Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is an unapologetic, over-the-top kinetic fantasy. Everything is big (Klipspringer plays a castle-sized organ, not a piano), loud (the deservedly much-hailed soundtrack delights), and bursting with color. The camera zooms, twitches, leaps and dances through a roaring feast of 1920s decadence and despair. It also relentlessly pushes in on the titular character: self-made myth Jay Gatsby. And that is the reason you should see the film.
In the midst of all the swooping 3D (meh) and exquisitely detailed sets (woot!), Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of Gatsby is sensitive and real. Just as Fitzgerald introduces us to the mask Gatsby presents to the world then peels it away page by page, DiCaprio and Luhrmann start with Gatsby’s facade (that famous smile, lit by fireworks) and then let it fall away scene by scene. We see the longing, the panic, the joy (what’s this? DiCaprio laughing on screen?), the fear, the anger, and most importantly, the hope. In short, they get Gatsby, and they get him right.
A nuanced coming of age story with a few epic bends, Jeff Nichols’s third feature, Mud, is both the story of every kid and this one kid: Ellis, played with remarkable vulnerability by Tye Sheridan, whom you might recognize from Tree of Life. Ellis is a 14-year-old river kid who faces troubles both common (crushes and domestic uncertainty) and uncommon (a sunburnt island-squatter—Mud—offers Ellis and his pal Neckbone a deal they can’t refuse).
It’s been a week since I saw writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, and I’ve been puzzling out how he created such an immersive film ever since. With my notebook and constant (over) analysis, I tend to watch and deconstruct movies at the same time. But this film pulled me under fast, leaving me to figure out why after the lights came up.
Cianfrance’s background is the first clue: Documentaries outweigh fiction on his resume, though he’s most well-known for 2010′s heartbreaker Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. The non-fiction practices of gathering moments as they happen and storytelling by way of context (as opposed to highly constructed dialogue) served The Place Beyond the Pines well. We get to know these characters by their clothes (oft unflattering), their houses, their sad tattoos, how they move, how others react to them. And in a story that unfolds over almost two decades, we only see the needed moments. There’s no fat to distract, only one loaded look, layered interaction or can’t-be-unmade decision after another.
Oh, friends. It has been a hard week. In the small frustrations category, I learned I couldn’t unpack or live in my new place for another week until the painter is finished. Technically I could live there, but I’d be dodging paint spray and living out of tarp-covered boxes. So I packed a nomad bag and moved all my stuff in the new place…in easily-cover-able piles in the middle of the floor.
And in the realm of big heartbreaks, my grandpa passed away from complications from Alzheimer’s. He’s been struggling with the disease since I was a teenager. I’m so glad that he’s no longer trapped in a failing body and confused mind. But it’s still hard to say goodbye to such a compassionate, principled man. The visitation and funeral were bittersweet: I got to see family I hadn’t seen in years, be with my twin sister and her incredibly sweet kids and husband, and hug my much-loved younger cousins. And hugs were needed. My Uncle Jay, my grandpa’s oldest son, passed away just a month ago (he was battling MS). My family’s share of sadness has come all at once this season.
“Hey girl, are you going to see Gangster Squad this weekend? I’m giving myself cancer for the sake of historical accuracy and everything.”
This star-laden period piece is directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) and written by Castle-scribe Will Beall, based on the book by Paul Lieberman. It tells the story of how a small team of LAPD officers fought mob-boss Mickey Cohen for control of Los Angeles.
Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The New World, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven, Badlands) is one of my favorite filmmakers. His artworks are breathtakingly beautiful, both visually and in the way they run arms-outstretched toward big questions of love, morality and God. I got goosebumps watching the trailer for the upcoming To the Wonder, starring Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem (looking markedly different here as a priest then as the super villain in Skyfall).
I watched the first season of The Wire several years ago and have been meaning to complete the rest of the epic Baltimore-based series ever since. Simon had a previous life as a Baltimore Sun crime-beat reporter, and it shows in the series’ uncompromising realism.
In honor of Hobbit Week, I bring you the Peter Jackson Filmmaker Flashcard. I admit I’ve only seen one of Peter Jackson’s films outside of the Lord of the Rings trilogy: his 2005 remake of King Kong. I enjoyed it, and I’ve read he loved updating his favorite film, but it didn’t make a lasting impression on me. I want to go back and check out The Lovely Bones and Heavenly Creatures(with Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey), to see if my admiration of his LOTR work will extend to non-Tolkien films.
Jackson began as a DIY filmmaker who slowly built a blockbuster career after his first films became cult favorites. I appreciate his audience-first aesthetic. You can tell he’s not trying to be cool or achieve auteur status or win an Oscar (though he’s arguably been successful at all three)…he just wants to tell a good story. I respect that.
When one tries to learn how to write screenplays, one hears this bit of wisdom over and over again: Don’t write voice-over narration. Just don’t.
It’s generally good advice. Using a narrator can be a shortcut to avoid the hard work of figuring out how to show your story visually. Voice-over can get tedious fast. It can sound stilted. Just don’t.