The Great Gatsby

Warning this review includes spoilers.  If you have not seen The Great Gatsby and don’t want to know the end, there are spoilers below.  You have been warned. 

  • Title:  The Great Gatsby
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey MaGuire, Carey Mulligan,  Elizabeth DeBicki, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“By which I mean no one except me ever received an actual invitation to Gatsby’s.  You see, the rest of  New York simply came uninvited.  The whole city packed into automobiles, and all weekend, every weekend, ended-up at Gatsby’s.”  – Nick, narrating
 
“He gives large parties and I like large parties.  They’re so intimate.  Small parties, there isn’t any privacy.”  – Jordan
 
“It was also the night that I became aware of Gatsby’s extraordinary gift for hope.   A gift that I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.”  – Nick
 
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a stunning visual masterpiece.  The party scenes, especially, are reminiscent of Luhrmann’s hyper-real style used to great effect in Moulin Rouge.  But where Moulin Rouge is a story about love, The Great Gatsby is a story of obsession.  Visually, it’s an incredible film, and a must-see.  The crisp images, sweeping camera moves, editing, and color bring the viewer into the story. Again, Luhrmann uses modern music to make scenes, especially parties, feel the way they would have then. For example, Gatsby’s parties are wild affairs, with a mixture of modern rap music and more traditional 1920s jazz.  At his parties, the (illegal) alcohol flows freely, and there’s confetti, streamers, dancing girls, live music, drunk guests, and fireworks.  People dance, drink too much, and jump into the reflecting pool in their clothes.  In short, it’s wild.  But even the smaller party at a brothel that Tom invites Nick to, in order to show off his mistress and his power and influence, is a wild party where Nick gets extremely drunk.
But not only does Luhrmann uniquely re-create the feeling of a time and place, but he tells the story of six people, all of whom become victims of obsession.  Nick Carraway narrates the story as a story he tells his therapist in a sanitarium.  Nick’s from Chicago, and puts aside his dreams of being a writer to make his fortune on Wall Street.  It’s his doctor who suggests he work out his issues by writing.  Nick does, and at the end of the film, he pulls the cover sheet out of his typewriter, and places it on the top of the stack of paper that will be his novel.  The typewritten title is, “Gatsby”, but he adds two words by hand in pen and it becomes, The Great Gatsby.
Structurally the film actually starts and ends with the same image, a green light blinking in the distance across the water, in the darkness and mist.  This green light will represent Jay Gatsby’s dream and obsession.  He met Daisy when he was a young and penniless officer in the army, at a party.  They fell in love and had an affair, but then he went off to war.  Daisy swore to wait, but Gatsby disappears.  She marries instead the very rich, very old money, and very prejudiced and sexist, George Buchanan.
Gatsby, meanwhile, has decided that in order to pursue Daisy properly, he needs to make his fortune, so he can keep her in style.  He fights in the war (World War I), attends Oxford, rescues a millionaire who’s yacht nearly sinks on Lake Superior, learns to be a gentlemen, and finally ends up in New York, where he buys the mansion directly across the bay from Daisy’s house. He gives his wild parties, hoping one day she will simply show up.  Everything he’s become and everything he does – Gatsby’s done to impress Daisy.
Meanwhile, Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband is a philanderer.  Even on their honeymoon, he had his way with a hotel parlour maid.  He has a mistress on the side, Myrtle, and he flaunts it. His dinner conversation consists of putting down the new rich (like Gatsby), insisting there’s an order to the world, and insulting “negros” as he calls him.  Tom is basically a bully, and he thinks his money gives him the right to treat everyone else terribly.  He wants to own Daisy, and keep her from anyone else, but it’s doubtful he really loves her or Myrtle.
George is Myrtle’s husband – he owns a garage in The Valley of the Ashes, a dump and coal loading station half way between West Egg and New York.  It’s where New York’s garbage goes.  He loves his wife, but freaks when he realizes she’s been having an affair.  He’s rough, and lower class and we know little about him.
Jordan is a female golfer who seems to live at the Buchanan’s residence.  Daisy tries to push her together with Nick.  Their story isn’t central to the film.
What is central, is the story of Gatsby and his obsession with Daisy.  Nick moves in next to Gatsby at the beginning of the summer.  Before long, he’s acting as a go between for Gatsby and Daisy.  Gatsby is, at first, extremely nervous around Daisy.  But soon the two are having an affair.  Gatsby, however, insists that Daisy tell Tom she never loved him.  Daisy tries to do this but can’t.  She does tell Gatsby that she loves him now, and she no longer loves Tom — she does this in front of Tom.
Tom doesn’t take it well, and begins to repeat all the gossip and stories told about Gatsby. There’s a fight and Gatsby and Daisy leave the hotel in Gatsby’s custom yellow car. Meanwhile, George confronts Myrtle about her affair – having found a string of pearls that George gave her.  (Pearls had also been George’s wedding gift to Daisy).  The two fight, and a distraught Myrtle runs into the road — to get hit by Gatsby’s yellow car.  Later, Nick learns that Daisy was driving it, rather than Gatsby.  But it’s Gatsby who takes the fall.  Tom, Nick, and Jordan arrive moments later at the accident site.  Tom pretends he doesn’t even know Myrtle, and hints to George that it was Gatsby having the affair with her.  He tells the police that Gatsby drives the custom yellow car that witnesses saw.
Needless to say, it doesn’t end happily.  George kills Gatsby, then commits suicide.  Daisy, who had picked up the phone to call Gatsby that morning, ends up trapped in her loveless marriage to Tom.  Nick ends up in a sanitarium hopelessly addicted to alcohol.
The Great Gatsby is a terrific, stunning, gorgeous, achingly beautiful film.  The images… from the blinking green light in the mist, to the blue sign for Dr. TJ Ecklesburg looking over the Valley of Ashes, to the incredible filming of Gatsby’s parties are memorable and really must be seen. Luhrmann as a director has an excellent gift of mastery of the visual sense – and of incorporating the modern with the historic to make modern audience’s truly understand what a time was like.  I originally saw this film last May on opening night, and the theater was packed. It was a sold-out show in the largest theater at my local multiplex.  The audience was filled with people of all ages, and many of them even dressed-up in 1920s fashions.  It was more than a movie premiere — it was an event.
However, the theme of the film isn’t love.  This isn’t a impossible romance.  And it’s not a tragic romance either.  It’s a film about obsession.  Jay Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy.  He wants to make her his wife.  He has a perfect life planned out for them in his head, and he’s obsessed with doing everything he needs to do to get what he wants.  Thinking she wouldn’t marry him if  he was penniless or struggling, he leaves Daisy to marry Tom, while he goes off to make his fortune. Everything, literally everything in his huge mansion – he put together for Daisy.  His wild parties were only given in the hopes that Daisy would come.  Everything is for her and to create this image in Gatsby’s head.
Tom is also obsessed – he wants to own people, like he owns things and his station in life.  He owns Daisy.  He owns Myrtle.  He owns his servants.  They may not technically be slaves, but in the way he treats people, Tom sees people as possessions, to be tossed away when they are no good.  He condemns the New Rich, and exalts his own old money class.
The Great Gatsby is similar in many ways to Moulin Rouge.  Both have a sense of hyper-reality and mix modern music and film techniques with the clothes and set dressing pieces of the past.  Both films have a writer narrating the story.  Both films have tragic endings. The Great Gatsby has a crispness and cleanness of both image and line.  There’s no fantastical elements here.  There is sweeping, nearly impossible camera movements, and a use of the Art Deco colors of  black, gold, and silver.
I also found similarities between The Great Gatsby and one of my personal favorite films of all time, Sunset Blvd, directed by the Film Noir great, Billy Wilder.  Both Gatsby and Sunset Blvd are narrated by a writer.  Both are tragic stories, in Sunset Blvd a writer becomes a kept man of an aging silent film star and cannot escape her clutches, before finally being killed by her. Though Nick Carraway escapes the excesses of Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, it isn’t without cost.  But the most direct link between the two films, is they both end with the same image, a dead man, who’s been shot, floating in a swimming pool.  If you haven’t seen Sunset Blvd, watch it, it’s a great film, but there’s a visual symmetry between the shot looking upwards at a dead Joe Gillis (William Holden) in the pool, and looking up at a dead Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio) in The Great Gatsby.
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Goldfinger
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Spiderman 2

  • Title:  Spider-man 2
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Columbia (Marvel)
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Tobey McGuire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Being brilliant’s not enough, young man, you have to work hard.  Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift and you use it for the good of mankind.”  — Dr. Octavius

“The power of the sun in the palm of my hand.”  — Dr. Octavius

“My Rosie’s dead.  My dream is dead.  And these monstrous things should be at the bottom of  the river, along with me.” —  Doc Ock.

I preferred the title sequence to this film over the sequence for the previous one.  The sequence looks like actual comic book panels and catches the audience up on the plot from the previous film.

In Spider-man 2, Peter Parker is once again the nerdy guy with bad luck.  His commitment to being Spiderman, causes him to lose his job as a pizza delivery boy, to run into trouble at college, where he’s late or misses classes entirely, and even to be late on his rent.  He even loses the chance to impress MJ (Mary Jane Watson) by missing her performance in a play (which looks to be The Importance of Being Earnest, though it’s never mentioned by name).  To add to his troubles, Aunt May’s house is in foreclosure.

Possibly because of all this stress, Peter is beginning to have problems as Spiderman, with his web failing, and later his powers failing.  Several times in the film, Peter literally takes a fall as Spiderman.

For a college science report, Peter meets Dr. Octavius, a brilliant scientist, working on fusion power.  At the opening demo, Peter’s there to take pictures for the Bugle, but things go wrong.  The magnetic field breaks, the fusion reaction acts like a giant magnet, and chaos ensues.  Spidey arrives to try to help, but Dr. Octavius’ wife is killed by shattered glass, and his activator arms (“smart” metal arms activated by the doctor’s own brain) are fused to his spine.  Worse still, the inhibitor chip that prevents the nanotech in the arms from taking over the doctor’s brain, is damaged.  When a surgical team tries to remove the fused exoskeleton, Doc Ock attacks them, and a new supervillain is born.

Peter and Aunt May try to get a re-fi loan, but she fails due to her lack of  income.  But, while there, Doc Ock attacks the same bank, and even kidnaps May.  Peter, as Spidey, saves his Aunt, and fights Ock. The pictures from the fight make their way to the Bugle, and it’s Hoffman (Ted Raimi) who comes up with a name for the new villain – Dr. Octopus, which Jonah Jameson shortens to “Doc Ock”, blaming Spidey of course.

But Peter is still having problems balancing his life, and since his Spidey powers keep failing him at inopportune times, he gives up being Spiderman, and even throws away the suit.  A garbageman sells the suit to Jameson at the Bugle who keeps it as a trophy.  Although Peter’s life becomes simpler, crime rates skyrocket, and Peter feels guilty when he walks past crimes in progress and does nothing.

Peter tells May an edited version of the truth about the night Uncle Ben died, after May had blamed herself. At first May seems angry at Peter, but later she comes to her senses and patches things up, letting him know she loves him.

Doc Ock goes after Harry Osborn, who’s still obsessed with destroying Spiderman, whom he blames for his father’s death.  He sends Doc Ock after Peter, saying Peter will led him to Spiderman.

MJ kisses her new fiance (Jameson’s son John, an astronaut) upside down.  From the look on her face, she’s still in love with Peter or Spiderman.  Peter and MJ meet at a cafe’.  Peter tries to apologize and tell her he’s straightened out his life, but Doc Ock throws a car through the plate-glass window they are sitting near.  Peter saves MJ’s life but doesn’t get to kiss her.

Peter’s powers return, he takes back his Spidey suit, and there’s a huge F/X CGI fight between Doc Ock and Spiderman on a train.  Spidey manages to just barely stop the train full of people from falling off the track, but he’s now without his mask.  Normal people hand him hand-over-hand back into the car, when Ock threatens again, all the people stand between the villain and Spidey.  A kid gives Peter his mask back.

Ock brings Spidey to Harry, Harry gives Ock the Tridium (an ultra-rare element used in Octavius’ fusion reactor).  Harry’s about to kill Spidey, but when he pulls off  his mask, he’s shocked to discover it’s Peter. Spiderman must then rescue MJ and stop Doc Ock’s fusion reactor before he blows-up half of New York.

Spiderman and Doc Ock have their final confrontation.  Despite his plans to make it work, the fusion reactor again becomes a huge magnet, causing havoc. Doc Ock is electrocuted, and he and the reactor core are dropped in the river.  Spidey saves MJ during the battle, but she sees him without his mask. Peter explains to MJ that they can’t be together.

MJ plays the runaway bride at her own wedding, and goes to Peter to tell him they should make a go of  it anyway.  Meanwhile, Harry is hearing the voice of the Green Goblin.  He breaks a mirror and discovers a secret lab with the mask, glider, pumpkin bombs, and enhancing formula.  Will he take it?  Only the sequel can tell.

I found Doctor Octavius to be a strangely compelling and sympathetic villain.  His own personality breaks through the Doc Ock madness much more often than say, the Green Goblin’s (who’s just nuts, even when he tries to act sane).  Even after he’s become Doc Ock, he’s still trying to get his fusion reactor working – something to benefit “mankind” (well, OK, it should be “humanity” but that’s how Octavius puts it).  And he never seems to realize that it’s the lack of working magnetic containment that causes his experiment to fail.  He also loses everything:  his standing as a scientist, his wife, his sanity, and eventually his life.  At times, compared to what Doc Ock goes through, Peter Parker seems like a whiny teenager, which goes to show you just what a good actor as villain can due for a piece.

Recommendation:  See it, it’s better than the first one.
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Stardust

Spider-man

  • Title:  Spiderman
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  Columbia (Marvel Productions)
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Tobey MaGuire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem DaFoe, Cliff Robertson, James Franco, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Some spiders change colors to blend in with their environment, it’s a defense mechanism.” — Peter Parker
“Peter, What makes you think I would want to know that?”  — Harry Osborn
“Who wouldn’t?” — Peter Parker

“This guy, Flash Thompson, he probably deserved what happened, but just because you can beat him up, doesn’t give you the right to.  Remember — with great power, comes great responsibility.” — Uncle Ben

Peter Parker is painfully shy, and a bit of a nerd but he’s also a talented photographer and has the mind of a scientist — curious about the world and always wanting to know more.  He’s being raised by his aunt and uncle, and no mention is made of what became of his parents – I assumed they were dead.  Mary Jane, or MJ, is the proverbial girl next door, who’s harassed to the point of abuse by her father and boyfriend (MJ really doesn’t know how to stand up for herself).

One fateful day, Peter’s class, including MJ and Peter’s extremely wealthy friend, Harry, are on a field trip to a New York City genetics lab, which has been working on combining genetic traits from different spiders to create a “super spider”.  The spider gets loose and bites Peter.  Harry also starts talking to Mary Jane, at first to show Peter how easy it is — later, because he likes her.

That evening, Peter feels sick, but the next day he wakes up with extraordinary spider powers.  He and Mary Jane talk briefly (he’s bringing out the trash, she’s escaping her abusive father) only to have MJ run off when her boyfriend Flash Thompson shows up with his new car which he received as a present. Peter thinks of getting a car, and makes himself a simple costume so he can enter a wrestling match to win some money.  He wins, but the fight promoter cheats him out of the majority of his cash prize.  Just after Peter leaves the manager’s office, another man rushes in and robs the guy at gunpoint.  Peter could have stopped the thief, but he lets him get away (in part because he’s mad at the loss of the prize money).  Later that night, Peter returns to the library where his Uncle Ben is supposed to pick him up and discovers Ben dying.  Peter, in his masked outfit, tracks his uncle’s murderer — it was the same man he let go.  Peter throws the man through a window and he falls several stories to his death.

But Peter, remembering Uncle Ben’s words about responsibility, decides to become the crime-fighter Spiderman.  He’s improved his costume, refined his techniques, graduated from high school, and moved to New York City with Harry.  MJ has also moved to New York, but her dreams of becoming an actress have hit the harsh reality of being a waitress, just to eat and pay rent.

Spiderman is introduced to New York by a montage of  scenes of him stopping crime, and “man-on-the-street” interviews.  Eventually always cash-poor Peter Parker sees an ad in the Daily Bugle requesting pictures of Spiderman.  Peter rigs an automatic shooting camera and sells his pics to Jameson, the Bugle’s cigar-smoking editor.  He gets a $300 freelance fee.  Well, it’s a start.

Meanwhile, Norman Osborn, Harry’s father, is having troubles.  His company is about to lose a lucrative military contract.  Seeing no other choice, Norman tests the human enhancing formula on himself.  He nearly dies and it gives him a “split” personality — turning him into the evil green goblin.  The Goblin bombs his company’s rival, Quest, destroying their Ironman-like exoskeleton (not to mention several people who work there, a pilot, and the general who wanted to take away Oscorp’s military contracts). Upon returning, as himself, to Oscorp, Norman Osborn discovers his board is ready to sell the company to his rival and oust him as CEO.  Osborn goes bananas.

During the “World Unity Festival” the Green Goblin attacks, threatening and killing innocents as well as members of the Oscorp board.  Spiderman arrives and tries to save as many people as possible (and he saves Mary Jane, who is now dating Harry Osborn).

Aunt May gets Harry, Norman, MJ, and Peter together at Harry and Peter’s New York apartment for Thanksgiving.  It’s a disaster.  Everyone nearly finds out who Peter is; Norman accuses MJ of only being interested in Harry for his money; and MJ hears Norman’s accusations and Harry’s lack of protests.  A good time is not had by all.  Shortly thereafter, the Green Goblin puts it together that Peter is Spiderman and attacks MJ and May.  Both survive but only just.

In the final conflict between Spiderman and Green Goblin, the Goblin gives Spidey a choice — save MJ or save a tramcar full of kids.  Spiderman manages to save both.  Goblin and Spidey fight.  Spidey loses half  his mask, Norman takes his off  and tries to convince Peter he’s somehow not in control.  But, it’s a trick — Peter’s Spidey-sense warns him in time and he moves out of the way and the glider’s spikes miss him.  Norman Osborn isn’t so lucky, host by his own petard, he dies.

At the funeral, Harry blames Spiderman for his father’s death, but promises to remain friends with Peter. Mary Jane also tells Peter she loves him, but he tells her he only wants to be her friend.

For some reason, the first Spiderman film seemed better the first couple of times I saw it, but in later viewings, including this one, I saw it’s faults.  Going backwards through the film — the scene between MJ and Peter at the cemetery seemed so fake that I almost expected Peter to wake-up and realize it was a dream.  Peter’s pined after MJ since he met her (at the age of  six), yet when she tells him she’s completely in love with him, he tells her “let’s just be friends”?  Uh-huh, right.  And Mary Jane’s throwing of herself at Peter also didn’t feel right.  Second, Jameson is a bit of  a cardboard/cartoony secondary villain — sure, we know he only wants to sell papers, and painting Spiderman as a villain will do that — but it makes no sense, given the evidence.  Third — I have never bought Spiderman’s origin story.  A bite from a genetically-enhanced spider would probably kill you from it’s venom.  (Or a radioactive spider would give you cancer).  I really don’t think it would transfer “spider powers” to a teenager.  But I can suspend disbelief on that, you often have to for superhero movies.

The performances, on the other hand, are good.  I liked Tobey McGuire’s Peter Parker — he made the nerdy photographer/science student seem real, as well as flawed.  Kristin Dunst did the best she could given how Mary Jane was written.  And honestly, she often lights-up the screen.  MJ often seems like a victim of everyone around her, but it’s not her fault she’s given three boyfriends, an abusive father, and a complete inability to stand up for herself or fight for the right to own her life.  I also enjoyed the bit players and cameo artists, especially Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee, Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, and Aunt May.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Spider-man II