The Great Gatsby: typically Luhrmann, but spellbinding none-the-less

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Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge showed us that Australian director Baz Luhrmann can throw a hell of a party. Now, after the epic drabness of Australia he pulls the stereo out of storage and does it again. The best scene in this fast and furious stab at F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 state-of-the-nation novel comes early, as we gatecrash a wild shindig at the Long Island home of filthy rich socialite Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby’s wide-eyed neighbour Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) cuts through the layers of flappers and frippery and meets his elusive host amid the throng. The scene is Luhrmann at his best: swirling cameras, mad excess, look-at-me costumes and big musical statements.

In Luhrmann’s world, everything is bigger, noisier and brighter than the far-from-humdrum universe of Fitzgerald’s story. That’s fine when the party’s raging, but when the music stops and the lights go up, dawn casts an unflattering glow on the film’s quieter, more intimate moments.

One of the niggling problems with the film is that it never knows whether it’s about the doomed love between Gatsby and flighty Southern belle Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who lives across the water with her brutish husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), or about the longing, questioning, horrified gaze of Carraway. He’s an outsider in a rarefied world (comparable to Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited), and arguably that’s where the real emotional pull of Fitzgerald’s story lies. Yet there’s a whole swathe where Carraway recedes from view and Luhrmann focuses on the push and pull between Daisy and Gatsby.

Carraway, of course, is the book’s narrator, and Luhrmann tries to hang on to his perspective by creating a framework in which Carraway spills all to a psychiatrist about his encounters. It’s an admission of failure – or at least that there’s a major problem to solve in adapting this novel. We hear Carraway’s narration. We even, occasionally, see text from the book. But it’s the age-old page-to-screen issue: we’re witnessing all this from the outside in, rather than the inside out.

What Luhrmann makes intoxicating is a sense of place – the houses, the rooms, the city, the roads – and the sense that all this is unfolding in a bubble like some mad fable. Where he falters is in persuading us that these are real, breathing folk whose experiences and destinies can move us.

DVD Review: The Odd Life of Timothy Green

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Framed as a flashback, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is the story of Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner), who live in a dying industrial town whose economy depends on the local pencil factory.

At the film’s start, Jim and Cindy get some terrible news – after years of trying everything, they are told that they will never be able to produce a baby of their own. One of the films most heart-wrenching moments, we see Jim and Cindy go through sadness, anger, and eventually denial.

Sick of mourning, they get drunk and start imagining the kid they would have had, writing each of his awesome attributes on a piece of paper, then putting the slips into a wooden box, which they bury (or plant) in their garden (along with their dreams apparently).

Overnight, something magical happens – there’s a rainstorm localized specifically over their house and garden and something crawls out of the earth. In the morning, Jim and Cindy discover muddy footprints leading to what would have been the baby’s room – and inside, a mud-covered 10-year-old (CJ Adams) who announces that his name is Timothy and that he is theirs.

Timothy is a strange little strange little cookie to say the least. He doesn’t pick up on social cues—he’s oblivious to bullying and can’t figure out the fun of sports – and persists on photosynthesising at the most inappropriate moments. Timothy is a unique soul, but it’s a struggle to get really excited about his arrival, excepting the fact that he’s growing leaves along his shins.

Luckily, the camera often follows Cindy and Jim. The majority of scenes are reliant on their connection, which Garner and Edgerton pull off spectacularly – they really work as an on-screen couple. Both deliver fine performances as parents who desperately want to become parents, but even their combined efforts can’t save this movie from its own overbearing sentimentality.

Having said that, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is definitely a different kind of film and one that the whole family could enjoy. It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it has its moments. A safe bet if you’re looking for a family friendly tear-jerker.

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