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Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
1996 | Drama, Romance
6.5 (10 Ratings)
Movie Favorite

"Romeo + Juliet, the Baz Luhrmann version with DiCaprio. One of my faves; I thought it was an incredible take on Shakespeare. It was exciting, and DiCaprio’s performance in it is fantastic, and Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech is brilliant."

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Grimes recommended The Idiot in Books (curated)

 
The Idiot
The Idiot
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Constance Garnett | 2017 | Fiction & Poetry
9.0 (2 Ratings)
Book Favorite

"“I really relate to the particular type of mental instability that Dostoyevsky describes in pretty much all of his work. A character starts talking, and things start getting out of control and become increasingly animated, intense and disturbing. It reads like an extreme version of how I feel whenever I have to interact with humans. The Idiot is probably my favourite of his works, because I love Nastasya Filipovna, Aglaya Ivanovna Epanchin, Rogozhin… I think a lot of my friends think I’m a bit like Nastasya! Anyway, it’s the most cartoonish and absurd of everything I’ve read by Dostoyevsky, and the best distillation of insanity as a virtue. A Baz Luhrmann-esque treatment of this book would make an incredible film.”"

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The Great Gatsby (2013)
The Great Gatsby (2013)
2013 | Drama, Romance
Completely unlikeable
I remember watching this at the cinema when it was first released and really hating, however I felt the same about Moulin Rouge on the first watch and ended up loving it, so after 7 years I've finally decided to give this another try.

Sadly on the second watch, I could barely find anything to like about this film at all. The soundtrack and how dashing Leonardo DiCaprio looks are probably the only saving graces. The plot isn't too bad, it's just poorly executed and doesn't make a massive sense because of the inconsistent and confused characters. All of the characters are completely unlikeable and Daisy especially, what is going on with her voice? And then there's Tobey Maguire's narration of meaningful writing, that is so deadpan that the words become totally meaningless.

I also don't like the look of this film. The vibrancy is pushed too far that it looks overly garish and the reliance on CGI is overwhelming. It seems that there's barely a scene that isn't CGI or green screened and it gives the film an overall cheap shoddy feel, as the CGI is ridiculously noticeable and over the top. Being this CGI heavy works for films like Alita, Avatar as they're futuristic or unrealistic storylines, but for something like Gatsby which is mainly a drama, it just doesn't work. And Baz Luhrmann seems to be throwing all of his tropes that worked so well in Moulin Rouge into this and they just don't fit at all.

I really wanted to like this but I just couldn't get past how shockingly dull and bad it is.
  
Elvis (2022)
Elvis (2022)
2022 | Biography, Drama, Musical
8
8.2 (6 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Butler Shines
Director Baz Luhrmann is one of those artists that I always keep an eye out for. His artistic vision is unique and while the films he directs don’t always work - MOULIN ROUGE is on of my all-time favorites, AUSTRALIA is a mess and his take on the GREAT GATSBY works…mostly - but the one thing that can be said about him is that his projects are always interesting (especially visually). So when he decided to create a bio-pic of “The King”, Elvis Presley, I was intrigued.

And…the resulting film - appropriately called ELVIS - works very well, but not because of Luhrmann’s Direction/Style but more because of the TERRIFIC performance at the center of this picture - and, no, I’m not talking about Tom Hanks as Col. Parker.

ELVIS follows - with the usual Luhrmann quick/cut, flashy style - the rise, fall, rise and (ultimately) death of Elvis Presley. Starting with his boyhood in Tupelo, Mississippi - where he found his rhythm in the roots of African-American Gospel/Spirituals - to his ascension to superstar, this films tries to tell it all, mostly through the shadowy viewpoint of Elvis’ Manager, Col. Tom Parker (a heavily made-up Tom Hanks).

And that is part of the problem with this film - it tries to tell TOO big a story, so while some items are covered in slow, glowing detail (like Elvis’ discovery of the music that will be his trademark), while other items (his movie career) are glossed over quickly in a montage. This is out of necessity, for this film is already 2 hours and 40 minutes long, but it does make this film feel somewhat disjointed - especially when you add Luhrmann’s trademark disorienting quick/cut, stylistic directing style. At times I just wanted to yell at Lurhman to lock his camera down in one position so my eyes (and brain) can settle down and watch what’s going on.

The other issue is the viewpoint of this film - it isn’t consistent. Is this a movie about Elvis? Is this a movie about a conman manipulating Elvis? It starts out following Col. Parker as he discovers Elvis and manipulates him to be his exclusive act, but then we leave Col. Tom and follow Elvis for long periods of time before being drawn back into Col’s Parker’s web, so there is confusion as to who’s story we are telling. In the end we tell both, and each one suffers a little bit because of this.

HOWEVER - and this is an important point - these issues are pushed to the back as minor flaws as the central performance of Austin Butler (Wil Ohmsford in the terrible adaption of THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES on TV) as Elvis is AMAZING. It is a captivating, multi-layered performance both on-stage and off. He has created a character that you are drawn to watch and the off-stage Elvis sets the stage for the charismatic, on-stage Elvis that we all know. Butler did his own singing/performing in this film and it is much, much more that “just” an Elvis impersonation. He personifies “The King” and Butler’s name better be called at Awards time. It is that good of a performance, one that should catapult this young man to stardom.

Fairing less well is Tom Hanks as Col. Parker. While he is game under all that make-up, the character is just not written with any nuance and comes off as a one-dimensional villain, constantly lurking in the background. This character just wasn’t interesting enough to hold the screen - especially against Butler.

But see this film to rekindle the spirit of Elvis through the interpretation of Butler, you’ll be glad you did.

Letter Grade: A-

8 stars (out of 10) and you can take that to the Bank(ofMarquis)
  
The Greatest Showman (2017)
The Greatest Showman (2017)
2017 | Drama, Musical
I can’t claim to know much about musicals. I don’t actively avoid them, but I don’t go out of my way to see them either. The few that I have seen and liked don’t seem to sit well with the musical theater crowd either. For instance, recently in conversation my defense of Russell Crowe as Javert in the latest adaptation of Les Misérables was shot down in a matter of seconds. My wife, with some frequency, reminds me that my (until now) secret admiration of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd is something that should never be declared in a public forum. For me, one of the best achievements in musical film will always be South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut; and though there is a general positivity about it, I’ve never seen it taken all that seriously as a contemporary musical (it was certainly a hell of a lot more memorable than 2003’s Best Picture winner, Chicago). So, if you haven’t already decided my opinion will be moot and stopped reading, I will, with the limited appreciation I have for this genre, give The Greatest Showman the fairest shake I can.

 

At a surprisingly short hour and forty-five minutes, this high-concept imagining of the meteoric rise of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), from the impoverished son of a tailor to one of the biggest names in the history of entertainment, should absolutely fly by. Tragically, it doesn’t. Beginning with an irresponsibly rushed first act that condenses decades of backstory into a few minutes, it dramatically stops dead between its second and third acts as we’re subjected to three songs in a row that not all that subtly beat us over the head with the inevitably that our leads are going to have to face some predictable, life-changing conflict before the big finale. Showman also suffers from the delusion that period pieces will be more engaging and relatable with a modern-inspired soundtrack, à la Baz Luhrmann’s misguided attempt at The Great Gatsby. The idea being that the music of the time, though antiquated to us now, would have sounded modern to people then, so why not put modern music, whether original or sourced, over period images in an attempt to bridge the gap between their world and ours? It’s a concept that might sound great on paper, but as Luhrmann already proved, the final results don’t so much complement each other as they expose each other’s weaknesses.

 

Its major flaw though, and why The Greatest Showman fails to be a great anything, is the insistence on force-feeding moments of attempted catharsis every 15-20 minutes, having earned almost none of them. A great many of the numbers are presented as such grand, climactic set pieces that they don’t feel as though they are working to serve a cohesive, larger whole. We are inundated with a blur of crescendo after crescendo and left little time to reflect on what we have just seen and heard before the film clumsily bounds off to the next song-and-dance laden plot point; and if you asked me to name any of the individual tunes now three days later, I’d be hard-pressed to do so. It’s an odd juxtaposition, and one I’ve very rarely experienced, wanting so badly for a film to end and at the same time wishing it had been given more time to fully realize its scope. Keep your ears open as well for an ill-advised line in which Barnum proudly compares himself to Napoleon. Isn’t Barnum supposed to be the “hero” of this piece, someone we are supposed to identify with and for whom we want to find success? Somebody please provide Showman’s writers a history lesson that didn’t just come off a Wikipedia page (for Barnum and Napoleon’s sakes).

 

With any negative criticism, I do like to try and go out on something positive, and if I have to concede anything to this movie, it’s that it finds its footing, albeit temporarily, while addressing issues of equality. Showman shines in the few moments where the supporting players portraying Barnum’s “oddities”, Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz in particular, are given the opportunity to stand toe-to-toe with the leads and, in many of these scenes, they rise above even the likes of Hugh Jackman. Another member of the cast who merits a little bit of praise (and I reserve the right to retract this at any time of my choosing, more than likely with whatever juvenile comedy he’ll be seen in next) is Zac Efron. Exposure to the likes of Nicole Kidman and John Cusack in 2012’s sadly overlooked The Paperboy, may finally be yielding results as he is the only lead who leaves an impression. Though his journey as a high society playwright begrudgingly brought into Barnum’s world definitely leans heavily on the saccharine side, it does provide a break of plausibility in amongst the unbridled chaos of the rest of the picture. I wouldn’t doubt that there is a much better movie that could have been made from expanding into its own feature the subplot of his character bucking the expectations of his status to fall in love with a circus performer.