“Inside Llewyn Davis” – not only a film, but a concept album

Believe it or not, but if I had written this review right after leaving the screening of “Inside Llewyn Davis” by Ethan and Joel Coens, it would look completely different to what it is currently shaping out to be. The more I’ve been sitting on it letting my thoughts gestate and ripen, the more my appreciation for this film grows – to a point where I’m quite confident “Inside Llewyn Davis” would make my Top 10 list of this year (and it’s only February). However, it’s not an easy piece of cinema to take in and it requires the viewer to be in a certain frame of mind to get the best of it. In fact, I’d say the ticket for “Inside Llewyn Davis” should come bundled with a couple of things, one of them a fair warning that it is not a straight-up plot-driven story the viewer could expect from the Coens given their recent output (i.e. “No Country for Old Men”, or “True Grit”). The other thing I’d like to have gotten with the ticket would be the soundtrack… but more on that later. Continue reading

“The Great Gatsby” – the word I’m looking for is ‘kitsch’, old sport…

Who would have thought that having one’s laptop taken away for a week would cripple one’s ability to blog? Nevertheless, after this measly week with only one post I’m back to my regular writing regime; long story short – I can feel normal again. At this point I should probably stop and think about the gravity of a problem I might have just uncovered, because it would appear that my computer is so damn crucial to my existence. I guess this will be an addiction I will have to embrace, because in this day and age, a good chunk of one’s life takes place in front of a screen. Scary, right? Not for a nerd, it’s not… But I digress; the point is that I’m back and have got some ideas for posts already, so I shall just resume churning them out at a steady pace.

And what better way to break out of a rut, if not to review a recent big screen experience? For God knows how many months I have been teased and attacked by marketing campaigns for the long-awaited Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby”; I couldn’t be way off mark if I said that the first posters with Leo DiCaprio holding a glass of champagne popped up in cinemas nearly a year ago. It was supposed to be a jaw-dropping experience filmed in native 3D that would take the novel into a whole new dimension and so on and so forth… Now, every single time I hear so much waffle and attempted self-praise about any film, I get a bit skeptical  because everybody knows that a good piece of cinema can defend itself. Moreover, a recent example of “Star Trek Into Darkness” (I know I shouldn’t be comparing sci-fi to “Gatsby” but hey, I don’t care) can testify to the fact that playing your cards close to the chest can only benefit and empower the picture.


I think we can all agree and call Baz Luhrmann an auteur; his work has a certain discernible style and he wears mixing periods and eras (musically and stylistically) as a badge of honor  I try to see him as a film-making equivalent of a modern painter who would draw a red square and smear some brown paint on it, give it a pretentious name and have people believe his work has a meaning. Therefore, I find it impossible to be indifferent to his films – you can either love him or hate him, and for sake of clarity I should admit here that my relationship with his work is more of the hating variety. I didn’t like “Romeo and Juliet” at all, “Moulin Rouge” bored me to death and I didn’t even bother with “Australia”. The question remains: what the hell was I thinking going to see “The Great Gatsby”?

Literature classics like “The Great Gatsby” can be nicely described by a collective hunting term of ‘easy game’ for the film making meat grinder. You can really bastardize a timeless work of literature in so many ways and still come out on top, because it’s not the film that is ultimately responsible for the commercial success, but its literary predecessor, and Luhrmann is no stranger to that phenomenon. After all, his modern 90’s MTV-esque take on the Shakespeare canon was really well received, regardless of what I think about it. But I do think it was crap, it’s just that simple (“Romeo and Juliet”, not “The Great Gatsby”, but I’ll get there in a minute). My point is that Luhrmann knew exactly how much he can screw with the book before it becomes too much. But was it enough for the film to stand on its own two feet?

Right, so if you somehow slept through high school or something of that variety and you don’t know what F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is all about, here’s a quick plot synopsis. A young aspiring writer-turned-bond-salesman Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) rents a house in Long Island next door to a mansion owned by a mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Di Caprio). Nobody really knows anything about that fellow and he clearly keeps to himself. Well, not quite because Gatsby is known for throwing lavish parties that attract all the NY celebrities, artists, politicians and mobsters. Anyways, Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (beautiful as always Carey Mulligan) lives in the neighborhood  directly on the opposite side of the bay. She’s married to Tom (Joel Edgerton), a womanizing arrogant prick of a husband who spends way too much time bedding strangers and boozing at extravagant house parties, but I guess it’s the 1920’s, so everything’s OK. Nick spends his days in Long Island mostly on sipping tea with Daisy and her hubby, playing polo or golf, reading books, and looking at the mansion next door hoping to see its enigmatic owner. One day he receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s weekend orgies parties, where he ends up meeting Gatsby himself, who asks Nick for a favor of setting him up to meet Daisy. And it goes from there…

Once again, if you didn’t read the book or failed to see any of the numerous adaptations, then watching “The Great Gatsby” by Baz Luhrmann can sort you out in that regard. However, reading the book would take just as long as watching the movie, so if you really hate Luhrmann’s film making, just read “The Great Gatsby” instead.

I was actually pleasantly surprised with what “The Great Gatsby” had to offer. Make no mistake, it’s not a very good film at all, but it’s a very good Baz Luhrmann film, if that makes any sense. It is nowhere near as heavy-handed as “Romeo and Juliet” or “Moulin Rouge” in the plastic eclectic style, but it is still clearly visible, whose film this is. In it, the excesses of 1920’s are shown with great detail with a strong thread of modern hip-hop mixed in that sets the stylistic tone of the movie. While I don’t really understand the premise of the musical choices, the fact that Luhrmann was just being himself there didn’t really bother me that much. I could probably go and throw a fit about how Jay-Z and Beyoncé don’t belong in the jazzy 20’s and it looks like a cheap scheme to win over the young audience, but the apparent parallel drawn between those times and the modern bling and excesses of the hip-hop culture makes this mish-mash work in a weird way.

Though, I wouldn’t be myself if I failed to point out that as a whole the film feels cheap. The noisy parties, colorful interiors, lavish outfits and top-notch choreography will never suffice to make a good movie. In fact, “The Great Gatsby” feels more like a 50’s movie filmed entirely on stage with its color palette, over-the-top acting and recitation of the lines from the novel. That is exactly what the film can be boiled down to once you strip it off the bling – it’s a bunch of actors walking around reading lines with theatrical emotional investment. As much as I would like to say that the acting was top class, it’s only true for Leonardo Di Caprio and to some extent for Tobey Maguire, who breathed some life into their respective roles, whereas the rest of the cast was just wood dressed in shiny outfits. And I know Carey Mulligan can act like a champ (“Drive”, “Never Let Me Go”), so I think I have to point the finger towards the director, who seemed completely out of depth when it came to actual directing (a sad realization indeed).

All in all, “The Great Gatsby” was maybe kind of OK and it is a subjective verdict biased heavily by my admiration towards Di Caprio’s acting. Other than that, the film looks like an excuse for the director to play with the 3D workshop, which is redundant, by the way. I saw it in 2D and I think I could spot the sequences where the 3D was supposed to shine and I can only say that it’s out of place. The 3D aspect seems to be just a marketing ploy as it brings nothing to the table; it’s just a couple of gimmicks with snowflakes and perspective that is irrelevant to the film and ends up more of a distraction. Moreover, the entirety of CGI employed in the film looks a bit out of date and has cheap written all over it. The only things that really save the movie are the parties, choreography, Di Caprio’s acting and the story. But then again, if you take the story away, there’s not much “The Great Gatsby” as to show for, so in the long run you’re better off reading the book, old sport…