Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Kerry Washington
Sometimes things can snowball. You can start a series of events in motion and before you realise, the situation has got away from you. For mild-mannered Dr. Jeffrey Lang, this starting point is his decision to go ahead with an extension to his house without the required council permits. Before he knows it his life has spiralled into a mess of cat-killing, infidelity, and ultimately murder.
The Details is a hyperbolic tale of the dark side of suburbia, a place in which not everything is as it seems and you never know what is hiding behind the pleasant veneer of middle class family life. In this regard, Tobey Maguire is well cast as Jeffrey. Maguire’s baby-faced appearance and nice guy persona – which served him so well as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby – here combine well with Dr. Lang’s congenial, friendly presentation to disguise and contrast the darker aspects of his character.
Where The Details is most interesting is in the way that it challenges mainstream cinema’s usual dichotomy of good and evil in which bad people do bad things because they are bad and good people do good things because they are good. Instead The Details shows us bad people capable of doing very good things and good people capable of doing very bad things, so that when it all comes down to it no one is bad and no one is good, they are all just people.
What is notably missing from the film, however, is any form of ramification for bad deeds committed. That one thing can snowball into another and Jeffrey can find himself in a worse and worse predicament is one thing, but that there never appears to be any negative consequence or backlash for him personally makes the film unsatisfying.
The Details is a tonally odd film, with a campy style that seems to stifle the effectiveness of its thematic message. Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes has given the film a light and breezy comic tone which juxtaposes its quite dark story. The result of this juxtaposition is a film that is quite difficult to know how to react to. You can’t bring yourself to laugh because the events are a bit too tragic, but at the same time you can’t completely empathise because the tone is too campy.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Jack Thompson
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, often referred to as ‘the great American novel,’ is arguably the sacred text of American literature. The tale of the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby who returns to reclaim his long lost love, provides a snapshot of the opulence and extravagance of the roaring Twenties, and an insight into the darker side of the great American Dream of the self-made man. Multiple attempts have been made over the years to bring Fitzgerald’s story to the screen, but none have really satisfied. The level of reverence towards the source material means that any film adaptation is going to encounter a certain amount of pushback from an audience with a strong idea in their head of what the story is supposed to look like.
Australian director Baz Luhrmann is not the type to shy away from the challenge of taking on a literary giant. After all, this is the man who made his name with his non-traditional approach to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and literary figures don’t come much bigger than William Shakespeare. With The Great Gatsby, what we get from the director is his interpretation rather than merely an adaptation. While he retains a high level of respect for the source material and sticks very closely to Fitzgerald’s narrative – with the exception of adding a framing device which sees our narrator Carraway recounting the events to his therapist – Luhrmann is not content to simply provide the images for Fitzgerald’s words. He gives us “Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby,” the Gatsby that only he could make. He takes a chance in that regard, but he needed to. The 1974 version of the film – directed by Jack Clayton and starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow – is a very conservative adaptation of the story and the result is an incredibly boring film. Love him or hate him, Baz brings something to the fold.
Luhrmann is, of course, a specialist in artifice, and with his production designer wife Catherine Martin, he provides a visual and aural extravaganza. The Great Gatsby is a period drama unlike any other you’ve seen. It is a feast of art deco style, with design and costume coming straight out of the 1920s – as an aside, you are looking at the early Oscar frontrunner in the Best Costume Design category. This period design is then contrasted with an overt digital element, used both to enhance the set design and geography, as well as in the cinematography. Luhrmann and cinematographer Simon Duggan employ a style of digital cinematography we are more used to seeing in action blockbusters like The Avengers, employing a number of impossible, artificial camera angles and swooping cinematography.
While the film’s visual style sets it apart from most period dramas, by far its most controversial element is its soundtrack. While the films diegetic music (music whose source is within the world of the film, like a radio or record player) is all in keeping with the era, the non-diegetic music (the soundtrack laid over the onscreen action) draws primarily from contemporary music, particularly RnB. The soundtrack includes the likes of Jay Z (also an executive producer on the film), Beyonce, Jack White, SIA, NEYO, will.i.am and Lana Del Rey. Much like the 3D photography, the use of contemporary music on the soundtrack is a device that is meant to draw you into the film. Hearing contemporary RnB music at Gatsby’s parties gives them a certain familiarity, making them a more relatable and as a result more immersive and overwhelming experience. But while it is an interesting device, I can’t help but feel the music is one element of the films which is not going to date well. There will come a time, and it won’t be too far into the future, when the film’s soundtrack feels neither of the period nor contemporary and as such just seems strange.
In the midst of this swirling visual and aural experience are four strong performances. Gatsby is, after all, a story built about relationships. Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway provides the film’s centre and the audience’s eyes and ears, with Luhrmann sticking to Fitzgerald’s device of telling the story from Carraway’s point of view. Luhrmann once described Carey Mulligan as “the actress of her generation,” and while Daisy is not really a meaty enough part to allow her to live up to that hype, she does bring an innocence to the role. DiCaprio, as the mysterious Gatsby, does not appear until half an hour into the film. But in the moment of his entrance, to the soaring tones of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ he shows that despite not having really done it since Titanic, Leo can still play Hollywood heartthrob. The most eye-catching performance of the picture though is from Joel Edgerton. Playing Daisy’s brutish husband, Tom Buchanan, Edgerton is at times an almost hulking presence. Yet despite being ostensibly the villain of the film, and despite treating Daisy horribly, Edgerton brings just enough nuance to Buchanan that you feel something for him as he watches his wife being stolen away by Gatsby.
Luhrmann’s Gatsby has polarised critics, as Luhrmann’s films are want to do. But coming on the back of numerous other failed attempts at adapting Fitzgerald’s novel – at least four others by my count – I can’t help but wonder does the question needs to be asked, are the elements which make Fitzgerald’s novel great not ones which can easily be translated to the screen? Does the brilliance of Fitzgerald’s novel come from something other than simply its narrative or its characters? Or is it simply the case that the right filmmaker hasn’t attempted it yet?
In the meantime, Baz Luhrmann has given us a characteristically glitzy and visually extravagant take on the classic story which is sure to please audiences and make a pile of money, even if it does leave the literary purists slightly dissatisfied.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Mark Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
2012 has given us a number of high profile blockbusters which have just made you ask “why?” Most recently there was the simply awful remake of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990)starring Colin Farrell. Prior to that you had Jeremy Renner starring in the very disappointing sequel (do you call it a sequel when the events are happening concurrently?) to the Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum. And the film which started it all off was The Amazing Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man raised eyebrows when the project was first announced. When it became apparent that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire were not interested in making a fourth Spider-Man movie, Columbia and Marvel decided that rather than looking for someone to take over and continue the franchise, they would go back and start again. So what we ended up with was a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise hitting cinemas only five years after the final film Raimi’s trilogy, Spider-Man 3 (2007), and even more amazingly, only ten years after the first film in Raimi’s trilogy, Spider-Man (2002).
For a number of people, myself included, it instantly brought to mind comparisons with the two Hulk films released only five years apart, The Hulk (2003) and The Incredible Hulk (2008)… that is, beyond just the same approach of taking the old title and adding an adjective. However, there was a reason for the reboot here. Firstly, Ang Lee’s films, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, had been a major disappointment both critically and commercially. More importantly, The Incredible Hulk was made as part of laying the foundations for this year’s superhero super-movie The Avengers (2012). So while The Incredible Hulk told a variation on the same origin story that The Hulk had, it was tying Bruce Banner’s story into that Avengers world.
But the same issues weren’t there with Spider-Man. While Spider-Man 3 had been a bit of a disappointment critically, Raimi’s films were still one of the most commercially successful trilogies in Hollywood history. Rather, the announcement of The Amazing Spider-Man appeared to be evidence of a condensing of time frames or a lack of patience in current day Hollywood. It makes you wonder how long it will be before the announcement of a Batman reboot. So that was a convoluted way of saying, I was intrigued to see what The Amazing Spider-Man had to offer. What would it be like? How would it be different?
This time round, they skew younger. Not yet a photographer at the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker is a seventeen year-old high schooler (slight suspension of disbelief required to accept the 28 year old Garfield as a teenager). Despite having appeared three times as the web slinging hero, Toby Maguire never really made the role his own. It was never impossible to think of anyone else as Spider-Man they way it is with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. So it is interesting to see Andrew Garfield bring a slightly different interpretation to the character. A teenage Peter Parker complete with parent issues opens up the role for a much more teen-angsty portrayal.
Webb employs a solid supporting cast. Since bursting onto the scene a couple of years ago Emma Stone has shown herself to be an incredibly versatile actress and she is doing something different again here, and does it impressively as always. Martin Sheen is one of those guys who just automatically makes a film better, and his role as Uncle Ben is no exception, with he and Sally Field adding a bit of gravitas to the roles of Peter Parker’s legal guardians.
Other than that, a lot is the same. Raimi’s films brought us “With great power comes great responsibility” and while that quote is never referenced in Webb’s film, the theme of responsibility is still there. Parker feels responsible for his uncle’s death. Parker feels responsible for the creation of his nemesis. It is a sense of responsibility, of duty, that compels him to do the things he does, and this juxtaposes quite nicely in this film with his teenage brashness when gifted with great power.
Coming out in the same year as The Dark Knight Rises (2012)and The Avengers, it was always going to take something very special for The Amazing Spider-Man to be doing anything more than fighting it out for the title of third-best comic book movie of the year, and ultimately there is nothing very special about it. It is an ok movie, which has its moments of being quite good. However, the fact that it is a reboot means that it is faced with a series of other questions. Is it better than the other Spider-Man movies? Possibly, though if it is – and a strong argument could be made for Spider-Man 2 (2004)– it isn’t better by much, probably not really enough to justify the reboot. That being said, the $262 million it made at the US box office is probably justification enough for some.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean