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

Australia

  • Title:  Australia
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Romance, Historical, Drama
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Brandon Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“That strange woman, she fire Mr. Fletcher….  He can’t hurt Momma no more. …  From that day on, we call her, ‘Mrs. Boss’.  — Nullah, narrating
 
“We can’t let them win.” — Lady Ashley
“We won’t.” — Drover
 
“Sarah, I’m as good as Black [Aboriginal Australian] to that lot up there.  Now I don’t mix with dingos or duchesses.  They keep out of my way and I keep out of theirs.  That’s the way it is.” — Drover
“Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be.” — Lady Sarah Ashley
“But that’s the way it is.”  — Drover
 
Australia is a grand sweeping epic.  It has elements of an American Western, strangely enough (the first act involves a cattle drive) but the second act is where the film really shines.  Australia is beautifully filmed and the land itself is often the star of the picture.  The cast look fantastic too, especially Hugh Jackman (at his sexy best as the rough Outback drover, Drover) and Nicole Kidman (who looks incredible, whether she’s wearing traditional English clothes, or something more suited to Australia’s climate).  David Wenham, as Mr. Fletcher, is playing a real s.o.b. — and relishing it.  And newcomer, Brandon Walters, is incredible as Nullah – the half Aboriginal / half white child, who narrates much of the story.
Australia begins with a brief introduction narrated by Nullah, who’s spear fishing with his Grandfather, “King George”, the magician.  A man (who we’ll later discover is Maitland Ashley) is killed.  Then the film transitions to England, and Lady Ashley.  A pampered young aristocrat (played by Kidman), she’s annoyed her husband has yet to sell ‘that ranch in Australia’.  Convinced her husband is fooling around in more ways than one, she boards a plane and heads for Australia.  Just prior to landing, she receives a telegram that she’s to meet Drover (Hugh Jackman) who will take her to Faraway Downs, their ranch.
But all is not well in Darwin when she arrives.  It’s a rough town, war is on the horizon, and a cattle baron named King Carney has bought up all the land in Northern Australia, except the Ashleys’ Faraway Downs. Yet the price he offers her is far below what it’s worth.  Lady Ashley meets with Drover, who takes her to the ranch.  When they finally arrive, she finds her husband’s been murdered.  She also discovers her husband’s most trusted cattle-hand, Fletcher, has been beating the native women and children who live on the ranch, stealing cows and driving them across the river to Carney’s land, and that he’s also responsible for her husband’s death; most of which she can’t prove to the law.  To her credit, Lady Ashley fires Fletcher.  She then gets Drover to agree to drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin to sell to the Army. Needing at least seven people for the cattle drive, they assemble a motley crew and head off.
The drive is an adventure, and Australia itself shines in untamed glory. Fletcher uses under-hand tactics against the drive, such as spooking the cattle with fire towards a cliff.  But despite the challenges, Drover and Sarah make it to Darwin.  There, Carney has just gotten the Army representative to sign a contract, as Sarah and Drover arrive with the cattle.  However, the contract isn’t valid until the cows are loaded onto a ship, and Sarah and Drover manage to get their cattle on the ship first.  Sarah wins her contract.
Sarah invites Drover to the ball to celebrate, but he refuses, stating he isn’t one of  the upper crust of  people.  Sarah nearly sells Faraway Downs, but Drover arrives at the ball, cleaned up and in a suit.  The two dance together and decide to make a go of it, taking the half-Arboriginal/half-white child, Nullah, into their unofficial  custody.
Nullah narrates much of the story, and Sarah comes to love the child, especially as she can’t have children of her own.  Drover also loves the child, as his first wife was Black (or Arboriginal) but she died of untreated TB.  Drover, Nullah, and Sarah are happy for a time, enjoying the “wet” season, and Sarah even understands that Drover will be off droving during “the dry” season.  Soon however, the trio’s happiness is shattered.
Fletcher kills King Carney, making it look like an accident.  Nullah wishes to go walkabout with his grandfather.  Drover, understanding the custom, wants him to go, but Sarah disagrees, thinking the child’s too young.  When Nullah disappears, Drover thinks he’s gone with his grandfather anyway, but Sarah thinks something is wrong.  Nullah and his grandfather are arrested by the local police at Fletcher’s insistance — Nullah to be sent to the Mission School for assimilation, and King George to be tried for the deaths of Maitland and King Carney.
Sarah goes off to Darwin to try to get Nullah back.  Drover is off working in the Outback and has no idea what’s going on.  The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, then Darwin, hitting the mission island first, then the small army town itself.  Sarah’s right in the middle of things.  Drover arrives too, but he’s too late.  He’s told Sarah died in the communications tent.  Drover is completely bereft.  However, a young priest finds him and asks for help getting to the mission island to recover any children they can.  Drover, not knowing that Nullah was sent to the island, and having nothing to lose, agrees to help the priest, as does Drover’s close friend and brother-in-law Muggery.
They get to the island and rescue Nullah and some of the other children.  Muggery is killed by Japanese soldier as they make their escape in a boat.  Meanwhile, Sarah is helping with the evacuation of Darwin, unaware that she’s been reported dead or even that Drover is in town.
Drover’s ship sails through the fog and smoke back to Darwin.  The children land.  Sarah hears the children’s singing, refuses to get on the convoy truck and runs to find the ship pulling in.  She’s reunited with Nullah and Drover.
As a last act of mischief  Fletcher fires a rifle at Nullah.  He hits the child, but Nullah’s grandfather kills him with a thrown spear.  Nullah recovers and he, Sarah, and Drover return to Faraway Downs.  Later, Sarah allows him to go walkabout with his grandfather.
This is an excellent movie.  It’s beautifully filmed, both the wild scenery and the people.  The story is a bit typical romantic plot, but the child Nullah, lifts the story out of  romantic drama cliche’.  The cast is excellent. I highly recommend seeing it!
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Avengers

Moulin Rouge

  • Title:  Moulin Rouge
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham (Cameo)
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and to be loved in return.”

“You expect me to believe that scantily clad, in the arms of another man, in the middle of the night, inside of an elephant, you were rehearsing?”  — The Duke

“Hurt him to save him.  There is no other way.  The show must go on, Satine.  We are creatures of the underworld, we can’t afford to love.”  — Zidler

Moulin Rouge is an incredible, incredible film.  The color, music and dancing all reflect a surreal, hyper-reality feel.  Yet the story is a simple story about love — an impossible love.  Christian is a young naive Englishman who makes his way to Paris, to the heart of the Bohemian Revolution to become a writer and experience love.  He quickly falls in with a group of Bohemian artists, and is chosen to write their new show.  Needing backers, they go to the Moulin Rouge and Howard Zidler, and his head courtesan, Satine.

Through a misunderstanding, Christian meets Satine, and they fall in love.  However, Zidler needs money to convert his nightclub and bordello to a real theatre.  He promises Satine to the Duke.  The Duke even gets Zidler to sign over the deeds on the Moulin Rouge to him.

Satine is shocked to discover the man she’s really falling in love with isn’t a rich Duke after all, but a penniless Bohemian writer.  The plot revolves around their love triangle — Christian and Satine and Satine and the Duke.  And the question is:  Will Satine, a Courtesan, choose true love with Christian or go for the money she can get from the Duke (which Zidler also encourages, since he’ll lose the Moulin Rouge if she doesn’t).  The love triangle is even built into the show that Christian is writing to debut on the new stage of the Moulin Rouge.  It may seem like a simple and traditional plot — but what pulls Moulin Rouge out of the commonplace is it’s style and look.  A style that’s surreal, hyper-reality, more real than real.  And Ewan McGregor as Christian and Nicole Kidman as Satine really do give the performances of their lives.  And my gosh can they both sing!

The majority of the music in Moulin Rouge is modern music.  Rather than keeping to a historical look and feel to the film — Baz Luhrmann goes completely in the opposite direction — accentuating the way it would feel to someone in 1899-1900 to be in such a remarkable place.  The opening dance number is a whirl of lights, color, movement and loud music.  One knows this won’t be your typical musical when the can can girls and the men in white ties and black tails are singing and dancing to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Satine’s song that she performs as a courtesan is a medley of  “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Material Girl”, though the song she sings when she’s on her own is, “I’ll Fly Away”, because her ambition is to be a real actress – or at least to get out of the Moulin Rouge.  Christian first courts her with Elton John’s “Your Song”, but he’s most impressive with the song he writes for her, and the only original song in the film, “Come What May”.  (Though “The Pitch/ Spectacular Spectacular” could be argued as original – only the lyrics are, the music is The Can Can.)

But it’s surprising and even amusing to hear the modern music in the film, though the mood always fits.  “Elephant Love Melody”, for example, is an argument between Christian and Satine where they throw lines from romantic pop songs at each other.  Zidler gets to sing “Like a Virgin” to the Duke, when he’s trying to come up with an excuse as to why Satine has missed a date.  There’s also a very impressive Latin Tango done to “Roxanne”.  And many others.  It’s also common for lines of dialogue in the film to be quotes from famous music (Christian even gets his writing job by quoting “The Sound of  Music”).  Yet, somehow, it fits, it’s like when you and your friends quote lines from movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read.  Christian, Satine, and even Zidler quote lines from music.

There are also some remarkable special effect sequences in the film – and as showy as they are, it merely emphases the point at the time.

But the most remarkable aspect of  this musical is the end – it really is astounding and surprising.  I’ve seen this film now several times and I always enjoy it and appreciate it more with every viewing.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating 5 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Network