Thursday, October 31, 2013
"THE GREAT GATSBY" (2013) Review
Before the release of Baz Luhrmann's recent adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, "The Great Gatsby", there have been three previous movie adaptations and a television movie version. None of these versions have been well received by the critics. Even this latest adaptation has been receiving mixed reviews. I must admit that I had been reluctant to see the movie, myself. But dazzled by the movie's MTV-style trailer, I decided to see it for the sake of the visual effects.
Many who have read Fitzgerald's novel or seen any of the previous adaptations, know the story. "THE GREAT GATSBY"told the story of a mysterious young millionaire named Jay Gatsby who settles in a large house in the fictional town of West Egg (for the noveau riche), on prosperous Long Island, during the summer of 1922 - the early years of the Jazz Age. Narrated by Gatsby's neighbor; the well-born, yet impoverished Nick Carraway; audiences become aware of the millionaire's desire to woo and win back the heart of Daisy Fay Buchanan, an old love he had first met during World War I and Nick's cousin. Unfortunately for Gatsby, Daisy is married to one of Nick's former Yale classmates, Tom Buchanan, who comes from old Chicago money. Tom is engaged in an extramarital affair with one Myrtle Wilson, who is the wife of a gas station owner located in the Valley of Ashes - a stretch of road between Long Island and Manhattan. Gatsby invites Nick to one of his nightly lavish parties, given to impress Daisy, who lives across Oyster Bay at East Egg, a neighborhood for those from old money. Nick learns from Jordan Baker, an old Louisville friend of Daisy's, that Gatsby would like him to arrange a meeting with his former love over afternoon tea. The two former lovers reunite on a rainy afternoon and re-ignite their love affair that eventually ends in tragedy.
If critics were hoping that Baz Luhrmann would produce and direct a flawless or near flawless adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel, they were bound to be disappointed. "THE GREAT GATSBY" is not flawless. There were times when I found the movie a bit too melodramatic - especially during the party sequences. And I never saw the need to open the film with Nick Carraway being treated for alcoholism in a sanatorium. Luhrmann and the movie's other screenwriter, Craig Pearce, apparently included the sanatorium additions to transform Nick's character into some F. Scott Fitzgerald clone. The movie even ended with Nick's written recollections being given the title of Fitzgerald's novel. Frankly, I found this dumb and unnecessary. I also found the party sequence held by Tom and his married lover Myrtle Wilson at a New York apartment rather frantic. I realize that Nick became drunk at this party. But this scene proved to be one in which Luhrmann's colorful style nearly got the best of him.
I suspect that many expect me to complain about some of the music featured in "THE GREAT GATSBY" - namely the director's use of hip hop music. However . . . I have no complaints about Luhrmann using modern day music in a film set in 1922. For some reason I cannot explain, I believe Luhrmann and composer Craig Armstrong did a pretty bang-up job in blending their occasional use of modern-day music with some of the movie's scenes. There were also complaints that Catherine Martin's costumes were not a complete accurate projection of 1920s fashion. I did notice that although the movie was set in 1922, the clothes seemed to be a reflection of the mid or late period of that decade. Then I saw images like the following:
Or images like the following for the male characters:
I had wept with exultation and joy at my first sight of Martin's costumes. Her costumes for this film are some of the most gorgeous I have seen in a period drama in quite a while. Absolutely . . . bloody . . . gorgeous. The moment I set eyes on those costumes, I realized that I could not care less whether her work was an accurate reflection of 1922 fashion or not. Martin also served as the movie's production designer. If there was any justice, this would earn double Academy Award nominations for both her costumes and the movie's production designs. Baz Luhrmann filmed "THE GREAT GATSBY" in Australia, which means that he and his crew had to re-create 1922 Long Island and Manhattan from scratch. Martin was basically responsible for the movie's early Art Deco look - especially for scenes set in Gatsby's East Egg manor, his Manhattan speakeasy, the Manhattan restaurant where Nick and Jordan met, the Buchanans' East Egg home and especially the bleak-looking Valley of Ashes, the location of George Wilson's garage and the infamous Dr. T. J. Eckleburg billboard. Needless to say, I was more than impressed. I was dazzled.
I have been so busy discussing the movie's technical aspects that I failed to say anything about Luhrmann and Pearce's adaptation of Fitzgerald's film. I have already expressed my displeasure at their attempt to transform Nick Carraway into some kind of Fitzgerald clone at the movie's beginning and end. But aside from this faux paus, I feel that the two did a pretty damn good job. Were they completely faithful to the novel? No. Did this spell disaster? For some moviegoers and fans of Fitzgerald's novel, it did. But I do not share their feelings. I do not demand that a movie or television production re-create a novel or play in exact details. That road leads to insanity and sometimes, disaster. Aside from what was done to Nick's character at the beginning and end, the movie featured a few other changes. In this movie, a grieving George Wilson learned from Tom Buchanan that Jay Gatsby owned the yellow car that killed Myrtle at the former's gas station. Unless I am mistaken, Tom had conveyed this news to George, when the latter paid a visit to his East Egg mansion in the novel. The movie featured flashbacks of Gatsby's life in North Dakota and his years spent with a millionaire named Dan Cody. But Gatsby's father did not make an appearance near the end of the movie (for which I am utterly grateful). Did these changes bother me? Nope, they did not. I was too busy admiring the energy that Luhrmann injected into Fitzgerald's tale. This was especially apparent in the pivotal scene featuring Gatsby and Tom's showdown over Daisy's affections in a Plaza Hotel suite. The scene crackled with emotions and an energy that seemed to be either lacking or at best, muted, in other adaptations. More importantly, Luhrmann and Pearce's screenplay finally lifted a fog and allowed me to fully understand and appreciate Fitzgerald's tale for the first time. I am afraid that the previous two adaptations (1974 and 2000) had bored me to the point that the emotions and theme behind the story had failed to elude me in the past. And that is the best part of Luhrmann's adaptation. For the first time, I finally understood the pathetic nature of the Jay Gatsby/Daisy Buchanan love story. And I am being complimentary.
A movie review would not be complete with a discussion on the performances. Leonardo DiCaprio became the fifth actor to portray Jay Gatsby aka James Gatz. And as usual, he was magnificent. In fact, I believe his Gatsby was the best I have ever seen on screen. He managed to maintain the character's mystery in the movie's first half without eliminating any of the character's strong emotions. Despite the attempt to transform Nick Carraway into a Fitzgerald clone, I had no problems with Tobey Maguire's portrayal of the character. In fact, he did an excellent job of conveying both Nick's observant nature and emotional attachment to Gatsby, while injecting a bit of warm humor and slight goofiness in the role. I realize that Maguire and DiCaprio had been friends for over two decades. I suspect that friendship made it easy for the pair to convey the growing friendship between Nick and Gatsby.
Carey Mulligan gave an exquisite performance as the quixotic Daisy Buchanan. Mulligan made it easy for viewers to understand how Gatsby fell so hard for her. She perfectly conveyed Daisy's superficial idealism and warmth. But Mulligan also skillfully allowed Daisy's more unpleasant side - her selfishness, mild snobbery and lack of courage - to ooze between the cracks in the character's facade. Joel Edgerton really impressed me in his portrayal of the brutish Tom Buchanan. In the actor's first scene, I felt as if he was laying it a bit thick in conveying the character's unpleasant nature. But Edgerton quickly grew into the role and portrayed Tom's brutality with more subtlety. He also did a great job in portraying the character's surprising talent for manipulation and genuine feelings for the doomed Myrtle.
For the role of Daisy's Louisville friend and golfer Jordan Baker, Luhrmann chose Australian-born stage-trained actress named Elizabeth Debicki for the role. And she did a pretty damn good job. In fact, I thought Debicki did a solid job of conveying Jordan's fast-living and cynical personality with great skill. Isla Fisher knocked it out of the ballpark as the fun-loving Myrtle Fisher. Not only did she gave a first-rate portrayal of Myrtle's garishness and warmth, but also the character's grasping ambition and desperation to escape from her stagnant and dull marriage to gas station owner George. Myrtle is not highly regarded by many Fitzgerald fans. But Fisher made it easy for me to feel some sparks of pity toward the latter's situation regarding her marriage to George. Speaking of the latter, "THE GREAT GATSBY"marked the third period drama in which I have seen Jason Clarke. His role as the pathetic George Wilson is a bit smaller, but Clarke made the best of it, especially in two scenes. One scene featured Clarke perfectly conveying George's clumsy attempt to toady Tom for a business transaction regarding the latter's car. And in another, he did a beautiful job in portraying George's pathetic grief over a woman who had stopped loving him a long time ago. This movie also marked a reunion for Clarke and Edgerton. Both had appeared in "ZERO DARK THIRTY". I also want to point out Amitabh Bachchan's much talked about portrayal of Gatsby's gambling friend, Meyer Wolfshiem - a fictionalized take on gambler/gangster Arnold Rothstein. No only did the actor looked unusual, he gave a lively, yet brief performance that I found quite captivating. And Jack Thompson gave a quiet (almost speechless) and subtle performance as Nick's psychiatrist Dr. Walter Perkins. STAR WARS fans should take note that eleven years ago, Thompson portrayed Cliegg Lars - father to Edgerton's Owen Lars - in "STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES".
I am the last person who will ever claim that this latest "THE GREAT GATSBY" is perfect. Trust me, it is not. But it is a very entertaining film that I believe captured the emotions and theme behind F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel better than any previous adaptation. More importantly, director Baz Luhrmann injected style and energy not only into the story itself, but also its visual look and the first-rate performances from a cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. I did not hesitate to see this movie at the first opportunity.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
"RUSH" (2013) Review
Before I began this review, it occurred to me that Ron Howard has directed a good number of movie biographies set in the distance past for the last eighteen years, starting with 1995's "APOLLO 13". Mind you, the film was not Howard's first period picture. But in the following years, he has directed four more biopics, including his latest project, "RUSH".
Written by Peter Morgan, who also worked with Howard on 2008's "FROST/NIXON", "RUSH" told the story about the rivalry between Formula One race drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 racing season. The two drivers are highly skilled and talented race car drivers who first develop a fierce rivalry in 1970 at a Formula Three race at the Crystal Palace circuit in England. Hunt is a brash young Englishman with a tendency to vomit before every race and the Austrian Lauda is a cool, technical genius who relies on precision. While Lauda buys his way onto the BRM Formula One team, which includes legendary driver Clay Regazzoni, following a falling out with his father. Both Lauda and Regazzoni later join the Scuderia Ferrari team with Regazzoni, and Lauda wins his first championship in 1975. Hunt's racing team, Hesketh Racing, closes shop after failing to secure a sponsor and the British driver manages to land a driving position in McLaren after Emerson Fittipaldi leaves the team. During this period, Hunt marries supermodel Suzy Miller and Lauda develops a relationship with socialite Marlene Knaus.
Eventually, the movie shifts to the 1976 Fomula One racing season. Lauda dominates the early races, while Hunt and the McLaren team struggle with a series of setbacks that include mechanical failures and a disqualified win at the Spanish Grand Prix. Hunt also suffers a personal setback when his wife leaves him for Richard Burton. All seem to be going well for Lauda, including a private wedding to Marlene Knaus. But all come to a head for him at the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring, when he suffers a major car crash. While Hunt shoots ahead in points during his absence, Lauda struggles to recover the crash and return to finish the racing season.
Aside from the movies in the FAST AND FURIOUS series, the only auto racing movies that ever really caught my attention were two period comedies from the 1960s that featured Tony Curtis, the 2006 Will Ferrell comedy, TALLAGEDA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY", and the 2008 film, "SPEED RACER". That is it. Since I had never heard of James Hunt or Niki Lauda, I was almost inclined to skip "RUSH". Thank God I did not. I would have missed out on something special . . . at least for me. I love action films. One of the aspects of action films that I love are the car chases. But the car racing scenes were not the reasons why I finally decided to see "RUSH". I had three reasons - Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. But the cincher for me was the trailer. What can I say? It impressed me.
"RUSH" is not the first time Ron Howard explored the 1970s. He directed two other movies set in the same decade -"APOLLO 13" and "FROST/NIXON". I am beginning to wonder if this decade means a lot more to Howard than he would care to admit. In "RUSH", the more glamorous aspect of the 1970s was explored, thanks to the artistry of production designer Mark Digby. His work was aptly supported by the art direction team led by Daniel Chour and Patrick Rolfe, and also the film's set decorations. But if there is one aspect of "RUSH" that truly captured the 1970s - aside from the soundtrack - was Julian Day's costumes. I adored them. Below are examples of Day's work:
"RUSH" did featured a good number of first-rate auto racing sequences. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, along with film editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill did an exceptional job in recapturing the excitement (well . . . from the driver's point of view) of Formula One racing. This was certainly apparent in two sequences - the Italian Grand Prix, where a barely recovered Niki Lauda managed to finish fourth place; and the Japanese Grand Prix, where the last race of the 1976 season took place. I realize that this might sound gruesome and I certainly do not mean to sound insensitive to what happened to Lauda. But I cannot deny that Howard's recreation of the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring and Lauda's car crash was an example of masterful filmmaking, thanks to Howard's direction, Mantle's photography and the editing by Hanley and Hill. The movie really captured the spectacle and the horror of the crash.
But "RUSH" is foremost a movie about two racing drivers . . . two men. Mindful of this, Peter Morgan did an outstanding job in recapturing Hunt and Lauda's personalities, along with the circumstances that fueled their rivalry on the race track. This was not only in scenes that featured their separate private lives, especially their relationships with their wives Suzy Miller and Marlene Knaus, but also the friendly, yet intense rivalry that existed between them. In regard to their personal lives, I was very impressed by the two scenes that featured the breakup of the Hunt-Miller marriage; Lauda's first meeting with Knaus and one particular scene during their honeymoon in which Lauda expressed concerns about the effects of his marriage on his racing career. However, the confrontation scenes between the two drivers when they were off the race track really rocked, thanks to Hemsworth, Brühl and Morgan's screenplay. But there are two scenes that I really enjoyed. One of them turned out to be the drivers' conference before the German Grand Prix, in which Lauda tried to convince the Formula One committee to cancel that particular race, due to heavy rain on the already notoriously dangerous Nürburgring race course; and their last meeting (at least in the movie), not long after the championship Japanese Grand Prix.
What can I say about the movie's performances? They were outstanding. I was surprised to see Natalie Dormer in such a small role as a hospital nurse that Hunt briefly dated. Considering her growing fame, I had expected to see her in a bigger role. I could say the same about Julian Rhind-Tutt, who had a small role as a member of Hunt's racing team. Christian McKay gave a vibrant performance as the flamboyant Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh, who financed Hunt's first racing team. Pierfrancesco Favino portrayed Italian racing legend, Clay Regazzoni, who drove on the Scuderia Ferrari team with Lauda. I am aware that two drivers actually became good friends. Despite this friendship, Favino gave a sly and humorous performance, while recapturing Favino's occasional frustration with Lauda's eccentric personality. There were some grumbles on the Internet, when world of Olivia Wilde's casting as Suzy Miller was first announced. She certainly proved them wrong by giving a first-rate performance, especially in one scene in which Miller's breakup with Hunt became permanent. I was also impressed by her British accent, until I learned that one of her parents had been born in the U.K. Alexandra Maria Lara also gave a first-rate performance as Lauda's first wife, Marlene Knaus Lauda. Not only did she project a great deal of warmth in her portrayal of the race driver's wife, but also a touch of sardonic humor.
The men of the hour, aside from Ron Howard, are Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, who portrayed the two rivals. They were outstanding. Superficially, Hemsworth seemed to have the less difficult role, portraying the outgoing playboy, Hunt. The Australian not only bore a strong resemblance to the British-born racer, but also seemed to relish in his scenes featuring Hunt's penchant for partying hard and womanizing. But Hemsworth also excelled in those scenes that explored other aspects of Hunt's personality - the insecurity that generally plagues every human being in existence, the emotional chaos of the racer's breakup with Suzy Miller and his awareness of the tough competition he faced against his rival. Howard selected German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl to portray the Austrian-born Niki Lauda. Like Hemsworth, Brühl had to utilize a different accent. He almost lost the role, when he attempted an obvious fake Austrian accent during his screen test. Thankfully, he prevailed in the end. Some have claimed that Lauda was a difficult personality. If one is honest, most people are individually difficult. However, Brühl was superb in conveying the difficult aspects of Lauda's blunt personality, while at the same time, making the racer a very likeable character. It takes an actor of great skill to achieve this goal . . . and the latter did a fanstastic job.
Judging from the manner in which I had just raved over "RUSH", one would start to believe that I could not find any faults with it. First of all, there is an aspect of Mantle's photography that did not sit well with me. I found it slightly metallic and wish that it could have been more colorful, especially in a film about the heady days of auto racing the 1970s. I missed that sharp color that was apparent in some of Howard's past films. And I also could have done without the footage of the real James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the movie's last reels. Such scenes belonged in a featurette about the movie, not in the movie itself. The footage brought back disappointing memories of how Steven Spielberg ended "SCHINDLER'S LIST" and Spike Lee ended "MALCOLM X".
Aside from my few quibbles, I enjoyed "RUSH" very much. It was a first-class look at two auto racing rivals who not only lit up the racing scene in one memorable season in the mid-1970s with their driving skills, but also their colorful personalities. Thanks to an excellent screenplay written by Peter Morgan, a superb cast led by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, and some outstanding direction by Ron Howard; "RUSH" has become one of my favorite movies of 2013. And it has also become one of my favorite sports movies of all time.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Below are images from "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK", David O. Russell's Oscar-nominated adaptation of Matthew Quick's 2008 novel. The movie starred Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence:
"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" (2012) Photo Gallery
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Here is the fifth article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga:
"The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga"
When I had first started on this project, I realized that exploring the moral ambiguity of Padmé Amidala - mother of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa - might be something of a problem. I have always suspected that the majority of STAR WARSfans might regard her as an ideal figure, someone who could not possibly possess a shread of ambiguity in her nature. One could blame George Lucas for portraying Padmé as a one-dimensional character. But I cannot. One, I have difficulty accepting Padmé as an ideal and one-dimensional character. In her own quiet and ladylike way, Padmé never struck me as one-dimensional. True, she does reflect an ideal persona in a superficial way. But when I looked past her aura of serenity and wisdom, I saw a young woman who not only made some unwise choices in her life, but also possessed her own set of personal flaws.
Since she was a child, Padmé Nabierre had made her mark upon her homeworld of Naboo and the Galactic Republic. During her youth, Padmé participated in organizations such as the Refugee Relief Movement, the Legislative Youth Program and the Apprentice Legislative. At the age of thirteen, she was elected Princess of Theed, rallying those who opposed the rule of Naboo's last king, Ars Veruna. Highly regarded by Naboo's population and its elite, Padmé was elected Queen of Naboo during that same year and took the Regnal name of Amidala. Not long after her ascension to the throne, Padmé's rule was first tested when Naboo became embroiled in a conflict with the infamous Trade Federation over trade routes. This conflict spilled into an invasion and a brief war of liberation. After serving eight years as queen, she stepped down from the throne, the new Queen Jamilla urged her to run for senator. Padmé won easily and served as Naboo's main elected representative in the Galactic Senate. During her six years as senator, Padmé survived assassination attempts, found love with Jedi Anakin Skywalker, witnessed the destructive Clone Wars, witnessed the end of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, lost her husband to the Sith and gave birth to twins before dying on the moon of Polis Massa. Recalling her life, I am not surprised that many would wonder what was so ambiguous about Padmé Amidala.
In a scene from "STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES", Padmé discussed her political career with her Jedi escort and future husband, Anakin Skywalker and expressed her belief that she may have been too young to serve as Queen of Naboo during her eight years on the throne. And honestly? I heartily agree. I have heard of reigning monarchs under the age of 18. But a regent is usually appointed to rule on the behalf of said monarch until the latter reaches 18 years old. At 13-14 years old, Padmé seemed too young to exercise such political power. This seemed very apparent in a decision she made in "STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE" - a decision that led to great consequences for the Galactic Republic.
Perhaps Padmé's lack of maturity and experience had nothing to do with her bad decision. It was one even an older and more experienced politician or head of state could have made. I am referring to Padmé's decision to declare a vote of no confidence against Chancellor Finis Valorum of the Galactic Republic. Originally, Padmé had no intention of making such a move, despite the insidious insistence of Naboo's Senator Palpatine. Perhaps my imagination had been in overdrive, but she seemed a bit resistant to Palpatine's suggestion. But when Chancellor Valorum failed to take action against the Trade Federation's invasion other than form a committee to investigate, Padmé allowed her anger and frustration to get the best of her and made two decisions. One of them resulted in her return to Naboo to lead a military resistance against the Trade Federation, which led to victory. And as Naboo's premiere political representative during her visit to Coruscant, she declared a vote of no confidence against Valorum. This act led to Palpatine's election as the Republic's new leader. I find it odd that many STAR WARS fans like to solely blame the Gungan Jar-Jar Binks for Palpatine's rise to power and the formation of the Galactic Empire. Yet, very few . . . if any have ever commented on Padmé's own contribution to Palpatine's rise.
By the beginning of "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" some ten years later, Padmé was no longer queen and serving as a representative for Naboo in the Galactic Senate. Had she become a more astute politician by this time? I believe so. She was among those senators who opposed the formation of a formal army to deal with the growing Separatist movement. Padmé saw nothing but disaster and more violence in dealing with the Separatists. She also dispensed some very wise advice to her new Jedi protector and old friend, Anakin Skywalker about trying to hard to prove himself to the Jedi Council. And when he later expressed his love for her during their visit to Naboo, she wisely pointed out the potential failures of a relationship between a senator and a Jedi padawan. It seemed crystal clear that Padmé had become a wiser individual during those ten years between "THE PHANTOM MENACE" and "ATTACK OF THE CLONES". And yet . . .
There is another scene in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" that featured a conversation between Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padmé's current bodyguard, Captain Typho. In the scene, the two men were witnessing Padmé and Anakin's departure from Coruscant in the guise of refugees, following an assassination attempt on her life. Obi-Wan expressed his to Captain Typho over Anakin's ability to successfully serve as Padmé's sole bodyguard. Surprisingly, Typho, who remained on Coruscant to act as bodyguard for Padmé's decoy, expressed his own reservations about his political charge:
OBI-WAN: I hope he doesn't try anything foolish.
CAPTAIN TYPHO: I'd be more concerned about her doing
something, than him.
I have yet to come across any comments about Typho's remarks about Padmé. Perhaps many fans had dismissed his negative comment about his charge, considering the ideal view of her. But he proved to be right. Despite some acquired wisdom, Padmé proved that after eleven years in politics, she was still capable of making bad decisions.
Her first bad decision was to leave the safety of Naboo and accompany Anakin on his trip to Tatooine in order to learn of his mother's fate. Mind you, nothing personal happened to Padmé on Tatooine. But I believe her decision was not wise. She should have either insisted that Anakin continue his duties as her bodyguard on Naboo or arrange for more bodyguards to replace him. Padmé went on to commit a bigger blunder, when she and Anakin learned of Obi-Wan's capture by the Separatists on Geonosis. She insisted upon traveling to Geonosis, convinced that she could reason with the Separatist leaders and convince them to release Obi-Wan. Needless to say, Padmé's arrogant insistence on rushing to Geonosis to save Obi-Wan merely led to hers and Anakin's capture.
I also noticed that their capture by the Separatists, along with her participation in the Battle of Geonosis, also initiated a change in Padmé's heart regarding an army for the Republic. Perhaps the heat of combat between the Jedi forces and the Separatist battle droids led her to temporarily forget her objections against a Republic army. Or perhaps the indignities that she and Anakin had endured at the hands of Count Dooku and the Separatist leaders led her to change her mind about military action against them. Why do I comment on this? I noticed that during the Geonosis battle, Padmé seemed very enthusiastic . . . almost fey, while she and Anakin fought side-by-side during the battle. I found her attitude rather odd, considering her earlier attitude regarding a conflict against the Separatists.
Speaking of Anakin, her earlier reluctance to express her feelings for him had also disappeared during their time on Geonosis. When the pair was being led into the arena for execution, Padmé finally expressed her love him. I found nothing wrong with her confession. After all, she believed that she and Anakin were being led to their deaths and she wanted him to know her true feelings before being executed. However, the arrival of a Jedi force and the following Battle of Geonosis changed matters. But when she caught up with Anakin, who had been badly wounded during a duel with Separatist leader and former Jedi Master Count Dooku, Padmé rushed to his side. Her reaction to the sight of a wounded Anakin with a missing arm seemed a bit . . . well, indiscreet; considering that both Yoda and an equally wounded Obi-Wan were there to witness her blatant display of emotion.
Padmé committed her biggest mistake when she married Anakin in a secret wedding ceremony after he escorted her back to Naboo. Unlike many other STAR WARS fans, I would have never viewed Padmé and Anakin's marriage as a mistake if they had been honest about it. Yes, a marriage did reinforce their attachment to each other. If Anakin had put Padmé behind him, chances are his attachment to the Jedi Order would have strengthened. But as I have pointed out in previous articles, the Jedi's attachment to the Order did not help them in the end. Padmé and Anakin's decision to marry in secret led them to do the very thing she had earlier warned him about - live a lie. And by living a lie, the couple reinforced their attachment to each other in a way that proved to be very unhealthy in the end.
The issue of Padmé's marriage to Anakin did not rear its head again until the next movie, "STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH". The Clone Wars have been raging for three years by this time. The movie found Padmé still a senator representing Naboo and still secretly married to Anakin. Padmé is also pregnant with their twin children - Luke and Leia. Following the Battle of Coruscant and the rescue of Chancellor Palpatine, Padmé and Anakin were reunited before she revealed the news about her pregnancy. During this three-year interval, Padmé's opposition against an army for the Republic had revived and extended to an opposition against the Clone Wars and apprehension over Chancellor Palpatine's continuing leadership over the Republic - a leadership that has lasted thirteen years by "REVENGE OF THE SITH". In fact, Padmé's current political beliefs has led her to become part of a cabal of senators determined to convince or force Palpatine to step down as chancellor. Padmé's oppositing against the Clone Wars was not only steeped in apprehension over the continuing violence throughout the Republic, but also in the belief that the majority of homeworlds that had joined the Separatists had a legitimate grief against the Galactic Senate.
Despite Padmé's concerns over the Clone Wars and the Republic's political situation, all seemed to be right with her world. With Anakin back from the Republic's Outer Rim, she found herself with more time with her husband. She also seemed more politically astute and mature than in the previous two films. And yet . . . not all was right with her world. Despite their love for each other and Padmé's plans to return to Naboo for their child's birth, the Skywalkers seemed to be having trouble communicating with each other. One could blame Anakin for keeping his troubles with the Jedi Order to himself. But I did wonder if Padmé's growing opposition against Palpatine may have contributed to this surprising estrangement between the couple. This certainly seemed to be the case in one scene in which Padmé asked her husband to convince the Chancellor to step down as leader of the Republic. Anakin's reaction to Padmé's suggestion seemed to match his angry reaction to the Jedi Council's suggestion that he spy upon Palpatine's activities. Oddly enough, I understood the nature of his reaction. Both Padmé and the Jedi Council - upon whom Anakin had placed a great deal of trust - seemed willing to exploit not only his friendship with Palpatine, but also his trust in them in order to further their political agendas . . . no matter how benevolent.
However, Padmé's willingness to exploit Anakin's friendship with Palpatine seemed less problematic than her attachments to both the Republic and Anakin. Many fans have expressed admiration toward her devotion to both Naboo and the Republic. But this devotion has led her to shut out any possibilities of a personal life in the past. An episode of "THE CLONE WARS" called (2.04) "Senate Spy" revealed that during her early period as a senator, Padmé had befriended a young man and fellow senator named Rush Clovis. When their friendship developed into a romance, Padmé quickly ended their relationship due to her belief that romance between them would interfere with their profession. And when she finally opened herself to a personal relationship with Anakin, she acquired an attachment that proved to be even stronger than her attachment to her political career. This was very apparent in an early "REVENGE OF THE SITH" scene that featured Padmé and Anakin's reunion after Palpatine's rescue. Overjoyed from being reunited with his wife after months apart, Anakin suggested they finally confess their secret marriage to the Jedi Council and others. It did not take Padmé very long to squash this suggestion. In fact, her voice nearly trembled with fear when she did. It occurred to me that she feared losing Anakin to the Jedi Order a lot more than she feared losing him to the violence of war. Perhaps she had more faith in Anakin's ability to survive the Clone Wars than in his ability to withstand pressure from the Jedi Order and especially Obi-Wan to end their relationship.
I also suspect that Padmé's willingness to continue the lie about her marriage was a strong indication of the level of her attachment to Anakin. While many fans might disagree with me, I believe that Anakin's embrace of the Sith Order and his actions at the Jedi Temple may have taken a terrible toll on Padmé's psyche. Anakin had been her chance for some kind of personal life, following the fall of the Republic. But his fall from grace and his attack upon her on Mustafar seemed to be the straws that broke her heart and possibly her spirit. And Padmé's tenacious attachment to her husband may have put her in a very vulnerable state - not only emotionally, but also physically.
While many fans have ranted against Padmé's "death by broken heart", others have expressed outrage over Padmé's reaction to Anakin's slaughter of the Tusken Raiders in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES". In a way, I can see their point. After all, Padmé did not react very well to Anakin's actions at the Jedi Temple in "REVENGE OF THE SITH" - especially his killings of many Jedi younglings. However, I have a theory that many fans may not like. This theory might shatter Padmé's reputation as an ideal woman within the STAR WARS fandom. And what is my theory regarding Padmé's reaction to the Tusken massacre? On a superficial level, I believe she may have been surprised . . . possibly shocked by Anakin's confession of the massacre. However, one should take into account that she understood his grief over the loss of his mother, Shmi Skywalker, which would epxlain her words to him:
"To be angry is to be human."
But many seemed to forget that Padmé had the chance to meet Shmi Skywalker Lars in "THE PHANTOM MENACE". And when one considers the circumstances that surrounded Shmi's death - the kidnapping and a brutal captivity that included weeks of torture - I cannot help but wonder if Padmé shared Cliegg Lars' assessment of the Tusken Raiders:
"Those Tuskens walk like men, but they're vicious, mindless monsters."
I would not be surprised if Padmé shared her future stepfather-in-law's opinion. In fact, I would not be surprised if somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, she felt the Tuskens deserved their brutal fates at Anakin's hands.
My last view of Padmé seemed rather ugly, did it not? As I had stated earlier, it is a portrait that many STAR WARS fans may not want to consider. I do not know. Perhaps it is easier to view Padmé as this ideal young woman, whose only mistake was that she fell in love with the wrong person. That is a view I cannot accept. Mind you, I do not believe that Padmé and Anakin had a perfect marriage. But I do believe that like her husband, Padmé Nabierre Amidala Skywalker possessed her own set of flaws. And those flaws made her a more interesting character than any ideal one ever could.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
"WUTHERING HEIGHTS" (1939) Review
Considering the popularity of the Brontë sisters, it is not surprising that there have been considerable movie, stage and television adaptations of their novels. I discovered there have been at least fifteen (15) adaptations of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, "Wuthering Heights".
I might as well be frank . . . I am not a major fan of the novel. I never have been. I do not dislike it, but I have always preferred the famous novels of the author's two sisters - namely "Jane Eyre" (1847) by Charlotte Brontë and Anne Brontë's 1848 novel, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". For some reason, "Wuthering Heights" depresses the hell out of me. I have nothing against works of fiction laced with tragedy. But the heavy barrage of emotional and physical abuse, revenge, and over-the-top passion has always seemed a bit too much for me. Due to my less-than-enthusiastic regard for Ms. Brontë's novel, I have always been reluctant to watch any of the television or movie adaptations, with the exception of one - the 1939 movie produced by Samuel Goldwyn.
Directed by William Wyler, and starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier; "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" told the story of the passionate and doomed love story between one Catherine Earnshaw, the daughter of a Yorkshire landowner and an orphaned Gypsy boy named Heathcliff. The story opens with Mr. Earnshaw introducing Heathcliff to his family - Cathy and her brother, Hindley - at Wuthering Heights. While Cathy immediately befriends Heathcliff, Hindley becomes jealous of his father and sister's high regard of the newcomer. Heathcliff's pleasant life with the Earnshaw family ends when Mr. Earnshaw dies and a resentful Hindley forces him to become one of the family's servants.
Despite Heathcliff's new status within the Earnshaw family, his close relationship with Cathy remains close. Some eight to ten years later, the now adult pair have fallen in love and are meeting secretly on Penniston's Crag. One night, Cathy and Heathcliff are out when they discover the Earnshaws' neighbors, the Lintons, giving a party at the Grange. After climbing the garden wall, Cathy is attacked by a dog. The Lintons take Cathy in to care for her and Heathcliff is ordered to leave the Grange. Cathy becomes close with Edgar Linton and entranced by his wealth and glamour, while Edgar falls in love with her. When Edgar decides to propose marriage to Cathy, his action leads to a major fallout between Cathy and Heathcliff, the latter's departure for United States, his return, jealousy, obsession and in the end, tragedy.
As far as I know, the 1939 film eliminated the second half of Brontë's novel that centered on the generation featuring Heathcliff and Cathy's children. This elimination has led many fans of the novel to dismiss this version as a poor adaptation. Well, to each his own. I have never read Brontë's novel. And this is probably why I have such difficulty in dismissing "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" as unworthy of the novel. The only way I can judge the movie is on its own merits. And quite frankly, I believe it is one of the better costume dramas to be released during Hollywood's Studio Era.
Producer Samuel Goldwyn assigned his top director, William Wyler, to helm the movie. And Wyler did a superb job. Thanks to his direction, "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" turned out to be an atmospheric and well paced movie filled with superb performances by the cast. Wyler utilized the talents of cinematographer Gregg Toland, along with art designers James Basevi and Alexander Toluboff to re-create the novel's setting - the brooding Yorkshire moors with exquisite details.
The movie's most controversial aspect turned out to be Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht's screenplay. Many present-day critics believe that the two screenwriters took the bite out of Brontë's novel by romanticizing Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship. Literary critic John Sutherland accused Wyler, Hecht and MacArthur of portraying Cathy as a more passive character, willing to accept Heathcliff's abuse. Personally, I cannot help but wonder how he came to this conclusion. My recent viewing of "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" recalls a capricious and manipulative Cathy unable to hold back her scorn of Heathcliff in the face of the Lintons' wealth and glamour; and a Cathy more than determined to prevent Heathcliff and Isabella Linton's marriage. Not once do I recall a passive Cathy willing to accept abuse from Heathcliff.
Other critics of the movie have also accused Wyler and the two screenwriters of robbing Heathcliff the opportunity to seek revenge against Cathy and the Linton family by deleting the second half of the novel. These same critics seemed to have forgotten that a good deal of the movie's second half focused not only on Heathcliff's return to England, but also his efforts to get revenge on both the Earnshaw and Linton families. He did this by acquiring Wuthering Heights from an increasingly dissolute Hindley Earnshaw and more importantly, seeking Isabella Linton's hand for marriage. The latter finally reached its mark as far as Cathy was concerned. The emotional damage from Heathcliff's marriage to Isabella led to Cathy's death and tragedy. The biggest criticism that emerged from "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" was Samuel Goldwyn's decision to set the story in the mid-Victorian era, instead of the novel's late 18th and early 19th centuries setting. It is believed that Goldwyn made this decision either because he preferred this period in costumes or he was simply trying to save a buck by using old Civil War era costumes. Personally, I could not care less. The novel's setting was merely accelerated by five to six decades. And since "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" did not utilize any historical facts in its plot, I see no reason to get upset over the matter.
"WUTHERING HEIGHTS" went into production as a vehicle for actress Merle Oberon, who was a contract player at Goldwyn Studios. When Laurence Olivier, her co-star from 1938's "THE DIVORCE OF LADY X", was cast as Heathcliff, he campaigned for lover Vivian Leigh to replace Oberon as Catherine Earnshaw. Olivier's efforts failed and Oberon kept her job. Many critics believe that Leigh would have done a better job. I refuse to accept or reject that belief. However, I was very impressed by Oberon's performance. She did an excellent job in capturing Cathy's capricious and shallow nature. Although Oberon had a few moments of hammy acting, she was not as guilty as two of her co-stars. I find it rather disappointing that she failed to earn an Academy Award nomination. Her scene with Geraldine Fitzgerald (in which Cathy tries to dampen Isabella's interest in Heathcliff) and the famous soliloquy that ended with Cathy's "I am Heathcliff" declaration should have earned her a nomination.
Laurence Olivier made his Hollywood debut in the role of the Gypsy orphan-turned-future owner of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff. Olivier harbored a low opinion of Hollywood and screen acting in general. But Wyler's exhausting style of directing and tutelage enabled Olivier to drop his penchant for stage theatrics and perform for the camera. Mind you, I do not believe Wyler was not completely successful with Olivier. The actor still managed to display hints of hammy acting in his performance. And he did not seem that successful in his portrayal of a Heathcliff in his late teens or early twenties, in compare to Oberon, who seemed successful in portraying Cathy in that same age group. Regardless, Olivier gave a first-rate performance, and managed to earn the first of his ten Academy Award nominations.
Another performer who earned an Academy Award nomination was Geraldine Fitzgerald, for her performance as Isabella Linton. I cannot deny that she deserved the nomination. Fitzgerald gave a memorable performance as the passionate, naive and outgoing Isabella, who found herself trapped in an emotionally abusive marriage to a man that harbored no love for her. However, I believe that like Olivier, she was guilty of a few moments of histronic acting. I could never accuse David Niven of such a thing. The actor gave a solid performance as the quietly loving, yet privileged Edgar Linton. Flora Robson was superb as the story's narrator and Cathy Earnshaw's maid, Ellen Dean. And both Niven and Robson proved to be the production's backbone by being the only cast members that managed to refrain from any histronic acting altogether. I can also say the same about Hugh Williams' portrayal of the embittered and dissolute Hindley Earnshaw. Donald Crisp, Leo G. Carroll, Cecil Kellaway and Miles Mander also gave fine support.
I realize that "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" will never be a favorite of the fans of Brontë's novel. But as a movie fan, I cannot look down at this production. Thanks to William Wyler's direction, Gregg Toland's photography, solid adaptation by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and superb acting from a cast led by Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier; it is quite easy to see why it is considered as one of the best examples of Old Hollywood during one of its best years - 1939. I guess I will always be a fan.