#282. Baz Luhrmann

What’s more important: quantity or quality? Obviously, most people would say that quality should trump quantity every time. Of course, there are challenges to producing quality products, which may lead to an increased cost for the consumer. Similarly, in the triangle of quality/cost/schedule, if a product is of high quality, it won’t appear very often. The dichotomy of quantity vs. quality can be seen in the film industry as well. There are some directors who direct at least one film every year, while others can take four years or more to release a movie. The former relies on the chance that one of their many films is successful, thus making up for less-than-exemplary performance on other projects. Director Baz Luhrmann definitely falls into the latter category. This week’s two films highlight some of the rare works of Baz Luhrmann.

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours

It’s difficult to tell what motivates quality directors to take so long to create their films. Perhaps they’re trying to find the right source material. Perhaps the creative process takes a long time. Perhaps they’re controlling more aspects of the film than most. Whatever the reason, the results speak for themselves once the film is released. Aside from Luhrmann, other directors who seem to follow this format are Christopher Nolan and David Fincher. Each one of them has received plenty of recognition for their works and each one of them has their own, recognizable visual and thematic style. For Luhrmann, after his love-letter to his homeland, Australia (2008), it took him five years until The Great Gatsby (2013) was released. It’s now four years later and there isn’t much (if any) word about Baz Luhrmann’s next project; but I’m sure it’ll follow the same style he’s used for years.

Recovering from his alcoholism, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) finds the only relief from his struggles to be writing down the words that float around him, describing the events that led him to this state. With a cousin who was supported by “old money” and a neighbor who has profited from the “new money”, Nick finds himself in between Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), respectively. As everyone’s affairs become more entangled, emotions run rampant and feelings are inevitably hurt. Divorces are being discussed and accusations of murder are now part of the mix. Everything happened so close to Nick that he finds himself unable to cope with it until he finally breaks down and returns to his true passion: writing. Thus, the cautionary tale of “The Great Gatsby” was born.

Moulin Rouge!Moulin Rouge!
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

While it isn’t in the format of a traditional trilogy, Moulin Rouge! (2001) is actually the final act of Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy. Starting in 1992 with Strictly Ballroom, Luhrmann followed this film up with Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge!. These three films only came four years apart from each other, which was much faster than his two most recent films (Australia being released seven years after the end of The Red Curtain Trilogy). Why Luhrmann holds his first three films as a trilogy is due to a single motif that appears in each: the theatre. There are many elements that make the theatre what it is, and each film explores a different part of it. From the dancing of Strictly Ballroom, to the poetry and wordsmithing of Romeo + Juliet, to the singing of Moulin Rouge!, the theme of the theatre is what ties these films together.

One of Baz Luhrmann’s other talents, besides directing, is mixing music. This is a common theme throughout his movies, each one featuring at least one remixed song. The film that exemplifies this part of his style is Moulin Rouge! Set at the turn of the 20th century, Christian (Ewan McGregor) finds himself ready to engage in the Bohemian culture of Paris. As a writer, his talent is encouraged by his upstairs neighbors: a troupe of actors who need his help to finish a show they want to sell to the Moulin Rouge. Through a case of mistaken identity, Christian is given prime treatment by the dance hall’s primary star, Satine (Nicole Kidman). Even with the mistake rectified, the two still fall in love, which creates a problem for the Moulin Rouge, since Satine is needed to woo a benefactor so that it can stay in business. On top of this, Satine is gravely ill, but hides it from everyone, including Christian.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best from Baz Luhrmann

Bacon #: 2 (The Great Gatsby / Tobey Maguire -> Beyond All Boundaries / Kevin Bacon)

#211. Hugh Jackman

Occasionally you run across an actor who seems to have been acting forever, but in reality just hit his defining role early on in his career. Hugh Jackman is just such an actor. Sure, he acted in television in his native Australia, but his first film role was only in 1999. With a few exceptions, he has acted in a film every year since. In fact, most years he’s acted in multiple films. On average, he has appeared in nearly three films every year he has been acting. Of course, his most prolific year was 2006 with six films. And yet, even though his defining role typecast him somewhat, Jackman has used his skills from the stage to earn himself some credibility past the action hero stereotype. Only fifteen years into his career and Hugh Jackman has long since been an A-list actor. This week’s two films look at his diverse talents.

Real SteelReal Steel
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

A year after appearing in his first film, Hugh Jackman was cast in the role of a lifetime. In X-Men (2000), Jackman portrayed Logan (nicknamed Wolverine), the cigar chomping, adamantium-infused-claw wielding, and fast healing mutant that made him an instant star. He has acted in this role six more times, two of which were X-Men films revolving entirely around his character (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013)). Although, most of the films pretty heavily revolved around Wolverine, so this distinction is not too impressive. At any rate, this role set him as yet another action hero. As such, he has starred in such action films as Van Helsing (2004), Chappie (2015), and Real Steel (2011), the latter two of this list just coincidentally revolving around robots. When you start your career portraying a man with a metal skeleton, robots are not far off.

Charles “Charlie” Kenton (Hugh Jackman) was once at the top of his game as a boxer. Unfortunately, when his job became obsolete due to the arrival of robotic boxers, he struggled to find his niche. While he might have been a threat in the ring as a man, he just can’t get the hang of controlling these boxing robots. Incredibly in debt, he now finds himself fighting to keep full custody of his child, Max (Dakota Goyo). Fortunately, Max takes an interest in robotic boxing, which leads the two of them to acquire a formerly famous robot to fight for them. Unfortunately, it is destroyed during its first fight. In a junkyard, they find an old, functioning sparring robot that Max convinces Charlie to get into fighting shape due to the robot’s unique ability to mimic its user’s motions. Now Charlie is essentially back in the ring and making his way up the ranks to take on the global champion.

Les MisérablesLes Misérables
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours

Alongside his action hero persona, Jackman also has a lighter side. On screen, he has been in a few romantic films, including Kate & Leopold (2001), Scoop (2006), and Australia (2008). Simultaneously, he has spent time on the stage, performing in musicals. It’s no wonder that he has used his voice in film as well. He has had a number of voice acting roles in animated fare, including Happy Feet (2006), Flushed Away (2006), and Rise of the Guardians (2012). Of course, the one film that gave him any recognition from the Academy was Les Misérables. This opera based off of the stage musical really gave Hugh Jackman the chance to show his talent as an actor and a singer. For his role as Jean Valjean, he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. Even if he didn’t win, the variety of work he has performed means that it might not be too long before his next nomination.

Recently released convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) easily goes back to his thieving ways after nearly 20 years in prison. However, a Bishop shows him kindness, even forgiving him for stealing the clergyman’s silver. The one condition for this gift is for Valjean to do something worthwhile with his life. Years later, Valjean now owns a factory and is mayor of a French town. Unfortunately, his former prison guard, Javert (Russell Crowe) recognizes Valjean when he helps lift a cart from an accident. The cat-and-mouse between them begins just as Valjean picks up an orphaned girl. They both escape to Paris where she grows up and eventually gets romantically involved with the revolution that is forming. Javert finds Valjean in Paris and is confused when he is shown mercy, despite the relentless chase. His adopted daughter’s fiancé is rescued by Valjean, and both are saddened that he cannot be with them at their wedding, as he has since died.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 halves of Hugh Jackman

Bacon #: 1 (X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)