Monthly Archives: June 2013

RIP James Gandolfini

Like many, I was shocked to hear about the passing of 51 year old American actor James Gandolfini this week from a heart attack. 
As Tony Soprano – his most famous role – he was indomitable with a charmed spirit that (series finale aside) seemed destined to live forever.  
I first saw James Gandolfini in True Romance, in a chilling and violent role (he later noted that he based his performance on a hitman friend…as you do). At the time, if you told me that I would fanatically tune in week after week to watch *that* actor in a nuanced and considered role – let alone develop an attraction for him – I would have laughed derisively at you as he was clearly a thug and nothing more!!
It´s a mark of his talents – not only that Tony Soprano has become one of the small screens most iconic characters – but that he starred in such a variety of roles so convincingly from Mafiosa boss, gay ganster and violent thug to mayor of New York, teddy bear father figure and CIA director. Versatile, he worked on the stage, small and silver screen and had also turned his hand to documentaries and production. 
Our heartfelt thoughts go to his family and friends. 
Wikipedia notes the following:
The day following his death, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which features Gandolfini’s Sopranos co-star Steven Van Zandt on guitar, gave a full album performance of their 1975 classic Born to Run and dedicated it to Gandolfini.
This seems a moving and fitting way to honour the loyal New Jersey native.  
Tony Soprano – You know my feelings: Every day is a gift. It’s just, does it have to be a pair of socks?

A few thoughts on The Great Gatsby

A life lived in fear is a life half lived

Had a lovely jaunt out yesterday with Laura @WoodsieGirl (a book club buddy and blogger – check out her blogs HERE and HERE) in Leeds. We popped in to catch up with the latest Baz Luhrmann film – The Great Gatsby


An aspiring writer falls under the spell of an aloof millionaire with designs for the young scribe’s unhappily married cousin in director Baz Luhrmann‘s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s celebrated novel.
It’s the spring of 1922, and wide-eyed Midwesterner Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) has just moved to New York City in pursuit of the American Dream. Settling into a home next door to wealthy Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), Carraway grows increasingly fascinated by the elaborate parties held at his new neighbor’s estate.
Meanwhile, across the bay, Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) flounders in her marriage to philandering aristocrat Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Inspired by the debauchery on display at Gatsby’s wild parties and the lives of the wealthy elite, Carraway begins putting pen to paper as it gradually becomes clear that his cousin and the millionaire share a complicated romantic past that remains unresolved.

First things first – I’m a HUGE Luhrmann fan. I saw Strictly Ballroom my first year of secondary school and just fell utterly, madly and completely in love with it. The epic abundance of the ultimately very respectful Romeo + Juliet just cemented my adoration and by the time Moulin Rouge came out – I didn’t think I could actually enjoy it as much as the others. I was wrong. 
When I found out that Willow (from Buffy. Where have you been?!?) stopped the film at the same point that I did so that we could pretend there was a happy ending…well I was just over the moon.
And in my final term of school, I wrote an essay following the themes expressed in Wear Sunscreen – Class of ’99. 
Then came Australia. 
Rightly, there were a number of complaints, however, I appreciated the truly epic scale and nature of the piece; made easier by the talent crush I had on so many of the actors involved. Also, this scene appeared on YouTube which made me very very happy…*cough* because of the artistry you understand. 

That’s a lot of history. 

I just want you to understand where I’m coming from. There’s a great deal of bias and love involved for anything that comes out of the Luhrmann stable before I even get to the cinema. 

* * * * * SPOILERS AHOY* * * * *

The Great Gatsby is a really good film. It might even be a great one on repeated viewings. I’ll let you know once the DVD becomes available.
But…I have a few nit picks. They by no means ruined the film for me, but they definitely left me feeling a little disappointed. Ridiculously, perhaps even a little let down. As per usual, the stuff that annoys me looks HUGE but they are fairly small things really while the bits I like look really simplistic but honestly, they do make your heart swell. 

Things that made me go Grrrrr… 

The Music

Just not right. While I’m sure that it was carefully designed to appeal to the ‘right’ album buying demographic; I thought that it totally missed the mark. Instead of having a soundtrack that was based on the times and era involved – you might have heard of it – the JAZZ age – instead they asked a contemporary hip hop artist to put his spin on it – as we live in the Hip Hop era. Apparently.  
Now, I like Jay Z. I can even name one, even two of his albums. While it’s not a genra I’m particularly informed about, I have enjoyed many of his singles and find his lyrics to be very poetic and evocative. 
But this…for me, this was a CATASTROPHE! It was like he was sleepwalking through it – though two years of work went into getting this perfect. Oops. 
Jay Z keeps it all in the family too, with lashings of nepotism…granted that’s going to happen if you keep marrying and working with immensely talented individuals but I’m on a roll here people. A cover track from the missus here, a cover version of ONE OF HIS OWN SONGS there, a decent but terribly familiar sounding Florence and the Machines track and Lana Del Rey because hey – she’s in all the adverts so why not! By the time Emile Sande’s vocals started on her Beyonce cover, I was about ready to tear my hair out. And I’m sorry, I appreciate this is rapidly becoming a rant – but thanks to sheer over-exposure, I’ve gone from being a fan of Ms Sande’s to finding her to be totally insipid. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!! 

When I read this book last year (or the year before, whatever) I was so inspired, I actually created not one but two soundtracks for it (Leeds Playlist HERE and HERE). The first was a chapter by chapter breakdown – a song for the major themes contained within. The second was compiled of music that was charting (or not in actuality) at the time the novel was released – I was trying to capture the music that inspired F Scott Fitzgerald. 

Now I appreciate that many people out there will have been blown away by the soundtrack. I found it to be reductive. And far too reminiscent of the mash-ups used to such great effect in Moulin Rouge…though there was nothing here as gleeful, cheeky or fun as the unexpected appearance of Smells like teen spirit here. 

Who is the lead exactly?

In the book, Nick is the narrator and Gatsby is the point. It’s so clear that for me Nick was always a bit hard to read; his motivations hidden. In the film though, Nick takes on more of a lead role – we meet Gatsby, Daisy et al via him. The world is described to us by Nick a decade later, broken and bitter in a mental hospital. And – great as he is – Tobey McGuire’s incarnation never appears to be as removed an observer as he kept complaining. He might be poor and obscure, but he’s in by virtue of his birth. He’s judgmental. And a bit weak. 
Neither of which are necessarily bad things. However, it was again a little repetitive with Moulin Rouge – which featured a young writer, reflecting on a now over time period, bitter and…well…a bit broken. 
I just expected the far more charismatic Gatbsy (Leo DiCaprio) to step out of the narrative at some point and take lead, leaving me vaguely unsatisfied by the end. 

Who’s the star? That’s right. Bitch.
The Exaggerations and the Obfuscations
The closest thing to realism

Everything about this film is over the top. 
Correction. Everything about every Baz Luhrmann film is over the top. 
He goes large. He goes loud. He goes colourful. 
Usually, the results compliment the source – regardless of how unusual his choices are. 
Sometimes though, when you go large and when you go loud, the subtle nuances get lost in the melee. 

There were a few moments where I felt the scale of the scene overwhelmed the point being made. 

Two in particular really jumped out for me here. Both involve the *criminally* underutilized Myrtle (played to crude lewd perfection by Isla Fisher). The first was the drinking session at Tom and Myrtle’s secret mistress flat. In the book, this plays out messy and drunken and emphasizes the selfishness of the players involved. In the film, it’s a drug induced mini-orgy. We don’t quite have Kylie floating around in her fairy wings but again…guess the first film that jumped to my mind?
The second takes place during the same scene. Myrtle and Tom fight and – in the book – he hits her. Hard. Brutally. In the film, he slaps her and she is instantly angry and supported by her family and friends. It just…wasn’t right. 

I also felt that the absence of Gatsby’s father at the end of the film was really odd – especially as he did appear on screen during a flash back. It would have been so much more humanising than Nick’s much drier explanation…though I have to admit *that* line was delivered perfectly. 

Finally – I couldn’t understand why they choose to avoid some of the realities of both the novel and the time it was written in. The boot legger character is changed from being of Jewish origin to Indian. Maybe they just really found the actor they wanted – and he happened to be of a different ethnicity? Or maybe they were dodging a stereotype that the author included with no compunctions? The valley of ashes is used only as a visual prop with no real look at the disparity of wealth in one small geographical space. Daisy married someone else because Gatsby was poor. Why was this never really explored? It sort of set the whole thing in motion.  

Old Sport

You see, old sport, I do get, old sport, that the point, old sport, is that the phrase old sport – still with me, old sport – is used too often, old sport by Gatsby. 
But LORDY does it get old fast. Sport. 

Oh dear – that went on a bit. I’m aiming for slightly more pithy from now on, but trust that I’m equally passionate about the aspects of the film that I loved. 

On the other hand…

Its (still) all about Leo

Leoando DiCaprio is superb in this. He perfectly captures the charisma, charm and desperation of Jay Gatsby. From his initial god-like appearance to his breakdown to his eternal optimism – this is Leo at his very best – as good as Inception, Marvin’s Room and Romeo + Juliet. It almost erases the man in the iron mask from my mind!


Daisy, Daisy

Carey Mulligan made me like Daisy – something I only do every third reading of the book. Her dialogue remains ridiculous but she is enchanting and delivers with a world weariness that seems to capture the age and mood perfectly. 
Also, she has this amazing ability to go from blissfully happy to agonized in a second, all in her liquidy eyes. Amazing! You totally believe that a man could fall for her and never stop falling, no matter her faults. And by fault I mean that she is a shallow selfish snob. So, nothing major.

A sympathetic asshole

Tom Buchanan is a doosh. A violent, angry, cheating man who will use and discard anyone and anything to protect himself and his own. 
And I kind of love him! 
Despite diminishing slightly the violence of the character, he is the villain of the piece and never deviates from that. Like David Wenham’s Neil Fletcher from Australia; he’s rotten to the core but you can see his fear, frustration and pain at every step. Joel Edgerton plays this role to perfection. There are times when he makes Tobey McGuire pale and 2D in comparison.  

The look of it all

Just wow. The costumes and the set pieces (even the absurd ones) are realised magnificently. I presume that this is Mrs Luhrmann – Catherine Martin – I can’t think of anyone else who can create a look that is at once an homage and tribute, while being totally new and unique as well as she. With the critical responses so mixed, it’s unlikely that the films itself will be tipped for an academy aware (this is the speculated reason that the film was pushed back from a Christmas release) but I imagine that the staging, lighting and costume design will all get a look in. 
It’s not a faithful representative of the 20’s, but it’s a fabulous looking world nonetheless!

I also loved Jordan, though I now agree with Laura that she had less of a point here than in the book. The friendship between Jay and Nick felt very real – no doubt aided by the fact that the two actors are BFF IRL. The green light was just beautiful – I loved the romance and life and death of it all. 

Despite how this might read – I’d recommend this film to people I knew had read it, or enjoyed any of the Red Curtain Trilogy films. It’s a romp. The story – despite any tonality issues – remains powerful and engaging. It’s one I know that I’m going to watch again (and again) to try and take in the sheer scope though I don’t think that it’s likely to ever become my favourite Luhrmann.  

Anyhoo, a few thoughts there. 
Have you seen it? What did you think?

Comments and tweets as always, gratefully received!

The Soundtrack on Spotify

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