, but that the actual photos we use as proof were created by Kubrick in a soundstage). Are shots from Kubrick’s own 2001:A Space Odyssey enough to sway? Ehhhh, that’s really pushing it.

But while Room 237 allows these Kubrick devotees the space to prove their interpretations, as silly as they might seem, it also opens up the world of movie criticism. So what if Kubrick didn’t mean 95% of what these people are saying. He made a dense  film that allows the viewer to wildly theorize about what all that layering might mean. As with any meaningful work of art, the meaning lies in the viewer as much as in the artist. And Room 237 and The Shining show that in spades.

The documentary itself is well made. Scenes from The Shining are interspersed with other Kubrick clips – primarily 2001 and Eyes Wide Shut. Careful maps and diagrams help translate the mad imaginings of the unseen narrators, and occasionally – as with the Impossible Window in Stuart Ullman office – help prove a solid point. And while you as the viewer might find a moment to snicker or guffaw at any of these theories, the director Rodney Ascher never does. It’s unclear if he agrees with them, or merely wants to give them the respect they deserve for their utter devotion and scholarly efforts. I applaud him for that.

Map of the Overlook, including the Impossible Window – a window that looks outside…but in reality should only look out into a hallway

However, when Juli Kearns starts explaining how a poster that advertises skiing is a really a poster of a minotaur (and exclaims that the nearby poster of a cowboy is absolute proof), I’m not so sure I could always be as kind.

Still, the documentary is worth seeing if you are a fan of The Shining, of conspiracy theories, or of the fact that there are 101 ways to see a movie. All the ideas and proofs can be dizzying, but just take it all with a grain of salt and you’ll find your way back out of the maze.

(Which, by the way, wasn’t in the King novel….)

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The Doctor Walks 500 Miles

How did I know about this video sooner? Seriously…how??

I love The Doctor, I love the song “500 Miles”, I love watching people pretend to walk…

This video was made at the end of 10’s reign.

Matt Smith, I do love you. But David Tennant will always be my Doctor.

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After Earth and the Directorial Twist

Watch this…

Now, watch this…

Did you see it? Or rather, not see it?

Both movies have the same director, but a very very different marketing strategy.

Clearly Hollywood is no longer banking on the box office magic of one twist-master himself, M. Night Shyamalan. In fact, we aren’t even getting his name at all in the trailers for After Earth, not even near the title. You have to look at the small print to see it.

After starting with a huge bang with The Sixth Sense in 1999, which grossed $293 million in theaters, his career has taken a slow, but progressive downward turn.  His second most successful film was Signs earning $227 million, but that was back in 2002. His most recent film, The Last Airbender was considered both a critical and financial flop earning $131 million domestically but with a production cost of $150 million and a whopping 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. Seriously. Read some of the reviews for this film when you need a laugh. They are spectacular.

So I guess it’s really not much of a twist (see? see what I did there?) that Sony wants to bank on the likability of its stars, the father/son duo of Will and Jaden Smith, rather than the now tainted reputation of its director. The Happening, with its 17% on Rotten Tomatoes,  became such a punchline, I’m surprised he was allowed to direct anything at all after that. Will Smith is still an amiable enough fellow who has the goodwill of moviegoers behind him that this could open well. And I suppose people liked his son as the new Karate Kid, so he is inoffensive as well.

Once I learned that M. Night is the director, I started rewatching the trailers for After Earth, trying to figure out exactly what the twist will be. We already know in the trailer that the planet is Earth, it’s doubtful they’re all really dead, and the trees and all the animals are the ones trying kill humans. Just what could it be…?

Of course it’s quite possible that this is just a straight up sci-fi/action film, with Shyamalan’s usual directorial flourishes. Perhaps I just too jaded by his existing oeuvre to not be cynical and hesitant about anything else he has come up with — and yes, he is a co-writer of the screenplay.

That all being said, I am still interested in seeing it, more for the effects than for what seems to be stilted acting and a flimsy plot. And I’ll just be second-guessing every moment, waiting for that inevitable plot twist that will most likely be groaner.

Perhaps Robot Chicken summed it up best:

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Boston, New York, and Memories of Attacks

This week was the second time I was in a city that was attacked.

First New York, now Boston.

While the two aren’t the same, I have spent a lot of today sitting in Boston and thinking about New York.

New York was the city I grew up in, first as a child then later as a young adult. Boston has been the city of my more, shall we say… mature years. One city I’ve always thought of as home, the other has been mostly a place where I live.

Now I’m not about to say that after yesterday’s horrific events at the Boston Marathon, I am now a tried and true Bostonian who will bleed for the Red Sox and paak my caah. Boston is still the city in which I live, but I did realize yesterday that it means a little more to me than that. I understand Boston better in the wake of the attack and see it perhaps a bit more clearly.

I wasn’t along the marathon route, though I work nearby. Like so many others who live here, I had the day off and because I hate crowds and wouldn’t have gone to watch the runners unless I knew someone – and even then it would have to be someone I really really liked, so basically, there is no way I would have been near where the explosions went off – I wasn’t nearby.

And though, thankfully, no one I know was harmed…I still feel the aftershocks.

I walk by the finish line constantly. All the time. At least once a week. I had even been right there the day before. One of my favorite Saturday activities is seeing a matinee at the Common and walking down Boylston to the Hynes T stop and then hopping on a train home. That stretch is part of my routine, part of what makes up my life here in Boston.

Looking at photos from the blasts, the Lenscrafters where I bought the glasses I am currently wearing…destroyed. The corner where I wait to cross over and enter the Prudential Center is now a site of carnage. The street that I had ambled down so many times, my mind always focused elsewhere, now a crime scene.

And all day I recalled my thoughts in the aftermath of 9/11. The photos of street corners I’d waited at covered in ash and rubble. The Lower Manhattan area, where just days prior to the attack my friends and I had ridden our bikes like 10-year olds, enjoying the beautiful weather, now irreversibly changed. The Towers in whose shadows I had grown up, their spires providing a southern mirror to the Empire State building as I stood outside our apartment building…obliterated by an act of extreme and unfathomable violence.

While Boston does not have the physical gaping hole and open wound of Ground Zero, the emotional impact is there. The marathon has been run for 117 consecutive years, a point of immense pride in a city that is full of things it is prideful about. Patriot’s Day symbolizes everything that makes Boston what it is – the Red Sox play, people drink, and the city once again becomes an international hub, the focal point of the world for just a moment, just as it was during those early days of the American Revolution. To cause such tragedy and loss on Patriot’s Day strikes in the very essence of this city.

I remember going to the New England Aquarium for the first time with a friend who was giddy at the thought of taking me there. She was so excited to show me the big tank, and the penguins, and the turtle. When we got in and hiked up the slow winding ramp, I kept waiting for more. At the top of the Big Tank she just stood there, expecting me to be awed. I wasn’t. I didn’t understand that this was it. Just this…tank. Sure it had a lot fish in it, but it was just one tank. Behind us, a tourist loudly proclaimed “This is so dinky”. I agreed and explained yes, this was dinky. Sure if it’s what you grew up with and was your point of reference, I’m sure it was amazing. But otherwise, nothing to blow your socks off.

It is that same fierce adherence to everything hometown that makes Boston what it is. Everyone is ecstatic for opening day at Fenway and when the Sox lose, you actually feel the city itself mourn. The aquarium might not be the best in the world, but dammit it belongs to Boston and that alone makes it wicked awesome. I see how everyone is coping and the same attitude that I found provincial, I now believe to be a source of strength and maybe even endearing.

I want to believe that the majority of people in the world aren’t the sort who would set out to kill and destroy. We talk about the heroes from 9/11, those amazing first responders who ruined their own health to save others and later bring closure to many many families. We point out all the runners who instead of relaxing after completing the marathon, ran to the local hospitals to give blood and provide whatever aid they could. We cling to these because we need to believe there is more in the world than just this pure and boundless evil. I want to believe this. I do.

But sitting now in the second city suffering from a terrible attack, it’s difficult to hold onto this positivity.

However, I look at photos of little girls handing donuts to the soliders blocking Boylston and Mass Ave, and I think about every act of kindness from random strangers in September 2011, and maybe I can believe that humanity can be more than violence and more than cruelty.

Boston, like New York, will recover. Slowly and painfully and never really being the same. But time heals even the worst pain. The city’s bravado will return and we’ll all complain about taking the T after a Bruins game or a Sox game.

And one day, I’ll walk down Boylston again on a Saturday afternoon and my mind will be able to wander.

One day.

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