by Steve Habrat
It has been nearly five long years since we heard from the flamboyant Australian director Baz Luhrmann, the man behind such eye-popping spectacles like the contemporary kids-with-guns retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romero + Juliet, the gonzo jukebox musical Moulin Rogue!, and the historical romance Australia. Well, folks, Mr. Luhrmann has returned to a theater near you in grand fashion with the 3D epic The Great Gatsby, a heavily anticipated big budget sugar rush that is based on the classic 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hype around The Great Gatsby has been building since last fall, when the shimmering and sparkling trailers crashed into theaters and promised a Christmas release for the Leonardo DiCaprio period piece. At the last second, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the Christmas release date and pushed the film back to summer 2013 and honestly, the summer movie season is a much better fit for this slick and hip adaptation. With absolutely nothing held back, Luhrmann gives The Great Gatsby a hip-hop makeover, showers it in confetti, fires off a seemingly never-ending amount of fireworks behind it, hands it a Four Loko, and then tosses it to an audience of teenagers raised on MTV, Jay-Z, and smartphones. The result is a gyrating eye-candy romance that will absolutely appall your English teacher and have your girlfriend swooning. It is style over substance every single step of the way, allowing it to feel right at home in a sea of fizzy summer blockbusters.
The Great Gatsby tells the story of Yale graduate Nick Carraway (played by Toby Maguire), an aspiring stockbroker and writer who rents a home in West Egg, Long Island, during the summer of 1922. After settling in to his new home, Nick reconnects with his wealthy and beautiful cousin Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan) and her cigar-chomping husband Tom (played by Joel Edgerton), who attended Yale with Nick. Daisy and Tom quickly begin trying to set Nick up with vampy party-girl golfer Jordan Baker (played by Elizabeth Debicki), who seems to only show minor interest in Nick. Life seems to be going great for the young and naïve Nick, but he finds himself strangely drawn to his wealthy next-door neighbor Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), an enigmatic recluse who throws massive parties for the New York City elite yet remains unseen by his drunken guests. One day, Nick receives a personal invitation to one of Gatsby’s wild blowouts, something that is highly unusual for Mr. Gatsby. While wandering through the party, Nick comes face to face with Gatsby and the two form a fast friendship. As the two men bond, Gatsby reveals to Nick that he is in love with Daisy, who he met five years earlier and shared a brief but intense romance. Nick agrees to aid Gatsby in reconnecting with Daisy but in the process, he begins to uncover all the mystery that surrounds Jay Gatsby.
For the first hour of The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann brings new meaning to the phrase “go big or go home.” He zooms between the East and West Egg like a ten-year-old boy who had way too many Snickers candy bars and Pepsi. When he gets bored doing this, he sends his camera flying into a rapidly growing New York City, dancing from skyscraper to skyscraper while Maguire looks up, down, and all around in astonishment. Then there are the party scenes, which are sure to get your heads bobbing and feet tapping. A non-stop stream of confetti is spit out at the audience while hundreds of extras shimmy, shake, and stumble to blaring hip-hop provided by Jay-Z and Kanye West. It is all shown to you in glorious 3D, which will have you fighting the urge to leap from your seat and join the fun. Somewhere in between the spraying champagne and fireworks, there are a few attempts to develop these characters that we are supposed to be invested in, but Luhrmann seems way too wrapped up in throwing the party of the year to pay much attention to them. When it finally winds down, he decides to get serious in extended montages of Gatsby, Nick, and Daisy loosing themselves in an endless summer of high price indulgence. It’s visually intoxicating and it certainly looks romantic, but it is also incredibly exhausting.
While the visuals will have you drooling, don’t forget to stop and admire the fine performances from the powerhouse cast. The style threatens to overshadow each and every one of them but they certainly hold their own when facing a mountain of CGI. DiCaprio owns the picture the second he emerges from the glittery shadows and early on, he hams it up in skinny pink suits that looks like they were provided by Gucci. His Gatsby is almost a caricature of the 1920s gentleman; grinning while referring to nearly every single person he meets as “old sport.” You could make a drinking game out of how many times he says “old sport,” although I doubt many people would be still standing by the end. As far as his burning passion is concerned, there certainly is fire in those eyes for Daisy. He attempts to impress her by dazzling her with wealth and promises of doing everything in the world together. When he needs to be tragic, he can certainly switch it on, especially in the last act of the movie. You never doubt that DiCaprio is thrilled to be reunited with his Romero + Juliet director and it is clear he is putting in 110%. A job well done, Mr. DiCaprio!
Then there is Mr. Maguire, who narrates through a raspy and fatigued tone that sounds like he was up all night chugging a bottle of whiskey with Gatsby (Someone grab him an Advil!). He is good with the role he is given but he never holds our attention like DiCaprio does. He simply sits on the sidelines, making observations about all the wild party animals around him. Mulligan is a breathy sunbeam as Daisy, who is caught between two warring millionaires pulling her in two separate directions. Mulligan is naturally talented, but her character never receives the development that it truly deserves which is an absolute waste. Edgerton gives DiCaprio a run for his money as the scowling Tom, who is constantly chomping down on a fat stogie and chasing every pretty girl he lays eyes on. He shares a war of words and wealth with DiCaprio in one of the film’s most intense sequences. Debicki is slinky and sexy as the gossiping golfer Jordan, who loves a big party because they are more intimate than a smaller gathering. Also keep an eye out for small but sharp appearances from Jason Clarke as gas station attendant George Wilson, who becomes a ball of fury in the last act of the film, and Ilsa Fisher as his unfaith sexpot wife, Myrtle, who jets off with Tom to seedy hotel rooms in New York City.
The real problem with Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is that it is all about panache. There is obsessive detail in the sets, the CGI is mindblowing, and the musical playlist will have audience members rushing home to purchase the soundtrack off iTunes, but this compromises substance. Sure, the idea of love lost and love found again is enticing but it just becomes a whiskey-fueled game of tug of war that conveniently ends with tragedy. To make it worse, it feels tacked on with a heavy sigh from the filmmakers, who clearly would rather be hanging out with scantily clad flappers lip-synching to Beyoncé. But, what else would you expect from someone like Luhrmann? Overall, it may be the nightmare of English teachers everywhere and it definitely rings hollow, but The Great Gatsby is a giddy parade of excess led by a cast and crew clearly having the time of their lives, all while Warner Bros. flits the bill. You’ll certainly get your money’s worth of visuals, but you won’t be moved in the slightest.
by Corinne Rizzo
To break third person perspective is to break that fourth wall, to bring to light the idea that the reviewer is not just speaking on the audience’s behalf, but on the behalf of a more biased or more personal concern with a particular film. To break third person perspective goes against all the rules of formal thesis and proper reporting. Breaking third person perspective is necessary here though, as I want to talk to you about James Franco, or as Peter Parker knows him, Harry Osborne.
The choice for casting a character like Harry Osborne could have been a fatal one. The slightest personality trait off, and the whole character is thrown. Harry plays an integral part in the three films and in the legacy of Spider-Man in general, as he is not only the source of Spidey’s eternal struggle with himself (Harry also loves MJ, Harry never has to work for what he wants, Harry has perfect vision, Harry had a psychopath father whom Spidey had to kill, etc.) and without Harry, Spider-Man would have no sense of himself. A reader or viewer would never be able to relate to Peter Parker without a guy like Harry, an outcast but for reasons that are untouchable rather than socially awkward.
The third installment of the Spider-Man trilogy is one of many comparisons, which is why bringing Harry’s character under the microscope was a task worth undertaking. One could argue that there was too much happening in the final film. One could debate whether New Goblin was ever really a threat to Spider-Man. The obvious comparisons involved with knowing that this is the last in a series are limitless, but here is one that got me: We (the collective audience and the physical cast of the film) go from having Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Alfred Molina and Thomas Hayden Church, to Topher Grace as venom. In honest defense of Mr. Grace, the only time I ever think of Thomas Hayden Church is when I think of Sandman, but that is not necessarily a defense when you consider all I ever think of when I hear Topher Grace is Eric from That 70’s Show.
All of this unfair and biased and yes, I understand, but Willem Dafoe needs no defense. James Franco as Harry Osborne, this very specific and integral image in the saga, passes every test and even goes beyond expectations for someone who has a knack for Spidey. Alfred Molina? Who else was supposed to play Doc Ock? And let me tell you that Sandman wasn’t even on my radar so that was just a bonus.
The question even arises in this case, was Venom necessary? Well, I believe he was necessary to the film. He is a dark and twisty character that gave the film edge and so I would even go as far as saying that Sandman was unnecessary, but the casting for what harkens to Spider-Man’s alter ego—Topher Grace?
There is a lot happening in Spider-Man 3—three whole villains. Or two and a half when you consider Harry changed his mind half way through. The list of things to keep track of is tremendous for watching a film that is released as a summer hit and the film seems to rely on some master editing that is supposed to seamlessly take us from one idea to the next—though that master editing left something to be desired. I have never witnessed a selection of scenes quilted together so aimlessly. It was almost as though in an attempt to avoid a fourth episode, there was some agreement to fit everything into the third. That sort of editing is evident in all three films though hadn’t made me say “What the fuck?” until this one.
To his credit, Raimi’s Venom was eerie and unrelenting. Sandman seemed an afterthought in comparison, though a man made of sand doesn’t exactly cause one to shudder. In my humble opinion though, that is where Raimi should have stepped up. Two unrelenting and ridiculous characters could have made up for casting Topher Grace, but Sandman seems to fall to the wayside once Venom latches to Grace’s character, though not for the acting skills, but simply for the doom Venom inspires.
McGuire’s opposite could have been female for all it mattered. Actually, that would have been radical and even creepier. Maybe even a threat to Mary Jane.
It goes without saying that the thinner you spread a plot, the more holes you are going to have to patch and Spider-Man 3 just might have been a stretch. Harry Osborne carries the film with his ability to reinstate the hope and good that all super-hero’s strive to belay and James Franco is just the right class of man to carry a film when it’s on its back. While Peter is traipsing around doing theatrical dance numbers, the plot gets lost and Harry is there to remind the viewers of what is important. When faced with the challenge that is Sandman, it should be a no brainer for Spidey to defeat him and it should have been a no brainer for Raimi to either step it up or leave him out. And Topher Grace just bothers me—he must have a good agent.
Spider-Man 3 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
For more from Corinne, check out her new website the ish.
by Corinne Rizzo
If the first installment of the Spider-Man trilogy didn’t quite drive home the idea that Sam Raimi can and should always create a villain, Spider-Man 2 should be able to convince any audience that Raimi is essentially the king of all that is evil.
Here in the second installment, the viewer meets Raimi’s portrait of Doc Ock, or Doctor Octavius—a man that shares a love of science with Peter Parker as well as the capacity for good and for hope. For the most part though, Octavius reins darkness over the film as he attempts to show investors his latest energy experiment, harnessing a man made fusion, similar to the effects of the sun. When all is said and done and the experiment is near a successful exhibition, the villain can’t exist unless something goes wrong and surely it goes wrong in every possible way.
With Peter Parker foreshadowing the idea that the good doctor could blow the entire city to smithereens if the procedure isn’t handled correctly, Octavius loses control of the fusion experiment and is left with the death of innocent spectators, and a terrible mutation leaving him and the doctors who are trying to save him in a predicament they’ve never encountered.
Though it is the scene that follows the downfall of the experiment that makes the film a signature Raimi film and that scene is one of operating rooms, slain nurses and doctors, loads of horrific screaming and operational power tools buzzing about, blood splatters. Four extra limbs, mechanical, maniacal. The scene is straight out of a horror film and for a minute, the viewer is no longer watching a summer blockbuster, but a suspenseful and graphic thriller.
In fact, the sequel in this trilogy is probably the best out of the three films and one could say that it’s Raimi’s style to not only make the horror film, but make the sequel to the horror film one debatably superior.
Parker finds his own struggles in this sequel and becomes even more tortured than last the viewer received him. The charade with M.J. is on-going and is almost too belabored. For the sake of the audience, it can be assumed that Raimi made the choice to cut the romance dance short and just get the two kids in love and talking marriage already, which makes Spidey happy, which makes Spidey possible. All things the audience responds to.
Meanwhile, the darkness inside of Harry Osborne rises and becomes just another threat to Spidey, after Spidey killed his best friend’s father. No longer are the headlines making things rough for Spider-Man, it seems as if his competition is multiplying as well. Will the conclusion to the three films be a villain paradise?
Spider-Man 2 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
For more from Corinne, check out her new website the ish.
by Corinne Rizzo
If ever a man could give a modest superhero the edge of one who not only slays science fiction-y comic book villains but ones who truly threaten our psychologically modern society, Sam Raimi would be that man. In his first attempt at a feel good blockbusting summer flick, Raimi takes an undertortured and understated high schooler turned college student and turns that character not only into our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but a superhero of classic proportions. Raimi shows the story of Peter Parker, not by using the drama of his own life, but the drama involved with the villain, which any viewer or Raimi fan can tell, is the character type he seems most comfortable with creating.
Though Raimi does forge Spider-Man’s character without the drama of Uncle Ben and Aunt May, the Mary Jane saga or the idea that Peter and his best friend are as estranged as long lost cousins, Raimi does seem to pile the heaviest load of drama on to the villain in the first of the three Spider-Man films.
In the first installment, Raimi’s villain of choice is the Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe. Dafoe is a surprising choice for such a summer blockbuster, as he can be truly menacing in appearance while also offering a cynical yet terrifying psychological aspect to his characters. Dafoe does this with the Green Goblin as he illustrates how Norman Osborne is so bent on the results of his laboratory, that he tests his latest chemical weapon on himself, spawning the Green Goblin’s character.
But what sets apart the development of this villain is the style with which Raimi exposes the viewer to the grit and horror involved with these changes. While Peter Parker simply gets bitten by a spider and gets a bit of a fever, the villain is clearly shown to the audience while in the midst of change. Locking himself in a glass chamber and exposing himself to a gas that has been shown to increase violence and aggravation in rational men, Osborne seizes and foams at the mouth, his eyes roll back into his head when his assistant attempts to stop the experiment, Osborne murders him almost immediately. Then in a fit of exhaustion, Osborne falls asleep and awakes with no memory of the events and experiences a sort of schizophrenia, a divide within his personalities of ration and greed. Dafoe’s face becomes even more upturned and menacing, his voice just a bit more terrifying and now rounded out by a villainous laugh.
Raimi does well to ensure a wholesome superhero like Spider-Man doesn’t become a film about a boy scout trying to better his city and save his girlfriend from evil-doers, by focusing on the villain, which is where the most creativity can be found in this film and the subsequent Spider-Man films. Though here in the first film, it is as if Raimi’s imagination is too much for the practical applications available to him at the time.
The film, printed in 2002, already looks its age. At a time when a lot of great strides were being made in CGI film editing, the magic was in not indistinguishable from reality. Many scenes appeared as though one could almost see the green screen in use, as though no wool was being pulled over the viewer’s eyes. This gives the film a super-campy effect, but with no real sense of itself.
While Raimi does an excellent job of keeping the action and fear alive in the film, he attempts to cover too much ground, which is unfortunately a common situation when dealing with the presumed massive exposure of a character only truly familiar with comic hero buffs. The attempts to tell back story, while creating the current story of Ben becoming a victim of a car-jacking and Aunt May being lonely and warm hearted, don’t really come alive, as the viewer might feel a sense of being rushed into knowing them—in other words, Peter Parker’s drama doesn’t seem as interesting and it is because so much is being introduced at once and so rapidly that one loses sight of who is important and why the audience should care.
Ultimately, Raimi wins the affection of the viewer by trusting him to build a truly terrifying and psychologically thrilling villain and surrounding circumstances. By using his talents for creating fear and anxiety with his typical scary movie formula, Raimi successfully turns an underwhelming, seemingly too classic for true nail biting potential, into an edge of your seat thriller that at the very least, leaves you open to a sequel.
Spider-Man is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
For more from Corinne, check out her new website the ish.