This weekend, The Great Gatsby didn't quite overtake Tony Stark and his mechanical suit of wonder in Iron Man 3, but the literature-inspired flick did make quite a dent in the weekend box office. And that means many you flocked to the theater to see what Baz Luhrmann did with F. Scott Fitzgerald's beloved text and maybe, just maybe, the polarizing adaptation left you with a few burning questions. That's what we're here for. We've got the scoop on the history and production of Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby.
1. Those parties were breathtaking! Did Luhrmann actually throw extravagant parties and capture them on film?Well, sort of. At the junket for The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann explained how he acheived the "wild party feel" in the first party of the film at Tom (Joel Edgerton) and Myrtle's (Isla Fisher) love nest:
We wanted to go there, but we weren't quite sure how to ... and then I said, we've got 20 minutes left let's turn all the cameras on and just go for it ... and right in the middle of the jazz, I just turned up very loudly a track called 'NYMP,' which is a Jay-Z track which was mixed with jazz, and things took off and the cameras rolled for twenty minutes. And there's a moment, and you see it in the film, when a very expensive lamp smashes. And my first assistant said, 'Baz, Baz, we gotta shut it down.' Because by then it was crazy mayhem, of levels you can only imagine: it was clothes coming off and feather fights and flowers being thrown. And I remember I grabbed everyone and I said, 'Get in the bedroom' and they kept rolling and that's how it became known as the 'orgy scene.'
While he's probably joking about the orgy part, it does appear that the partying in the film was somewhat real. (Which sounds like this may have been the best job ever.)
2. Most of the song covers are pretty easy to identify, but who's the woman covering "Crazy in Love" in the flower scene at Nick's (Tobey Maguire) house?Emeli Sande is an English pop singer who's just beginning to acheive fame in the U.S. Her last album, Our Version of Events, was number one on the UK charts for seven straight weeks in 2012 and she performed at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics. You may also recognize her voice from her single (which was also performed by Candice Glover on American Idol last week) "Next to Me."
3. They drive around like mad men with no knowledge of seat belt safety in this movie – didn't they have normal safety measures back then?As it turns out, they didn't. Some cars came with flimsy seatbelts, but there were no laws governing the use or inclusion of seatbelts in the design of motor vehicles. It wasn't until 1964 the seatbelts were made standard by law, and even then, the requirements only stated that cars needed belts in the front seat. It was a dangerous time to be a driver or even in the vacinity of cars – something poor Myrtle Wilson has to learn firsthand.
4. Is Tom Buchanan's racist book real? Did people in the '20s really think there was an actual war between the races?Almost. Tom's book, The Rise of the Colored Empires by some man named Goddard, is not actually a real book. However, the idea that black Americans were some foreign force seeking to take over the white man's hold on America was a real theory proclaimed in a similarly-named book by Theodore Stoddard in 1920. His book was called The Rising Tide of Color Against the White World Supremacy, so if anything, Fitzgerald's version was a much milder version of the truly hateful book from Stoddard.
5. Jordan Baker and George Wilson are scene stealers! Where do I know those actors from?Wilson is played by Jason Clarke, who you may recognize as a scene-stealer from other films like Zero Dark Thirty, in which he played an FBI agent who introduced Jessica Chastain's character to the underbelly of interrogation tactics, and the summer drama Lawless, in which he played a member of a free-wheeling bootlegging family that included Tom Hardy and Shia LeBeouf. He's certainly an actor to keep an eye on in upcoming films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
The actress who plays Baker, Elizabeth Debecki, is a rising star in Austrailia, but this is her first introduction to American audiences. However, her arresting performance as the lithe golfer is sure to make her a face to watch stateside as well.
6. Is the Valley of Ashes a real place in Queens, New York?It was. Though the that place no longer exists, it was a real area of Queens that has since become Flushing Meadows Park and was once known as the Coronoa Ash Dumps. The signature ashes were repurposed, at the request of Robert Moses (the "master builder" of mid-20th century New York City), to create the base for the Van Wyck expressway, which runs alongside the park. Flushing Meadows park built for the 1939 Worlds Fair (and little beknownst to Moses, the opening title sequence of King Of Queens, and the closing sequence ofMen In Black).
7. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) makes such a big deal about all those oranges and the juice presser. Was it really a sign of wealth to have a mountain of citrus fruit at your disposal?Not really. But man, does it look beautiful on the screen. In the early 1920s, it cost about $10 dollars for the "200 oranges" Gatsby boasts for his morning mimosa with Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and the modern day equivalent of that many citrus fruits is about $130 dollars. It's chump change for a millionaire, but while the notion that he had someone fresh pressing his OJ for him every day in record time on some fancy juicer was the real luxury, it certainly makes for a better image to have an avalanche of orange orbs.
8. Myrtle's dog might have been the cutest movie dog in the history of movie dogs. Seriously. How do I get one? What kind of dog is he?If you want a pup like Mrs. Wilson's gift of adultery, a grey schnauser puppy would do it.
9. How historically accurate are Daisy's clothes? That jewel-network of a dress at Gatsby's party seems a bit modern.The film's costume designer (and Luhrmann's wife) Catherine Martin has said she stayed true to the time period, but that Lurhmann had her open it up the to the Gatsby Era (between 1920 and 1927), rather than just the year the book was set in. In that way, she had a bit more freedom with her designs, she spoke to Fashionista.com about the details of the era:
But what you realize even by the early ’20s, just about any silhouette–from a bias cut, to a strapless, to a robe de style, had all been invented. One shouldered looks, beading, embroidering, harem pants, feathered skirts, halter necks, v-necks… all kinds of different silhouettes. We think of the ’20s as a shift, a beaded embroidered fringed shift. And in reality the silhouettes were incredibly varied and had all kinds of influences form folkloric to Arabic, Orientalism–every kind of influence that you can possibly imagine, including Egyptian by the time Tutankhamun’s tomb had been opened up.
So there you have it. What else about The Great Gatsby left you with a quizzical brow?
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Much as I enjoyed X-Men: First Class Fox’s exuberant prequel/reboot (preboot?) of the fabled Marvel Comics series I was a bit disoriented by its opening sequence in which a Mengele-esque Nazi scientist played by Kevin Bacon attempts to coax a terrified young Erik Lensherr a death camp inmate into demonstrating his newly discovered mutant powers. As the interaction transpires the camera does something odd: It remains static holding its gaze on the characters’ faces affording us the rare treat of being able to scrutinize their expressions without the distraction of rapid-fire cuts or circling dollies or palsy-cams or any of the other myriad tools preferred by Hollywood’s increasingly ADD-addled action directors.
Restraint? In a comic book film? Strange but true. Even stranger is that it comes courtesy of director Matthew Vaughn whose previous comic book adaptation Kick-Ass was so over-adrenalized it should have come with a complimentary shot of insulin. Here Vaughn shows greater confidence in his material his actors and most admirably his audience letting the story hold sway unhindered by gimmicky enhancements. First Class is hardly a throwback mind you – it features all of CGI accoutrements one expects from a proper summer blockbuster – but it has a stylish retro sensibility to it that is as refreshing as it is unexpected.
In fact were it not for all of its superhuman characters one might not be able to tell that it’s based on a comic book. Whilst devising an approach suitable for his film’s early ‘60s Cold War setting Vaughn a Brit clearly found inspiration in his country’s most enduring film franchise. First Class bears far more in common with The Spy Who Loved Me than with any of the previous X-Men installments or any other comic book flicks for that matter and is all the better because of it.
Playing Vaughn’s Stromberg is Bacon whose character has graduated from death camp atrocitier to swaggering supervillain in the intervening years since the war’s end. Ensconced in his underwater lair aboard a well-appointed submarine Sebastian Shaw as he has re-christened himself (only in the comic book world does a fugitive Nazi war criminal choose an alias with the initials “S.S.”) is secretly conspiring to ignite a fatal MAD-provoking nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
No Bond-inspired film would be complete without a dose of benign sexism embodied ably by Mad Men’s January Jones in the role of Shaw’s right-hand woman Emma Frost. A mutant who can read minds and manifest diamond-plated armor Emma’s greatest gift the filmmakers make abundantly clear is her superhuman rack which when activated turns her into a walking honey trap no soldier or government official can resist. (It’s also the movie's most potent marketing weapon.)
Even our hero Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has got a bit of 007’s DNA in him. Cheeky rakish given to funneling beers and hitting on Oxford co-eds McAvoy’s Xavier is a far cry from Patrick Stewart’s stuffy avuncular version of the character. Though his mutant telepathic abilities are highly developed his human intuition isn’t as he scarcely notices the insecurity metastasizing in his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) a blue-skinned shape-shifter in desperate need of validation.
She eventually finds that validation in Lensherr (played as an adult by Michael Fassbender) whose cynical view of humanity bred by prolonged exposure to its more sinister aspects places him at odds with Xavier’s vision of peaceful co-existence between mutants and their unenhanced counterparts. Nevertheless Xavier and Lensherr become fast friends and they agree to collaborate in the recruitment and training of a clandestine force of superhumans capable of stopping Shaw. Shortly thereafter the first-ever mutant all-star team is born.
Anyone vaguely familiar with the comic book knows how this relationship turns out. But Vaughn’s fresh approach to the characters and their underlying motivations helps ameliorate some of the predictability of film’s plot and its inevitable resolution. Like Batman Begins First Class is bound to pursue a pre-determined outcome but it makes brief detours here and there that refresh the franchise without jeopardizing its sacred canon. Vaughn takes great care to appease the film's fanboy base without alienating the broader audience. Though I couldn’t care a whit about Torso-Beam Boy Winged Stripper Girl or a handful of other extraneous characters devotees of the comics will no doubt rejoice in the screen time allotted to their respective backstories.
There are a handful of moments when Vaughn’s ambitions exceed his effects budget but for the most part he proves a dexterous purveyor of popcorn theatrics. Some of the best bits including a spectacular sequence in which an anchor tears through the deck of a luxury yacht have been spoiled by the film’s trailers but they still impress when writ large on the big screen. And there are a few surprises in First Class that remain thankfully unspoiled. Better see it quick before the next ad campaign debuts.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Jennifer Check and Anita "Needy" Lesnicky are lifelong best friends and high school students in tiny Devil's Kettle Minnesota. Needy is the practical bookish counterpart to small-town sexpot cheerleader Jennifer who controls most everyone around her — Needy included — with knowing relish using her hypnotic good looks. After Jennifer and Needy escape a grisly fire at the local dive bar Jennifer is whisked away in a creeper van by the band that was playing there despite Needy's pleas not to. In a "sell your soul for rock and roll"-style move the fame-hungry indie rockers Low Shoulder kill Jennifer in an occult virgin sacrifice ceremony which goes awry because Jennifer isn't one. After being left for dead Jennifer shows up at Needy's house covered in blood spewing black bile and grinning wickedly.
The next day amidst the fire tragedy aftermath Devil's Kettle's star football player is found disemboweled and half-eaten in the woods adjacent to the school. Jennifer of course did it and after the vixen kills a sweet emo boy she confesses to Needy (after a too-brief girl-on-girl makeout session complete with heavy tongue close-ups) that the botched sacrifice turned her into a demon and that she becomes happier and more beautiful — and thus deadlier — after she feasts on the blood of horny high school boys. Needy does some research in the occult section of the high school library and discovers her best friend is indeed a pawn of the devil. Needy warns her boyfriend Chip to watch out for Jennifer and consequently finds herself covered in bile with Chip dead in her arms at the prom because he doesn't. Then she seeks revenge.
WHO'S IN IT?
The ever enjoyable Amanda Seyfried takes the lead as plain jane Needy and Johnny Simmons is her sweet doting boyfriend Chip. Adam Brody doing a spot-on Brandon Flowers impression is the killer front man of Low Shoulder. Amy Sedaris makes a too-brief cameo as Needy's mom and Juno's dad J.K. Simmons is a high school teacher with an unexplained hook for a hand. Megan Fox is in it too.
Diablo Cody's script is smart funny and infinitely more interesting than the typical teen slasher swill. The movie revels in its gory moments without being gratuitous and employs a healthy amount of sex without coming off like it's pandering to horny teens. Rather Jennifer's Body is the perfect template for the incomparably hot Megan Fox to use her looks as a plot-forwarding mechanism. This is a professionally signficant departure from her eye candy turns in the Transformers movies and lets Fox prove that she can actually act. There's no one else in Hollywood right now better suited to this role. Fox's performance is unhinged and charming and she makes good use of all the Diablo Cody-isms ("You need a mani bad. You should find a Chinese chick to buff your situation.") that devil-may-care Jennifer gets to utter. The love/hate best friend relationship is interesting and there's a load of good-girl-gone-wrong catharsis in Seyfried's revenge-fueled rampage. Cody and director Karyn Kusama are adept in skillfully if a bit condescendingly creating a convincing depiction of a small Midwestern town which serves as the perfect ultra-real backdrop for the story.
Cody's unique style adds the perfect quirk factor to what could otherwise be run-of-the-mill cinematic garbage.The Cody-isms however sometimes come off as cloying when they aren't being uttered by Fox. Also hopeful Fox worshippers might be disappointed that the sexually radiant actress despite her character's penchant for using sex to lure her victims doesn't actually bare anything that necessitates the film's R-rating.
With its surprising plot twists a snarky bff vs. bff subplot and Cody's flair for linguistics Jennifer's Body is a smart horror flick for anyone who enjoys jolly gore or Megan Fox in a mini-skirt.