#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)

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#143. Leonardo DiCaprio

As was shown in a post from a little more than a year ago, Leonardo DiCaprio has been acting for a very long time. So long, that we’ve seen him grow up on the big screen. While many groaned at the sight of his name attached to a movie (especially after Titanic), now we almost expect his name to be linked to a great performance. I think that part of this was due to the Directors who hired him (or maybe he chose them instead). In fact, just looking at a short list of Directors he’s worked with reads like a “who’s who” of the Hollywood elite. Directors like Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Sam Raimi, and Baz Luhrmann pepper the list. He’s even managed to collaborate on multiple Martin Scorsese films. This week’s two films look at DiCaprio’s ever developing career.

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 165 minutes / 2.75 hours

One of the other Directors Leonardo DiCaprio has worked with is Quentin Tarantino. This does not necessarily mean that DiCaprio has not worked on an extremely violent movie. As I mentioned earlier in this post, he has worked on many occasions with Martin Scorsese. Two of these films were Gangs of New York (2002) and The Departed (2006). Even though DiCaprio has played the hero in many films, one of the few in which he plays the villain is Django Unchained. As such, no longer constrained to play the “good guy”, he seemed to have a lot of fun really getting into the passion of his character. With his boyish charm having evolved into the cleverness of manhood, DiCaprio no longer has to rely merely on his looks to get by, but rather on his superior acting talent honed over the years.

In Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays southern plantation owner Calvin J. Candie. Aside from his love for speaking limited French and eating sweets (hence the name (and delicious pun) of his plantation: Candyland), Candie is very proud of his collection of Mandingos: slaves who are pitted against each other in fights to the death. One day, he’s approached by a Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a man interested in purchasing one of his Mandingos. Schultz has brought along a freed slave by the name of Django (Jamie Foxx), who is a self-proclaimed expert in Mandingos. However, Candie’s head house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) thinks the two men are there for something other than Mandingos. Eventually the truth comes out and Broomhilda, one of Candie’s female slaves, is sold to Dr. Schultz. And yet, this powder-keg of tension eventually comes to a head, with most people ending up dead.

Catch Me if You CanCatch Me if You Can
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

I would be amiss if I did not mention, in this long list of great Directors, that DiCaprio has also worked with Steven Spielberg. And yet, in Catch Me if You Can, he plays another villain of sorts: the anti-hero. While we would like to root for the side of law enforcement, there’s just something about the chase that makes us root for the criminal. Even though the term “anti-hero” can be loosely applied in many applications, I tend to look at it as someone who is usually on the wrong side of the morals and laws we’ve all come to conform to, but who lives their life in such a way as to almost have a freedom from these constraints. And yet, the freedom they express is in order to fulfill a deep need that was not satisfied in the more traditional means, thus causing the anti-hero to attempt to fill the void with what essentially boils down to crime.

Set in the mid 1960’s, Catch Me if You Can stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager who has run away from home after his parents’ financial troubles lead to their divorce. Having earlier posed as a substitute French teacher, Frank has found that confidence is all he needs to get by in the world. Unfortunately, as he runs out of money while living on his own, he turns that confidence into cash when he poses as a pilot for Pan Am. After almost $3 million in fraud is committed, Frank is soon chased by Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), an FBI agent who narrowly misses catching Frank upon their first face-to-face meeting. And if being a pilot wasn’t enough, Frank soon becomes a doctor and a lawyer, which gets him a girl, Brenda (Amy Adams). Unfortunately, he has to leave Brenda when Carl gets too close again. Will Frank disappear for good, or will Carl follow the clues to find him?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 DiCaprio “villains”

Bacon #: 2 (J. Edgar / Clint Eastwood (directed) -> Mystic River (directed/ Kevin Bacon)