Jeremy Pelt and Richie Goods in John Harkrider's All the Beautiful Things. Photo by Brian O'Carroll.
I’ve officially made it through a week in Park City! And I haven’t even caught a cold. (Though I probably sealed my fate with that statement.) Despite failing to get into a couple movies that I really wanted to see today, I still managed to make it to three worth-talking-about films. Reviews below.
All the Beautiful Things
Jeremy Pelt and Richie Goods in John Harkrider’s All the Beautiful Things. Photo by Brian O’Carroll.
Director: John Harkrider Featuring: John Harkrider and Barron Claiborne
I walked out of The Wolf of Wall Streetwith a bad case of brain whiplash. Based on an autobiography by penny stockbroker Jordan Belfort, Wolf is expertly directed by Martin Scorsese (you know: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc., etc.). As I tried to find a way to describe my post-film feelings, the best I settled on is this: Deeply disconcerted. Here’s why:
The amount of talent behind this film is astounding. I’m a Scorsese fan, and he didn’t disappoint. Every frame is interesting (even if there were a little too many of ‘em at 2 hours and 59 minutes). His use of sound and music is sharp as always. His style is assured and unrelenting; you may disagree with some of his choices, but you never doubt that he made them with thought and considerable force.
12 Years a Slave is a faithful and bold adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography of the same name. British director Steve McQueen gives us an unblinking account of Northup’s abduction into slavery in 1841 and his attempts to “not just survive but live.” McQueen’s style is assured and minimalist—this period of American history needs no dramatization. The truth is harrowing enough.
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.
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.
When faced with tragedy, some of the most comforting words you can hear are “That should’ve never happened.” The assertion of the wrongness of reality is strangely comforting. With Django Unchained, as in Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino takes that righteous anger one step further to “And here’s what should’ve happened instead.”
Tarantino paints a guns-blazing, upside-down world—a Southern-Western that brings bulleted justice to one plantation in an over-too-fast 165 minutes. It’s one of the most alive films I’ve seen since, well, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is an exuberant filmmaker. He uses every trick in the book, from gorgeously framed silhouette still shots to quick zooms to extreme close-ups. Injuries spurt. Smoke curls. Stuff moves. As bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) says of Django (Jamie Foxx), it can be said of Tarantino: “My friend has a flair for the dramatic.” He’s not afraid to highlight the quintessential gesture, as in the trailer-featured moment when Django slo-mo shrugs off his rough slave blanket at the start of his transformation into a bada$$ bounty hunter.
In honor of the Christmas Day opening of Django Unchained, let’s look at Quentin Tarantino’s back catalogue. One of the most unique filmmakers working today, Tarantino has a signature style that borrows heavily from ’70s-era genre films, adds in stylized and idiosyncratic dialogue, then mixes it all up with over-the-top imagery. His films often feature shocking violence and revenge themes. I’m ambivalent about the use of both; sometimes I think he’s being exploitative, and sometimes I think he’s rightfully using them in the service of the story or an issue. More study is necessary: At the time of writing, I’ve only seen half of his films (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Inglorious Basterds). I’m making a New Year’s resolution to see the rest.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill) Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson and more.