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05/11/2013

Weekend Movies: The Great Gatsby

  Gatsby-cheerswelcome
Leonardo DiCaprio welcomes you to the summer's most lavish party

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS 

"Gatsby. What Gatsby?"

Daisy asks with a rush of girlish 'it can't be!' alarm, her nerves far overpowering the tiny glimmer of hope you think you hear in her voice. Which is as sensible a reaction as anyone could have when hearing about the arrival of another Jay Gatsby in movie theaters. You don't mean THE GREAT GATSBY, do you?

2_gatsbyThe F Scott Fitzgerald classic is a tough book to crack for filmmakers, its power so tied to its gorgeous (slim) prose, its subtle and cynical evocations and condemnations of American wealth and unspoken caste system. Further complicating adaptations is that the story is subjectively narrated. It's all told by Nick Carraway and his is, despite blood ties to the wealthy, an outsider's point of view. It's an easy book to love but a difficult one to adapt. But Hollywood keeps trying once every thirty years or so. 

The story, if you are unfamiliar (though you won't want to admit that out loud) follows the attempts of the elusive mysterious extremely wealthy Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) to win back his lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who he abandoned many years earlier while penniless to seek his fortune. That sounds like something out of a fairy tale, but to the novel's credit Fitzgerald doesn't exactly take it at face value as a hero's journey; what's so heroic about vast sums of money used only for personal gain?

Gatsby buys up an estate in West Egg Long Island where he has a direct eyeline across the water to a similarly palatial home in East Egg where Daisy lives with her rich and shady husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) who is carrying on an affair with low class Myrtle (Isla Fisher) who lives above a gas station in "The Valley of Ashes" which director Baz Luhrmann stages like it's the 10th circle of hell. Gatsby throws decadent flashy parties hoping to lure Daisy in and seduces her cousin Nick (Tobey Maguire, our narrator) into helping him facilitate the reunion.

Which gets this party (aka movie) started AFTER THE JUMP...

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If you've seen Baz Luhrmann's 'Red Curtains Trilogy' (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge!) you'll immediately recognize this as a Bazmark production. All the elements are there: zooming cameras, extremely opulent production design and costuming (by Baz's other half, his wife Catherine Martin), hyper editing which frustratingly doesn't fully let you enjoy said opulent production design, anachronistic celebrated song scores, stylized performances from famous actors, and repetitive looping screenplay structure (by Baz's other other half, his writing partner Craig Pearce). That Baz is both the right choice to helm a modern The Great Gatsby and all wrong for it is evidenced in the chasm between the big set pieces and the rest of the movie.

Gatbsy-floralmadness

The director's gift with stunning visuals sells Wealth as Intoxicating Fantasy superbly. The decadent party sequences with their contemporary music go a longer way in illustrating what was so roaring about "The Roaring 20s" better than most period pieces ever have. Baz has always had a flare for onscreen parties and understands how to drop you in among the revellers and leave you dizzy with excitement. Throughout the movie, Baz manages to make the parade of jaw-dropping wealth both funny -- as in Gatsby's attempt to pretty up Nick's place with truckloads of flowers "do you think it's too much?" -- and unnervingly dramatic, moments afterwards in that same scene and later in a key sequence when the five main characters drive into Manhattan for escape, pre air-conditioning. They remain trapped by wealth, holed up in a luxury hotel with servants chipping away at ice to cool them down. (Shouldn't they have just gone for a swim outside their front doors?)

GatsbyBut Baz' approach only works in fits and starts because he hasn't adjusted it to the contours of the material. There are so many shots and flourishes pulled directly from Moulin Rouge! that The Great Gatsby starts to feel like a gratuitously odd remake of that hallucinatory musical. You half expect Kylie Minogue to pop up as the green fairy in an early drug fueled hotel party.

It's quite strange to see this (subconscious?) near-remake after Baz had professed that he was moving on from the Red Curtain Trilogy with Australia (2008), implying that his much celebrated (and detested) style was not so much his only way of expressing himself but merely a choice meant for those particular films. When Gatsby really needs to investigate the characters, or needs to breathe to make you feel it, it falls apart. Baz just can't stop tricking up the sequences with visual wonder and fireworks (sometimes literally). The driving sequences strike me as the most obnoxious in this regard, with much noise and 3D propulsiveness amounting to absolutely nothing.

One of Gatsby's last visuals is a silhouette of Jay Gatsby in the green light of Daisy's shoreline. It's an arresting emotional image but Baz cuts away from it before it can achieve anything like the final iconic significance it should be aiming for. Daisy's entrance, another example, is teased by billowing white curtains, and just keeps on teasing. We get that she's a vision to Nick, and this luxurious world is bracing new air for him but it starts to feel like parody. Stop billowing, curtains! We totally see you.

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But Daisy is a problem for any filmmaker and actress.

Novels have a much easier time than actors do at selling characters that are more narrated fantasy and ideal than fully realized human beings. Carey Mulligan, a gifted if already over-cast actress, aims high (I love the high affected voice, too fast to feel narcotized but too flat to be get her out of Stepford) but Daisy is still Daisy, more projection than character and how do you embody that? Newcomer Elizabeth Debicki is great fun as intimidating sporty Jordan Baker but she isn't given much screentime.

GatsbyThe male principals mostly end at capable with significant obstacles to greatness: Maguire is non-committal as Nick Carraway, never playing the choices the screenplay has made about the character from its odd framing device and Baz & Craig have entirely ignored Nick's (arguable) gayness in the book which is a strange missed-opportunity given the movie's love of modernization; Edgerton is as watchable as ever as the racist bullying Buchanan, but he reads less uppercrust than DiCaprio which makes for some weird friction with the themes and characters as written; DiCaprio, who looks fantastic as Gatsby and who was such a revelation as a young actor, seems to have calcified into an actor with a weirdly limited range of facial expressions - we've literally seen them all before with him. Not that his dialogue helps. His constant refrain of "Old sport!" which he says HUNDREDS OF TIMES would be tough for any actor to pull off but since Leo gives it virtually no shift in feeling or variety or subtext from scene to scene (Watch Streep's "That's All" symphony from Prada to understand how this is done) it's entirely grating and sure to be mocked in a YouTube super-cut the second this is available on Blu-Ray. 

Though I've spilled hundreds of words detailing the problems with the new Gatsby, I would never trade Baz's Red Curtain Trilogy for the world. I just wish he'd let some of the epic Hollywood classicism he was aiming for in Australia (by most measures his least popular film) sink in to this new film to combat it's Moulin-Rougeyness. Like Gatsby and Carraway, Baz is too enamored by the wealthy leisure class to really see them for who they are. The fatal and most telling decision in this update is the reduction of the role of Myrtle (a game Isla Fisher) to tarty prop. She's nothing more than future roadkill in the scheme of things. In the end, Baz doesn't seem to care that the rich can get away with murder, but he most definitely cares about Gatsby's dreams of wrapping Daisy up in an ever greater cocoon of wealth.

 The Great Gatsby has been filmed once as a noir of sorts (1949), once as a creaky prestige piece (1974) and arrives to us now as a kinetic "Spectacular! Spectacular!" by way of Baz Luhrmann. But F Scott Fitzgerald's great American novel remains, for the movies, an elusive dream as tragically unfulfilled and in this case as shallow as Jay Gatsby's.

Gatsby-nickjordan
"I've just heard the most shocking thing"...they're totally remaking this again in 30 years!

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

Posted May. 11,2013 at 8:19 PM EST by in Film, Leonardo Dicaprio, Nathaniel Rogers | Permalink | Comments (36)


Man Beaten to Death in Russia After Acquaintances Learn He is Gay

A gay man has been beaten to death in Russia, Reuters reports:

VolgogradThe body of a 23-year-old man was found in the courtyard of an apartment building in the southern city of Volgograd early on Friday with multiple wounds including in the genital area, the federal Investigative Committee said on Saturday. It said a 22-year-old acquaintance of the victim and a 27-year-old ex-convict had been detained on suspicion of murder.

A investigator in Volgograd, Andrei Gapchenko, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the suspects said they had been drinking with the victim and began beating him after he told them he was gay.

It is rare for law enforcement authorities in Russia to specify suspicions that homophobia was the motive in an attack, and activists say many attacks against gays are not treated or described as such by the police.

Radio Free Europe adds:

The two men...allegedly beat him, sodomized him with a beer bottle, and smashed in his skull with a stone.

Articles in Russian media herehere and here.

Killing in Russia adds to concerns over treatment of gays [reuters]

Posted May. 11,2013 at 7:08 PM EST by in Crime, News, Russia | Permalink | Comments (33)


Newt Gingrich is 'Really Puzzled' About What a Smartphone Is: VIDEO

Phone_gingrich

Newt Gingrich does not appear to know what a 'smartphone' is.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

"Hi, we're people who are regularly perplexed by things which have been commonplace for years. We're today's GOP," writes one YouTube commenter.

(via gawker)

Posted May. 11,2013 at 6:52 PM EST by in News, Newt Gingrich, Tech | Permalink | Comments (24)


Bigoted Family Wants the Boy Scouts to Remain Anti-Gay: VIDEO

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Keith and Katherine Goode have been "blessed" with a "quiver full" of 10 children.

Five of their seven boys are in Boy Scouts. The rest of them, while not in the Scouts, have been dragged into a heinous video for the Family Research Council demanding the Boy Scouts uphold its pledge to be "morally straight" by not allowing gay scouts and leaders.

Says Keith: "It's not fair. If we have one openly homosexual boy, where do we tent him? Who has to sleep in his tent? How do we handle his needs? Suddenly it's becoming unfair to all the other boys to have to change.

Says Katherine: "I'm not going to put my boys in that situation to have to deal with those decisions."

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

And, supposing studies that suggest famlies with a large number of brothers and sisters make it more likely that one of the younger brothers is gay are correct, what are the odds that at least one of those kids in Goode's "quiver" is gay? Probably pretty good.

Goode

Posted May. 11,2013 at 11:46 AM EST by in Boy Scouts, Family Research Council, News, Tony Perkins | Permalink | Comments (66)


Lawmaker Cries on House Floor, Upset Gays Might Be Able to Marry: 'My Heart Breaks for Minnesota'

ScottTears were shed for equality in Minnesota this week, but some were not of the joyful kind.

One Minnesota lawmaker is taking the state's expected passage of marriage equality very hard.

"My heart breaks for Minnesota," said a Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. "It’s a divisive issue that divides our state,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes as she stood on the House floor after the vote. “It’s not what we needed to be doing at this time. We want to come together for the state of Minnesota, we don’t want to divide it."

The Washington Post interviewed House Speaker Paul Thissen on this week's vote:

I did not (know I would get Republican support on the bill). I had an inkling we might, but we didn’t call the vote until we knew we had the votes on our side...I think it’s hugely significant, because it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. And nationally, it’s really not. There are so many Republicans across the country that do support moving in this direction. And so what that means, for the state, for the conversation we’re having, is that it has moved beyond being a partisan issue to being an issue about Minnesotans and their freedom and equality. And I think that’s hugely important.

The Senate has scheduled debate to begin at 12 pm (1 pm ET) on Monday.

Posted May. 11,2013 at 10:19 AM EST by in Gay Marriage, Minnesota, News | Permalink | Comments (83)


Rachel Maddow on Benghazi and the Relentless Republican Desire to Impeach Obama: VIDEO

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Rachel Maddow last night took an incredible look at how Republicans have been trying to "impeach Obama for something, anything" since the first day he was in office, ticking off the list of reasons that have been offered up by various lawmakers, yet haven't stuck.

"Republicans and the Right love talking about impeaching President Obama even when they're not sure exactly why. It's almost like an involuntary tic. They sneeze and a little 'impeach Obama' just squeezes out without them meaning to."

Benghazi is just the latest, and it's Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) who's leading the charge.

Maddow dissects the GOP arguments, and the outrage.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Posted May. 11,2013 at 9:21 AM EST by in Barack Obama, Libya, News, Rachel Maddow | Permalink | Comments (28)



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