November 22, 2014

Cheapskate Film Festival Double Feature: GREAT GATSBY/ENDER'S GAME

To end this year's Cheapskate Film Festival, we're focusing a double feature - recent movies based on books. I've read one of the books, so the other film will be judged on its merits. Both are....well, why don't I just move forward and begin.

Right now, F. Scott Fitzgerald is spinning in his grave with this movie.
Now I can see Baz Luhrman's defenders justifying his choices - "He needs to communicate with a more modern audience"; "Movie goers want different things in films". Having read the book in high school, this version of The Great Gatsby is a mess - a total, incoherent mess that wouldn't know "subtlety" if it had a name tag announcing "Hello, My Name is Subtlety" on its lapel.

Every person in this film is horribly miscast - Toby McGuire, Carey Mulligan, even Leonardo DiCaprio - and there's no real sense of narrative drive. It's almost as if they chose not to adapt the novel....but reached for the Cliff Notes and adaptated those to the screen.

Ironically, a few weeks ago I checked out the first season of Boardwalk Empire - although I'm not a fan of the show, at least there was an effort to put the characters in context, and the historical setting actually came alive and it felt real. Compared to that show (made with a slightly lower budget), The Great Gatsby looks cheap, tacky, and overblown.

The only good thing about this movie: my first New Year's Resolution for 2015 is to reread the book.

Avoid like the plague.

To be fair - I haven't read the Orson Scott Card novel on which this movie was based, but it is obvious that the writer/director who made it has a strong sense of the source material.

This is a movie with big ideas: concerns about youth, the ethics of war, the cycle of violence, regard for other life forms, and on that level, Ender's Game works beautifully. In fact, this is a movie that, unlike other recent science fiction films, actually is about something, and this is a lovingly crafted and shot film. On a purely visual level, this movie is a joy to look at, and quite frankly, is definitely worth seeing.

There are two aspects to the film that bother me, and to be honest - they're relatively minor in comparison. The first is that the film seems to be shot in a "young adult" tone (think Hunger Games), and that makes some of the larger themes seem jarring. It's almost as if there were a lack of confidence in the source material itself, and so that was a step to make it more "pleasing" to a mainstream audience. The other is....well, some of the acting. Asa Butterworth does a better job, but between
Harrison Ford's just-give-me-my-check attitude and Ben Kingsley's point-me-to-the-unchewed-scenery style, it often has patches that are painful to watch.
Ender's Game is not a perfect film, by any means....but is definitely worth seeing.

My advice is that if you're tempted to check out The Great Gatsby....get Ender's Game instead and watch it twice. You'll thank me later.

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