Monday, September 09, 2013


It's not been my finest year for cinemagoing... *flicks through diary* ...four times to be precise.  Two new films, two old.  I am nothing if not disciplined!

My first film of the year was Pedro Almodóvar's LOS AMANTES PASAJEROS (I'M SO EXCITED) and I was!  It has not been well-received with carping about it being too camp and too much like his early 'movida' films.  Which was probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did.  Pedro can't win, when his films went through a transition during the mid-nineties the general consensus was "Why isn't he doing more funny films like he used to make?"  The fact that he can move across styles and genres marks out his excellence.

Yes it was lightweight and ephemeral but it also had a wicked sense of humour - his characters here aren't given depth and deep emotions, they are brash, glossy and non-stop talking for longer than a full Madrid minute.

Taking his cue from the "Airport" film series, a plane on a routine flight is discovered to have damaged landing gear and only a limited amount of fuel and we watch as the passengers and crew react to the situation.  Only here the crew have access to copious amounts of drink and drugs - which they eventually share with the passengers!

As with any disaster film we have a motley bunch in first-class, a high-class bondage madame, a Mexican hit-man, a recently married couple, a psychic, a businessman etc. and of course we also get to find out what has brought them to be on that plane.  Mostly though we concentrate on the three gay cabin crew: the wonderful Javier Camara as Joserra who is having an affair with the pilot, Raul Arevalo as thin-as-a-whip Ulloa and chubby Fajas (Carlos Areces) who never flies without his portable shrine!

For us Pedro fans another treat was seeing Cecilia Roth (star of his first film PEPI, LUCI BOM as well as the magnificent TODO SOBRE MI MADRE) as the high-class dominatrix and Lola Dueñas (VOLVER, LOS ABRAZOS ROTOS) as the lovelorn psychic Bruna.  There are also two delightful cameos from long-time Pedro stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz as the airport workers who accidentally damage the plane.

It was fun, filthy and flew by, the only time the film seemed to pall was when we left the interior of the plane and returned to earth.  The highlight of the film being the trolly-dollys choreographed dance routine around the plane to The Pointer Sisters' I'M SO EXCITED (which is where the English language title comes from) - and on the subject of music, Alberto Iglesias' score is a major component in it's success.  If you want to view the film as a satire on Spain's current malaise you can, if you want to view it as a hymn to camp gay men - hey that's there as well!

As usual, I came out wondering where this remarkable film maker will take us next.

My second new film was Baz Luhrmann's much-vaunted version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY.  This one was always going to be tricky for me, firstly because GATSBY is my favourite novel (I re-read it again last August) and secondly, because I have a problem with Luhrmann.  I loved WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO + JULIET but his other films have always annoyed the hell out of me.

Luhrmann has stated that he made the film because he loves the book but I can't believe it's the same one that I do.

I have sat staring at this screen trying to find a way in to blogging about the film but I simply can't.  Let me try it this way:

What did I like?  Leonardo DiCaprio gave a performance of pure star quality, suggesting the loneliness and quiet desperation behind Gatsby's studied pose.  He also conveyed the unquenchable hope that lay behind all his efforts to win Daisy back.  DiCaprio also had real chemistry with co-star Carey Mulligan.  The trouble with Mulligan though is she is such an intelligent actress that I felt she was simply too grounded to play Daisy.  Mia Farrow was the perfect Daisy in the 1974 version, highly-strung, maddening, gossamer.
Occasionally a screen image would appear which made me gasp with amazement and his vision of the desolate valley of ashes, that stretch of misery between the rich worlds of West Egg and New York was exactly how I had pictured it in my mind when reading the book.
While I disliked Luhrmann having Nick Carraway narrating the story to a doctor in an alcoholic sanatorium, I did like his occasional use of the actual text disappearing on and off the screen.  It felt to me like Luhrmann was showing up all his outlandish visuals - in the end, there are Fitzgerald's words.
What didn't I like?  Have you got a while?  The sheer dizzying absurdity of his vision was so relentless that when the visuals stopped, it was difficult to concentrate on the quieter scenes.  The worst excess was splurged on the impromptu party that Tom and Myrtle have at their apartment in New York.  Fitzgerald gives us a scene with Nick trapped in a small flat with bores and boozers, Luhrmann instead gives us a wild orgy with a hallucinating Nick.  It's all so crass.
My real problem lies in the fact that Luhrmann strips his characters of any saving graces apart from Gatsby, Daisy, Nick, possibly Jordan.  Tom Buchanan is a teeth-grinding, moustache-twirling villain straight out of a bad silent movie, Wilson is a snivelling loser and Myrtle is a low-rent slut.  Compare this with the way the characters are represented in Jack Clayton's superior 1974 film.  They all have key moments which at least give them a humanity: Tom and Wilson both have scenes mourning Myrtle and crucially, Myrtle is given the speech at the party where she explains how she first met Tom on a train.  Of course it also helps having actors of the calibre of Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson and the late Karen Black.  In this film Joel Edgerton gives a truly lousy performance as Tom while Isla Blair and Jason Clarke bring nothing to the table.  Luhrmann even changes the plot to have Nick tell Wilson that Gatsby is the man responsible for Myrtle's death.
Damning as well - especially from someone who says he loves the book - is that he changes the conclusion of the story.  In the book, an old man shows up at Gatsby's mansion in time for the funeral who turns out to be his father who explains to Tom his son's determination to 'better' himself and to marvel at what his son achieved.  Here Gatsby himself tells Nick in a few lines of his background which robs the story of any real context.
But right at the end, Luhrmann surprised me by including Fitzgerald's haunting last lines which Clayton left out of his film:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I know I will be borne back to the book again, I'm not sure about this film version.  Even if we did get a free Stella Artois pint glass after the screening!

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