THE LAST PICTURE BLOG

OCCASIONAL NOTES ON FILM

Posts tagged ‘Elizabeth Debicki’

I don’t necessarily want to dismiss out of hand the work of several thousand people – some of whom presumably toiled on The Great Gatsby for years – but my reaction to Baz Luhrmann’s films is extreme enough to make me wonder whether the director is daring his audience to do just that. This adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is the latest frivolous, over-the-top piece by the Australian director. You could also describe it as dazzling, or eye-popping, and as such it was released in 3D as well as 2D. Twenty-five years into his career its obvious – even to the most casual of observers – that Luhrmann has developed his own unique style, a hyperactive amalgam of bright colours, flashy effects, outlandish performances and, of course, those wild and camp dance routines set to modern pop music. Unfortunately as far as I’m concerned I quickly tire of it, usually after 30 or 40 minutes, and I find that getting through the remainder becomes a slog. That probably accounts for my dislike of this film, much as it accounted for my dislike of Moulin Rouge! (For all its faults, Romeo + Juliet is at least culturally significant: as perfect a summation of fifteen years of MTV as you could possibly hope for.)

You can see why Luhrmann thought that Fitzgerald’s novel, with its wham-bam opening introducing the mysterious Jay Gatsby as he presides over one of his lavish parties, would be an ideal fit for his hyperactive style. Indeed it allows him to incorporate one of those grand, fast-cut musical numbers he delights in, and it’s certainly fun to see all those costumed extras dancing in a grand setting, with fireworks popping and Leonardo DiCaprio revealed as if he’s some kind of treasured gift to us all (as a bona fide movie star he can carry this kind of thing off without looking like a total schmuck). It’s a fine example of moviemaking as spectacle, for sure, and you can say the same for the way in which Luhrmann brings to life the story’s secondary locations: the other houses and mansions of West Egg and East Egg, the North Shore more generally, the Roaring Twenties speakeasies of Manhattan, Wall Street and the no-man’s land of the gravelly, oily, industrial valley that lies between the city and the homes of the characters. The camera zips around these colourful places, lurching off rooftops and plunging to the floor below (3D + Lurhmann = good grief), whizzing above trains and speeding cars, zooming in rapidly on windows and entering into lavishly-decorated and ultra-bright rooms. To a point it’s enjoyable, but eventually fatigue sets in, and you eventually begin to look for for the heart and soul of the movie. There is some, but you’ve got to look hard for it, and the director’s always trying to divert your attention away from the search.

gatsby_2558815b

Mulligan and DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby

At least there are actors here who slot in to Luhrmann’s over-the-top setting and deliver performances that fit with the tone he has established: DiCaprio must work against it all to a certain extent as he tries to sell us the relatively serious issue of Gatsby’s pain and heartbreak, and he slowly adapts his portrait of the titular character as writer Nick Carroway (Tobey Maguire), our narrator, begins to learn more about him. Joel Edgerton’s blusteringly ignorant Tom Buchanan also seems like a good fit, and the same can be said for the characters played by Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher. Next to them Carey Mulligan’s Daisy seems a little flat and Tobey Maguire’s Nick – the most important character to get right, after Gatsby himself – blandly melts into the background; there’s an argument that Maguire should be the star of this movie but he ends up being less interesting than Luhrmann’s wallpaper. Of course that’s partly the point: Carroway is our way into this world; his disbelief as he stands around the edges and observes is supposed to reflect the viewer’s surprise at the Bohemianism on display, and as such the other characters often don’t notice him or forget that he’s present. Portaying Nick in this way perhaps signals some restraint on the part of the actor, and the director, but the simple fact is Maguire’s quite dull to watch in a film that clearly sets out to banish any potentially-dull moments from the off. (The early scenes in which Nick watches Gatsby, and vice versa, are filled with homoerotic longing, and this could have been interesting, but it’s forgotten about after the twenty minute mark.)

THE GREAT GATSBY

Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Debicki in The Great Gatsby

There’s no doubt that there’s a certain pleasure to be had from watching Luhrmann’s films when the dial goes up to eleven, but I can only take it in doses, and have to simply accept that his style isn’t for me. In his defence I think certain criticisms levelled at him when The Great Gatsby was released a couple of years ago are wide of the mark. It was repeatedly suggested that when you strip away all the singing, dancing, wild camerawork and frenetic editing (ugh, that opening ten minutes) he failed to get to grips with the key themes of Fitzgerald’s text. In actual fact Luhrmann fully embraces these: there’s the idea that a person is more interesting when you know nothing about them, for example, and anyone who watches this adaptation before reading the book will pick up on the way that Gatsby represents the American Dream, as well as the way in which he is a figurehead for the excesses of the rich and the follies typically associated with youth. The question, really, is whether you need to half-bury it using thousands of extras or incongruous pop music that instantly lifts you out the of the depicted era. I guess the point is that this is a text warning against frivolous excess on a grand scale, and yet Luhrmann’s films are precisely that; the budget for this extravaganza was $105m. Ultimately it’s all very superficial: Luhrmann’s films seem to be popular with people but even when I’m in the mood I struggle to take two hours of it.

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann.
Written by: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce. Based on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke, Isla Fisher.
Cinematography: Simon Duggan.
Editing: Jason Ballatine, Matt Villa, Jonathan Redmond.
Music: Craig Armstrong, Various.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
142 minutes.
Year:
2013.

19 Comments

The-Man-from-U.N.C.L.E.-2015-WallpapersThis light, breezy comedy-thriller by Guy Ritchie doesn’t have all that much in common with its TV show predecessor, other than the basic conceit of uniting an American CIA agent and a Russian KGB operative as a Cold War odd couple, but it does an effective enough job as an origin story; such films are ten-a-penny these days, and this is no less deserving of a franchise than anything else out there, but moderate success at the box office earlier this year may well put the brakes on a mooted sequel actually being made. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star as the charismatic Napoleon Solo and the reserved Illya Kuryakin respectively, and the pair share plenty of easy chemistry on screen, where both characters make clear their mistrust and misgivings while also displaying a childlike desperation to impress the opposite number; Ritchie’s screenplay imbues their awkward professional relationship with a slight homoerotic edge, but rather than anything serious it would have been a welcome surprise to see openly gay heroes in a mainstream action film, for once – this is all firmly in keeping with the tone of the film and is established through comic innuendo. Sadly I guess anything beyond that might put some people off, even in this day and age, so we’ll have to wait for another director to go for it. There are no risks taken with the plot, either. Rather than getting bogged down in the nitty gritty of the deals and political wranglings on either side of the Iron Curtain, Ritchie moves the pair on from gloomy Berlin to a caper in the dolce vita of mid-’60s Rome at a fairly early stage, and the latter setting informs the film’s style: all sharp suits, men in speedboats, swanky event flirtations, Cinecittà strings and swish hotel rooms. Joining in the fun are Alicia Vikander, who plays a mechanic tied to a family of Nazi-sympathisers-stroke-nuclear-weapons-enthusiasts, and Hugh Grant, who Hugh Grants his way through a minor role as a besuited British spy chief. The emphasis is on fun and froth, as with Ritchie’s previous brace of Sherlock Holmes films, and all told he makes a good fist of it. If your expectations are low you will probably be entertained: the story is as plain as they come but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is all about the eye candy, while the soundtrack jumps very tastefully from soul (Roberta Flack, Solomon Burke) to sweeping, grandiose Italian period scores and the set pieces are laced with good humour.

Directed by: Guy Ritchie.
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram (screenplay), Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson (story). Based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. by Ian Fleming, Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe.
Starring: Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris.
Cinematography: John Mathieson.
Editing: James Herbert.
Music:
Daniel Pemberton, Various.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
116 minutes.
Year:
2015.

10 Comments

MacBethFassbender-xlarge(Warning: If you haven’t read Macbeth or watched an adaptation before and are intending to see this new film, please aware that I’ve discussed the plot openly below.)

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been adapted for the big screen many times before, most notably by Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosowa, yet this new version a suitably meaty and visually arresting piece by director Justin Kurzel certainly feels worthwhile enough. It has only been on general release for a few days but has already been attacked by fans of The Bard, with some expressing disappointment at the decision by writers Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie to include scenes that purport to answer long-standing academic speculation with regard to the childlessness of Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), though claims that there is a lack of reverence for the original text at play seem over-the-top to me (and given the director’s nationality also seem to come replete with sneery anti-Australian undertones). In actual fact Kurzel and co have decided to stress the play’s connections with children throughout this adaptation, and Macbeth opens and closes with a pair of scenes that show how crucial they are to the play’s twin themes of fate and cyclical violence. The famous ‘Out, damned spot’ line is coupled with a disturbing image that suggests infanticide, while there are other less obvious touches, such as an increase in the number of the murdered offspring of Macduff (Sean Harris), that further emphasise the play’s focus on children.

Macbeth begins like a cross between Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and a hyper-stylized episode of Game Of Thrones, a TV show whose own writers have clearly been influenced by the Scottish play (see the most recent plot revolving around the character of Stannis Baratheon for several examples). Loyalists to King Duncan (David Thewlis) are led into battle by Macbeth and Banquo (Paddy Considine) and the subsequent clash with the traitorous Macdonwald and his army is loud, bloody and gory, the director occasionally opting for slow motion hacking and slashing. In the aftermath of the melee we see bodies strewn across 40bc840a534642dd5228b2ffe7dbe70fac69445c.jpg__1920x1080_q85_crop_upscalethe battlefield, some being picked at by wild dogs, and it’s clear that the play’s brutal acts will not be taking place off screen here, as per some other adaptations. And the violence keep on coming: Duncan’s murder is carried out, unusually, by a sole perpetrator and shown in detail, while Macduff’s family are gruesomely burnt at the stake. (It’s curious, then, that the climactic fight between Macduff and Macbeth is less bloody than you would expect. Set against a blood orange backdrop there are precise slashes, headbutts and bone-crunching punches, so you certainly feel the power of the two clashing figures, but it’s odd that Kurzel allows the head of this Macbeth to remain firmly attached to his shoulders.)

The mass fighting serves as parenthesis; for the rest of the film we’re watching duplicitous, smaller acts of violence. Naturally the story follows Macbeth’s interactions with the three witches, his subsequent traitorous seizing of the throne and his changing relationship with the complicit Lady Macbeth as Macbeth-paddythe titular character slowly goes mad. Fassbender is suitably intense, confident and muscular as power is snatched from Malcolm (Jack Reynor, recently excellent in Glassland) before the actor is forced to reveal Macbeth’s inner torment in a disappointingly obvious fashion (nightshirt hanging low, pacing up and down a room, talking to himself, etc). Cotillard is superb: she isn’t playing an evil schemer here and she is more understated than her fellow lead, though she shares almost as much screen time; this fine actress doesn’t demand the viewer’s attention and is often seen in the background or at Macbeth’s side, but her physical responses to the dialogue and facial gestures reveal just as much as anything that is spoken. Harris also impresses, though his decision to turn the intensity dial up to 11 at times will not be appreciated by everyone; in the final scenes it is his Macduff, and not Fassbender’s Macbeth, who interests the most, which shouldn’t really be the case.

For all the entertaining battle sequences, strong acting, period production design and magnificent scenery (with Northumberland’s striking Bamburgh Castle standing in for Dunsinane), the usual caveat applicable to (relatively) straightforward Shakespeare adaptations is worth mentioning: if you have an ear for the dialogue you’ll probably enjoy it, whereas if you don’t you may well struggle through long passages of this film. As a fairly short tragedy, though, Kurzel has wisely decided to rely on a strong visual element vistas of boggy moorland, witches in the mist, and so on)  and the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom and Snowtown, Kurzel’s previous film) is up to the challenge. This Macbeth looks good, even if there’s a teeny, tiny hint of Zack Snyder in there, and the quality of the acting will be discussed many years from now, while the score by Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother) even surpasses his earlier work on The Babadook.

Directed by: Justin Kurzel.
Written by: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie. Based on Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Reynor, Lochlann Harris.
Cinematography: Adam Arkapaw.
Editing: Chris Dickens.
Music: Jed Kurzel.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Year: 2015.

14 Comments