REVIEW: ‘The Great Gatsby’

THE GREAT GATSBY

When F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing The Great Gatsby, he wasn’t doing it from memory but from current experience. The novel chronicled the Jazz Age, as well as frenzy of money-grubbing on Wall Street that would unravel before the end of the decade, as it was happening. And yet the novel has always conveyed the wistful wooziness of remembered halcyon days with the bitter tang of regret still on the tongue — A la recherchez du temps perdu.

The book, though, didn’t really catch on until after Fitzgerald’s death, when, with the benefit of hindsight, readers could appreciate his prescience, his exactitude in painting vivid word pictures of the excess and glamour of the Roaring Twenties.

Baz Luhrmann likes picture-pictures more than word pictures, as evidenced by his feverish, stylized films about young lovers (Romeo+Juliet, set in the modern day) and le belle epoque (Moulin Rouge, with its rock score). After the boondoggle that was Australia, he’s back to his roots, emphasizing the spectacle of the the ’20s as only he can.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Movie Monday: ‘J. Edgar’ in limited release

Secret agent man

J. Edgar gets off to a shaky start, but it grows on you. Our first sight of Hoover is of DiCaprio pinched into an overdone old-man latex mask that looks comical, like Lord Voldemort in a Brooks Bros. suit. The film is bookended by the sunset of Hoover’s life while recording his memoirs, and the start of his career, only until about 1935; that leaves a generation of villainy during the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement almost untouched by Black and director Clint Eastwood. Some things had to come out, of course; but the gap feels gaping.

None of this is to say Dustin Lance Black’s (Milk) screenplay doesn’t succeed on several levels. He portrays Hoover as a spiritual brother of Norman Bates: Emotionally arrested, mother-obsessed (a scene where he dressed in his dead mom’s clothes is singularly creepy) and expressing his frustrations in inappropriate ways.

3 out of 5 stars. Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench. Rated R. 145 mins.  Now playing in limited release.

—  Rich Lopez

Dustin Lance Black, Leo, weigh in on ‘J. Edgar’

You can read my review of J. Edgar here, but check out this interview by Chris Azzopardi with J. Edgar screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and actor Leonardo DiCaprio:

No milk for Dustin Lance Black — the 37-year-old filmmaker who says he feels 10 years older today — on this recent morning in a suite at a Beverly Hills hotel. Instead, the screenwriter is nursing a hangover after the premiere J. Edgar, with a bottle of water, joking that “it just means more honest answers; the filter’s down.”

Even without the last drops of Jack and Cokes flushing from his system (proof: lots of bathroom breaks), Black’s always spoke his mind. It’s how the writer has become one of the most admired LGBT activists of our generation, passionately speaking out on hot topics like Prop 8, being a lapsed Mormon and curious dinners with Taylor Lautner (more on that later).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Hoover? Damn!

‘J. Edgar’ tries — and almost succeeds — at being ‘Brokeback’ for G-Men

G-MEN, X-RATED  |  Tolson (Armie Hammer) and Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) carry on in ‘J. Edgar.’

G-MEN, X-RATED | Tolson (Armie Hammer) and Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) carry on in ‘J. Edgar.’

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3 out of 5 stars
J. EDGAR
Leo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench. Rated R. 145 mins.  Now playing in limited release.

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Before he became the nation’s most famous lawmen (one who never carried a gun or made an arrest), J. Edgar Hoover’s greatest governmental accomplishment was organizing the system for card cataloging the Library of Congress, and in Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay for J. Edgar, that speaks volumes. Hoover thought of everything — books, people, information — as things to be categorized and managed. “Believe in the individual” Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) says near the end of the film, without a hint of realization that his entire career was a slow repudiation of that principle.

Hoover was, simply, a scary son of a bitch, a homegrown Torquemada clothed with the mantle of democracy.

That’s not something I’m sure J. Edgar fully captures. Hoover was an innovator of law enforcement: He believed in process, in the value of centralizing information like fingerprints, and of preserving evidence in situ.
But as with many well-intentioned people who rise to unbridled power, he abused it. Personal and political enemies were targeted, if not outright blackmailed; the constitution became more barrier than guideline. You can see how Hoover’s FBI laid the groundwork for the Bush Administration’s unironic use of “extraordinary rendition” as a euphemism for torture; the U.S. doesn’t torture as a precept, so anything we do in the name of safety must be proper.

J. Edgar gets off to a shaky start, but it grows on you. Our first sight of Hoover is of DiCaprio pinched into an overdone old-man latex mask that looks comical, like Lord Voldemort in a Brooks Bros. suit. The film is bookended by the sunset of Hoover’s life while recording his memoirs, and the start of his career, only until about 1935; that leaves a generation of villainy during the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement almost untouched by Black and director Clint Eastwood. Some things had to come out, of course; but the gap feels gaping.

None of this is to say Black’s screenplay doesn’t succeed on several levels. He portrays Hoover as a spiritual brother of Norman Bates: Emotionally arrested, mother-obsessed (a scene where he dressed in his dead mom’s clothes is singularly creepy) and expressing his frustrations in inappropriate ways.

He also presents us with one of the most perversely touching love stories of the year: The very public but very secret romance between Hoover and his aide, Clyde Tolson. Tolson, played with model-good-looks and a seductive, pantherish stealth by Armie Hammer, humanizes Hoover. He serves, often ineffectively, as the moral guidepost, the floating conscious of a notoriously paranoid influence peddler who saw criticism as subversiveness and liberalism as treasonous. Eastwood is best directing as he hints, for the better part of an hour, at the sexual energy between them. It’s on the personal level that J. Edgar becomes something more than a biopic — it becomes Brokeback Capital Hill, a romance among G-Men.

Hammer is the most compelling actor on the screen, followed closely by Judi Dench as the most unnerving mom since Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. But Leo falls flat. He doesn’t convey Hoover’s demagoguery with enough vitriol; it’s like he’s afraid of coming off as the villain.

Ultimately, maybe it doesn’t matter. Hoover’s political legacy speaks for itself; we have J. Edgar to remind us of the sad tragedy of being in the closet, and how even in unlikely times, love finds a way.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio sound like they are about to de-gay Black’s Hoover script

In an interview with GQ, Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio under-emphasize the gay aspect of tyrannical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s reign in their upcoming biopic, J. Edgar, E Online is reporting. Considering that its screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, won an Oscar for his screenplay to another gay bio, Milk, their comments sound very disrespectful. Sigh. Well, we still plan to see it. It comes out Nov. 9.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones