The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Finally, I went to see one of my – and just about everyone else’s – most anticipated films of the year.








My fears about its humour being lost went unrealised. Though the antics of the party guests were jettisoned, as most would have to have been in the interests of time economy, the owl-eyed library man remained.

So, too, did one of my favourite passages, when Gatsby almost loses his nerve and flees into the rain before meeting Daisy again, only to turn back at the last moment:

We went in. To my overwhelming surprise the living-room was deserted.

“Well, that’s funny,” I exclaimed.

“What’s funny?”

She turned her head as there was a light dignified knocking at the front door. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.

This is a Baz Luhrmann film, so can almost go without saying that it is visually splendid. The parties, costumes, hair, makeup, jewellery, sets – all are exquisite.

It is remarkably true to the novel, with the exception of the device used for Nick Carraway to narrate. Though a small and understandable liberty to take for the sake of clarity and narrative drive, I smarted a little at this flouting, but it stands alone in terms of artistic licence. Even passages I thought there was no way even Luhrmann could possibly film and preserve the sense of the original were masterfully done.

Perhaps the most memorable moment for me was another of my favourite descriptive passages:

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

Unfilmable, you say? No, sir.

All of the characters are finely portrayed: Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s “vast carelessness” and Jordan Baker’s cool indifference are just as written, and Nick as utterly nice.

The flesh and blood characters, who stand in stark contrast to Daisy, Tom and Jordan, are the bleary George Wilson and his painted wife (nice to see Isla Fisher, though I wished a little that Luhrmann chose someone less conventionally pretty for coarse, meaty Myrtle and changed up the beautiful lady brigade some).

And of course, Jay Gatsby himself was played stunningly by Leonardo DiCaprio, who seems incapable of doing a crap job at anything. His rage when he finally blows at Tom is an awesome thing to see. He seems to really get Gatsby’s dreadful commitment to hope, and his undeniable likeability. His rendering of Nick’s first impression of him is perfect, as true to the book’s spirit as it was when he stood tragically in the puddle.

He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you just as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

Precisely at that point it vanished – and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.

A challenge, surely, for any actor – and yet, he delivers.

I was heart-glad there was so much of the elegance and loveliness of Fitzgerald’s writing in this script, especially the pristine transfer of the words to the closing scene. Though an example of what to me was a slight overuse of stylised on-screen typeface, a little too much like Moulin Rouge, it certainly showed that those making this movie understood the importance of the moment.

I gripped the Ministry’s hand perhaps too hard, but I had goosebumps, a physical response to this return to the trope of the green light, and the use of words that could not be improved upon, from when Nick walks through “ that huge incoherent failure of a house” one more time, to the last moment on the dock.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter: tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further… And one fine morning –

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

 I always love a novel-to-screen adaptation, even enjoying those that are mediocre, or disappoint on details. There is nothing to replace the feeling of sharing a previously private experience, of meeting people you feel close to for the first time, even if they differ slightly to what you saw in your mind’s eye.

This was not mediocre or disappointing. It was magical, like food, deeply nourishing to the soul, to see The Great Gatsby brought to life.

Die Hard 5, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

It grieves my heart to write these words.

They should have stopped at four.

If you want John McLane to have a successor to pass the baton to, young, plucky, a chip off the old block; if you want the narrative complication to be that this kid is filled with resentment, not wanting to call the absentee cop dad Dad, or use his surname, but to end up embracing both after appreciating such a dad when the going gets tough; if you want all that, for Chrissakes, can someone please tell me how Die Hard 4.0 failed to tick all those boxes?

And did it impressively to boot. I’m going to stand up proudly and say I loved Die Hard 4.0. It had wit, charm and suspense as well as the basic requirement of awesomely, implausibly overblown action sequences. It had Young McResentful. It had a sexed-up modern plot, and Justin Long provided plenty of wit, balanced by sage old McLane.

Die Hard 4.0’sLucy McLane seemed more than capable of taking up the mantle. But being just a woman, it’s no surprise they put her in the backseat for this one so the guys could shoot their way home to her. Putting a woman in number five and making the most of that groundwork would be far too imaginative and risky for this play-it-safe movie.

A Good Day to Die Hard had no suspense, no charm, and the witty rejoinders were cringe-worthy. It wasn’t particularly funny the first time McLane said “I’m on vacation” (a la Clerks’ “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today, man” catchphrase). And the rest of the jokes were similarly tired. McLane’s not a complex guy, sure, but he’s not a dumbass, as calling all his ethnic antagonists things like “Papa Giuseppe” and “Nijinsky” makes him sound. You only need one or two wise-guy one-liners in a Die Hard movie, and this script turned his entire repertoire into no-effort one-liners.

I heard one reviewer say Bruce Willis “phoned it in” for this movie and didn’t give director John Moore more than two takes for anything. Whether or not this is true, I doubt the woodenness of this performance was all Willis’ fault. Two thousand takes can’t turn a hackneyed script into a good one.

And as for the plot: half the movie is a car chase, there’s a short interlude then the climax moves to Chernobyl, of all places. Years ago I saw, online, a joke “Tom Clancy Novel plot generator” where you plug in keywords and it turns them into a spy novel plot for you. This was just like that. Watching, I didn’t care a jot about the finer details or outcome of this Russian intrigue (or lack thereof) and so it’s unsurprising that the spectacle of the car chase is about as good as it gets. It’s satisfying to see hundreds of cars get crunched, but that’s about it.

Look, it’s not terrible. It’s an OK movie and entertaining enough for a couple of hours. I wouldn’t bother to pay for a ticket, however; I’d wait for the DVD if I were you, and perhaps sink a couple of beers during, to soften the pain of this all-too-familiar situation: the wrecking of an iconic series with a brainless one-too-many-sequel.

I didn’t expect anything more: but quietly, just quietly… I hoped for something more.

Life of Pi (2013)

I need not have worried. Life of Pi the movie was visually spectacular – check; sweeping and majestic – check; densely wove themes of religion, love, identity, and the nature of humanity, story and truth – check; depicted passage of time, minutely detailed how to survive at sea and journeyed into fantastic worlds – check.

Even more happily, it did all this neatly within the allotted two hours.

I was amazed by the skill of this storytelling. I was so excited I spent most of the time alternately shrinking back in my chair or almost jumping out of it. The rest of the time I spent silently leaking tears.

I loved this movie so much that I sat there throughout all the ads, all the previews and all the movie, despite the coffee AND the diet coke (I went hungover. I needed both. Don’t judge me). After a while I forgot that I even had a body that needed to pee. I was just spellbound.

The CG and the cinematography were lovingly done, and that tiger was damned impressive.

The two small factors – don’t want to ruin any surprises so will mention only briefly – that I noticed differed significantly from the book were the lack of graphic physical violence and blood-and-bone savagery, and the absence of a plot point in its latter half.

These, really, concerned me not a jot. Go for it. Go for the PG audience. The story deserves the widest audience possible, and our imaginations can fill in the rest.

I am glad about how Ang Lee chose to portray the story Pi tells in hospital towards the end, with an unerring focus on Pi’s face as he tells a story that increases in horror and intensity as it unfolds.

At the end, I even had a cathartic “aha!” moment, in which one line – “and so it is with God” – finally made sense to me. It closed the aching little wound Pi’s horrible story had opened up and filled me with the peace of understanding and acceptance.

Well, it did!

I loved this movie, and I hope Lee wins his Best Director and Best Picture Oscars.