Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99

Posted on May 24, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Following up on my Ramble about the genius of Tim Burton, I wanted to write another post about a director with an equally distinctive style, namely Baz Luhrmann.  Over the last month I’ve watched 3 out of 4 of his major hit movies, all of them linked by his trademark fast pace cinematography and hyper energetic story telling.

Luhrmann is best known for the Red Curtain Trilogy AKA Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  All three begin with a red curtain rising, and the rules state that the end of the movie must be given away in the first scenes.  On top of this they’re all linked by some unusual form of expression, for Strictly its the dancing, Romeo and Juliet has Shakespeare’s words and Moulin Rouge, of course, has the music.

All three are great movies, but Strictly is slightly overshadowed by the other two, understandable since it was his directorial debut.  It’s another one on the list of films I need to see again, but its a genuinely funny film following a slightly obvious but still fun plotline about a national dance competition.  Made in 1992, it does show its age a bit when compared to the other films, but while it may not be the best film ever made, if you’re a fan of Baz you’ll definitely like it. (Calling a film made in 1992 old makes me feel ancient…)  Like many of his other films, Luhrmann shows his Aussie patriotism and both sets and casts the film in his home country.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how good the other two parts of the trilogy are.  Romeo and Juliet is an absolute masterpiece.  Every scene of that film has been planned as meticulously as Shakespeare’s play, from the costumes at the ball (Romeo is a knight, while Tybalt is the Devil and Juliet is an Angel) to the overall design, which puts the Montagues in bright Hawaiin shirts while the Capulets (bar Juliet) dress almost exclusively in black and red.  It’s one of my all time favourite films, partly because as I’ve said before, I love Romeo and Juliet as a play, but more because I love what Luhrmann has done with it.  Keeping Shakespeare’s original text and placing it in a modern setting is brilliant, and the conversion of the scripted swordplay into stylistic gun play is a master stroke.  There’s a reason most kids have to study this film for GCSE; each scene is dripping with symbolism, as Luhrmann plays close attention to Shakespeare’s metaphors and combines them with his own to make the film visually stunning.  My only minor quarrel is the directorial license at the end, which sees Juliet waking up before Romeo dies, mainly because it’s crueler to the audience than Shakespeare would allow, but we’ll let him off.

Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo

On to Moulin Rouge (I’m ignoring the superfluous exclamaton point in the title) another of my top ten movies.  My first reaction to this film was, “Oh my God Ewan McGregor can sing!”  My second was, rewind and watch again (I’ve since upgraded to DVD).  The rescoring of modern music is so perfect you’d think it had been written for the film, especially the epic Show Must Go On.  Music is something Luhrmann truly understands, with the score of Romeo and Juliet a perfect backdrop to the action.  In Moulin Rouge, it takes centre stage, with some knock-out performances from actors we never knew could sing.  The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the first whirlwind ride through the Moulin Rouge.  This scene exemplifies everything that makes Baz Luhrmann great, the camera twists and spins to capture the energy of the dance hall and every second is filled with vivid colours and flashes of the underworld (including a mermaid in a fish tank).  The music of this scene is also faultless, combining the FatBoy Slim remix Because We Can with Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lady Marmalade, Children of The Revolution and some original music for Jim Broadbent.  It’s dizzying and a complete assault on the senses, just as that first experience must have been for the naive Christian.

At the Moulin Rouge you'll have fun!

I could rave about the Red Curtain Trilogy for days, but what about Luhrmann’s latest offering, which steps outside his well known framework?  Austrailia may not quite hold up in comparison, but I think it perhaps needs a fairer chance than it’s been given.  It’s difficult to follow the two amazing films that have gone before, and perhaps the step away from his established format is what upset some critics, but Austrailia is a beautiful epic, with a realtively simple but still engaging stroyline.  The feel of the film is different to the Red Curtain, although there are enough Luhrmann quirks to let you know who directed the film, and the stunning scenery of the Austrailian outback could easily stand up against the words/music/dance that have gone before as the main device for this story.  Luhrmann recasts two of his Moulin Rouge stars (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) rounding off the predominantly Aussie cast with Hugh Jackman.  Jackman seems to be the Marmite of Hollywood at the moment, but I think he’s good in the role, not that its much of a stretch for him (as he quipped at the Oscars).  Luhrmann, like many directors, definitely has favourite actors who turn up repeatedly in his films, with John Leguizamo also making repeat appearances as Tybalt in R+J and Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin RougeAustrailia is long, and it does seems to be two films joined together, but it kept my interest and filled a rainy Sunday afternoon pretty well.  It might not match the standard of its predecessors, but this is Luhrmann’s first step away from very insular and tightly controlled settings into a historical epic in the real world.  It’s not nearly as easy to manipulate, yet he still manages to put his instantly recognisable stamp on it.  Again, music is a big part of it, with The Wizard of Oz making a repeat appearance.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Of course the one thing I haven’t mentioned is what exactly I’m on about in the title.  If you’re the same generation as me, I doubt it passed you by.  If it did, take a look.  Sometime after Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann stumbled on the famous speech and remixed it with Everybody’s Free (written for the movie).  You may not agree with everything I’ve said, but I hope if you haven’t yet you’ll give Luhrmann a go.  But trust me on the sunscreen. 😉

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How to survive the British Summer

Posted on April 29, 2009. Filed under: News, Ramblings, Trailers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Summer’s coming, and that means one thing…loads of movie releases to keep the kids (and everyone else) happy during the inevitably rainy summer holidays.  The Summer Blockbuster line up has already begun with Wolverine, but there are a few more to keep an eye out for if, like mSpocke, you need something to look forward to during exam season.

The first, and most obvious, is the new Star Trek movie, opening next week (8th May).  I’m not a trekkie, but that’s more because I just never saw it than a conscious decision to avoid.  I have been made to watch one star trek film, and it was good, despite the fact I needed most of what was going on explained to me by a trekkie friend.  I’m intrigued by the new offering, if only to gawp at the ridiculousness of Zac “Sylar” Quinto’s eyebrows, and it does look promising. Surprisingly little has been said about Chris Pine, our new Kirk, with most promo focussing mainly on Quinto and Simon Pegg.  As a relative unknown, that makes sense, and it will be interesting to see what the hard core fan reaction is.  From the little I’ve seen in the trailers, and in my hugely inferior knowledge, I think something’s missing. But I’m more than likely to be wrong.

Following Star Trek, we have Angels and Demons, the sequel to The DaVinci Code. I’m semi-ashamed to admit that I loved the books, but I accept that the writing is terrible, and this is coming from someone who, as a rule, doesn’t read.  However, I was really disappointed with The DaVinci Code movie after some plot tweaking took all the sympathy out of Paul Bettany’s Silas.

Angels and Demons is a carbon copy of DaVinci, you can even match up character types between the books, but having said that, the twists and conspiracy theory that makes Dan Brown so infamous did make it very compelling and I have no doubt the film will be the same.  Perhaps the fact that I haven’t read the book in 3 years will mean I can enjoy the prequel more, since I’ll be in less of a position to play spot the difference with the adaptation, and the addition of Ewan McGregor to the cast should be a good thing, altough I’m sure boys will be mourning the loss of Audrey Tautou.

If drama isn’t what you’re after, then on the 10th July Bruno hits the screens, the latest of Sacha Baron Cohen’s creations.  I have no doubt that this will be a huge success, but I wont be seeing it.  I think I’m in the 10% of the world that thought Borat was awful and so I’m not holding my breath for Bruno, but maybe it’ll be better than I expect.  I know that lots of you out there can’t wait for it.  Maybe I’ll catch the DVD.

A friend also pointed out Moon to me.  Starring Sam Rockwell and coming out on 3rd Sept.  Not strictly a blockbuster but as soon as I saw the trailer I was hooked.  It follows an astronaut about to end a three year stint alone aboard a space station when everything goes a bit 2001.  Check it out ‘cos I reckon it’s going to be the turning point in Rockwell’s career.

Finally, I’ll quickly mention Up, a film I’ve been telling a few friends about and have been looking forward to for a while.  It doesn’t quite count as a Summer blockbuster, as it’s not coming out until the 16th October, but I wanted to give it a mention.  It’s the latest from Pixar Animation Studios, and once again they’ve chosen to pick a challenging medium and place a storyline in it.  They’ve done fur (Monster’s Inc), water (Nemo) and fast track racing (Cars) but now they’re taking us into the air, with one of the weirdest story premises I’ve ever heard.  Wanted to see it instantly.  Here’s the trailer:

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