Tag Archives: Jude Law

Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina movie poster

I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina a few years ago, mostly out of a feeling of obligation.  No English major should make it through university without reading one of the huge Russian novels.  This seemed more my speed than War and Peace or Crime and Punishment. I tried unsuccessfully to read The Idiot, but I did at least make it through AK.  Unfortunately, despite liking Tolstoy’s short stories, I did not enjoy the book.  It was just too hard to read, if I’m honest.  Too much work to keep the characters straight (names always end in -sky, -vich, or similar, and several characters have the same first name), and such a long book.  I remember one chapter that–this is not a joke–was just Vronsky balancing his checkbook.  I mean, it had deeper meaning, of course.  But who can stay awake through a whole chapter of a guy just sitting there thinking about money and about his life and doing absolutely nothing.  It was very hard to finish the book.

I thought I might really enjoy this film, though.  For one thing, the character name problem is totally solved in film form. There is no way one can confuse the dowdy (for the first time in his life) Jude Law as Karenin, and the young, mustachio’d Vronsky.  In the book, they are both named Alexei, and there are middle names they sometimes go by, and it’s all confusion.  In the movie, though, one is repugnant and the other…well…not attractive to me, but certainly more young and passionate.  I did glean far more meaning from the film than I ever had from the book.  When you’re bored and frustrated with a book, it’s very hard to follow the nuance.

The film borrows from others such as Chicago and The Artist, in that it is both a live-action movie and a depiction of a play.  I imagine this illustrates the idea of society life all being a performance, and of society people always being watched and on display.  Scenes in AK take place on and backstage, and they use this method to float through time and space and skip over large swaths of the action to hone in on pertinent scenes.  This is immensely helpful when you’re trying to adapt a book that is approximately 5 million pages long, into a movie that is a reasonable length.  I didn’t mind the surrealistic style that allows an office scene to transform into a restaurant scene by following the office clerks as they leave their desks and walk straight into the restaurant with waiters’ aprons under their suits–but it took a minute to figure out what was going on.  I think the movie hopes you’re really paying attention, and probably also hopes you’ve read the book.

The best thing about this film was the visual interest in each scene.  Not only did the changing locations (defying the laws of space and time) keep you interested and alert, but the sets and wardrobe were breathtaking.  It was a really beautiful film, and the whole thing had the air of those pompous Charlize Theron Dior commercials.  Very beautiful and untouchable and people walking around on marble floors in immaculate gowns that cost more than I make in a year.  That sort of thing.  Which works, because that is exactly the society the movie is depicting.  Unfathomably wealthy and focused on aesthetic pleasures. The movie did a great job at keeping visual interest and making each scene, whether an intimate moment between Anna and her son, or a big ballroom scene, really beautiful.  Here are a few stills to prove my point:

new-stills-anna-karenina-by-joe-wright-32058838-460-287 Still from Anna Karenina keira-knightley-anna-karenina anna-karenina-picture02

It was an incredible film to watch, visually.  And for anyone who enjoys Russian culture, Imperial European culture, or 19th-century costumes, it’s a must-see.

For those of you unfamiliar with the storyline, I will give it to you.  For those of you who actually don’t know how it ends, be warned that this will not be spoiler-free.  Since the book has been out for over 100 years I feel okay giving away the ending. Anna is married to a dull bureaucrat (Jude Law) who is a good person, but lacks all passion or romantic feeling.  He is also (in the book) about 10-15 years older than Anna.  They have a son together, who is around 10-ish.

Anna’s brother, Oblonsky, is caught cheating on his wife.  Anna visits to try to convince the wife not to divorce her brother. In the film, Oblonsky is played by Matthew Macfayden. While in Moscow, another group of characters is introduced to Anna and to the audience.  They include Oblonsky’s wife and her sister, Kitty, who is ‘out’ in society, and Levin, a land-owning aristocrat who is in love with Kitty.  He proposes to her, but she is making eyes with Count Vronsky.  Confused yet?  There’s no easy way to explain it…  Anna and Vronsky make eyes at a ball, and the attraction is strong and immediate.

The rest of the novel follows two stories.  One is that of Anna and Vronsky, and certainly this is the most prevalent and memorable of the two plotlines.  They’ve got forbidden love, sex, and tragedy on their side.  The other plotline is that of Levin, who attempts to get over Kitty and throws himself into the life of a day-laborer.  Levin is simultaneously a Christ figure (made very obvious in the movie during the foot washing scene) and a foreshadowing of the communist ideals that would sweep the country during the next 50 years.  In the end, he is perhaps the only character who ends up truly happy, when Kitty agrees to marry him.

Anna and Vronsky’s affair is made public when she becomes pregnant with his child. Anna is stuck. She loves Vronsky with all her heart.  Her husband, Karenin, won’t give her custody of their son in a divorce. Anna refuses to leave her little boy. She is forced to live a life where society will not recognize her, she is openly mocked and judged as a fallen woman. She becomes more and more unstable, unable to live a good life with either man.  Vronsky begins to fall out of love with her, naturally, since she’s gone quite crazy and is taking morphine to dull the pain. The thing I remember most about the book is how ridiculously in love she is with her son, how much he means to her and how she will not leave him–meanwhile her daughter with Vronsky is barely mentioned.  In the end, Anna throws herself under a train in perhaps the most dramatic literary suicide ever.

The film manages to get all this across pretty well, except that it skates over some of the legal and monetary issues and the reasons why Vronsky begins to fade away from her.  The film seemed to be trying to bill itself as a great romance, especially in the marketing but also in its editing choices.  It focused on the story as a love story.  I don’t think that’s what it is.  People who think this story is romantic must be those same idiots that think Romeo and Juliet is romantic.

Consider the scene with the horse race. Vronsky is admiring his brand new horse (after declaring his love for his previous horse a few scenes back) which will lead him to victory in the race.  Going around the track, he beats and whips the horse to spur it on.  The horse falls (I had my eyes closed at this point, so I don’t remember why) and breaks its back.  Vronsky is thrown off, but stands up and tries to beat and pull the horse to its feet.  The horse is broken and in pain, but he considers it an insult that he was thrown and embarrassed.  He shoots the horse–hopefully out of mercy, but it seemed to be more from anger than empathy.  Then again, my eyes were closed so I may be wrong.

This scene is very clearly a metaphor for Vronsky and women.  Kitty is the first horse, thrown away when a better model comes into view. Anna is the second horse, abused and beaten until she breaks, then cast off without much regret.  Vronsky cares only about himself.

And is Anna a good person? Most assuredly not.  Even if one doesn’t consider adultery a terrible sin (it’s certainly not nice, but I don’t think of it as a sin the way they did back then), she is neurotic, selfish, obsessive, and cares very little for anyone other than herself or her son.  She steals Kitty’s admirer away from her, cheats on her husband, favors her son over her daughter unashamedly, and then commits suicide to avoid the consequences of her actions.  There is nothing heroic or good about her.  There is something very real about her, from her self-loathing to her lack of control for her emotions, but nothing heroic.

My boyfriend claims he spent most of the film feeling sorry for Karenin (Jude Law).  I do think the movie made Karenin far more sympathetic than he was in the book.  He does allow Anna to see Vronsky when he thinks she is dying after childbirth.  He allows them to run off together, to be together.  In the book, he does these things, but… There is a much longer period of time that he forces Anna to stay in the marriage and pretend the affair didn’t happen. She wants nothing more than to get out of the marriage, but he is committed to keeping up appearances.  He is using morality to keep them both imprisoned in the relationship.  And when they do split, he is determined not to let her anywhere near their son.  He makes her feel unfit to be a mother, won’t even let her give him a birthday gift or see him ever again.  Cuts her off completely from the thing she loves the most (even more than Vronsky).  All because she had the gall to not be content with a loveless, passionless existence when confronted with an alternative to it.

I could ramble endlessly about this book, but I’ll stop myself.  Back to the movie!  It made the Levin plotline less important and the Anna plotline more glamorous.  Other than that, it stuck to the book fairly well.

The acting was superb from all quarters.  I’m not a great fan of Keira Knightley, but she is good in this, and it seems a role that works for her.  Matthew Macfayden was great, and it was interesting to see Jude Law play someone unattractive.

Jude Law as KareninHe did an interview recently where he talked about how he’s grown old enough to play someone other than the romantic lead, that he can now play less attractive men.  I had no idea what he was talking about, because he’s still Jude Law, but now that I’ve seen this movie I know this was what he was talking about.  And he is good in it. Subtle, quiet, maddening.  Not at all your typical Jude Law role.

My only real complaint with the film is that it is a little heavy-handed.  There is a real sense of trying to make it seem as if the train imagery is following Anna through the entire movie.  It is her destiny, I guess, so we see the train imagery not only in scenes where she is on a train, but also with toy trains, or her just dreaming about trains or train tracks.  If you didn’t know the plot, you might wonder wtf is up with all the train stuff?  I think they could have been more subtle.  In the book, it is clear that she is doomed from the beginning, and the train scenes are all very potent because of that.  But not every scene has her dreaming of train tracks. It was just too much.  A few nods to the train would have been very effective, but the constant appearances of train imagery just takes away from what should be a build-up to an inevitably tragic end.

The Best British Holiday Films

I was sick a few weeks ago, just a 24-hour thing. I took the day off from work and spent it watching British holiday films, of which there are a surprising amount.  I seem to own most of them, despite not liking holiday movies most of the time.  So I thought this would be a great Christmas post.  Here are my favorites:

Love Actually

Love Actually posterI’m hoping you knew this one would be on the list.  How could it not?  First of all, let’s consider the cast.  Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson. Also, not even listed on their little poster is Martin Freeman and Joanna Page.  Yes please! I love so many of these actors. Not to mention that I love them together.  Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman were together in Sense and Sensibility; Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were in both Bridget Jones films.  They work well together and its lovely to see them in the same film.  This movie isn’t perfect. All of the interrelated characters are sort of vaguely coexisting, but the bonds and relationships between them are too tenuous and unimportant to make a really cohesive whole.  And the part I really dislike is when Colin goes to America–to Wisconsin of all places–and encounters some sort of mythical America that does not and has never existed.  American women do, undoubtedly, enjoy British accents. I know this first-hand. But Denise Richards, January Jones, Eliza Cuthbert, and Shannon Elizabeth don’t all share a bed in a house in Wisconsin.  Sorry, men.  That is not reality. But, leaving that bit alone, everything else is wonderful. Hugh Grant dancing around No 10 Downing Street? priceless.

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Colin Firth speaking broken Portuguese and receiving broken English answers to his proposal? Adorable.  Martin Freeman doing anything at all? Yes.  Love this movie.  Makes me feel all happy and warm inside, like a great pair of fuzzy socks.

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Bridget Jones’ Diary

Bridget-Jones-wallpapers-bridget-jones-10347017-1024-768

I loved this book and I love the movie too.  It takes place over the course of an entire year, so it is not a Christmas movie in the traditional sense. More of a Rom-Com with Christmas at its beginning and end.  But there is something delightfully Christmas-y about the entire thing. The book is based roughly on Pride and Prejudice, so the fact that they got Colin Firth (the definitive Mr. Darcy) to play Mark Darcy is fabulous.  Especially because we get to see him like this:

Mark Darcy sweaterThis is a very goofy film, and Bridget is no match for Lizzy Bennet.  Still, she is endearing and real, and that is always reassuring around Christmas time, when your pants are a little tighter and all of the food is so inviting.

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The Holiday

The Holiday poster

Here’s the problem with the Holiday: When people ask me if I like it (as happens constantly in my life) I don’t know what to say.  It’s clear to me that the movie was written by and for people who have never had a single real problem in their lives.  The two main characters, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, are desperately unhappy with their lives.  Kate is stuck in one of those drawn-out unrequited love stories where you just can’t get over the person who broke your heart.  Cameron Diaz is a workaholic who acts like her parents getting divorced is the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being.  These aren’t fun things, but considering the tragedies that can come up within one human life, they are not bad.  And Cameron Diaz sits there talking about her parents’ divorce and how terrible it was, to a man whose wife has died and who is raising two daughters on his own. I just didn’t have much sympathy for their ‘plight’ because their problems were so negligent in the grand scheme of things.  Not to belittle anyone’s experiences with divorce or a bad breakup, but I think we can all agree there are worse things that can happen in the world.  So the movie bothers me every time I watch it.

On the other hand, I watch it at least three times a year.  There must be something I like about it.  Kate Winslet is adorable, and Jude Law is fabulous in it.  I love Jack Black, but I know he is a very polarizing actor, so some may hate him.  I find Cameron Diaz is a pretty good actress, but the fact that she is a 5’10” size 4 makes it very hard to accept her as an everyday woman.  If they had made her intensely neurotic or something, I would have been more capable of accepting it. I’ve seen her do convincing performances before (In Her Shoes is a great example) but this isn’t one of them.  But with Jude Law in almost all of her scenes, it’s easy to get through her parts of the movie.  It’s an easy movie to sit through and to imagine what a change of location could do to your life.  Plus, Kate Winslet’s cottage is possibly the most adorable thing in the history of the world:

Rosehill Cottage

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Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol 2

Small confession–I haven’t actually seen this one.  How did I make it through my childhood with so little exposure to Muppets? I watched a lot of Sesame Street, but never made the jump to the Muppets.  Why?  Possibly something to do with the absence of Oscar the Grouch from the Muppet gang.  I dunno.  At any rate, I’m putting this on the list because I’ve heard such good things from so many different sources that I’m confident that when I finally do see this movie, I will love it.  Also, it makes me happy to think of it because I once had a conversation with my boyfriend about A Christmas Carol and the ghost of Marley. My boyfriend claimed there were two Marleys.  I immediately asked if this was due to the Muppets Christmas Carol, because that’s the only version of A Christmas Carol he was likely to be familiar with.  He confirmed this movie as the source of his knowledge, and that ‘Marley and Marley’ were played by Statler and Waldorf, the two old men.  Brilliant bit of casting.

Marley_and_marley

At any rate, whenever I think of this movie now, I chuckle because of that conversation.

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Obviously, I haven’t seen all of the Christmas movies or even all of the British Christmas movies in the world.  Let me know which ones you recommend!

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I finally got to see the latest of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, and to rewatch the first one.  Warning, past here, there be spoilers.

I remember when the first movie came out, I really enjoyed it.  I thought it was a really fun movie and loved RDJ, as always.  But…now that I’ve seen Sherlock, it is hard to think of these movies in the way I once did.  It is difficult to compare them.  The BBC version is modern, taking place in 21st century London.  But in many ways, it is far more true to the ideas and the characters of the original stories than any other adaptation I can think of.

My problems with the RDJ movies mostly come up when I compare them to the BBC series or to the original stories. Starting with RDJ as Sherlock Holmes.  There are some parts that work–the boredom, the erratic behavior, the somewhat co-dependent relationship with Watson.  But much of what they do in the movies does not work. For one thing, RDJ seems to be mostly playing himself. Or he’s playing Tony Stark, who I imagine to be just like him.  Arrogant, strutting, egotistical and self-aware simultaneously.  In many ways, a petulant child. In the BBC series, on the other hand, Benedict Cumberbatch (and the writers, obviously) portray him more as someone who lacks empathy, a ‘high-functioning sociopath’ with no time for details (or people) who detract from his desire to occupy his mind with a mystery.

Another problem I have is that there is very little of the actual deductive skills on display in these films.  In the first, the most obvious example is when Holmes meets Watson’s fiance. In the second, his meeting of Madam Simza (played by the kick-ass Noomi Rapace) is the best example of his deductive skills.

In the BBC series, we see multiple examples in every episode of these deductive skills, displayed both through dialogue and through text on the screen to indicate what, exactly, Holmes can see when he looks at people. The closest to this that we get in the RDJ movies is the prescience he has about physical combat.  They spend time in every fight scene (and there are multiple per movie) to display Holmes’ ability to know what will happen before his opponent moves. This is the most powerful of his abilities in the movies.  And even when he is fighting Moriarty, the big climax between two brilliant men, their incredible powers of deduction lead them to…be able to anticipate the fighting skills of the other.

And what of the enemies, the arch-nemeses of Moriarty and Holmes?  I do like Jared Harris as Moriarty, perhaps because he was such a good baddy on Fringe.
But the movie barely features him, and his grand evil plan is…to acquire guns, money, and power. To make war in order to sell the implements of war? How common. Boring.  I didn’t feel any of the tension that came with the Moriarty and Holmes of the BBC series.  Those two seemed evenly matched.

So in comparison to the BBC series, obviously I find the RDJ movies severely and incredibly lacking.  But…on the other hand, if I do not compare them, then I can tolerate the movies much better.  If I do not think of these movies as in any way affiliated with the Doyle stories or the Holmes characters, then they are quite good.

I like the cinematography and the amazing job they did recreating 19th century London for the exteriors.  RDJ is entertaining to watch, even as he is being goofy and ridiculous.  Jude Law is awesome as Watson, and I even like him with a mustache. (A side note that I prefer the vulnerability of Martin Freeman as Watson, but I digress). And the sequel even had Stephen Fry as Mycroft!  He was nothing like I would expect Mycroft to be, and he was shockingly nude for much of the time, but I love Stephen Fry no matter what he does. These are great comedy/action films, and that is high praise from someone who normally doesn’t like any action films and not a lot of comedies ever. If you’re in the mood for a little mindless fun, they’re perfect.  My only problem is that Sherlock Holmes is the last person who should ever be associated with mindless fun.