SECOND LOOK: THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)

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The Great Gatsby Blu-RaySECOND LOOK:  THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)

By Michael Arruda

 

THE GREAT GATSBY was one of my favorite movies last year (see my post from May 12, 2013 for my full review).  In fact, it made my Top 10 List for Best Movies of 2013 coming in at #9. 

 

I liked it so much I decided it was already time for a second look, and so I checked it out again the other day on Blu-Ray.  How well did it hold up? 

 

Pretty well, actually.

 

The biggest difference between seeing it at the movies and watching it at home was the quality of the visuals.  I saw it in 3D at the movies, and I was very impressed with the 3D effects.  The visual splendor of the film is lost somewhat in 2D on the living room screen.  Also, the fast moving camerawork which appeared smooth and perfectly natural at the theater was somewhat jarring on the smaller screen at home. 

 

Bottom line:  even though the Blu-Ray print was crystal clear, the film was nowhere near as visually stunning and impressive as it was in the theater.

 

The living room setting didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the controversial modern soundtrack, however.  I still thought it worked.

 

The strong acting performances hold up as well.

 

I appreciated Tobey Maguire’s performance even more the second time around.  His Nick Carraway is exactly the way I pictured him in Fitzgerald’s novel, and he really nails Carraway’s disillusionment with the people around him, as well as his growing affection towards Gatsby, a man he didn’t know what to make of at first.

 

And while I still enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio’s interpretation of Jay Gatsby, admittedly I was somewhat less impressed with DiCaprio’s performance during this second viewing. I didn’t find him as spot-on as I did the first time around.  Don’t get me wrong.  DiCaprio is still excellent.  I just wasn’t wowed as much the second time.  Maybe it was because of his more recent and even better performance as Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013).

 

Carey Mulligan is just as adorable at home as Daisy Buchanan as she was at the movies, and Joel Edgerton is just as shamelessly confident and coarse as her off-the-charts rich husband Tom. 

 

And the parties are still just as vibrant and fun.

 

However, I still didn’t like the way director Baz Luhrmann handled Gatsby’s first appearance in the movie.  I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, and I liked it even less the second time. It’s probably the phoniest part of the movie, one of the few times the film doesn’t ring true.

 

I still like this version though, and prefer it to the 1974 Robert Redford version.  Its biggest strength is that it does a good job bringing THE GREAT GATSBY to life for modern audiences, without sacrificing the integrity of the story.

 

It’s full of energy and oomph and really puts a charge into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel.

 

THE GREAT GATSBY was a must-see film at the movies, and it’s still highly recommended, even at home on Blu-Ray in the comfort of your own living room.  The visuals may not translate as well, but everything else about this vibrant production still rocks.

 

So, go ahead and visit Jay Gatsby.  Like the rest of the guests at his mansion, you don’t need an invitation.

 

—Michael

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Blockbuster Movies Open in May

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Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in IRON MAN 3

Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in IRON MAN 3

Bring on the May Blockbusters!

After what I’ve considered a rather lackluster crop of movies so far in 2013, the month of May brings out some heavy hitters, and I’m really looking forward to them.

Things start today, Friday, May 3, with the release of IRON MAN 3 (2013).  Sure, it’s the third film in the series, so how good can it be?  Shouldn’t it be falling off in quality somewhat?  Yeah, it should, but the Marvel Superhero movies have enjoyed such a strong run for the past decade with a proven formula, I think the odds are somewhat higher that IRON MAN 3 will play better than a second sequel.

And who doesn’t like Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man?  If there was ever a role he was born to play, Tony Stark is it.  He’s certainly one of the most entertaining superhero alter egos going.  Stark’s more fun to watch than brooding Bruce Wayne, goody-goody Clark Kent, or nice guy Peter Parker.  Heck, Stark is more engaging than Iron Man.

Plus you have Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pots, and the great Ben Kingsley playing the villain, the Mandarin.

On Friday May 10 THE GREAT GATSBY (2013) opens, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.  Like Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, if there were ever a role that DiCaprio was born to play, it just might be Gatsby.

The trailers for this one look terrific, as it looks like it’s going to be a visual tour de force, which comes as no surprise, as it’s directed by Baz Luhrmann, the guy who directed ROMEO AND JULIET (1996) and MOULIN ROUGE (2001).  If you’ve seen those movies, you know what kind of visual style Luhrmann brings to the table.

Tobey Maguire also looks like he’s going to make a perfect Nick Carraway, and I like Carey Mulligan a lot, and she’ll be playing Daisy Buchanan.

I just recently finished teaching a unit on THE GREAT GATSBY, and so I’m really looking forward to watching this latest film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, especially since I’ve never been a big fan of the 1974 Robert Redford version.

On Friday May 17, it’s STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013), J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to his successful STAR TREK (2009) reboot, a film I liked a lot.  I’m a big fan of the original series, and so yes, I was slightly sad to see my favorite characters being portrayed by different actors, but I also happened to really like these new folks, as they all seemed to put their own stamp on the roles while keeping the spirit of the original players.

I also liked the alternate reality part of the story, which explained how these characters and the events in their lives would now be slightly different.  It opened the door nicely for brand new stories and provided a clever defense against die-hard fans who might find fault with future stories that didn’t fit in with the known Star Trek universe.

We turn to laughs on Friday May 24 with the release of THE HANGOVER PART III (2013).  Sure, this series isn’t for everyone, but I find these movies hilarious.  The exploits of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) are so over the top ridiculous and insane I just can’t stop laughing.

Again, this is the third film in the series, and so a drop-off is expected, but that doesn’t mean I’m not really looking forward to this one.  I expect to laugh quite a bit.

There are even a couple of scary movies coming out in May.  On the final weekend, Friday May 31, there’s THE PURGE (2013), a promising thriller about a futuristic society that allows crime to run rampant for one night of the year.  It stars Ethan Hawke, and it’s from the producers of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and SINISTER (2012).

That same weekend, though not scary, there’s NOW YOU SEE ME (2013), an interesting looking yarn about a team of illusionists who rob banks.  It’s got a great cast which includes Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Elias Koteas.

And earlier in the month, on May 10, there’s the horror film AFTERSHOCK (2013), an intense looking end-of-life-as-we-know-it flick starring Eli Roth.

I’m so looking forward to the May movies.  Bring ‘em on!

—Michael

BODY OF LIES decent thriller from Ridley Scott – Blu-ray Review

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Body of LIes poster

Blu-ray/DVD Review:  BODY OF LIES (2008)

by

Michael Arruda

 

I caught up with BODY OF LIES (2008) on Blu-Ray the other day, Ridley Scott’s thriller from 2008 about terrorism in the Middle East.  It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and while both actors do a fine job, DiCaprio in particular, it’s Mark Strong who steals the show as the head of Jordanian intelligence.

 Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young CIA operative working in the Middle East trying to locate the mastermind behind a series of terrorist bombings.  His superior officer, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) works behind the scenes back in the States and the two are in constant contact via cell phone. 

 Hoffman hooks Ferris up with the head of Jordanian security, Hani (Mark Strong) in their efforts to track down the terrorist.  Hani tells Ferris he’s happy to work with him, but under one condition:  “don’t ever lie to me.”  You know right off the bat that this is going to be a problem.

 At Hoffman’s urging, Ferris does lie to Hani, and once Hani finds out, he tells Ferris he no longer will work with him, nor will he be responsible for his safety.  As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, Ferris finds time to befriend a young nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), and the two become romantically involved, giving Ferris’ enemies a card they can play against him.

Ferris and Hoffman devise a new plan to catch the elusive terrorist, but things don’t go as expected, and Ferris suddenly finds himself in a predicament in which there seems to be no escape. 

 BODY OF LIES is a decent thriller, but don’t expect anything as intense as the Kathryn Bigelow films THE HURT LOCKER (2008) or ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012).   It’s based on the novel by David Ignatius, and it plays more like a fictional tale than a true to life espionage account.  This isn’t necessarily the fault of the screenplay by William Monahan, which includes realistic and captivating dialogue, and likable characters, but of the story itself, a tale of elaborate plots that seem more at home in a movie than in real life.  Monahan also wrote the screenplay for THE DEPARTED (2006), a film that was actually darker than this movie.

 Although Ridley Scott does a fine job at the helm, for a thriller, the film isn’t all that suspenseful.  The most suspense the film generates comes at the end, when DiCaprio’s Ferris finds himself in the hands of the enemy, and when they start the video cameras rolling, you know exactly what they have in mind for the young CIA agent.  It’s nail biting time, and then some.  But before this, the film, while generally engrossing and entertaining, is not exactly all that intense.

 That being said, you can’t blame Leonardo DiCaprio, because he brings his usual intensity to the role of CIA agent Roger Ferris, and it’s a very similar performance though not as good as his work in THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), two of my favorite DiCaprio roles. 

DiCaprio also shows off his softer side here, as his scenes with nurse Aisha are warm and enjoyable.  He and Golshifteh Farahani share a nice chemistry together.

And then there’s Russell Crowe. 

 It’s funny about Russell Crowe’s performance here.  He portrays Ed Hoffman as a veteran operative whose best days are behind him.  He works behind the scenes, from the safety of his own home most of the time, communicating to his agent Ferris by constantly talking into his headset while performing mundane duties, like taking his children to soccer practice and grocery shopping.

 He’s supposed to be a man who has let himself go, and the funny thing is, in recent films, that’s how Crowe has appeared.  No longer the beast of a man who was Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000), Crowe has been a rather overweight assassin in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) and a rather ineffective Javert in LES MISERABLES (2012).  Life imitating art?

 But the two best performances in BODY OF LIES both come from supporting players.  First, in my favorite performance of the movie, it’s Mark Strong as Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence.  Strong is one of those actors who looks different in nearly every movie he’s in, and who manages to deliver compelling performances in these films, and his work here in BODY OF LIES is no exception. 

 Strong originates from Britain, but in BODY OF LIES he seems at ease and natural portraying a Jordanian.  If you didn’t know his background, you’d never guess that he wasn’t from Jordan.  Likewise, in his performance as the villainous Frank D’Amico in KICK-ASS (2010), probably my favorite Strong performance, you’d never know he wasn’t from New York City.  Strong has appeared in SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), GREEN LANTERN (2011), JOHN CARTER (2012) and most recently in ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012).

 As Hani, Strong is suave, confident, and ruthless.  It’s a great performance.

 The other memorable performance in BODY OF LIES belongs to Golshifteh Farahani as Aisha, Ferris’ love interest.  Farahani comes off as genuine and sincere, and she’s a breath of fresh air compared to the deceit which permeates the rest of the characters in this story.  She also projects a heartfelt sensuality not often found in female movie characters.  I absolutely bought the notion that she had feelings for Ferris and that she didn’t have ulterior motives or felt for him because she was turned on by a sense of adventure or daring.  She just genuinely seemed attracted to the guy.  Refreshing.

 BODY OF LIES didn’t blow me away, either with its story or its acting performances, didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, with the exception of the sequence where Ferris is captured by the terrorists, and this comes late in the game, but for its 128 minute running time, it held my interest and succeeded in making its point that our actions the past decade in the Middle East, for right or wrong, are a body of lies.

 —END—