We Were Movie Gangsters

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The Pretty Good Gatsby: Because I’ve Never Seen Such Beautiful Shirts Before

Let me start off by saying this: sometimes, our perilously high hopes and dangerous, reaching desires can do us more harm than good. And sometimes, our perilously low expectations can yield pleasant surprises.

I was so utterly convinced that I was going to hate 2013’s The Great Gatsby, and yet I actually found myself enjoying Baz Luhrmann’s spectacle of sparkles and color, a roaring circus of booze and excess. Once you allow yourself to get swept up in the fast-paced, jazzy/hip-hop whirl of parties and pretentiousness, it’s an enjoyable, visually overwhelming film, based on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that will always outmatch any adaptation.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel, the basic premise is that Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious, wealthy man shrouded in a carefully calculated, respectable persona, seeks to reclaim his lost love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a wealthy, married woman whose “voice is full of money”. More than that, though, it’s Fitzgerald’s reflection on American society, wealth and recklessness and excess; a glittering facade covering something shallow and ugly.

Luhrmann definitely made use of the symbols (such as the green light) woven throughout The Great Gatsby, though without much subtlety, and pretty much adhered the plot and overarching the themes of the novel. Arguably, the most rebellious felony he committed against the source material was the use of a hip-hop/pop soundtrack against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, which I actually thought worked pretty well. The music was good–modern with a jazzy twist, laced with bits of recognizable 20s dance grooves–and fit in with the ridiculousness of the whole thing. My mom made an interesting argument for the anachronistic soundtrack: jazz music isn’t new to us. In the 1920s, everything was shining and glimmering and fast-paced and new, and jazz music characterized that, but, in today’s context, jazz music is, to some, kind of a relic. It isn’t exciting or scandalous to us. The music of the film fit in with the feeling of raw excitement, and made those crazy Gatsby parties seem even crazier.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Gatsby was certainly praiseworthy, with his pretentious “old sport”s and outward appearance of coolness broken by those moments of shaking nerves and bursting temper. Tobey Maguire was not particularly remarkable as Nick Carraway. My favorite performance came from Joel Edgerton’s rendering of Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s brutish, snobbish husband. He was really good.

There’s something to be said for a movie that can make you cry, no matter how or why. I got a little bit misty-eyed over the tragic end, yeah, but I found myself crying–I mean really, actually shedding tears–at the shirts scene. The part in the book where Gatsby brings Daisy to his opulent mansion is pretty sad, because you can see that he’s done all of this for a dream, an illusion of her. He has accumulated a mass of things and cultivated an attitude of respectability, always staring at that green light across the bay, in sight but out of reach. Naively, he believes that he can reclaim the past, if only he buys enough things. He’s a collector of things–things that he thinks will impress Daisy–and the thing he wants to collect most is Daisy herself, a sparkly thing who likes sparkly things. Daisy says, “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.”

Now in that euphoric, post-movie rush, I can say that I definitely enjoyed the film. Did I love it? Nah. Did it leave a great impact? I really don’t think so. But it was an enjoyable watch, and exceeded the expectations I had that were born of a dislike for Luhrmann’s flashy, overwhelming style. I have to say that I thought that style worked here. You could argue that the film lacked depth, but I still enjoyed it, and don’t regret going to see it. I would argue that Luhrmann’s film does the novel justice more than the stiff 1974 adaptation with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Luhrmann’s Gatsby is marked by excess and perhaps self-indulgence, but, like I said, I didn’t particularly dislike it. Had I seen it in 3D, though, I think I would be throwing up right now. Don’t do it.

Crackling with excitement and summer heat, The Great Gatsby is dizzying, sometimes disorienting and tacky, and actually pretty humorous. You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a love story (that’s not what this is and I hope you know that), and even more disappointed if you expect it to stand up to Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. As a movie to venture out to see on the weekend, I liked it.

The film swirls to its dramatic close and concludes with some of my favorite lines from literature:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


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May Star of the Month: Joaquin Phoenix

A new feature we’re starting here at Moviefellas is the Star of the Month, which entails movie reviews and other posts on the actor or actress we choose for a given month. For May 2013, I decided that our star should be the talented Joaquin Phoenix, after whom I named my goldfish (2012-2012 R.I.P.), and whose picture is currently gracing my mantle (my family hasn’t noticed yet, don’t tell them).

You may know Phoenix from films such as Gladiator (2000), Walk the Line (2005), and The Master (2012), all of which earned him Academy Award nominations for his outstanding performances. Born in Puerto Rico to Children of God missionaries, Phoenix began his acting career as a child after moving to Los Angeles at the age of four, alongside his brother River, who quickly rose to fame (see: Stand by Me). In 1993, tragedy struck when Joaquin’s older brother River died of a drug overdose.

In 1995, Joaquin returned to acting in Gus Van Sant’s dark comedy To Die For alongside Nicole Kidman. Widespread critical success came with his role as the villainous Roman emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) starring Russell Crowe. Gladiator earned Phoenix nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTAs and SAG Awards–and it wouldn’t be the last time.

Joaquin proved himself to be one of the greatest actors of his generation with his spot-on portrayal of legendary singer Johnny Cash in the 2005 biopic Walk the Line. Phoenix starred as the Man in Black alongside Reese Witherspoon, who met the challenge of portraying Cash’s wife and fellow musician, June Carter Cash.

Director James Mangold and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Walk the Line

Director James Mangold and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Walk the Line

Phoenix earned a Grammy Award for his bassy, dare I say angelic/beautiful/tear-inducingly wonderful rendition of some of Cash’s songs for the soundtrack of Walk the Line. Walk the Line brought Joaquin a slew of nominations and wins, including an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe win for Best Actor.

Phoenix shocked and confused both fans and media in 2009 when he announced that he was leaving his successful acting career to become a rapper. His bizarre behavior was later revealed to be part of the making of the “documentary” I’m Still Here, which chronicles Phoenix’s foray into hip-hop music. In an interview with TIME, Phoenix said of the experience:

“Part of why I was frustrated with acting was because I took it so seriously. I want it to be so good that I get in my own way. It’s like love: when you fall in love, you’re not yourself anymore. You lose control of being natural and showing the beautiful parts of yourself, and all somebody recognizes is this total desperation. And that’s very unattractive. Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating.

“… I’d just been acting too long, and it had kind of been ruined for me. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would feel brand-new and hopefully inspire a new way of approaching acting. It did do that for me.”

After a hiatus from acting, Phoenix made a triumphant return to the screen in 2012 with acclaimed director (aka one of my absolute favorite directors) Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Phoenix stunned audiences and critics with his riveting performance as the tortured, animalistic Freddie Quell, who is drawn into charismatic Lancaster Dodd’s ‘Cause’. Brutally passionate, physical, and powerful, Joaquin Phoenix seems to burst off the screen with the performance of a lifetime in The Master, which earned him a well-deserved profusion of nominations. Tragically, though, this amazing performance came the same year as Daniel Day-Lewis–the other greatest actor of this day and age–‘s widely praised portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, and, once again, Joaquin was left Oscar-less. (SOON, JOAQUIN. SOON.)

Thankfully, though, this isn’t the last we will see of Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible talent. Phoenix has two movies slated to release in 2013: James Gray’s The Immigrant, co-starring Marion Cotillard; and Spike Jonze’s Her, in which he will reunite with The Master costar Amy Adams. In 2014, Phoenix will reteam with director Paul Thomas Anderson in Inherent Vice.

Joaquin Phoenix has never been one to confine himself to any type of role, and has consistently proved himself to be a talented, versatile actor. Regardless of the critical or box office success of his films, he has always exhibited his strength as an actor onscreen. Offscreen, Phoenix is a cool guy who doesn’t subscribe to Hollywood bullshit. Phoenix gives a comparatively small amount of interviews, but when he does, they always show his insight, candidness, and overall charm. Personally, I can’t wait for the rest of his career.

Did I mention I love Joaquin Phoenix?

Where do I begin?! – Five Joaquin Phoenix movies you should watch

  • To Die For
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Gladiator
  • Walk the Line
  • The Master

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12 Movies About Moms

Happy Mother’s Day from Moviefellas! Here are twelve movies to watch with your mom on this special day, some of them warm and fuzzy and some… not as much.

1. The Kids Are Alright-two moms!

2. Terms of Endearment-Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson, what else can I say?

3. Steel Magnolias-Why isn’t Sally Field my mom

4. Psycho-“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

5. Forrest Gump-Why isn’t Sally Field my mom, Pt. 2

6. Mommie Dearest-NO WIRE HANGERS EVER

7. Mrs. Miniver-Greer Garson as the best WWII mother

8. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore-An early Martin Scorsese gem about a hardworking single mother, played by Ellen Burstyn

9. Mamma Mia!-singing and dancing mother-daughter goodness. STREEP.

10. The GraduateAnd here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson…

11. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof-feat. Big Momma and that awful Mae with her brood of brats

12. Gilmore Girls-Okay, not a movie, but on the real, you can’t go wrong with this sincere, pop-culture-referencing mother-daughter TV show.

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Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2

Uma Thurman as ‘The Bride’ in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino is always full of surprises, and when I watch his movies I never know what to expect, aside from a lot of blood and a great soundtrack. Kill Bill more than delivered on the blood factor, but also on the high quality factor I’ve come to expect from Tarantino. It’s a stylish revenge film that somehow manages to be a western, samurai film, and martial arts movie all at once.

Uma Thurman is the Bride, who is out for revenge after (almost) being murdered by her former lover (Bill, played by David Carradine) and his team of dangerous killers known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, to which the Bride used to belong. Determined to deliver justice to her would-be assassins after waking up from a four-year coma, the Bride works her way down a list of Deadly Vipers: O-ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and, of course… Bill.

Kill Bill is fast-paced, violent, and absorbing, with Tarantino’s typical super-cool, perfectly integrated soundtrack and quick, well-written dialogue. It’s a mind-bogglingly brilliant blend of genres that Tarantino–obviously a lover of film himself–pays homage to with perfect execution.

The O-Ren Ishii plotline is probably the most memorable of the series, ending in unrealistic but engrossing violence with a mix of classic elements borrowed from Asian film. Lucy Liu is fantastic in the role of the ruthless assassin/underground crime leader of Tokyo.

Although probably not my favorites of Tarantino’s movies, I immensely enjoyed both Kill Bill vol. 1 and Kill Bill vol. 2, and highly recommend them. I think the most accurate way for me to describe this is that they were fucking awesome.

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Top 5 Terrence Malick Films

By Erin (mortimerbrewster)

Funny story about my personal Top 5 Malick Films: there are only five Terrence Malick films that I can review. But I decided I would put them in order of my personal preference, because I have much love for the enigmatic, seldom-seen director.

Terrence Malick is one of my favorite directors because of the quiet beauty of his films. Visually, they are stunning. Emotionally, they always draw some kind of reaction from me. With pensive, philosophic voiceovers and the inevitable scenes of tall, waving grasses, Malick’s films reflect the beauty of things on a broader, universal scale and always manage to make me feel calm and at peace.

5. The Tree of Life (2011)

“The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.”

I have The Tree of Life to thank for my love for Jessica Chastain (the sweetest, most beautiful actress) who stars alongside Brad Pitt and Sean Penn in this slow but entrancing film. The Tree of Life follows a relatively average family in Texas through tragedy and internal conflict, as the eldest son Jack grows up and experiences life. As an adult, Jack (Sean Penn) questions life and faith.

The film features some mind-bogglingly beautiful images, and there are even some dinosaurs that make a brief appearance. That might sound like a joke, but it’s not. Dinosaurs.

It’s been over a year since I watched this film, but I still haven’t fully sorted out my feelings about it. The images that The Tree of Life presents are what struck me the most, and lingered with me weeks afterwards. I was a bit bewildered by this film, but affected nonetheless; The Tree of Life is a beautiful, fluid painting of all life that moves like gentle-flowing water across the screen.

4. The New World (2005)

“What else is life but being near you?”

The New World gives us a glimpse of a swampy but intensely beautiful, untouched Virginia–‘The New World’–in 1607 at the time of the founding of Jamestown. The film is a retelling of the Pocahontas story, actually a lot like the Disney animated movie that we have probably all seen. Terrence Malick’s story follows Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) as the world around her changes with the arrival of the Europeans in North America, and shows her love for Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and eventual marriage to John Rolfe (Christian Bale).

The New World and The Tree of Life could easily switch places in this list, because there are things I like and don’t like about both. The New World is a pretty underrated film that I like mostly because of Colin Farrell, if we’re being real here. The alternate title could be Colin Farrell Wandering Through Tall Grass.

3. Badlands (1973)

“Little did I realize that what began in the alleys and back ways of this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.”

Malick’s first feature film is faster-paced than his others, but still distinctively Malick. Based on a true story, Badlands is the Bonnie and Clyde-esque tale of smooth-talking former garbage collector Kit (Martin Sheen) and his young, naive girlfriend Holy (Sissy Spacek), who narrates their killing spree across states and sprawling stretches of the badlands. Kit is charming, sociopathic, and, as an inexperienced Holly reflects, “He was handsomer than anybody I’d ever met. He looked just like James Dean.” Soon Holly becomes caught up in Kit’s web of reckless killing as the two turn their backs on the rules governing society.

2. Days of Heaven (1978)

“Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you.”

Days of Heaven is an astoundingly striking film–so much so that you almost forget about the story when you get lost in the sweeping imagery. A chronicle of love and jealousy, Days of Heaven follows lovers Bill and Abby (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) and Abby’s younger sister Linda’s flight from Chicago to a Texas farm. There, the couple poses as brother and sister and work for a quiet farmer (Sam Shepard) who falls in love with Abby. When it is discovered that the farmer is dying, Bill encourages Abby to marry him in order to secure a fortune. However, things do not go as planned, leading to a swell of jealousy and rage that eventually become too great.

Days of Heaven is not only one of my favorite Malick films, but one of my favorite films in general. The imagery of golden fields of wheat, swarms of locusts, and a solitary, picturesque house combine to make a wonderful film.

1. The Thin Red Line (1998)

“Love. Where does it come from? Who lit this flame in us? No war can put it out, conquer it. I was a prisoner. You set me free.”

The Thin Red Line is an incredibly powerful war film that carries a quiet intensity and entrancing reflective quality that contrasts with scenes illustrating the carnage of war in a manner more beautiful than I have ever seen. Mixed voiceovers of the film’s many stars mingle with images of life, death, and destruction as a group of soldiers fights for an insurmountable ridge on Guadalcanal during World War II. Terrence Malick again skillfully highlights the beauty of landscapes and the small details in nature and in life, creating a stark juxtaposition with the destruction brought to that landscape over the course of the film.

I will cry over this movie forever. The soft, thoughtful narration woven quietly throughout combined with a chillingly magnificent score by Hans Zimmer make The Thin Red Line.