Saturday, May 25, 2013


Here's my one minute take on Baz Luhrman's GATSBY: it's something of an achievement to direct a movie that has such reverence to the source text, and yet misses the point so completely.

And of course, reverence for the text is perfectly correct. F Scott Fitzgerald's slim novel depicting the glitz and the loneliness of Jazz Age America is arguably the greatest American novel of all time, and certainly one of the greatest novels of all time period. It has an elegance and a depth that belies its brevity. The supreme tragedy of Gatsby is that he is a man who is desperately trying to be something that he can never authentically be - a man of inherited wealth - in order to win the love of the blue-blooded débutante Daisy.  But what we know, what Nick knows, is that Gatsby isn't really in love with Daisy.  She's just a cipher for his delusion that he can replay his youth - a youth blighted by his poverty and then parlayed into organised crime.  There's a sense - a much-needed and necessary sense - that while Gatsby knows that his lifestyle, his name, his means of earning  - are a lie - that he simultaneously totally believes the fiction. He is his own great work of art. 

Baz Luhrman's reverence for the text is literally writ large on the screen.  We see key phrases shown as written on the screen; the dialogue is almost entirely lifted directly from the novel; even key visual moments are taken from the book - such as the white drapes fluttering as Nick, our clear-eyed narrator,  first meets Daisy.  Luhrman even opens the movie out, giving it a framing device, wherein an older, jaded, alcoholic Nick (Tobey Maguire) is "automatic writing" his experiences with Gatsby and Daisy - and that written therapy will eventually become the novel, "The Great Gatsby".  And more fundamentally, with the exception of this framing device, the plot unfolds in the film exactly as it does in the novel.  Our young narrator Nick hires a humble cottage next to the extravagant mansion of the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio).  Gatsby's famous for throwing marvellous parties that he doesn't attend.  And we discover that he's throwing them as bait to lure Nick's now married cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) - his first love - and the woman he hopes to begin again with.  Meanwhile, Daisy's husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) is having an affair with a brassy, blowsy mechanic's wife (Isla Fisher) - an affair that casually exploits and manipulates the emotions of the mechanic, but also belies Tom's proprietorial feeling toward Daisy, and his innate distrust of Gatsby.  

And within that reverential depiction of the novel, there are certain scenes that work brilliantly well.  In particular, Luhrman and Dicaprio totally get that the first scene where Gatsby meets Daisy is funny - it's painfully, embarrassingly, gauche and physically funny in a way that Robert Redford and other Gatsby avatars have never been.  I also think that the visual depiction of the Valley Of Ashes was truly inspired and brought them to dingy, desperate life in a way that I didn't really get from the novel.  And in terms of performances, I think Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher are superb and vital in smaller roles;  I was shocked by how effective the casting of Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfsheim was; Tobey Maguire is perfectly cast as the wide-eyed and yet not naive narrator; Carey Mulligan is suitably insipid although, if I were harsh, I would say that she doesn't quite get the quite whispering voice.  But this is really Leonardo Dicaprio's movie and the tragedy of this film is that in a quieter movie, his performance would be garnering Oscar buzz. As it is, you can't hear him above the sound of the Jay-Z.

So here's the problem with Gatsby. As much as Luhrman loves the text, he loves high-camp even more. Which  means that every scene gets Luhrmanned.  It moves, faster, brighter, louder, crazier than anything you've ever seen before. I lost count of the amount of times I was trying to look through things, or hear dialogue beneath music, to get at the performances.  It was like trying to watch a fundamentally great movie in a theatre filled with partying teenagers.  I guess the shock is that one might have thought that Luhrman's all-out glitz style might have worked in depicting the jazz age, but it just never seemed to coalesce. The sum of the parts drowned out the whole. 

THE GREAT GATSBY is rated PG-13 in the USA. It has a running time of 142 minutes.

THE GREAT GATSBY is on global release.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Despite the critical hype surrounding Jeff Nichols' TAKE SHELTER, I just couldn't get into it. It was just so dour, and obscure and wilfully pessimistic that it alienated me.  Nichols' sequel MUD is an entirely different beast, and worth every ounce of praise it's receiving.  The movie drips with humanity and compassion.  It speaks, as did BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, to a vanishing of a lifestyle rooted in its environment and local community on the banks of the Mississippi.  The stakes couldn't be higher.  But to the movie's great credit, it's shot through with a disarming blunt humour delivered by one of its two superb child stars, Jacob Lofland.  That helps to make us really care about the characters, and so to become susceptible to the thriller-like tension of the movie's final act.  

The plot is deceptively simple.  Two charming kids, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacon Lofland) stumble upon an escaped convict called Mud (a grungy, grifty looking Matthew McConaughey).  Ellis - from a mixture of plain decency and romance - decides to help Mud gather the materials to repair a boat and escape purely because he wants Mud to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).  The tension comes from the fact that Mud killed Juniper's abusive ex-boyfriend and his family is out looking for vengeance.  Moreover, at an emotional level, we are deeply concerned as to whether the vulnerable skittish Juniper will have the courage to follow through with Mud.  Indeed, a theme that flows through this movie could be summed up as "la donna e mobile".  The movie is full of  women who are flighty and let down their romantic with a capital R menfolk.

The resulting film has a wistful, darkly comic tone.  We feel the grittiness and the griminess of the locale as well as the stunning beauty of the river. The plot point that motivates the final act is heavily foreshadows and yet the betrayal that triggers it is so powerful that one can't help but get carried along with it.  McConaughey continues his run of superb character roles, really getting shabby and battered for this one. And while Mud is charismatic enough to get these boys to help him, this is no Magic Mike style pure show-man. Mud is a far more layered, vulnerable and sometimes even pathetic character.  Reese Witherspoon is good in a cameo role, but it's really the kids who carry the film and win our hearts. 

MUD has a running time of 130 minutes and is rated PG-13 in the USA.

MUD played Cannes 2012 and Sundance 2013. It opens on France on May 1st and in the UK on May 10th.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Zachary Quinto as Spock, Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison, and Chris Pine as Kirk.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed J J Abrams' STAR TREK reboot, never having watched any of the various iterations of the TV shows. It had real youthful energy, genuine camaraderie, and a cast that definitely outperformed expectations (Chris Pine, I'm looking at you!)  Add to that one of the few time travel/parallel universe storylines that actually makes logical sense, and I was totally sold.

J J Abrams' sequel unites the original crew in front of and behind the camera, with the exception of adding writer Damon Lindelof, who managed to piss off most TV sci-fi fans with LOST and really messed up the reboot of ALIEN.  The good news is that his hand is not notable in this movie - the story is logical, involving, asks profound questions, and yet has a wonderful light comic touch.  I particularly love the fact that even small characters that we forget about - like Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) - end up playing a critical and plausible role. The additions in front of the lens - Benedict Cumberbatch as the new villain John Harrison, and Alice Eve as a new crewmember - both work out really well too. Add to that the same sleek visuals, intelligent script and beautiful score, and I'm struggling to work out why, while I had a good time watching this flick, I left the cinema feeling somewhat underwhelmed. 

Anyways, back to the plot.  The movie opens with Spock on Mordor sacrificing himself for the greater good of the planet and his crew, resulting in Kirk doing the human gut instinct thing and rescuing him, exposing a comically pre-civ planet to awesome tech, and getting kicked off Enterprise by an irate Starfleet as a result.  This then brings us to the setup of the movie proper, in which a nasty evil vengeful terrorist (Cumberbatch) manipulates a desperate father (Noel Clarke) into launching an attack on Starfleet. What I love about that scene is that it plays almost entirely without dialogue - and while Clarke has a small cameo role, the acting that he does without words is exceptionally strong.  

All these machinations lead to the Enterprise being sent to the Klingon home planet to assassinate Harrison, armed with deadly secret Starfleet weaponry, that raises all sorts of moral questions about assassination without trial, and the use of deadly weapons in a pre-emptive strike. Whether you think the writers were heavy-handed in tackling these is a matter of taste: I rather liked it, but even I felt it was quite jarringly clear that they were basically making out Harrison to be Al Qaeda/Black Spiderman, the Klingons as the Taliban, Kronos as Afghanistan, Admiral Marcus as a kind of Donald Rumsfeld/Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, and Captain Kirk as the patsy sent to do his dirty work.  And even for me, with only a cursory knowledge of Trek lore, it was obvious who Harrison really was, and also the role that Alice Eve's scientists and Scotty were going to play.

I guess that's kind of my problem with the whole film. I loved the emotional stakes - and the contrast between Spock and Kirk/Uhura in how they deal with emotional stress.  But the actual plot, while not entirely predictable in its details, was basically obvious once you figured out who Harrison was.  And knowing the antecedents of his character meant that you knew basically how the final scenes were going to play out, and how everyone was going to live happily ever after to leave this film at, pretty much, the start of the old TV series - on a five year mission to go exploring.  One other quibble - there's a wholly unnecessary and rather juvenile plot device that allows us to see Alice Eve in her underwear. That was unworthy of this film.

STAR TREK: INTO THE DARKNESS is rated PG-13 in the USA and has a running time of 132 minutes.

STAR TREK: INTO THE DARKNESS is on release in the UK, Australia, Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and Thailand. It opens next weekend in Egypt, Bosnia, Chile, Croatia, Hungary, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, the Ukraine, the UAE, Canada, Colombia, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Panama, Romania, the USA and Vietnam. It opens on May 23rd in Cambodia and Macedonia; on May 30th in South Korea; on May 31st in Poland; on June 5th in Belgium and Finland; on June 6th in Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal; on June 7th in Turkey; on June 12th in France, the Czech Republic, Israel and Italy; on June 14th in Brazil and South Africa; on July 5th in Spain; on July 11th in Greece; on July 19th in Venezuela; on August 22nd in Argentina and on August 23rd in Japan.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) -
charismatic stars of GIMME THE LOOT

GIMME THE LOOT is a wonderful joyful movie that proves that you don't need a big budget and big stars to make an exceptional movie - you just need love-able characters with real chemistry and deep sense of place.  In his début directorial feature, Adam Leon provide both of these to create one of the most charming, real, memorable movies of the year to date.  Amateur stars Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson star as Sofia and Malcolm, two close friends and graffiti artists, on a mission of revenge against the rival gang who defaced their designs.  This involves a MacGuffin about graffiting a dumbass fixture at a sports stadium, which in turns requires raising enough cash to bribe the security guard.  This is the driving heart of the movie: watching the two friends trying to scam and steal their way to the pathetically small amount of money and seeing them being scammed and cheated on in turn.  It's a rare feat - but the director manages to show just how savage and dog-eat-dog the streets are, without ever making this film seem downbeat or miserable.  Instead, we root for our plucky hero and heroine.  We laugh at the unexpected joyful victories of Malcolm, when he improbably scores with a trust-fund chick, and feel his humiliation when she rejects him.  We sympathise with Sofia's world-weary, ever-scammed existence, and root for her to catch a little of Malcolm's levity.  And behind it all, we get a real feeling for the heat and hustle of the City, the rat-a-tat dialogue keeps us laughing, the shooting style involves us, and the score reminds us of those long-hot summers when as kids we felt we owned the city.  This is a film not to be missed. 

GIMME THE LOOT played SXSW 2012 where it won the Grand Jury prize for Best Narrative Feature. It also played Cannes and London 2012. It opened earlier this year in France and the USA and opens in the UK tomorrow.

GIMME THE LOOT has a running time of 80 minutes. The movie is not yet rated.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


THE KINGS OF SUMMER is a marvellous, joyful coming-of-age movie that has shades of Wes Anderson in its whimsy and nostalgic evocation of summer and teenage romance but ultimately has it's own clear and unique tone.  Kudos to Jordan Vogt-Roberts on his feature directorial debut, and in particular to screenwriter Chris Galetta, who successfully combines larger-than-life quirky characters with real stakes to create a movie that's both funny and dramatic - that is both silly and contains profound truths about friendship and how children relate to their parents and each other.

The premise of the film may seem a little farfetched when written down but the movie is so strong you just go with it:  two high school friends, Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are so disaffected by their parents in typical teen angst that they decide to build a kind of super-tree house in the forest outside their town and simply leave home.  Much to their annoyance they're joined by that kid we all knew at school - the one who's determined and weird and slightly creepy - Biaggio (Moises Arias).  As one would expect - it all starts of cool - they have fun and larks and subsist on farmer's market chicken but it all falls apart when the girl Joe likes goes off with Patrick, and Joe, in a fit of pique, rebels against Patrick's strict rules and ruthless nature intervenes.  To say more would give away an ending that contains genuine peril and the triumph of Biaggio in one of the most wonderful father-son pieces of dialogue in recent cinema.  

The wonderful thing about this film is that you genuinely care about the kids, and sympathise with their need to escape, while at the same time feeling for their parents. You simultaneously want them to succeed and to be found. It captures completely that feeling of teenage invincibility - that you can achieve anything - as well as the proud stupidity of those years.  There's a magic and wonder and behind that a naivety and risk - and this movie captures all of those facets in a deeply entertaining way. Not to be missed. 

THE KINGS OF SUMMER is rated R in the USA and has a running time of 93 minutes.  

THE KINGS OF SUMMER played Sundance and Sundance London 2013 and opens in the USA on May 31st.