Film Review: The Great Gatsby (old sport)

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th May 2013.

I must profess to not having read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby recently, but I’m pretty sure that I have just seen the pop up book. Just like Leonardo DiCaprio’s mysterious Jay Gatsby knows how to throw a wild party, Baz Luhrmann certainly knows how to film one. Within minutes of the opening credits, we’re back to the hyper reality already established in Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge:  beautiful people, rapid edits, loud out-of-era music, rapid edits, champagne and partygoers jumping into swimming pools. Did I mention the rapid edits? Granted, they aren’t as headache inducing as in Moulin Rouge but there were moments where all I wanted was to take in this visual feast. Luhrmann clearly has an eye for beauty and detail, so why does he insist on ensuring that the lens doesn’t stay on anything long enough to enjoy it?

Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway arrives in New York City following his service in World War I and rents a house in West Egg, Long Island, right next to the Gatsby Mansion. Gatsby? Who Gatsby? What Gatsby? Throughout the first third of the film, DiCaprio’s enigmatic millionaire is consistently referred to as a mystery man. Although the host of elaborate parties, no-one knows what Gatsby looks like. Once Nick is invited to a party and becomes Gatsby’s “old sport”, this subplot is thrown out with several visual references to framed pictures of the “great” one adorning his mansion walls. The climax of the film also relies on a positive identification that shouldn’t have been possible.

Gatsby had a relationship with Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) before he was sent to war. Unfortunately Daisy is now unhappily married to the womanising Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). To win back his old flame, Gatsby has purchased the mansion across the bay from the Buchanan’s residence in East Egg, as you do. Luhrmann gleefully utilises CGI sweeping shots over the water to remind us of the futility of their love. Either that, or Baz wants to subtly hammer home the fact that The Great Gatsby is shot in 3D. To reunite with his former love, Gatsby throws lavish parties in the hope that she will somehow attend. He also uses Carroway’s familial connections to arrange a reunion. I’m not entirely sure how Gatsby knew that Nick was related to Daisy, but who cares, THE GREAT GATSBY IS SHOT IN 3D.

All of the lead performances are solid. DiCaprio has the charisma to overcome a script that has him say “old sport” too many times. Maguire is appealing despite a weak bookend subplot which undermines his character and does nothing to drive the plot forwards. Mulligan is radiant as Daisy, and Edgerton is appropriately nasty as the moustache twirling villain. Poor Isla Fisher and the talented Jason Clarke are sidelined in small supporting roles. Keep an eye out also for some of our most highly regarded actors in thankless tiny character parts. You can play the “Where’s Wally? The Great Gatsby edition” by looking out for Vince Colosimo, Steve Bisley, Max Cullen and Jack Thompson.

The Great Gatsby is a case of style over substance. Luhrmann’s Gatsby hyper world is certainly an exciting place to visit but he has failed to capture F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic on film. Instead he’s created the theme park ride of the book.

Published in: on May 28, 2013 at 19:28  Leave a Comment  
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Christmas Entertainer Humiliation: A Confession

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th December 2012.

Many moons ago, I played drums and sang with a moderately unsuccessful rock band. We were big in Japan. Well, I wasn’t, but the guitarist Scott was quite tall and well above the average height for Japanese men. One Christmas, the bass player Craig and I were hired to play a corporate Christmas party for a non-specific engineering company.

The theme for the party was medieval times and we were to be jesters. I instantly had a bad feeling about this, Han Solo style, when I was asked if either of us played the lute or pan flute. “Err, no,” I replied. “But Craig can play the guitar and I will sing.” At the time, we were both poor university students, and despite our reservations about the gig we were both skint and desperately needed the $300 appearance fee.

Besides, we only needed to dress up in tights and entertain the guests as they arrived at the function marquee set up in Parramatta Park. What was the worst that could happen? Well, the answer to that question is that the organiser could forget to mention that we also had to lead the party in a 20 minute Christmas carol sing-a-long.

I don’t know if you’ve ever attended a boozy corporate function, but trust me, the last thing you would ever want to do is sing carols. I take that back, the last thing you would ever want to do is sing carols with me. Even worse still, the function manager had requested that we also perform a version of John Williamson’s little known ditty, No-one Loves Brisbane like Jesus, replacing Brisbane with the name of the engineering company’s manager. This was going to be a massacre.

The pre-event entertaining went well. Craig and I sang some covers from our usual band set. I carried around a kiddie size guitar that I pretended to strum. No-one seemed to notice that we weren’t playing lutes or pan flutes. The tights were pretty comfortable.

At show time, we were led to the stage like lambs to the slaughter… lambs with little jester hats on their heads. By this time, the crowd was mid-dinner and well hydrated.  We introduced ourselves, invited the audience to sing along and launched into our first carol.

To be fair, they respected us enough as performers to not boo through the first minute. They were probably too shocked by the talent black hole on stage to make a noise. We must’ve looked hungry too because they started to throw bread rolls at us soon after. You can imagine the reception to our “special” comedy song about the company manager.

We somehow managed to get through the set and left the stage with our dignity intact. Actually, we left the stage with a half dozen dinner rolls each and no dignity.

In my short career as a jester, musician and corporate entertainer, that Christmas gig was the worst ever. I’ll never forget the jeers and humiliation. To this day, I have never hired an engineer from that firm. I’ve never needed the services of one either, but that’s not the point.

So this Christmas, spare a thought for mediocre performers everywhere. Wait until the end of the carol before jeering and always butter the bread rolls before throwing them.

Published in: on December 25, 2012 at 08:28  Leave a Comment  
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