Is ‘Man of Steel’ a Red State Movie or a Blue State Movie?

My friend Jen Chaney and I don’t see eye to eye on everything. She’s tinged blueish. I’m a nice rosy red. So it was fun when we got together to talk about Man of Steel.

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Read my review of Man of Steel.

Jen is a pop culture junkie who writes for the Washington Post, Esquire, and Vulture. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Review: ‘Great Gatsby’ Still Beats On Against the Current

The story of the enigmatic and elusive Gatsby is really a story about two people.

The thing the new adaptation by Baz Luhrmann taught me is that Daisy Buchanan is not one of them.

I have read the iconic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald several times: First compulsarily in high school, again under duress in college. I picked it up in my 20s as I reread the literature I had read or skimmed in school for pleasure, as I enjoyed the freedom of young motherhood to feed my mind as babies were napping or playing. And I read it again in preparation for this movie release.

But I never understood it until I saw this film.

That’s a bold statement and I fully make apologies to the teachers and professors who nimbly tried to cram knowledge and understanding into my juvenile brain.

We meet Gatsby through the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a frustrated writer caught up in the sparkle and frenetic activity of the 1920s. Determined to make his fortune in the booming stock market, he rents a ramshackle cottage among the giant mansions of the roaring 20s on Long Island. His neighbor, a man called Gatsby, gives wild parties sparkling with the furious, frantic fun of the era, parties at which he rarely appears.

When Carraway’s relation to Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) becomes known to Gatsby, however, he is drawn into the very heart of Gatsby’s quest: A determination to recover a lost love. Carraway becomes an accomplice to the affair between Daisy and Gatsby, as well as witness to Daisy’s husband (Joel Edgerton) in his trysts.

Baz Luhrmann is known for his choreographed and dreamily stylized films: Moulin Rouge. Australia. And 1996′s Romeo+Juliet, starring a much younger Leo. While Luhrmann brings razzlemadaz and jazz to his 1920s vision, the movie never crosses over into another world like Moulin Rouge or Romeo + Juliet. Offered in 3D, some of the effects are wiz-bang snow falling in your lap or shirts falling on your head.

But, ultimately, it’s the characters and the story that grab the attention. Leonardo DiCaprio brings his trademark intensity to both Gatsby’s passion for Daisy and brief flashes of temper. It’s easy to believe DiCaprio’s Gatsby a man of layers and secrets, smiling eyes on the surface with danger underneath.

Carey Mulligan’s Daisy has her secrets as well. Gatsby’s secrets are factual: Where does he get his money? Where was he born? His motives, however, are focused and clear. Daisy, on the other hand, has a well-known history but her motives are murky at best. Mulligan brings this to life so well that at the conclusion, you feel you ought to have known all along.

The real story, though, is Nick Carraway. Drawn to the cynicism and flash of the wealthy a-moral set he travels with, he looks for solid ground on which to stand.

Gatsby is the ultimate absolutist, a priest married to the god of love.

His truth is simple: He feels married to Daisy. What more needs to be said?

Our age is equally cynical as the 1920s portrayed in Fitzgerald’s works. Perhaps all ages are, but it feels particularly fresh at a time when license is given nearly any relational arrangement and yet people yearn for and lose faith in love itself. All the cocktails and jazz in the world can’t fill the hole left by losing faith in love.

Luhrmann underlines this connection with the present with a fascinating score by Jay-Z that blends hip-hop and R&B with jazz for a powerful effect. The dresses flash, the music pounds, the parties of the past merge with the parties of the present.

Lurhmann’s Gatsby is the Fitzgerald adaptation we needed. It fits now. We will see if the movie stands the test of time as the novel has.

Did Baz Lurhrmann Ruin Gatsby? (Audio Review with Jen Chaney)

Jen lives in Maryland, making her an official Blue Stater. I live in Virginia and am pretty red.

We thought it would be fun to see if our different perspectives affect our view of movies.

Red State meet Blue State.

Today, we discuss The Great Gatsby. 

Jen is a pop culture junkie who covers movies and other pop culture for WETA’s Around Town, The Washington Post, Vulture, and Esquire. Her Gatsby review for Esquire is here. 

Listen to our talk here. 


Rebecca as ‘Karma Girl’ on the Arch Campbell Show

Just for fun, check out my turn as “Karma Girl” on the show of local DC legend Arch Campbell.

That’s local semi-famous actor Joe Hansard, who will semi-star in this week’s episode of “Veep” on Sunday, May 20, as a waiter or something. In this clip, he’s a superhero hopeful to make it into the next Avengers movie, The Five O’Clock Shadow. I’m his sidekick Karma.

Thanks for having us, Arch!

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You can watch the entire show, which is quite funny, here. It features the forementioned visit to SuperHero headquarters in search of the next big Avengers cast. And stand up comic Will Durst plus ABC7′s Brianne Carter.

Interview: Director Joe Carnahan on God and spirituality in thriller “The Grey”

On the surface, “The Grey,” starring Liam Neeson, is a suspenseful and thrilling survival movie about a plane load of tough Alaskan men who crash in the wilderness.  Stalked by a pack of wild wolves, their journey towards civilization becomes an epic and harrowing battle between the human pack and the wolf pack.

However, the primal struggle takes on an almost literary quality, with both packs becoming metaphors for life, death, struggle, and spirituality. It’s like a Jack London story come to life, or perhaps a wilderness Flannery O’Connor, as the men find their beliefs about God and death, when challenged by the very real possibility of death, to be quite different than what they had believed before they boarded their doomed airplane.

I asked Joe Carnahan, the director and scriptwriter (it is an adaptation of a shorty story, “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers), if he saw echoes of Jack London or O’Connor. “I think in terms of the overall spirituality or notion of the mystic and mysterious, yeah,” he said, “There’s larger themes in play in what would otherwise be a genre or thriller, action thriller category. Those things were working hand in hand. Something like ‘Deliverance’ – I’m a fan of the film, but I’m a bigger fan of the novel – and the theme of masculinity, what it means to be a man.”

“There is that brutality in O’Connor’s work. The hostility of the world around them.  And what is your shelter, if there is a shelter.”

In one scene, Neeson’s character –who earlier denied belief in God – challenges God, demanding help or answers. It was Neeson’s idea, Carnahan says, to pause in something very like prayer and carefully arrange objects in what seems to be a cross.

That’s not to say the movie serves up easy answers. In fact, Carnahan is perfectly comfortable with ambiguity: “I think if you’re an atheist, you look at the film and you say ‘He didn’t believe in God.’ If you’re a Christian: ‘100% he believed in God.’ I like that. I that like those things coexist. I’m a hell of a lot more interested to hear people talking to me about the film than for me to be telling them about the movie.”

He also intentionally set up the wolf pack and the human pack, with their respective Alpha males, to mirror each other. Human natures is “unpredictable and as hard to map as the animal world. …Nature is wildly unpredictable and we are certainly part of that.”

How does one make a movie that so overtly examines faith and God’s role in individual lives without being preachy? Carnahan, who was raised Catholic, said, “Be open minded and available to everything and not just saying it’s Jesus Christ or bust. So much of the world will do that. I find it troubling …Don’t be dogmatic.  I don’t see how it would be possible for us to make this movie if we were closed down or myopic in any form.”

So what is the movie about? “I think it’s the contradictions that exist in all of us at times in reference to God or to spirituality or to religion in general. There’s a duality of a guy calling on God: ‘Where are you when I need you?’ and then at the same time ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I think that contradiction does exist in all of us, those of faith and those who profess to have no faith. I just thought it had to be something that was synonymous with the story itself and what we were trying to achieve and what we’re trying to tell. It wasn’t just a simplified view of life and death. Certainly, I ask myself those questions. What’s waiting for me? What will I be? My hope, my real hope, is that whatever you hold in your heart, whatever you truly believe, and you’ve put your faith in, that that’s what ‘s waiting for you. I think that’d be wonderful. You know what I mean? I think that would be the culmination of the life of the devout, or the believer.”

“The Grey” is rated R for bloody violence and opens Friday, January 27.