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Anna Karenina

I saw the most recent filmed version of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina this evening. It  was one of the most enjoyable movies I have seen in a long time.  It had mixed reviews – many criticised its ‘theatrical’ aspects as detracting from the story. Most of the  reviews are worth ignoring particular the silly nationalistic Russian claims that the Anna portrayed is too thin. Here’s one of the less antagonistic.  The Tolstoy novel is a favourite of mine (I could be similarly expansive about it and indeed it seems to make an impression on all who read it).  I have seen several movie versions of AK – it has been filmed 25 times – but this will be the most memorable for me.  Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard have produced a masterpiece. Yes, it is theatrical, impressionist and surrealist – so too is the novel.  Anna is superb in this movie as is her amour Count Vronsky ( a handsome dashing dandy, so what silly critics?) in a magnificent erotic dalliance.   A masterly romance that becomes a tragedy with a nice twist involving the contrast with the happy ending enjoyed by the “rejects” Kitty and husband.  A technically superb  cross between a movie and a filmed theatre production. Grade 9.9/10.

Update: Some quick comments on other movies I have recently watched:

Lincoln  – folksy, Abraham L passes legislation abolishing slavery.  Despite the political intrigues I found this dragged.  It had a bit too much corn and syrup with inevitable American sentimentality for my taste.  5/10.

The Impossible – the Asian tsunami strikes an English-speaking, Swiss couple who are holidaying in the south of Thailand.  A graphical portrayal of the tsunami and its aftermath but then devolves into a somewhat weary struggle for survival and a search for missing family members.  Had its moments.  Naomi Watts excellent.  6.5/10.

Hitchcock. This has been criticized for misrepresenting Alfred during this phase of his life – the making of the movie Psycho is going on in the background.  The excellent performances by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren made up for any (to me unidentifiable) deficiencies in the plot.  Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock make an interesting couple in this movie.   7/10.

Django Unchained.   An interesting Tarantino sendup of US slavery, bounty hunting and rescue of a nubile black woman dishing up sexual servitude to an evil white southerner  Candie (DiCapricio). Includes lots of the standard Tarantino exceptionally vicious violence – blood, screams the lot.  It does keep your interest and, although not a great movie, it is entertaining. DiCapricio is very good but almost overshadowed by Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.  7.5/10.

(Note: Tarantino has staying power and his movies always make money.  There isn’t much subtlety in wish-fulfilling slaughter of the bad guys. He likes and he makes incredibly violent movies which most people like.  I (gulp) like them.)

Zero Dark Thirty. The story of a CIA operative’s investigative work, witnessing the torture of suspects and use of her all-American individualistic stubborn intelligence (in the face of predictable bureaucratic opposition and inertia) to kill Osama Bin Laden.  The corpse that resulted presumably was intended to justify the horrifying initial use of torture.  Others liked this movie more than I did. The realistic torture scenes were much, much more gruesome than the stylized violence of Tarantino. 6/10. Torture issue has emerged again in the US and Australia is cited as one of the countries supporting US torture of prisoners.

Confessions of a Child of the Century. I can’t think of a movie that has been so unceremoniously demolished in recent times by critics which is unfair because there are many (many!) worse movies coming out of Hollywood every month.  It got slammed because it sets out to say something deep about love but the UK Indie rock singer Pete Doherty (he performs with the Libertines) is wooden and just cannot act.  There is no emotion in this love story just Doherty’s painfully infectious (it got me!) ennui.  I thought his co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg was good but the movie remains a dud, even ignoring Dougherty’s poor performance, because the script is a dud. 3/10.

The Hobbit.  I sat through 34 minutes of this incredibly boring tale and gave up. The thought of 3 hours of this tedium was too much.  It could  be useful as a physically less harmful (though psychologically more damaging) alternative way of torturing terrorists – they could have used it as an alternative in Zero Dark Thirty.  Can’t reasonably grade it but cannot imagine any grade I would give could be positive. I wonder if kids like this sort of stuff?

Flight. This movie provided a complex role for Denzil Washington and he was superb.  An alcoholic airline pilot is involved in a plane crash where his piloting genius saves most of those onboard.  the movie peaks early with the dramatic air incident but then follows an inquiry and life dramas that reflect his ongoing alcoholism.  This is film that is basically about alcoholism.  I’ve got to admit that I knew the plot before I watched the movie and didn’t expect much of the movie.  But I really found it gripping and enjoyed the superb performance of washington.  8.5/10.

Hyde Park on Hudson.  The light-hearted story of a dalliance between FDR and a fifth cousin “Daisy” starring Bill Murray. Apparently FDR was about to maintain a certain amount of activity from the waist down with an extensive harem despite his polio.  It is a gentle, lovely romance that has been slammed by the critics because it doesn’t provide a strong characterisation of FDR.  I don’t think that was the point of this movie which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Its lack of intensity is charming and Bill Murray is an excellent FDR. I think an underrated effort 7.5/10.

The Butterfly Effect. Take a confused title related to chaos theory and a confused plot about a kid with psychic flashbacks related to a difficult childhood and you get a trashy Hollywood drama that falls well short of its intention to be a psychological thriller.   Yes this is worthless trash, terrible acting and confusion as the basis for a dreary plot.  1/10.

Killing Them Softly.  Some down-and-out low-level crooks rob an illegal gambling den and Brad Pitt is the ruthless hired assassin who obtains retribution.  The US politics of blab and some background noises about the GFC.  Not a bad violent crime story. I didn’t think it was the marvellous film others did.   Different. 6/10.

Face to Face.  A brilliant movie/drama piece that basically consists of a group of people sitting in a room and talking about a violent incident that stemmed from a young worker being sacked.  All the discussants have their own tales to tell as a reconciliation is sought. The script is by David Williamson who has delivered a gem.  Matthew Newton and Sigrid Thornton are excellent but the cast generally is very good.   Yes the characters are a bit exaggerated but this is not highbrow drama.  It is engaging, real drama. Most reviewers seemed to agree with me.   9/10. (1725)

14 comments to Anna Karenina

  • Gee, you see a lot of movies Harry!

    You’re quite an outlier on Lincoln: even the likes of The Guardian reviewers (who I would normally say are allergic to Spielbergian sentimentality) have praised the film for not being indulgent that way. The other thing I have noticed is that the film kept pretty steady earnings for weeks after its US release, which is usually a sign of a quality film that has good word of mouth.

    I’ll probably try to see it this weekend, though, and then I’ll know.

  • Jim Rose

    Thanks for the tips. I too thought Lincoln was good but not great.

    How does Tarantino make a living? He makes so few films.

    Ditto: Daniel Day-Lewis. A great actor who should work more often.

    Like Alec Guinness, Daniel Day-Lewis can dissolve into any role. He can be anyone he wants to be. Shaun Penn is the only other modern actor with that ability.

  • hc

    Steve, I have been a big fan of the movies since my time in the ANU film society in 1975. Robert Altman opened my eyes with Nashville and Brewster McCloud. I tend to watch a dozen over a couple of weeks then give the whole thing a break for several months.

    I agree I saw many positive reviews of Lincoln (though Greg Mankiw didn’t like it!) My main complaint was that it was slow.

    Jim, There is an interview with Tarantino in this month’s Playboy (honest, I didn’t look at any pictures!). He is a very focused guy who makes money on every film – I think he has made 7 – and says he wants to make 10 in all before he becomes an uncreative old fart. I found his honesty in this interview refreshing.

  • hc

    Steve, I have been a big fan of the movies since my time in the ANU film society in 1975. Robert Altman opened my eyes with Nashville and Brewster McCloud. I tend to watch a dozen over a couple of weeks then give the whole thing a break for several months.

    I agree I saw many positive reviews of Lincoln (though Greg Mankiw didn’t like it!) My main complaint was that it was slow.

    Jim, There is an interview with Tarantino in this month’s Playboy (honest, I didn’t look at the pics!). He is a very focused guy who makes money on every film – I think he has made 7 – and says he wants to make 10 in all before he becomes an uncreative old fart. I found his honesty in this interview refreshing.

  • Jim Rose

    HC, I see very little media comment on why Tarantino makes so few films. is there a dark secret?

    Kubrick also made few films and was careful with budgets.

  • Oh dear. Kubrick was a very flawed director, but about 10 times more interesting than one trick pony Tarantino (a man whose films I love to hate so much I don’t bother seeing them!)

    I am pretty sensitive about violence in entertainment, but even apart from that, I don’t get the value in upgrading B grade material, usually with a schlocky violent revenge motif, with better production values and quirky dialogue. To be honest, I just don’t see his work really holding up well in future.

    But of course, my credibility in assessing him would be assisted by my hiring a couple of DVDs to help confirm my bias…

  • Jim Rose

    The Hobbit was the first film I have seen in 3D. Very impressive was 3D.

    I saw a horror movie in the 1980s in 3D. It was like watching a move with beer goggles. An odd blur.

  • Jim Rose

    I should add I saw Reservoir Dogs when it came out in 1992 at an arthouse in Sydney. Someone recommended it but with little hype.

    It was clear from Reservoir Dogs that a new autor was in town.

    Reservoir Dogs has been rated the Greatest Independent Film of all Time. The original budget was $30,000

    Here is a more reputable interview http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/movies/how-quentin-tarantino-concocted-a-genre-of-his-own.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  • Harry,
    The hobbitt was great as I reviewed it on my blog. It was good because it wasn’t accurate to the book. My teenage sons loved it too.

  • derrida derider

    I’m with Steve about Tarantino. Really, seen one, seen ‘em all. Give me the Coen brothers any day.

    What did you think of Les Miz? I hadn’t seen the musical, but the film gave me the impression of a good cast and director (plus, of course, a humdinger of a plot) rescuing a mediocre score and worse libretto. Yes, a couple of them can’t sing but they could all act. Russell Crowe was pretty rotten though – but then the words they gave him were pretty dire compared to the complexity of Javert in the book, and we know he can act in the right role.

  • hc

    I haven’t seen Les Miz yet but I will on your recommendation and post my views.

    I do enjoy Tarantino and almost embarrassed to say so. Do you have to have a kink to enjoy this stuff?

  • Jim Rose

    HC, do you know whether Tarantino received any professional training.

    Tarantino is proud of saying he did not go to film school. He worked in a a vidio store in the 1980s where he spent his time discussing firms will fellow movie enthusiasts.

    maybe he is an example of the too cool for school idea in the signalling and countersignalling literature..

    see http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/225626 for 4 Business Lessons from Quentin Tarantino Movies

    they are all the wrong lessons because the first law of Hollywood economics is nobody know nothing. this maxim is attributed to william goldmen.

    Film makers learnt right from the start that audiences demanded novelty and innovation – they wanted to be surprised again and again. Film-making is haunted by a profound uncertainty about what audiences want. the audiences do not either until they see it.

    Tarantino is full of novelty.

  • Peter Whiteford

    Harry

    Thanks for your review of Anna K, which I haven’t seen yet, and will on your recommendation – wonderful book or rather one should say about half of it is a wonderful book – all the bits with Anna are riveting but I found the Levin half really boring – what’s it like in the movie?

    Perhaps I should look forward to the Daniel Deronda movie – again a book which is riveting on women in the 19th century, but the other half of it is to me a who cares experience.

  • derrida derider

    Ooh no, Peter – politics means you couldn’t do Daniel Deronda. Its major theme of antisemitism and early Zionism is still too touchy – one half of the audience would accuse you of antisemitism and the other of being a Likudnik. Of course you’re right that George Eliot always did spectacularly well on women in C19 England (not surprising given her life story); perhaps a particularly tendentious version of Middlemarch would capture this in a film. I reckon you need a good feminist director though, and Hollywood doesn’t have those.

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