“Anna Karenina” (2012) starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, & Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Vronsky: I love you!

Anna: Why?

Vronsky: You can’t ask why about love!

In 1874, in Imperial Russia, the aristocratic Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow to save the marriage of her brother Stiva- AKA Prince Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen)- who recently affair w/ the governess. My fellow Austen fans know that Knightley and Macfadyen previously starred together in Pride & Prejudice (2005), also directed by Joe Wright. Anna has a loveless marriage w/ her husband, Count Alexei Karenin (Jude Law); they have a young son- Serhoza. Anna meets a cavalry officer, Count Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), at the train station; they have a strong attraction to each other right away. She learns that Vronsky will propose to Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander- in one of her early roles), the younger sister of her sister-in-law Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). Anna convinces Dolly not to divorce Stiva; Kitty invites her to stay for a ball. The diamond necklace that Anna wears is an exclusive piece created by Chanel. Anna and Vronsky dance at the ball and call attention to themselves. They begin a love affair that will lead to tragedy for Anna.

Karenin: I consider jealously to be insulting to you and degrading to me. I have no right to inquire into your feelings. They concern only your conscience.

Wright adopted an experimental (some said ambitious) approach to this story; the majority of the film was shot on a theater built in Shepperton. The skating rink, train station, and stables were dressed on top of the theater. Doors open onto Russian landscapes; some actors walk from one set to another under the stage. Toy trains and doll houses were used for some shots. Levin (Domhnall Gleeson- in one of his early roles) is allowed to venture out of the theater b/c Wright wanted to stress the fact that Levin is the only authentic character. The soundtrack makes use of a Russian folk song that was also adapted by Tchaikovsky in his Fourth Symphony (written in the same time as Tolstoy’s novel). The song that the (presumably gypsy) Masha (Tannishtha Chatterjee) hums and sings near the end is a Bengali lullaby (a language spoken in Bangladesh and the West Bengal region of India). Wow, I was NOT expecting that!

Countess Nordston: Would you die for love, Konstantin Dmitrich?

Levin: I would. But not for my neighbor’s wife.

[pause]

Levin: An impure love is not love, to me. To admire another man’s wife is a pleasant thing, but sensual desire indulged for its own sake is greed, a kind of gluttony, and a misuse of something sacred which is given to us so that we may choose the one person with whom to fulfill our humanness. Otherwise we might as well be cattle.

Countess Nordston: Ah, an idealist!

[laughter erupts]

I just saw this (1st time) last week and was a BIT disappointed (though I didn’t have high hopes for it). I’d heard/read reviews from several viewers who either hated it or were meh (unimpressed). As one viewer commented: “It looks like a perfume ad.” One podcaster said that Wright goes more for “style and beauty than substance.” I thought he did a great job w/ Atonement and liked the freshness he brought to Pride and Prejudice. Macfadyen is the ONLY actor who looks like he’s having fun w/ the role. Macdonald is naturally good in everything, but I think she is under-used here. There is almost no chemistry between Knightley and Taylor-Johnson (who has some distracting hair). I learned that he is British (I assumed he was American b/c I first saw him on Nocturnal Animals). Several fans of the book were esp. disappointed w/ Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal, b/c Vronsky is supposed to be more of a “deeper” man. Law does a fine job (though he looks unglamorous); some of his fans may be shocked to see his (natural) hairline. The younger couple (Gleeson and Vikander) do a good job also; I liked the sweet scene w/ the letter blocks. Levin’s scenes out working the land were done well. These actors teamed up for Ex Machina, a hit movie that was also critically-acclaimed.

There are other versions of this story to check out, if you’re interested; I have seen two other adaptations. The 1997 movie (starring Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean) has the romantic chemistry lacking here, but some viewers felt Marceau was a bit TOO restrained. I always like seeing Alfred Molina; he plays Levin. The 2000 mini-series (starring Helen McCrory and Kevin McKidd) has intelligence and maturity (which some book readers felt Knightley lacked). Sadly, McCrory recently passed away from cancer. I liked how Karenin (Stephen Dillane) and Levin (Douglass Henshall) were portrayed in that show.

[1] I’m not saying all films have to be constructed in a conventional manner, but when the form overtakes the substance something has gone wrong.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky is a piece of serious miscasting. Instead of looking like a great lover and sure temptation for wavering Anna, he looks like some feeble dandy with his foppish shock of dyed curly blonde hair which makes him look quite ridiculous.

Keira Knightley does the best she can, despite looking most of the time like she’s attending a fashion shoot.

[2] Keira Knightley’s version of Anna is not nearly as bad as you would think. She has the sense to restrain herself a little so that the many other elements of the novel shine through. […] This Anna takes Vronsky just because she can, and then ultimately regrets it. We can feel her frustration: she’s young and wants to have fun but she’s tied down to a stuffy older husband. In that sense, it’s quite a modern interpretation, but not hideously so.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky was just miscast. If the novel had been about Anna seducing a schoolboy, he would have been great, but Vronsky is meant to be a dashing man. The styling is atrocious- he looks like a seventies Scandinavian Eurovision entry.

Jude Law as Karenin. A bizarre choice… However, he gives a performance that is probably his best.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Silver Linings Playbook / Kai po che!

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Dance brings two troubled people together in this (unlikely) hit film

The silver lining is actually the fact that there is an audience for sensitive/grown-up films like this one!  Bradley Cooper (never overacting) and Jennifer Lawrence (a naturally gifted actress) fall in love, despite their respective issues (hey, we all got’em).  This is shot like a ’60s film, an avid moviegoer in my office said, with long takes.  It’s a treat to see DeNiro, who looks to be in fine form (and great shape, too).  Chris Tucker gets a few funny moments, but doesn’t overdo it.   Who says the psychological issues can’t be dealt with using humor!?  (The only odd note was the racial incident involving the therapist, his fellow Indian football fans, and some angry white guys.)  Also, there is a great interview w/ director David O. Russell on Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross (NPR) that I recommend you listen to. 

Kai po che!  (2013)

Indians going crazy for cricket (as usual)

This is a film for folks who avoid (or even abhor) typical Bollywood fare.  Why?  It’s well-acted (no joke), well-written, and just keeps your attention (watchable).  There is a bit of romance and great music, too.  It’s about three idealistic friends (more like brothers) who open a sports store in the city of Ahmedabad.  One has the business savvy, the other a passion for cricket, and the third procures a loan.  They also discover a pre-teen cricket prodigy (Muslim) who they nurture. Then, a series of (true) events occur which affect all their lives deeply.  Check this film out! 

Les Miserables (2012)

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Tom Hooper (just 40 years old) is the British director who brought us these compelling/gorgeous miniseries: John Adams (2008), Elizabeth I (2005), and Daniel Deronda (2002).  Though I haven’t seen it yet, he made a big mark with The King’s Speech (2010), which won 4 Oscars.  He brings a very well-known, large-scale tale down to a (small) human level.  No doubt, the star of Les Mis is American Anne Hathaway, who shed not only 15 lbs., but almost all of her long hair, for the role of Fantine.  Oh, and Hathaway can sing, too!  Wow…  Viewers will want to see more, but she appears in the first third of the film only.

Russell Crowe as Javert

One person who defininitly should not sing is Australian Russell Crowe, I’m sorry to say.  His songs are tolerable (unlike that of Gerard Butler in The Phantom of the Opera), but he doesn’t have a strong voice, and is clearly not very comfortable with this element of the film.  (I love Crowe-a fabulous actor-but the producers/studio should’ve looked for a more suitable voice.  Everyone can’t do any job.)  The film seemed to slow down when Javert came onscreen, aside from the swordfighting scene.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean carrying young Cosette

Hugh Jackman (another Australian; got his start in theater) stars as Jean Valjean, a man who transforms his life by taking Fantine’s young daughter, Cosette, into his care.  Jackman can sing (but you probably knew that already).  In the many close-ups, you can see his emotional range.  I was pleasantly surprised, and feel that he needs to challenge himself even more with his next film roles (no offence to X-Men fans).

The Thenadiers with young Cosette

Students protesting on the streets

The film gets a jolt of energy when we meet the money-grubbing Thenardiers (played by Brits Sascha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter) and young, idealistic men who call for revolution (led by Enjolras, American Aaron Tveit).

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Then the love-at-first-sight thing happens between the teenage Cosette (American Amanda Seyfried) and idealistic Marius (Brit Eddie Redmayne).  A few in the audience wanted to see more of Eponine (British newcomer Samantha Barks).  Her voice was lovely!  (She also worked in theater.)

Samantha Barks as Eponine

I felt that Cosette and Marius had good chemistry together; their singing was pretty good, too.  However, the film is too long; editing a bit wouldn’t have hurt.  Why draw things out that most of the audience already knows about?

Colm Wilkinson as The Bishop

Long-time fans of Les Mis are in for a treat- Colm Wilkinson plays The Bishop, the man who gives Valjean the “gift of silver” to “become an honest man.”  Wilkinson, an Irishman, played Valjean onstage for many years; his voice is amazing!

The Hobbit (2012)

Thorin: [singing] Far over the misty mountains cold / To dungeons deep and caverns old
Dwarves: [singing] The pines were roaring on the height / The winds were moaning in the night / The fire was red, it flame spread / The trees like torches blazed with light…

The Hobbit poster featuring Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman

Well, I can honestly say this was the most anticipated film for me in 2012.  I saw it with my mom and little brother on New Year’s day (in Fishers, IN).  We saw the 2D, since none of us are fans of 3D.  Mom and I were most excited to see one of our favorite (British) actors, Richard Armitage, on the big screen for the first time.  The eyes and the voice are the same! 

Thorin: Loyalty, honor, a willing heart, I can ask no more than that.

Poster featuring Martin Freeman as Bilbo

Bilbo Baggins: I have… I have never used a sword in my life.
Gandalf: And I hope you never have to. But if you do, remember this: true courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.

We had seen Martin Freeman in the Sherlock series (BBC) and earlier in Love Actually, and thought he was a very fine actor as well.  (That Brit rom com is one of my little sister’s favorites.) 

Illustration of ThranduilActor Lee Pace

Lee Pace plays Thranduil, Legolas’ father, in two brief (yet crucial) moments in the film.  Unlike most of the cast, he’s an American. 

Luke Evans as The Bard and Orlando Bloom as Legolas - Entertainment Weekly magazine

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) will appear in the later films (so no worries, teen gals)!  There will also be a new (human) character, played by Luke Evans. 

Bilbo smoking pipe

FYI: Martin’s co-star in Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, will provide voices for two characters in the later movies.  I thought he’d be good as an elf.  Elijah Wood is back, as are Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis (Gollum; second unit director), and the much beloved Gandalf, Ian McKellan.

Dwarves overtake Bag End

In the introduction to the story, we see old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) and his young nephew/heir Frodo (Wood), in their cozy home in Hobbiton.  (For this prequel to The Lord of the Rings, Elijah’s 30 year old face was de-aged using computer technology.)  Bilbo is planning his birthday party and also putting the finishing touches on his memoirs.  He thinks back (60 years), and we transition from Holm to Freeman smoking a pipe outside Bag End.  The wizard dressed all in gray, Gandalf, comes to his door and mentions an adventure.  “No!  We don’t want any adventures here!” Bilbo exclaims.

Bilbo riding a pony

Gandalf: Home is now behind you. The world is ahead.

In time, the reluctant hobbit meets 13 dwarves (some young/inexperienced, some battle-hardened), who are on a quest “to claim their long forgotten gold” and their homeland, which was taken over by the dragon Smaug.  The group are lead by a displaced king, Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage). 

Still from the official trailer

These dwarves are nothing like Snow White’s friends- they love to drink (like hobbits), fight (get better with age), have a lot of pride, and are secretive in nature.  We learn why dwarves distrust the elves.  In this film, they uncover some elvish weapons, which they quickly adapt to using.  Bilbo finds a little sword, too. 

James Nesbitt as BofurAs Leo on BallyK

Fans of the Irish TV series Ballykissangel may recognize one dwarf, Bofur (James Nesbitt).  From 1996-1998, the Belfast-based actor played Leo, the big city journalist.  Bofur likes to have fun! 

Dean O'Gorman as Fili and Aidan Turner as Kili

Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner) have been termed the “hot dwarves,” which Turner said makes him “cringe a little.”  LOL!  Since they are young dwarves, they are eager to see some fighting and contribute as much as they can.   

Galadriel and Gandalf

Galadriel: Why the Hafling?
Gandalf: Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

Cate Blanchett as Galadriel

Cate’s part is not big, but she looks more beautiful than ever as Galadriel (The Lady of Light)!  She has a different sort of crown and a cool dress (with a long train, of course). 

Hugo Weaving as Elrond examines map

The company go to Rivendell, where Elrond (Hugo Weaving) helps the company by reading ancient dwarvish on a very important map.

Company meet The Goblin King

Orcs and trolls are different in The Hobbit than in the trilogy.  They are more developed; they also look different. 

Jed Brophy as Nori

One of the toughest orcs is now a dwarf- Jed Brophy (a New Zealand actor and skilled stuntman) plays Nori.  Even his eyebrows are braided! 

Gollum in his cave

Bilbo Baggins: Why don’t we have a game of riddles and if I win, you show me the way out of here?
Gollum: And if he loses? What then? Well if he loses precious then we eats it! If Baggins loses we eats it whole!
Bilbo Baggins: Fair enough.

We find out how Bilbo got the ring.  He and Gollum have a battle of riddles in a cave.  Well, don’t want to give too much info… 

The music (composed again by Howard Shore) is even better than in the trilogy.  The Misty Mountains song is sung by Richard and the company of dwarves- very cool!  The (New Zealand) scenery, along with the special effects, are stunning.   The acting is quite fine, especially from McKellan, Armitage (creating a natural leader/heroic), and Freeman (who makes the perfect hobbit).   

Three Can’t Miss Films of 2012

English Vinglish

The film’s story worked on many layers, and what I especially admired is how Sridevi becomes the spokesperson for lessons without being too overt about it, save for the ending speech that hammers in the emotion, and is sure to make your eyes well up. It deals with, on a macro level, how as humans we should be helpful and tolerant to those who don’t speak our language or understand our culture, that one shouldn’t be made to think one’s superior just because, or make the other look small. And on the more micro level, the structure of the family and its importance.  All these and more, told through a story about a woman finding her inner strength to stand out, stand up and be counted, building and reinforcing confidence that she’s more than just a Laddoo machine.  -A reviewer on IMDB.com

movie_picture_English-Vinglish

Do you loathe typical Bollywood films (w/ vacuous portrayals of women, too old to play college Romeos men, and incongruous songs/dances)?  Then this is THE film for you!  (I liked it even better than Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, two fabulous films you should check out.)  Two friends and I made the trip to Leesburg, VA to check it out; we live in Silver Spring, MD.  

Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) is a beautiful housewife and mother living a comfy life in India.  She’s also a well-known caterer of sweets in her area (called ladoos) who regrets the fact that she doesn’t speak/understand English (like her executive hubby and snarky preteen daughter).  But she’s still cool in the eyes of her little son.  When the entire fam is invited to the US for the wedding of her niece, Shashi jumps at the chance to take a fast-paced English course (led by a quirky British teacher with a motley crew of NYC immigrants).  She keeps it a secret, however, which poses certain challenges!       

english-vinglish-1a

Who is that gorgeous/talented guy who befriends Shashi in the film?  It’s French-Algerian actor, Mehdi Nebbou, who’s a BIG star in his native France. 

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Life of Pi

life-of-piThis is another fine film from director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sense & Sensibility; Brokeback Mountain, etc.)  It incorporates good acting with cool visual/special effects.  The teen boy in the film NEVER acted before!  (Suraj Sharma lives in Queens and was discovered during an open casting call where his lil bro was auditioning.) 

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One of India’s finest actors, Irrfan Khan (the dad from Mira Nair’s The Namesake), plays the grown-up Pi/narrator.  Another Namesake connection: Tabu plays young Pi’s mom!  My own mom (who read the novel by Yann Martel) enjoyed the film, too, as did her friend/neighbor. 

Lincoln

In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience — end slavery or end the war.  -Jim Beaver, IMDB.com

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Who could’ve imagined that Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis would one day play one of America’s most-loved presidents!?  (Liam Neeson, star of Schindler’s List was first considered for the role.)  Steven Spielberg humanizes Lincoln in this big, yet also small/personal, film.

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I esp. liked the scenes w/ Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt (who is becoming one of the young’uns to watch in Hollywood now).  Of course, you may know him from the comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun

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My mom was happy to see Sally Field in a big role (after some years); she plays Mary Todd Lincoln with intelligence and emotion (without ever going over the top).  Mrs. Lincoln did suffer from depression after the death of her son, Willie, as pointed out in the film.  I wanted to see more of Elizabeth Keckley (played by ER‘s Gloria Reuben), who was the dressmaker to Mrs. Lincoln. 

lincoln_allies

Lincoln has class (David Strathairn, one of my faves), humor (James Spader, former ’80s heartthrob), and fiery rhetoric (Lee Pace and Tommy Lee Jones in the House of Reps).  Well, Jones adds some humor, too.  And yes, the revelation about his character’s (Thaddeus Stevens’) romantic relationship is true! 

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