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. (1966)