The Way Way Back, The Great Gatsby

The Way Way Back

We’ve all been under water?

The Way Way Back tells the story of 14 year old Duncan who is stuck on a summer vacation with his mom, her boyfriend Steve Carell, and his sister. The sister and Carell both hate Duncan. He acts like a whiny turd, so I don’t blame them. At first, I thought the lead in this movie was going to be even worse than that loser from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Actually, for about the first third of the movie, he was worse. Not only was he super-emo, he sulked around without even speaking and acted like a brat. Fortunately, once he got a job at the local water park, and had some “cool lessons” from Sam Rockwell, things started to pick up.
The beginning of the movie was painful. Duncan is an absolute bore to watch on the screen with all his moping around. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? We aren’t given any reason to. We know nothing about him other than the fact that people dislike him. That’s not a good enough reason, Hollywood. Maybe everyone hates him for a reason. Maybe he’s the head of a neo-Nazi cult in his high school or something. You can’t have your lead character be a sad-sack and expect us to have sympathy for him just because. Anyway, like I said, things get a lot better once he starts working for Rockwell at the Water Wizz theme park.
Through a series of events, Duncan learns to be more comfortable with who he is. He comes out of his shell, makes friends, and gets a pair of balls. He is finally able to interact with the cute neighbor girl. Overall, this is a typical Fake Indie Movie in every sense of the word. It has the quirky soundtrack, the quirky characters, the journey of self-discovery, and a boatload of melodrama peppered with quirky humor.

“Wait, we’re supposed to make THIS kid look cool? I think we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

The movie is saved by some great comedic acting by Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Jim Rash, and Nat Faxon. Rockwell’s eternal man-child character quickly becomes a highlight and ultimately steals the show from everyone else. A movie based on his character would have ultimately been far more interesting. Carell plays against type, going into full-on dick mode, as one of the jerkiest jerks I’ve seen on screen. They go a little too far in making his character unlikable. He’s almost a caricature, impossibly bad. The movie fails to give us reasons for why he’s bad, he just is; just like how they tell us we should feel sorry for Duncan for no specific reason.
Overall, The Way Way Back was a decent watch. The first third is dreadful. If you can make it through that part, then the remainder of the film picks up and is watchable. You aren’t going to see anything here that hasn’t been done before, and hasn’t been done better elsewhere. But the comedic parts elevate it and make it worthwhile.
Verdict: Average
The Grzeat Gzatsby

They forgot the two Z’s.

The Grzeat Gzatsby is Baz Luhrmann’s coked-out, fever-dream interpretation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected something traditional coming from someone whose name is Baz.
The Grzeat Gzatsby is grzeat because Luhrmann has tried to update the tale to fit in with modern sensibilities. The remake couldn’t have come at a better time. In our current world economy, the rich are getting richer and living ever more lavish lifestyles, and all the while playing recklessly with the world economy. This, of course, mirrors the climate of the 1925 novel, a criticism of indulgent excessiveness. Luhrmann must have intended to use our two similar economic climates to make a point. However, the point is ultimately lost amidst all of his shitty directing gimmicks.
Gimmick #1 – Luhrmann added two scenes bookending the story of the novel. It features Nick Carraway in the looney bin, dealing with his depression through the writing of his encounter with Gzatsby. While he writes, words literally come off the page and fly at the screen. This has to be the stupidest fucking use of 3D I have ever seen. HEY GUYS, LET’S MAKE A MOVIE ADAPTATION OF A WORLD-FAMOUS NOVEL AND LET’S MAKE IT IN 3D EVEN THOUGH IT WILL BE COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY!
Seriously, do we really need words flying at the audience? Could you get less subtle than that?

Leo’s inner monologue: “Uhhh, why did I agree to be in this?”

Gimmick #2 – Yes, yes you can. For all the partying that happens, the entire soundtrack is filled with today’s litany of top 40 rap hits. I get what Luhrmann was going for: using our modern music in place of theirs to show off how fucking cool they all felt while listening to it. They did the same thing in A Knight’s Tale, using classic rock in place of medieval music. But that was a comedy, and it worked. Gzatsby is serious, and the rap music just doesn’t hold water. Besides, did we really need three fucking Jay-Z songs? Is there a lack of good rappers out there to put in the movie? Making matters even more ridiculous is that Luhrmann doesn’t even stick with this aesthetic. In the last third of the movie the rap music is completely abandoned in favor of a traditional score. He should have picked one and stayed with it. And to be honest, he should have gone with 1920s music to make the movie more authentic.
Gimmick #3 – Luhrmann’s direction shows non-stop partying, with colors and shit flying everywhere, quick cuts, and seizure-like editing. The camera is constantly moving. So much so that it becomes a distraction. I would have preferred he set the goddamn thing down on a tripod and let the actors act in front of it. His directing style leaves one breathless, but not in a good way. You are so exasperated watching this giant turd, you can’t help but feel worn out by the end of it.

I’m — Having — A — SEIZURE!!!

The acting was actually pretty good. Leonardo DiCaprio kills it as The Grzeat Gzatsby, oozing all the glitz, glamour, and power that the character should. Tobey Maguire plays an excellent reluctant doofus as Carraway, Carey Mulligan is good playing the cold and aloof Daisy Buchanan, Joel Edgerton is pretty good as he plays the poor man’s Tom Hardy, and Isla Fisher is awesome at playing a hot chick. The acting is the only thing that saves the movie.
It’s a testament to how good Fitzgerald’s novel is that it can weather such a brutal adaptation and still come out comprehensible in the end. The writing is strong, as they didn’t deviate too far from the source material. The acting is also strong, and the characters seem fully formed. The rest was dreadful. Luhrmann is all flash and no substance. It’s ironic that a novel criticizing superfluousness would get a cinematic adaptation that is nothing but hollow excess.
Verdict: Bad

5 Responses to “The Way Way Back, The Great Gatsby”

  1. October 20, 2013 at 2:00 am

    The timing of your Gatsby review couldn’t be better – earlier in the week I was subjected to a scene from the movie. Two people in my class thought that talking about Baz’s adaption would ‘fit in’ with their presentation about a paper entitled “Towards an understanding of Australian genre cinema and entertainment:
    beyond the limitations of ‘Ozploitation’ discourse” in our class about “Australian National Cinema”.
    Baz Luhrmann is an Australian filmmaker who has, over the years, made a number of international films. Prior to Gzatsby made a film called ‘Australia’ that didn’t do become the big success people here wanted it to be. Perhaps my classmates should have spoken more about that film, for as a result of their short-sightedness I was subjected to scenes from this new Gzatsby film that I have so far chosen to avoid.
    From the scene that I saw (the “here I’ll throw my clothes at you” scene and the montage before it), Baz’s adaptation appears to be all about the ‘high lifestyle’ – I did not see or feel any of the awkwardness that plays over that scene in the novel. In the film it is glossed over by a pop song that, although serving Baz’s interest of having it play out like a dream, also serves to mute all of the other interpretations that are possible with the novel. I’ll continue to avoid the film.

    Oh, and if you’ve had some curiosity about the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow – in normal circumstances I’d say DON’T, though if you watch it with someone you could probably have a bit of a laugh at it – it’s that kind of ‘off’ if I recall correctly.

    • October 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      Good timing, huh? I’ve never seen the 1974 version, and I don’t plan to now. Thanks for the warning. I’ve never liked any of Luhrmann’s other films. “Australia” was a big disappointment. If it had been better, I wouldn’t have been wishing Hugh Jackman would unleash his claws and go Wolverine all over the bad guys.

  2. 3 Rei IV
    October 21, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Damn, so The Great Gatsby is one those movies where the acting is good but the rest just sucks? How disappointing. I was thinking of seeing the movie because of Leo, who, IMHO, pretty good actor and made some awesome movies. How unfortunate.

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October 2013


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