Watched 'The Great Gatsby' as someone who enjoys a love-hate relationship with Baz Luhrmann's work (Gave up on Romeo & Juliet half way thru, loved Moulin Rouge, and hated Australia inspite of Nicole Kidman :-)).
As feared, the subject matter of F Scott Fitzgerald's magnum opus goes only so deep in this frenetic spectacle of an adaptation. But, it is Baz, and we know he'd rather be busy with sets than script. So, here he goes, yet again, much like what Sanjay Leela Bhansali of Bollywood did with the classic 'Devdas', minus the music in this case, looking for every excuse to render (rather nicely so nevertheless, in crisp and bright 3D detail) the NYC of the 1920s, mansions by the lake, flashy vintage cars, splashing of champagne, throwing of confetti, and so on.
In the bargain, unmistakably, what we lose is the appreciation for the complex characterization the novel is so revered for - such as Jay the outwardly flamboyant bootlegger of a millionaire who also happens to be a hopeless romantic, Daisy the flapper and the beloved. But, Nick is perhaps an exception, through whose vantage point we do still see more than what the camera has to show and hear Fitzgerald's commentary on people and values.
The acting overall is quite sincere, although, and purely from a casting standpoint, there are some serious missteps. DiCaprio, even at his best, doesn't quite look the part in terms of exuding the aura needed for Gatsby, where as Carey looks more innocent than she should, while Maguire looks a bit too effeminate many times, and 'the great Bachchan' doesn't make Bollywood proud in the minuscule and shady role of Meyer Wolfshiem the Jewish friend of Gatsby.
Definitely worth watching to admire Luhrmann's penchant for visualization, but not for how the Australian director honors a great work of American literature.
Funny how when it is a case of 'the less said the better', and the little that's to be said also has a 'but' followed by a small pat on the back.
As boring, and mostly unfunny, as 'The Lone Ranger' is, it does save its best for last, unlike a recent Bond movie that starts with a thunder but keeps on dragging after the first 10 minutes.
The winners are Silver the horse, Hans Zimmer for his score, mostly good photography, and some nicely crafted action sequences that are silly yet amusing. Together, they keep dragging the dead weights called Tonto (Depp), the sorry looking protagonist (Hammer), and an ill-conceived script that chooses to go the murky way that Pirates' episodes 2 and 3 did, than be charming and entertaining like Zorro did, for which there was plenty of room here given the canvas and backdrop.
What a wasted opportunity, and, going by the initial response at the box office, a slap in the face for this $235 million intemperance.
"The book was so much better'! We all know that feeling, and we also know how much of an understatement such reactions would be when we talk about attempts at rendering great epics through the medium of cinema. But, British director Joe Wright's attempt at Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' serves as yet another supplication to be not so lost in such scholastic scrutiny to not enjoy a decent adaption of a classic tale.
Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina was written during 1873-1877 and is still regarded as the gold standard in realistic fiction, based as it was on real people, including episodes from Tolstoy's life itself, of Moscow and St. Petersburg of imperial Russia. His gift for writing and his keen study of human life together make for a vivid portrait on a rather large canvas through the story of Anna. Yet, Tolstoy's work, which he wrote in his 50's and was quoted as saying 'I put everything into it, nothing was left over', does leave much to the reader to fill in the blanks rather than offer easy answers by way of detailed character development and/or explanations for dilemmas. No stereotypes here. Occasionally, the saintly/careful do evoke dread and the evil/reckless some pity.The work can reveal something new and striking each time you revisit it.
So, no wonder that Joe & team felt compelled/inspired to go at it one more time. By the way, Anna Karenina was made into a movie some 14+ times (not to mention the countless versions that use the storyline for extended adaptations), with equal number of TV, play, and broadway versions. Here they tried to use a stage play metaphor to tell the story (Oscar winner Tom Stoppard, of Shakepeare in Love, wrote the script), but somehow never managed to fully exploit it other than for shortcuts (to show snow-clad toy trains). When the script looks under developed, we have to remind ourselves that the original meant it to be such. It is not of the scale of David Lean's 1965 sweeping adaptation, another understatement, of Boris Pasternak's Dr Zhivago. A nice connection between British directors and Russian writers there, huh!
Keira Knightley is often much criticized for her acting, but she does look the part quite admirably here (not very objective coming from a fan). So does Jude Law. Very OK overall indeed, and definitely a respectable attempt at taking us back to classic works of art. It won an Oscar for costumes this year, and was nominated for score, cinematography, and production design.
Just to pick three other movies of the same genre to make a point, while Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' shares its objectives, as a historical drama, with such fine projects as Charlie Wilson's War of 2007 and two of its 2012 Oscar contemporaries Argo and Lincoln, it is ends up in a class by itself when it comes to coverage, style, balance, and appeal.
For depth of research and a script that overcomes the challenge of narrating current affairs without losing their dramatic appeal, it works hard and is quite sincere. The way it moves is heavier and more muted, hence more effective, leaving more for personal reflection on such topics as the brutality of interrogation techniques, havoc of terrorism and war, and the work of unsung heroes.
Hats off to the three ladies, at the center of this project : lead actress Jeessica Chastain for how she plays CIA agent Maya (as poignantly as the mother, Mrs. O'Brien, in Terrence Malick's 'Tree of Life' of 2011), director Kathryn Bigelow for once again hitting it out of the park (as she did with 'Hurt Locker' of 2009 and with 'K-19: The Widowmaker' of 2002, one of my favorites), and co-producer Megan Ellison (tech giant Oracle founder Larry Ellison's daughter) for founding Annapura Pictures which is committed to serious cinema (whose other recent projects include 'The Master' of 2012)
How much of Maya is fiction vs fact and one-person vs composite will remain classified for a while, but one of the interviews with the Navy seals does attest the veracity of the character as shown, as someone who went after the mission with a single-minded sense of purpose and dedication.
Just to ponder the way Oscars work, of the four movies we started out with, Argo scores the least on my card for a total against the criteria listed, and yet it is the only winner. Go figure :-)
Avant-garde cinema's experimental appeal comes with an additional cultural bonus, when you watch the work of famous international directors compared to picking yet another mainstream creation.
If you missed it during the 2006-2007 Oscar buzz, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's Volver (The Return) is quite up there in that regard. It is as colorful and uplifting as it is dark and dreary, in giving us a peek at life in rural Spain.
It is a family drama that blends fantasy, suspense, spookiness, shock, and humor to tell the story of the courageous women of La Mancha, all in Mr. Almodovar's signature style of irreverence and brutal candor. With a few representative caricatures, Almodovar's handling paints the profile of an entire community, and, in doing so, lets its life style come to the fore - a quiet way of nonchalance, grit, and determination to keep going without ever wallowing in self pity. The details of their curses, gross as they may be, get brushed aside in their journey of strength and resilience.
The characters are led by Penelope Cruz's indefatigable and radiant Raimunda. The entire cast of ladies were collectively honored with the 'Best Actress' award at the 2006 Cannes film festival.
Watching the 'special features', especially the interviews with Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz, is another perk on top of the perks in the Blu-ray DVD. As with his other projects, such as his 2009's Broken Embraces (with Penelope Cruz in the lead, again), there is something extraordinarily crisp and bright about Almodovar's visuals (and you'll know why/how when you see the 'making of Volver' also on the spacial features list).
Recommended if you are in a mood to study the art form, not for casual viewing.