Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013)

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a recent Yale graduate, moves into a small cottage on the west Egg of Long Island, next to the luxurious mansion of the enigmatic Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man whom everyone seems to be talking about. He visits his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), wherein he discovers that Tom is having an affair. 

Soon, he is acting as go-between for Daisy to have an affair as well when he sets up a re-acquaintance between Daisy and Gatsby, who, it turns out, were lost loves, a lost love that Gatsby will do anything to reclaim.

Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, Luhrmann plays true to the story, but adds many of his signature flourishes. The parties Gatsby throws are more vivid and opulent than anything the book rendered, and the Jay-Z produced soundtrack contributes to the bombastic vibe of the film. Music features prominently in painting the tone of the film, and there are some inspired touches – Lana del Rey’s melancholy elegy “Will you still love me” captures the essence of Fitzgerald’s book, and I particularly liked the way the tune was played throughout at the key dramatic moments. “100$ bills”, a song by Jay-Z himself, is another good one, which features when Gatsby and Nick visit a clandestine club hidden behind a barbers, and it definitely adds to the MTV-style cool that Luhrmann does so well. 

Luhrmann has commandeered some movies with sensational soundtracks – Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! come to mind, but featuring beautiful songs from Florence and the Machine, Beyonce (who collaborates with Andre 3000 on a chilling cover of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black), and The White Stripes, The Great Gatsby could just be his magnum opus in the aural stakes.
When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in 1925, it was his personal indictment of the American dream and the corruption and hedonism it evoked. Much of this is epitomised in the lead female, Daisy Buchanan, who stays with her rich husband despite him having multiple “sprees” which she knows about, having an affair of her own, and forgoing the love of her life when he was penniless. 

Carey Mulligan isn’t an actress I’m particularly fond of, but she does a solid job in one of the most thankless of female roles, albeit injecting Daisy with more depth than she perhaps merits. Apparently, Daisy Buchanan was partially modelled on Fitzgerald’s own wife, Zelda, so I think the idea is that for all her many flaws, we’re not supposed to see Daisy as the complete goldigger that she is. It is thanks to the gravitas of Mulligan’s performance that she halfway manages to convey that, albeit being a tad too serene.
As Nick, Tobey Maguire is the embodiment of an active narrator. In the novel, more actually happens to him; he dates Jordan Baker, the attractive celebrity golfer and Daisy’s confidante, but such is the time constriction of the film that that is more of a plot device than an actual plot development here. Maguire is admirable, and features some of that amicable goofy smile that he sported in his early stages of Peter Parker when he was learning the ropes as Spiderman. But the MVP of the performers in the film is, as with Django Unchained, Inception and various other films which I was disappointed with overall, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Robert Redford also tackled the famous Jay Gatsby role, but he seemed too mature for the role, and lacked one crucial element, optimism, in his performance. DiCaprio has that in spades, to the point where it exasperates the audience, and paints his character as a deluded sap, who would do anything for his lost love, even when she doesn’t deserve him. 

We, as the audience, share Nick’s frustration when, late on in the film, Gatsby accepts the blame for a pretty big error committed by Daisy, just because he doesn’t want her to get into trouble. It seemed pretty inconceivable when I read it in the book, but somehow, DiCaprio manages to make his hapless hopefulness seem believable.

The supporting cast are also good, with particular commendations having to go to Jason Clarke, who plays the perennial deadbeat, George Wilson with so much conviction that you really do feel for the fella. I also liked stage actress Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan, who featured the kind of languid poise that I pictured from her when reading the book. I was very surprised to discover after watching the film that Debicki was only 22 years old, as in the film she more than holds her own against the more seasoned auteurs.
I feel that the screenplay, whilst delivering pretty much all the action the novel had, scrimps on the message Fitzgerald was trying to convey. He meant it as a damning condemnation of the roaring 20s and particularly the “carelessness” that Tom and Daisy exhibit. Whilst this is still present in parts of Maguire’s voice-over, I feel that Luhrmann forgoes the deepness for storytelling. Which I can’t altogether fault him for, as storytelling is definitely his forte, but I just feel that perhaps there was so much style in The Great Gatsby that he forgot about the substance of his source material altogether.

For all the luscious cinematography, inspired costume design (loved the flapper dresses) and fantastic soundtrack, there was something lacking about Baz Luhrmann’s colouring of Fitzgerald’s novel. Despite the actors’ best efforts, the central romance simply wasn’t convincing enough for us to believe in it, meaning that, whilst The Great Gatsby was a wonderful cinematic experience, emotionally, it left me feeling as empty as one of Jay Gatsby’s parties.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Apprentice: series 9 episode 5 review

This week, the twelve remaining candidates are sent to meet one of Lord Sugar’s clients in Dubai. Luisa wishes to mix business with pleasure, pondering over what bikinis to bring. However, it soon transpires that this trip is anything but a holiday; the candidates have a day to source various items for a hotel magnate. The items come with nothing other than their local name and some specifications for the size, style, etc of each object. As the internet is not allowed, the contestants must rely on their wits to locate the objects and get them at the best prices possible.

The task sounds simple enough: each team has ten hours to find 8 objects, which, considering there are six people per group (Leah is moved over to Endeavour to balance out the numbers), doesn’t sound too difficult. But such is the buffoonery of the various contestants, that the path of scavenging in Dubai would never run smooth.

Zee nominates himself as Project Manager of Endeavour, bragging that “You can put the map away because I know Dubai like the back of my hand”, and citing his local knowledge and years experience of having lived there as the driving source for why he will succeed. Leah also wants to go for PM, but is overruled by the other members of the group, and you can tell she’s not happy about it. Meanwhile in Team Evolve, Myles is suggested by others as PM and as his business plan for Lord Sugar involves luxury brands, he accepts it. Myles, it should be noted, along with Jason and Jordan, have won all four of their tasks already.

Each team is given a budget, a phone directory and a map of Dubai. As the internet is outlawed, contestants have to figure out what the items are by phoning random companies, or just asking strangers in the hope that they know. Zee is in his element, bossing people about already, but finds resistence in the form of Leah, who nominates herself  as Sub Team Leader, if she can’t be Project Manager. It’s quite clear from the off that the battle lines between these two are being drawn, epitomized by Zee flails by asking desperately “does anyone have any problems with her being sub-team leader?” only to be met by an awkward silence.

Whenever The Apprentice goes abroad, we get our fair share of hilarious culture clash faux pas. They come in thick and fast in this show; Rebecca on Team Evolve tries to ask a question but the recipient of the phone call won’t talk in anything other than Arabic. “I’m English”, she says, and the other guy hangs up.

Zee’s strategy for Endeavour is to for his team to go to souks as opposed to the mall, as they’ll get far bigger bargains in marketplaces. However, this idea is met with objection by Leah, who asks the cab to redirect to the mall so they can pick up the perfume – what they believe the “Oud” to be. When Zee hears of this plan, he asks Leah to put Neil on the phone, which is both highly demeaning and also more than a bit chauvinistic. “Stop trying to appeal Neil and just focus on the task”, Leah snaps at Zee, quite rightly. Nonetheless, they change directions and head back to the Souk.

Myles’ team Evolve are having more luck finding their items, but they’re putting too much emphasis on working hastily and not getting the best possible bargains. They get the mini palm tree at around 250, but had they waited for the shop clerk to call her boss, they almost certainly could have gotten it for a lot less, which Karen Brady, their supervisor notes, none too impressed.

To save time, Zee calls the flag shop ahead for their flag of the UAE, which needs to be 6 foot by 4 foot. However, Kurt gets mighty confused, thinking that it’s 12 centrimetres, rather than 12 inches, to a foot, and feeds Zee wrong information as he calls the store and lays down coordinates.

Evolve aren’t having much better luck with flags, unable to get the price lower than 175 dirhams. The flagmaker says it’ll take an hour to make, and Myles decides to stay there whilst they make it, against his better judgment. Also questionable is Evolve’s decision to pay the 175 dirhams upfront. Had it been me, I would have held onto the money, as the incentive of getting paid may have urged the flagmakers to work a bit faster.

Belly laugh of the episode goes to Alex who, after a fruitless morning trying to find their items in the bustling souk, is offered fresh Viagra, only to come back with “I don’t need any of that – I’m from Wales!”

Endeavour arrive at the flagmakers and, having called ahead, can queuejump, only to see that the flag they ordered isn’t anywhere near big enough. To be fair to Zee, he does his best project managing here, which is, rather than making a fuss, doesn’t get mad and says it’s no big deal. He even manages to bargain a tiny discount off the overall two flags, which is generous from the flag store considering it wasn’t actually them who made the error.

Neil exhibits some great bargaining at the souk when he gets a kandura at the souks for 60 dirhams – 50 less than what Evolve paid for it. However, in the other sub team, Zee shows his chauvinistic streak again, refusing to let Natalie look at the phonebook when she asks for it and ingratiating himself to Kurt throughout.

Meanwhile, Myles’ team’s flag is no closer to getting made, and he’s getting increasingly antsy. He asks on repeated occasions to see the flag, and when allowed into the process room, patronises the flagmaker, “you’re doing a great job, quick as you can.”

Endeavour are getting just as frustrated, but with another item – their pursuit of Oud. Their PM Zee is adamant that it’s a kind of perfume, but Alex notes that this is Oudh spelt with a H. Alex gets madder and madder, saying “listen sunshine” to Zee and frustratedly exclaiming “he’s talking crap.” Before Leah and Alex descend into a spiral of bitchiness however, Neil mediates them, and tries to calm them down.

Evolve’s Francesca tries to negotiate 10 dirhams off their flag, but such was their folly in handing over the money at the start, that the owner of the store isn’t having any of it.

Finally some good news for Endeavour, as they find themselves in the right place at the right time at the plant store, and negotiate 50% off the palm tree. This turns out to be the last commendable thing Zee does all episode however, as Evolve finally work out what this enigmatic Oud is – and it ain’t a scent. It’s a guitar, and after some negotiation from Jason (all in a hilarious rendition of what he must believe to be an Arabic accent) and Luisa, get it down from 1850 dirhams  to just under 1000.

As the clock runs down with just 30 minutes left, Endeavour’s sub team come to the grim realization that they’d been sent on a wild goose chase and that Oud wasn’t, as they were told, a scent. Angrily, Alex declares project manager Zee “as useful as a chocolate teapot.”

The next day, it’s boardroom time. On Alan Sugar asking if Zee was a good team leader, Leah immediately pipes up with a merciless “Terrible.” The team bicker amongst themselves over the Oud, with Karen Brady giving the most damning indictment of Zee’s intelligent: “It did say Egyptian mahogany.”

Onto the topic of flags, Nick notes that Endeavour’s original tiny flag “would look like a pimple on an elephant”, and Karen Brady makes the good point that they could have gotten a discount if they hadn’t paid at the start.

Things get even worse for Zee when it turns out that the kandura that Neil bargained so well on wasn’t the right type – they got modern style rather than Emerati.

But, it’s numbers that matter, and at the end of the day, Myles (who Alan Sugar hilariously notes Kurt would probably call “Kilometres”, haha) team win, despite Zee’s team featuring some better negotiation. Personally I think Myles got lucky, because he didn’t convince me as a PM, and it was the strength of his team, as well as how inept Zee’s team was, that saw him through.

Zee picks Leah to bring into the boardroom, which surprises no one as they have been at each other’s throats throughout the episode, as well as, quite confusingly, Natalie. Considering that it was Kurt’s mathematical oversight that cost them time and money on the flags, as well as Neil who picked up the duff kandura, they would have been better bets to blame for the failing of the task.

Deliciously though, it is Zee’s chauvinism that costs him in the end. By refusing to bring guys into the boardroom, the girls both fought their own corners (though I’m not sure by crying in the boardroom as she did, Natalie did herself any huge favours), and Alan Sugar rightfully fires Zee, citing the main reason as, how can he go into business with a man who isn’t even a good judge of himself?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weekend with the boyf.

Restaurant review: Las Iguanas (Bath)

Channelling the vibe of Latin-American food, Las Iguanas is a very popular eatery in Bath where you can often find all age ranges - students, adults, pensioners - frequenting, whether it be to celebrate a birthday or just a pre-night out meal. The prices are fairly reasonable -- although they could stand to do more student offers, and, taking advantage of their 2-for-1 cocktails, we hit Las Iguanas after our last exam.

The food was, overall, well-cooked; Theo's lamb and potato ensemble was fantastic but I felt the bread on my sandwich could have been better baked. Our choice of cocktail pitcher was this wonderful mango concoction:

And it was wonderful. It tasted so suspiciously unalcoholic that one had to wonder if there was any vodka actually in there, though I did feel somewhat tipsy after drinking it, so, there probably was. The mango blended with the rest of the ingredients fantastically.

The service was also great, and unlike other snooty restaurants in Bath which think they're too good for you, we never felt under pressure to leave early or anything. Overall, I recommend this place, but would do so more empathically if the prices were a bit lower.

Grade: B+

Nail varnish review: No 7.

No 7 used to do those £5 off vouchers with a bottle of £6.25 nail varnish, rendering the real price of the varnish little over a quid, but alas, recession hit. Now the discount is £3 off, the nail polish costs £3, meaning we pay half the price and get half off. It's still a reasonable price to pay for decent-quality nail polish that comes in a range of pretty colours, but, meh, I preferred it when it cost me just £1.25.

This colour I picked up is a cross between lilac and grey, and goes with the majority of my wardrobe, which is either various shades of pink, or navy blue. The wear is decent -- it lasted for about two days before chipping slowly, and even after that appeared respectable-looking on my nails for an ensuing three or four days. I'm a fan of the packaging - simple, elegant tube-shaped bottle with the brand printed on the side, nothing fancy, and the quantity is fairly generous, meaning, for £3, whilst it's not the massive bargain it once was, you could still do a lot worse than No 7 nail varnish.