Just two films this time around, because this was a special extra press day. The quality of the pictures suggest, however, that the bleak months post-Oscars and pre-summer are finally drawing to a close.
Release date: 22 May 2013
While Pixar continues to dominate in terms of computer animation, Epic is perhaps the studio’s most worthy competitor to date. Part Fern Gully, part The Borrowers, the latest film from Blue Sky Studios – the company behind the Ice Age franchise – is by far their most accomplished work in terms of visuals. Its plot is simple, and it is rather formulaic in some of its designs – the “good” forest folk working alongside adorable hummingbirds and their villainous foes aligned with reptiles, bats, and rodents, for example – but it is a children’s film, and the contrast between the opposing groups is instantly recognisable and beautifully designed.
Set against the lush, green forest and the contrasting dank, desolate wasteland favoured by the rot-loving baddies, led by sinister Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), there are some heady action sequences – the aerial battles in particular are a triumph, and work well in 3D. As someone who is largely unimpressed with this gimmick, it is used well here and, much like in Toy Story 3, effectively captures a sense of scale between the tiny forest folk (and the formerly human-sized MK, voiced by Amanda Siefried) and their surroundings.
There are moments in which Epic falters – a jazzy, smooth talking caterpillar’s Vegas-style concert in particular feels out of place, in part at least because it is the sole venture into musical – but its general narrative is a sweet one: by discovering the forest folk, MK can not only save the forest, but rekindle her relationship with her father, and even make some friends in the process. It should also be praised for managing to make some comedy sidekicks (a slug and a snail) likeable instead of irritating. It might not steal the crown from Pixar with regards to either visual or narrative creativity, but perhaps it’s a tentative step in that direction.
The Great Gatsby
Release date: 16 May 2013
The Great Gatsby is precisely what one expects from Baz Luhrmann – a fantastical, idealised imagining of a city at the height of its debauchery, filled with bright lights, quick cuts, sequins and parties, with a tale of star-crossed lovers at its heart. It fits perfectly alongside Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, combining the literary inspirations of the former with the glitz and pizazz of the latter, resulting in a film that is instantly recognisable as a Lurhmann creation – familiar, but accomplished.
Tobey Maguire is Nick Carraway, a would-be author and aspiring Wall Street broker whose life is irrevocably altered through his encounter with Gatsby, his enigmatic millionaire neighbour. Now a depressed alcoholic, Carraway is advised by his therapist to write about his experiences and, through flashback, the decadent, party-filled extravaganza that is Gatsby’s life unfolds. Carraway acts as narrator and as Gatsby’s enabler, but he is little more than this. As the title suggests, this is about the apparent playboy, whose past is constructed through a series of lies, and whose outwardly unflappable nature conceals a conflicted, troubled soul. Leonardo DiCaprio, whose impressive talents and boyish beauty made him an instant star in Romeo + Juliet, brings a complexity to Gatsby; having moved away from romantic leads, this is the closest he has come to his early roles for many years, and he brings an intensity to the character that perfectly balances his charm. Despite the film’s overt decadence and showy nature, both DiCaprio and his amour Daisy (Carey Mulligan) deliver nuanced, often subtle performances, adding a much needed depth to what could easily be a superficial film about superficial people.
Just as the Paris of Moulin Rouge was chaotic, highly stylised, and romanticised, so too is the New York of Gatsby’s world. The 1920’s are a riot of jazz and flapper girls, fireworks, booze, and flash cars, but it’s less an accurate portrayal, and more an outrageous re-imagining – the soulful notes of a saxaphone mingle with modern hiphop, while Gatsby’s canary yellow Rolls Royce is a glossy hotrod. It’s all shiny and luscious, capturing the hedonistic lifestyle of the wealthy, bored elite in a way that is now expected of the director. It is, however, too long, and while the 3D is particularly effective in early party scenes, becomes irrelevant as the film progresses, when the narrative turns its attentions to its primary focus – sheer, unapologetic, tragic romance.