Film review of the period drama about an adulteress society woman in Imperial Russia based on the famous novel by Leo Tolstoy, starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson and directed by Joe Wright.
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Director: Joe Wright.
Cast & credits
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster.
Writer: Tom Stoppard.
Camera: Seamus McGarvey.
Music: Dario Marianelli.
Sets: Sarah Greenwood.
Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Emily Watson, Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson, Holliday Grainger, Michelle Dockery, Cara Delevingne.
Russia, 1875: as Anna (Knightley) visits her sister-in-law (MacDonald) who is on the verge of leaving Anna’s adulterous brother (Mcfadyen), she meets in passing the dashing Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson). He pursues her and, against the advice of her stilted and morally upright husband (Law), Anna embarks on a passionate affair that looks set to destroy the precious and thin social order around her. Contrasted with this, is Constantin’s (Gleeson) passionate love for the young and flirtatious Princess Kitty (Vikander), who initially rejects his proposal.
Tolstoy’s mighty, expansive novel about the nature of love, passion and societal expectations on all of us has been told many times on screen, most famously with Greta Garbo in the Venice Award winning 1935 adaptation (she also made a silent version called, with exquisite simplicity, Love in 1927).
I never finished reading Tolstoy’s epic tome; as a literary precocious teenager, I bought the book and waded through half of it before getting bored with chapter after chapter describing Russian agricultural methods in the 19th century. The Garbo version came on the TV at this point so I gave up on the book and instead wallowed in the ridiculously reduced Clarence Brown film with Greta’s face captured in the most wonderful and caressing of close-ups.
Anna has suffered more cinematically than she ever did on the page, presented in such solid but staid movies, each missing out on the passion she enjoys with her dashing lover and focusing on the cruel machinations of her emotionally frigid husband and an unforgiving Russia.
In this version, writer Stoppard and director Wright opt for a different take on telling the story, using a theatre’s stage, auditorium and back rooms as a framing device, a ‘play within a film’ so to speak, highlighting how the characters and the audience itself are always actors on the social stage that is life. Most of the action, including the house race, are played out here.
It’s a bold, innovative, beautiful and also wretchedly annoying step. Annoying because, at least for the first half hour of the film, it interrupts our enjoyment. As with a real-life theatrical production, it is busy, messy and noisy backstage as people and props whirl around in quick succession between the scene changes. Fun in one respect, but I found myself forgetting about the story being told and focusing too much of my attention on the construction of the film.
It’s also difficult with this Anna to judge the tone of the film. At one moment it appears to be a frivolous comedy, the next it lurches toward deep tragedy. Comedy and tragedy can sit next each other comfortably, but not when each is so extreme and the writer seems to favour a silly, laid-back feel in what is essentially romantic drama.
After half an hour, I would have been happy to walk away from the film, but then it finally settles into it’s stride and the tragedy begins to unfold.
Ballet, rather than theatre, is more of an accurate description for how the film is staged. The protagonists are in constant dance, characters whirl around each other as if in never-ending ballet. But there also moments of stillness (Anna, at the theatre is ostracised and camera pulls back, revealing the other patrons are motionless, staring at her). The dancing scenes are a clever mash-up of interpretive and classical forms, the dancers mixing a traditional waltz with flailing arms and hands which weave and wend with their partners’; it looks ridiculous and stunning at the same time, satirising the social movement of the period.
The accent throughout is on touching, fingers always reaching out for others, intertwined and delicately playing with child’s alphabet boxes. Kisses are held in extreme close-up, Anna and Vronsky’s tongues licking each other’s lips before a passionate coupling. In bed, Anna and Vronsky writhe in an orgasmic ballet and just as much of his body is revealed as hers. Anna is as close to pornographic as is cinematically seemly.
The look of the film is beyond ravishing. Words themselves can’t do justice to the eye-pleasing costumes, settings (the electric blue wallpaper in one scene remains embedded in my memory) and camerawork. In terms of production design, Anna Karenina thoroughly deserved its Oscar for costume design, but it’s a shame the sets and cinematography were only nominated.
The performances are superb but do not entirely deflect one’s attention from the purposely artificial presentation of the film. Knightley is delicate and impressive as a more morally dubious and selfish Anna than previous incarnations. Following this, Law is also more sympathetic and conflicted as Karenin. No longer the villain of the piece, he is actually more stable and constructive a figure, accepting responsibility for a child that is not his and sheltering her father.
See the official Youtube trailer.
Film review of the action thriller Black Sea, starring Jude Law and Scoot McNairy.
Director: Kevin Macdonald. Film4/Cowboy Films/Etalon Film
Cast & credits
Producer: Kevin Macdonald, Charles Steel.
Writer: Dennis Kelly.
Camera: Christopher Ross.
Music: Ilan Eshkeri.
Sets: Nick Palmer.
Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Tobias Menzies, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Ben Mendelsohn, Jodie Whittaker, David Threlfall, Michael Smiley, Karl Davies.
In order to make good with his former employers, a submarine captain (Law) takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a Nazi submarine rumored to be loaded with gold.
This review feels more like a premiere for me, being my first chance to sample MK’s Cineworld after several weeks on ‘the other side’. Despite the on-going refurbishment work previously reported by Total MK and some minor gremlins in the works (a few recalcitrant lights in the auditorium I sat in having to be persuaded into submission), this was a refreshingly palatial experience, sat amongst the distinctive, sumptuous blood reds of Cineworld in massively comfortable seats with plenty of a leg-room for a nearly-6 footer.
It was also briskly busy for a 6pm Friday screening, about 80 people for a film that has not been heavily promoted – have I been frequenting the wrong type of multiplex? Next up is their Super Screen, to be unveiled in a week’s time, but until then on with the actual review.
This is a beefy, solid if slightly half-hearted action film, manly, sweaty and gruff. Rather like the now muscled star Law, here leading as the renegade captain of the submarine, a team player willing to put his team’s lives on the line to secure riches on the sea bed, in order to stick one to ‘the man’. He’s wearing the years surprisingly well and his performance bristles with the kind of intense but sensitive conviction we have come to expect from him, persuasive and controlled but also increasingly unfocused, he rolls around on sailors barrel legs with slightly menacing eyes.
This manned-up turn benefits from a commendable sounding Scottish accent, unfortunately let down by what seems an over-enunciating mouth and painful jaw jutting as he barks his orders out. He looks like he’s just chomped down on an out of date haggis found at the back of the sub’s kitchen cupboards.
The cast that make up his crew look like appropriately moth-eaten Argonauts to his modern-day Jason, providing salty and seasoned supporting acts. Of especial note is Threlfall (from TV’s Shameless) as an old-timer riddled with emphysema but still able to spit out the one-liners. When one character, on seeing the rusty submarine they will use to find the bullion, states “This wreck’s gonna sink”, Threlfall replies “It’s a fucking useless sub if it don’t”. It’s a minor role, the same type of sea dog you’ve seen in a million boat/sub/navy films, but the work Threlfall has expended makes meeting him a worthy experience. This is the type of guy you could meet down the pub and enjoy a few jars with.
But for every line of great dialogue in a more or less solidly crafted movie such as this, there are also corny, ‘manly’ platitudes and head-scratching plot holes that litter carelessly constructed action film scripts.
I’ll choose to forget the gratingly poor line from Law about big business choosing to “flush shit like us away, but now the shit is fighting back” and focus instead on what seems like far-fetched engineering principles (why does this rusty submarine even leave land without any preparatory work, that takes place at sea? Would it really survive such a gruelling journey?), clunky additions to the story (would a submarine captain as experienced as Law really pick a young and completely inexperienced man such as Tobin [Bobby Schofield] to join his crew on such a dangerous mission?) and the fact that the script is nothing more than a water-bound update of Greed (1925) and Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).
Director Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, 2006) shows himself capable of creating stomach tightening, tense moments, particularly the seabed walk toward the sunken Nazi sub that had me squirming in my seat. The paralysing, lonely dark of being underwater already creates a sense of unease and he capitalises on this to the max.
It’s a shame therefore that he doesn’t make a bit more of the claustrophobic interior of Law’s vessel where the horror of human avarice starts with a bang but peters out with a soggy whisper.
A list of all new films being released in UK cinemas, as of Friday 5 December. To get details of screenings near to you, use the Find Any Film website and search by title and location.
Bollywood action film starring the decidedly buff Ajay Devgn. For more, see the official Facebook page.
Taut sounding action thriller with Jude Law being directed by The Last King Of Scotland’s (2006). He is a rogue submarine captain heading to the bottom of the Black Sea to hunt for treasure aboard a sunken ship. David Threlfall co-stars. More details are on the official website and it will be playing just about everywhere.
A marriage is put to the test when the wife is offered lucrative work as an escort. The money is great and they are desperate, but how will their otherwise idyllic family life cope emotionally and sexually? Pretty looking drama starring James Norton and Josie Lawrence, find out more on the official website. Showing at key cities only.
Crazy sounding French gay film in which a man propositions an Eastern European rent boy and ends up with a whole gang of them partying in his flat the next day. Billed as a love story and a taut thriller, this is an odd looking pick-up. The official Peccadillo Pictures webpage includes screening locations.
British, festive comedy with Jim Broadbent and Warwick Davis. A father and son team up to save Christmas once they discover Santa Claus sleeping in their garage after crashing his sleigh and finding himself on the run from the police. It will be showing at most UK cinemas.
Martial arts action film charting the back-story of the man who trained film legend Bruce Lee. Starring Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang and with choreography from the team behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), there are scenes in the trailer that look beyond ravishing with eye-boggling fight scenes. The official website will impart a bit more; showing at key cities only.
It doesn’t auger well for a movie in this era of social media-driven marketing when its Facebook page has only 15 likes (as of 30 November). Shame as this is a cute looking comedy starring Charlie Cox and Jodie Whittaker. Down-on-his-luck Carter has been dumped, lost his job and his home. On a mission to win back his ex-girlfriend, he agrees to help her psychotic brother, which starts a chain reaction of adventures. The official Facebook page is here and it will be showing at key cities only.
My, Myself and Mum
French comedy about a young man embracing his inner heterosexual after being brought up in a manner in which everyone assumes he is gay. Originally released in France more than a year ago, the official website will give you photos and the trailer. Showing at key cities only.
French thriller about good cops Franck and Simon. Their lives take a tailspin when Simon causes a tragic car wreck after drink driving. A few years later and out of the police, he is forced to take matters into his own hands when his family is in danger. It will be on a limited run only so use Find Any Film for cinemas near to you or keep your peepers out for your local art house cinemas listings.
Men, Women & Children
Drama about a group of high school teenagers and their parents as they attempt to navigate the many ways the internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives. Starring Jennifer Garner and Adam Sandler, you can catch it at almost any cinema. Get more details from the official website.
Documentary from director Leila Sansour as she returns to Bethlehem to make a film about her home town, soon to be encircled by a wall. She intends her film to be a tribute to her late father, founder of Bethlehem University, and a man regarded as a hero by his town’s folk. As Bethlehem approaches ruin her decision to flee this sleepy town, taken much to her father’s regret, comes to haunt her. Find out more on the official website, it will be screened at locations across the UK, but check out your local cinema listings.
Grim and scary-looking Indiana Jones meets The Blair Witch Project (2009) horror from the producer of The Hills Have Eyes (2006). The official website has more details and it will be showing across most UK cinemas.
School of Babel
Documentary following a group of teenagers from as far afield as China and Brazil after they arrive in a French High School and are enrolled in the same class. The New Wave Films webpage has the lowdown including the key cities it will be playing in.
Bill Murray vehicle about Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her adopted 12-year-old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), who move next door to war veteran Vincent (Murray). When Oliver gets locked out after school one day, Vincent allows him to stay at his house until his mom gets home. Because he has bills up to the ceiling and is desperate for cash, he tells Maggie he’ll babysit Oliver every day after school. Vincent then introduces Oliver to his lifestyle, including gambling, drinking, and his relationship with a Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts). Check out the official website for some extra titbits, it will be playing just about every place.
And on Monday 8 December…
The Polar Express
Not the greatest, but possibly the most fun, Christmas film ever made. Robert Zemeckis’ enduring fantasy is about a little boy taken on a magical night-time journey to the North Pole to see how Christmas is wrapped up by Santa, courtesy of the titular, always on-time train (clearly this is not set in the UK). A one day special screening via Cineworld, check out the Park Circus website for details.
And on Thursday 11 December…
East End action thriller starring Mads Mikkelsen about a former Serbian Commando who bonds with a young boy whose father has been killed by a criminal gang lord. Showing at key, Showcase Cinemas only, the official webpage is here.
Director: Wes Anderson. Fox Searchlight/Scott Rudin/Indian Paintbrush/Studio Babelsberg/American Empirical (15)