Craig Pearce

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The Great Gatsby Review


Excellent

Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) is the perfect director to take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel about the American dream, simply because he's an expert at showing the emptiness of hyperactive excess. The film is a feast for the eye from start to finish, but it also eats away at us with its bleak story of people who live the high life even though it leaves them naggingly unsatisfied.

The tale is told by Nick (Maguire), trying to work through his life-changing summer in 1922 Long Island, where he rented a small cottage across the sound from his wealthy cousin Daisy (Mulligan), who is married to his college pal Tom (Edgerton), an all-American sportsman with an eye for other women. Next door to Nick's cottage is the vast mansion owned by reclusive millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), who throws outrageously raucous parties for New York's celebrity class. But Nick realises that Jay only does this to catch the eye of Daisy, because he's still in love with her after a romance five years earlier. Now he wants to take her away from Tom, and he needs Nick's help.

It's tricky to know whether Luhrmann is celebrating Gatsby's luxuriant lifestyle or offering a cautionary tale about the emptiness of materialism. Obviously, the story is trying to do both, and Luhrmann fills the surfaces with decadent extravagance, filling the air with wafting fabric, buckets of glitter and exploding fireworks. Like a lavish 3D pop-up book, the party scenes are wildly over-the-top, as are smaller gatherings in opulent city flats or roaring open-top cars. These people's lives are so vacuous that they live at top speed, always in search of the next thrill. And it's difficult not to see Gatsby's earnest quest as just another greedy acquisition.

Continue reading: The Great Gatsby Review

Charlie St Cloud [aka Death & Life Of Charlie St Cloud] Review


Grim
Another solid performance by Zac Efron is flattened by bombastic filmmaking; this weepy drama couldn't be any more obvious if it tried. It's impossible to imagine that the director of Igby Goes Down made this glossed-over mess.

Charlie (Efron) is a golden boy with a sailing scholarship to Stanford, an adoring little brother (Tahan) and a glamorous, hard-working single mum (Basinger). But when Sam dies in a car crash, Charlie spends the next five years wallowing in his grief. He's also able to see dead people, including Sam, whom he meets every evening for baseball practice in the woods near the cemetery where he works as caretaker. Then adventure sailor Tess (crew) returns to town to prepare for a round-the-world race and suddenly Charlie is doubting his lonely life.

Continue reading: Charlie St Cloud [aka Death & Life Of Charlie St Cloud] Review

Moulin Rouge Review


Extraordinary
When a red curtain opens and an orchestra conductor emerges to "direct" the unmistakable 20th Century Fox theme music, we know we're in for something different. Really different. Good different.

Filled with virtuoso special effects and spectacular song-and-dance sequences, Baz Luhrmann's long-awaited Moulin Rouge makes every minute of our collectively held breath worthwhile. In fact, during its opening hour, this critic found it hard to look away even for a second to jot down a note, for fear of missing even a nuanced sparkle in the eye of some French whore.

Continue reading: Moulin Rouge Review

William Shakespeare's Romeo Juliet (1996) Review


Good
Setting Shakespeare's tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to music by the likes of the Butthole Surfers probably has The Bard rolling in his grave, but what the hell, it's open season on the classics these days. I won't even pretend that I understand all the nuance and symbolism of Luhrmann's instantly popular retelling of the tale, but I will say that this is one of the most entertaining renditions of any Shakespearean work I've seen to date.

Closer to an update of West Side Story than anything else, what makes this rendition of the "two star-crossed lovers" saga stand out is dialogue which is largely faithful to the text set against a post-modern backdrop frighteningly reminiscent of Los Angeles. While it's a thrill to watch (if you can avoid a headache), it's maddeningly hard to follow and considerably self-conscious. Plus there's the issue of a soundtrack that's probably sold more copies than the film did tickets.... Will this version survive the test of time? Probably not, but it will forever stand out as an amazing and powerful experiment in filmmaking.

Continue reading: William Shakespeare's Romeo Juliet (1996) Review

Strictly Ballroom Review


OK
There is weird cinema, and there is Australian cinema. There are weird movies about dancing, and there is Strictly Ballroom. Part Rocky with a touch of Blue Velvet, Simply Ballroom is the decidedly odd story of a boy (Paul Mercurio) and his tap shoes... a professional ballroom dancer who doesn't buy in to the rigidity the "sport" requires, instead busting out his own "crowd pleasing moves" and being frequently disqualified. His partner abandons him and he takes up with a plain Jane girl (Tara Morice), whom he teaches to be his new partner. Together, they manage to please the crowd even more, with or without music. What the film lacks in story, it makes up for with lots and lots of pompadours.

Now released on DVD (which includes a commentary from Luhrmann and his crew), it's easier to track Luhrmann's transition from Ballroom to Romeo + Juliet to the masterful Moulin Rouge -- and his road to greatness is an impressive one. Ballroom belies Luhrmann's love for the stage (beginning, Rouge-style, with a red curtain opening) and for gaudiness, but the tale is beyond his budget and sadly lacking in grandeur. Rouge took the ideas here -- from music to costuming to the idealistic hero -- and kicked it up about 20 notches. And in the process, Luhrmann learned how to make dialogue more thrilling and how to better develop his characters.

Continue reading: Strictly Ballroom Review

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