Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Great Gatsby

I think I actually get Baz Luhrmann now. I do however still think Moulin Rouge is an overstated catastrophe intended as a love letter to gay men and delusional teen girls, but at least Luhrmann’s latest cinematic extravaganza has made me understand what makes Luhrmann films so enthralling. Taking all the mixed reviews the film has received into consideration, it's still hard to deny that there is something truly special and memorable about this version of The Great Gatsby.

Although I have never been a fan of books (or anything with pages for that matter) I am assured that the original novel that inspired this grand undertaking definitely lends itself to a Luhrmann adaptation. If there is one clear triumph here, it is surely Luhrmann’s vision of Gatsby's estate, overflowing with all the grandeur, noise, colour and smells you could hope for in a period film.

At first sight of Gatsby's mansion, I was transported to a world so enviable and enticing that I found myself imagining being one of Gatsby's esteemed guests myself. It will surely bring up memories of Moulin Rouge, but works better due to Luhrmann's opportunity to juxtapose this lavish setting with the desolate outskirts of the industrial side of town, as well as the infectious, but threatening hustle and bustle of the main city centre. Luhrmann is a true artist when it comes to creating atmosphere and setting and I think Gatsby has given him his best canvas yet.

“Luhrmann is a true artist when it comes to creating atmosphere and setting and I think Gatsby has given him his best canvas yet.”

But fortunately, there's much more to The Great Gatsby than spectacular visuals - there's also DiCaprio, Maguire and Mulligan, all brilliantly casted in roles that evolve quite extensively for a screen time of 2 and a bit hours. Whilst we've come to expect greatness from Mulligan and DiCaprio in recent years it's been a while since Maguire has had a significant role to stick his teeth into. It would seem however that Maguire was made for this role as a somewhat detached and confused narrator, swept away in the glorious madness that becomes an inerasable part of him once he meets Mr Gatsby, the film's mysterious, charismatic, but inherently flawed anti-hero.

Even though DiCaprio's achievements in the film come as expected, it would be a dishonour not to single him out. DiCaprio fills the screen with so much conviction and presence that you can't help but get spellbound by the character he portrays (not in a gay way, just in a general 'he is awesome' way). As the film progresses though, the dents in his emotional armour start to become more and more apparent, even though he manages to never totally lose his unwarranted sense of naive optimism. It’s this contrast and internal struggle that seems to become central to the story of The Great Gatsby, which makes it fitting that Luhrmann spends most of his time to develop this plot thread.

“ can't help but get spellbound by the character he portrays (not in a gay way, just in a general 'he is awesome' way).”

Ironically and totally accidental however, The Gatsby character himself becomes a metaphor for Luhrmann's film: As the film progresses, so too does one start to notice the imperfections of the film itself, even though you try hard not to notice them. Whilst most directors would find it hard to condense the very dense source material into a feature film, it is hard not to notice that some plot arcs that get introduced are just not explored in the detail they deserve, with Luhrmann probably spending way too much time on dazzling his audience - screen time that could have been spent giving some 'flesh' to certain characters whilst strengthening the connection between others. While the impact of these decisions might not be that obvious for the most part of the film, they do become noticeable closer to the end, when the film's final moments feel a bit lacklustre and even illogical due to certain character's motivations not being explored to the extent they should have been.

Don’t however get too worried, as the issues with pacing and plot are quite easy to forgive when you realize how mesmerizing this film experience is. A modern soundtrack in this early setting seems like a peculiar choice, but is another part of the Luhrmann formula that delivers in spades. I am still haunted by specific moments of the film that are brilliantly amplified by the amazing musical score that accompanies them. In short, The Great Gatsby is a flawed gem, but one that manages to still shine blindingly bright due to an astonishing sense of atmosphere and strong performances by the ensemble cast. 

The amount of debauchery that this man is responsible for puts Hugh Heffener to shame.

Highlight: The first sight of Gatsby himself is a special moment in the film that becomes somewhat of a haunting image used throughout the duration of the film. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Iron Man 3

A film can sometimes surprise you for both good and bad reasons and when it comes to the film adaptations of my favourite superhero comics, I'm quite a bit conflicted with regards to how I feel about major deviations from the original plotline of the comic itself. It is with this little disclaimer that l start my review for Iron Man 3, the latest and most probably greatest Marvel adaptation yet.

The first thing you need to get excited about is that Iron Man 3 definitely has quite a different flavour from the previous entries in the franchise. This change is definitely a welcome departure in the light of the quite lackluster second installment. Without giving away too much, let's just say that the situations that Tony Stark finds himself in, are quite dire and grim - much more so than any other entry in the series. This give the film a distinct quality and an enlightening look at the man behind the mask, as Stark spends most of his time outside of the suit this time around. Don't however be worried that Downey's signature humour gets sacrificed - even with all the gloom and doom, this installment manages to deliver some of the series' loudest and greatest laughs. There's a great balance between comedy and dread here and director Shane Black has managed to balance this tricky equilibrium quite masterfully.

"...even with all the gloom and doom, this installment manages to deliver some of the series' loudest and greatest laughs." 

Joining Downey is franchise regulars like Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow, who needs to be commended for her physical fitness alone ( It can't be easy to have a six pack at her age). Whilst their actual performances aren't however nothing special to write home about, you will definitely notice the presence of this film's main villains, namely Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce, who is doing a great job in reviving his career after a long absence from the big screen. Pearce plays the role of villain well, with his minimal regard for human life making him an extremely formidable opponent indeed. He is suave, cool and collected - a modern villain that isn't seen rushing face first into danger.

If you're a fan of the Iron Man comics, you will however certainly be more interested in the role played by Ben Kingsley, fulfilling the role of the Mandarin (Stark's greatest villain in the comics). And it's here where the major deviation from the comics comes to play that I mentioned in the start. Unfortunately, I cannot discuss the deviation in too much detail due to spoiler threats, but let's just say that the Mandarin has been severely rewritten for the film and I am still very much on the fence regarding how I feel about this. On the one side, it does give the film a very surprising plot twist, but on the other side, I fear that fans of the original might regard this deviation as a blatant disregard and disrespect for the source material. Nevertheless (trying to be as objective as possible here) it is a very admirable risk, that is used to the advantage of the film's overall impact.

"... I fear that fans of the original might regard this deviation as a blatant disregard and disrespect for the source material." 

But the controversy of this change is soon forgotten in between all of the amazing action sequences, made even more awe inspiring due to exceptional CGI work that should be the new standard for comic book adaptations. It then should come to no surprise that the film will be remembered for its amazing action sequences, which include a clever aerial scene and an applaud worthy final confrontation that involves more than 20 different iron man suits ( yes, you heard right). The action is tight, fast and impactful.

Iron man 3 is definitely the best in the series, as all the elements of drama, comedy and action blend seamlessly into a very polished final product. It does however come with an important warning for fans of the original comic book series - forget the existing perception you have of the Mandarin and be prepared to be surprised. Those however not too familiar with the source material can rejoice and look forward to one of the best superhero movies of modern times.

Highlight: The final battle involving more than two dozen Iron man suits will have you sit up in your seat. It's so well choreographed, that it might just be the Swan Lake of action sequences. Seriously.

Stark has seen better days, but at least Downey's bank account can cheer him up!