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The Great Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

IN translating F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to lush 3D spectacle, director Baz Luhrmann turns F. Scott Fitzgerald's timeless prose into an outsized, gaudy, pop-up storybook.

Luhrmann quickly shakes things up with a framing device placing the book's narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in a sanitorium where he is recovering from a condition of sleeplessness and debilitating alcoholism, suggesting that Carraway is a stand-in for Fitzgerald himself.

Instead of the "talking cure," Carraway is prescribed a writing cure by his wise old therapist (Jack Thompson) and out tumbles the story of how Carraway, in New York to make a killing in the bonds business, finds himself whisked into the lives of the rich and capricious. The introduction comes via his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), married to the heel Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a polo-playing scion of entitled wealth.

In his own humble Long Island cabin, Nick becomes aware of Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) through the lavish parties he throws on the estate next door. Gatsby is a mysterious figure, rumoured to have "killed a man." When Gatsby discovers Nick is Daisy's cousin, a friendship is struck. Gatsby employs Nick as a go-between in an effort to win the heart of Daisy, with whom he fell in love five years earlier.

Fitzgerald's straightforward story is subject to insane stylistic embellishment by Luhrmann, including a contemporary soundtrack produced by Jay-Z and outright cartoonish visual effects. (Gatsby's famous yellow car zooms around like an automotive escapee from Speed Racer.)

It is aggressively stylish -- and unnecessary. In a key scene in the movie, when Gatsby, Nick, the Buchanans and Nick's worldly girlfriend Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) converge at a suite in the Plaza Hotel, where Gatsby makes his play for Daisy, Luhrmann plays it straight, with nary a single computer-generated doodad in sight nor a rapper on the soundtrack. And the actors hold their own quite well, thank you, especially DiCaprio, who brings a deeper romance and a sense of danger to the role that was wholly absent when Robert Redford played him in 1974. Edgerton likewise holds his own as the despicable Tom Buchanan and Carey Mulligan does subtle work as a romantic heroine fatally lacking in the departments of both romance and heroism. But the dynamics of the novel -- how the wealthy tend to make pawns of the impoverished -- is lost in the movie's noisy, colour-saturated flash. ** 1/2 out of five


Pain & Gain

CONTEMPORARY filmmaker Michael Bay (Transformers) has always targeted the attention-deficit-disorder demographic with noisy, fast-paced shlock featuring lots of shiny surfaces: sleek cars and sleek half-naked women.

Bay takes on a true crime story with Pain & Gain, and for a brief while, it appears his frenetic, glossy style will dovetail with the content.

For starters, it's about a bunch of idiots. Sleek, shiny, bodybuilding idiots.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a fitness trainer at the Sun Gym in Miami, unhappy with the prospect of "another 40 years of wearing sweatpants to work."

Lugo concocts a get-rich-quick scheme. He targets a gym client, the obnoxious self-made millionaire Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), and contrives to simply steal Kershaw's wealth through sheer brute force.

For that, he needs a couple of accomplices and chooses a couple of other bodybuilders: the dim, born-again ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson); and the nastier but equally stupid Adrian Dorball (Anthony Mackie). After a couple of abortive kidnap attempts, they finally seize Kershaw, take him to a warehouse and torture him until he signs over all his wealth and worldly goods.

Lugo gets lucky. Kershaw survives the kidnapping, but the police don't believe his outrageous tale of how his fortune was stolen from him. (Kershaw is half-Colombian and Florida cops simply don't trust Colombians.)

Kershaw finally succeeds in getting a private investigator on the case. Ex-cop Ed DuBois (Ed Harris) is the only smart, capable person in this whole movie and that could be bad news for the "Sun Gym Gang," especially as they prepare to strike again against a porn magnate (Michael Rispoli).

Pain & Gain is one of the rare Bay movies that aspires to actually be about something. The movie offers a vague commentary about how the American Dream coupled with a culture of instant gratification is a recipe for disaster. And the performances here are actually pretty funny. In particular, Wahlberg adds a toxic layer to his naive, all-American persona. And Dwayne Johnson is uncharacteristically hilarious as a would-be Christian who takes a steep fall into violence and druggie excess.

The problem is the movie shouldn't be all that funny. In its tone, it was clearly modelled after the Coen brothers' kidnapping-gone-wrong opus Fargo, which the Coens presented as a true story but was, in fact, pure fiction.

This story features a real-life double murder, played for laughs. The effect is as alienating as a Transformers movie.

Even when his movies don't feature robots, Bay movies lack recognizable humanity.

** 1/2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 C12

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