Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

 Anna Karenina
Players: Joe Wright (DIR), Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson, Jude Law, Matthew McFayden, Kelly McDonald
Having proven skilled at adapting Austen and McEwan it appears Joe Wright wanted to tackle more tragic, epic and quite frankly longer material. Cue Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

 A beast of the literary world and a popular choice for cinematic adaptation, questions undoubtedly appeared as to the necessity of another. Clearly unperturbed, Wright not only delivers a mature and visually stunning interpretation of the classic, but one with a truly novel twist – its all set in a theatre.

 Whilst this may divide viewers it operates on two levels; as a metaphor for how society is constructed and all its inhabitants performing roles, as well as a visually impressive narrative segway during set changes. Thus the ideologies behind Tolstoy’s 500+ page lament for Russian society resonate well within the theatrical setting.

 The cast too are as exquisite as the setting. Keira Knightley as the seduced and thus condemned heroine is at her period drama best in her third pairing with Wright. A coquettish socialite beguiled by the attention lavished upon her by the handsome Count Vronsky (Johnson), she breaks free from the glacial restrictions of Russian aristocracy in rip-roaring, piston-pumping, passionate style with believability and ease. Something Wright forcefully emphasises with consistent train references.

 Not short of talented male support, Jude Law as bald, po-faced and tediously duty bound Karenin is almost unrecognisable. Whilst the charming Aaron Johnson as Vronsky displays all the swagger, charisma and boldness first seen in Nowhere Boy. Matthew MacFayden is also worth a mention on scene-stealing form as Anna’s pompous and avaricious brother Oblonsky.

 And yet for all its attention to detail, intensity and beautifully elegiac tone, one can’t help but sigh at the sheer length of it. Wright’s motivic repetitions; close-ups of character’s faces and coat-changing vignettes become somewhat tiresome. And ultimately the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic leaving you under-whelmed and perhaps as cold as the Russian landscape itself.

Verdict: Sprawling, slow-paced and slightly indulgent. Sumptuous settings, clever editing and terrific performances can’t quite match the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s novel.

Winter Preview

One of the perks of work experience at a film magazine is that I have the luxury of spending hours researching up and coming releases. Here are just a handful of what I’m looking forward to…
Liberal Arts
Players: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins, Alison Janney
It’s official. I have a major girl crush on Elizabeth Olsen. She is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses; with just 4 releases to her name, her performances are assured, beguiling and charming. Liberal Arts is to be her 5th credit, helmed by the equally lovely Josh Radnor. Proving his comedy chops in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and his subtle directorial prowess in ‘Happythankyoumoreplease’, this follow-up should tick the same easy-going, heart-warming and witty box as its predecessor.
ETA 5 October
Ruby Sparks

 Players: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (DIRs), Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas
With several supporting turns to her name in films such as ‘In The Valley of Elah’, ‘Revolutionary Road ‘The Private Lives of Pippa Lee’ and ‘It’s Complicated’, Zoe Kazan is no stranger to Hollywood, not least because she’s the grand-daughter of the great Elia Kazan. It’s fantastic then to see her finally getting a starring role, both as actress and screenwriter, in the up and coming ‘Ruby Sparks’: a rom-com of sorts, which sees a novelist will his fictitious female protagonist into existence. A charming premise with real-life couple Kazan and Dano playing the leads (sparks will no doubt fly), I’m expecting good things.
ETA 12 October
The Sapphires

Players: Wayne Blair (DIR), Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy
Dubbed the Australian ‘Dreamgirls’, this soulful drama recaptures the spirit of 1968 as an aboriginal girl group entertain US troops in Vietnam. With IT Crowd fave O’Dowd providing laughs this could be the feel-good surprise of the year.
ETA 2 November
Rust and Bone
Players: Jacques Audiard (DIR), Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure
Cotillard looks to be back on Oscar-winning form as a killer whale trainer who connects with a stranger after a horrible accident. With a director known for intense and riveting dramas, (The Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) one thing’s for sure this is no Free Willy.
ETA 2 November
Silver Linings Playbook
Players: David O’Russell (DIR), Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence
Fresh from the boxing ring O’Russell serves up a dramedy that sees the romantic entanglement of Cooper and Lawrence; two complicated souls whom strike up a deal. Slated to be an intense but funny exploration of mental illness this also sees the return of Julia Stiles to the big screen.
ETA 21 November
Trouble With The Curve 
Players: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake
After slightly mediocre fare with J.Edgar and Hereafter, hopefully Eastwood can score a homerun with this baseball family drama, which sees him playing an ailing baseball scout who takes his daughter Adams on one last recruiting trip.
It’s certainly tried and tested material; a sports movie with plenty of heart, but Eastwood has proven more than adept at avoiding the saccharine where others might struggle (Bridges of Madison County) as well as helming an emotionally powerful sports film (Million Dollar Baby), so this should be an enjoyable walk in the park for both him and us.
ETA 30 November
The Oranges
Players: Julian Farino (DIR), Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Leighton Meester, Oliver Platt, Alison Janney
That awkward moment your Dad falls for his best friend’s daughter. So goes the plot of ‘The Oranges’ a modern day Romeo and Juliet if you will, which sees two neighbouring families having to deal with the romantic entanglement of Laurie and Meester. Offering up strong comedic talent and a script drenched in wit (based on an early draft I managed to read), I’m most looking forward to appearances from Alia Shawkat (the best friend in ‘Whip It’) and Adam Brody (Seth from ‘The O.C’) who will hopefully be at their sarcastic, socially awkward best.
ETA 7 December
The Words
Players: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal (DIRs), Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons
Having premiered at Sundance 2012 we should expect a UK cinematic release sometime soon. Good news indeed as this multi-layered narrative, moving backwards and forwards in time looks to be an intense and thought-provoking film. Featuring some delectable acting talent and a literary narrative basis about a writer who must pay the price for plagiarising, I am already hooked. Shame about the title though.
Zero Dark Thirty
Players: Kathryn Bigelow (DIR), Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong
Directorial goddess Bigelow follows up The Hurt Locker with equally powerful and political material chronicling the decade-long hunt for Bin Laden after 9/11. Starring man and woman of the moment, Edgerton and Chastain, respectively. Should be explosive.
ETA 25 January
Players: Neil Blomkamp (DIR), Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley,
Undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2013, Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 follow-up looks set to be a blistering sci-fi action movie. Unflinching graphics, profound morals and a killer cast. Roll on March.
ETA 1 March
Robot And Frank
Players: Jake Schreier (DIR), Frank Langella, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard (voice)
In a world overrun by technology an ex-jewel thief and his robotic butler buddy up to pull off a heist. The trailer looks adorable; think ‘Moon’ crossed with ‘The Sting’, with an added dose of light-hearted fun.
ETA 8 March
Now You See Me 
Players: Louis Letterier (DIR), Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent
If you ignore the previous credits of director Letterier (The Transporter 1 & 2, Clash Of The Titans, The Incredible Hulk) and instead focus on the stellar cast, intriguing premise and potential magic of this heist-thriller about FBI agents tracking a team of bank robbing illusionists then you can understand my anticipation.
ETA 27 March
The Place Beyond The Pines
Players: Derek Cianfrance (DIR), Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta
In a year Ryan Gosling brought us Drive, Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March, whatever his next move, it was clearly going to be hotly anticipated. Reuniting with the director of ‘Blue Valentine’, ‘Pines’ tells the story of a motorcycle stunt rider whom in order to provide for his wife and child toys with committing a crime that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician. With a cast that also includes Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne and Eva Mendes, I predict that this will be one helluva sexy film.
Also in an interview with screenwriter Ben Coccio he revealed that he “suggested that the movie be set in the kind of town I grew up in, Schenectady, New York. [Derek] told me his wife was from Schenectady. So, in looking for a title, I found out what ‘Schenectady’ means. It’s a dutch derivation of an Iroquois phrase which means, ‘The Place Beyond the Pines.’ It’s already too cool for its own good.
The Company You Keep
Players: Robert Redford (DIR), Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci
After Redford’s last directorial effort, the rather disappointingly lacklustre Lincoln-assasination movie ‘The Conspirator’, slipped under the radar, I’m really hoping his next project sees him back on form. This thriller wrapped filming in November 2011 and is due out sometime next year.
Just like ‘The Conspirator’ it features an unbelievably high calibre cast; not surprising for someone whose many years in the business must no doubt have acquired a reputation that’s like ‘bees to a honey-pot’ for actors. Screen veterans Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, Stanley Tucci and Richard Jenkins, as well as Redford himself should all add a touch of class to this thriller, which is centered on a former Weather Underground activist who goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.
The young’uns of the cast consist of LaBeouf and Kendrick, who can both be magnetic and charismatic under good direction, whilst indie darling Brit Marling ups the hype factor for this one massively. An intriguing film indeed, which will hopefully keep the likes of ‘Ordinary People’ and ‘The Horse Whisperer’ company on Redford’s success record.

The Big Five.

Whether it’s the Olympic-inspired girl power that’s pumping through my veins or merely a hope to emulate their success in my own career I thought I would dedicate a post to my 5 favourite female directors working today. Who doesn’t love a little bit of feminism? Samantha Brick I hope you’re reading.

5. Sarah Polley

A Canadian filmmaker who started off in acting, her directorial debut ‘Away From Her’ (2008) saw her produce a sensitive, if overwhelmingly sombre portrait of Alzheimer’s disease. She handled her narrative with grace and realism, something which earned her a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nom. Her second film, ‘Take This Waltz’, starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen is to be released shortly and will no doubt be another perceptive and heart-rending demonstration of her skill as a director.

Suggested Viewing: Away From Her, Take This Waltz

4. Kimberley Peirce
Her debut feature-film was the blisteringly powerful ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (1999), which bravely explored the topic of gender and sexual identity. Whilst her second critical success came in 2005 with ‘Stop-Loss’ based on soldier’s experiences of coming home after fighting in the Iraq war. Her films don’t make for easy viewing, often featuring disturbing or violent scenes; something which perhaps makes her the perfect director to be at the helm of the ‘Carrie’ remake. However she produces challenging and thoughtful material that forces the viewer to confront culturally important topics, for which she deserves massive kudos.

Suggested Viewing: Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss,

3. Debra Granik

Another independent filmmaker with an eye for fantastic visuals, her second feature film ‘Winter’s Bone’ (2010) raised her profile enormously. And deservedly so. A stark, searing film of will-power, retribution and violence, it depicted a part of America not often shown. I am eagerly anticipating what she delivers next.
Suggested Viewing: Down to the Bone, Winter’s Bone

2. Kathryn Bigelow           

Easily the most famous of the bunch, Bigelow made history when she became the first female ever to win a Best Director Academy Award. Perhaps because she makes the kind of films you expect men to make; full of testosterone, action and brutality. Her films often gain cult status because of her ability to twist genre conventions using experimental storytelling without compromising thrill, tension or visual spectacle. Bigelow’s film are distinctly hers; strange, provocative and adrenaline-pumping; she has become a master of her craft.

Suggested Viewing: Point Break, The Hurt Locker

1. Nicole Holofcener

She of course scores brownie points for sharing my name. But more importantly she consistently produces intimate, independent feature films that portray the lives of ordinary women. There is something organic and resonant to her filmmaking, wherein she is able to balance the absurdity and beauty of everyday life with insight, wit, poignancy and hilarity. Holofcener generates an exquisite subtlety and without sounding pretentious, but what feels like truth, from her casts, something which has most recently earned her a Robert Altman Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Suggested viewing: Please Give, Lovely and Amazing

Mirror, Mirror

(DIR. Tarsem Singh, Relativity Media, US, 2012)

For those unaware or unfamiliar with the story of Snow White, Julia Roberts’ narration opens the film recounting the traditional tale of a young girl abandoned in the forest by her wicked stepmother and adopted by a troop of dwarves. However, if you’re expecting a saccharine, family-friendly, ‘love conquers all evil’ type film…then hang in there because despite its aims to undo cliche and stereotype, this is after all a fairtytale.

That’s to not to say this isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable film. Julia Robert’s as the evil stepmother running the kingdom into ruin with her decadence, greed and vanity relishes each snide remark she delivers with bite. Whilst Lily Collins as the innocent Snow White serves more than adequately as the beautiful young Princess, this time with a bit more feist and teenage angst. Though she can never match the acting prowess of her co-star, both are utterly believable in their roles.

Set with the task of finding another rich suitor to avoid financial despair, the evil Queen focuses her attentions on the charming, affluent and might I add, often shirtless, Prince of Valencia, played by Armie Hammer (of ‘The Social Network’ fame). But as luck and tradition would have it he fancies the virginal Snow White. The fact that he looks about 30 and Collins about 17 is a tad unnerving. However in an attempt to rework convention and perhaps liberate the stereotype of the Princess being the damsel-in-distress, it is often she that must save him rather than the other way around. The seven dwarves are this time around thieving bandits who fancy their chances with Snow and teach her how to fight, not very well though it must be said.

The narrative itself isn’t particularly strong, with many plot-holes forming along the way, however the perfomances, along with some stunning costumes and set-pieces make this a sumptuous, rollicking comedy, if a little style-over-substance. The quips come frequently and are more hit than miss and I’ll admit to laughing out loud on more than one occasion. The third act does however falter slightly with an added dose of ridiculousness including Hammer being turned into a puppy and the running time starting to feel somewhat lengthy.

Although the ending reverts back to tradition with startling conformity, you can’t help but admire the film’s delight in its own silliness. The final scene take on a Slumdog Millionaire-esque tone with out of place dance moves and almost too cheest for words techno-pop song. But whether you groan at its awkwardness or smile at the sheer gaiety of it all, it must be said this is a film that will leave you smiling.

Verdict: Not as revolutionary or refreshing as it would like to be, but consummate performances from a delightful ensemble cast and amusement galore make this deliciously camp fun.

Review of Martha Marcy May Marlene

When a film is as highly anticipated, especially on the notably critical independent circuit, as Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, it can go one of two ways. Either you are left coldly disappointed, berating yourself for buying into the industry buzz or in the case of this film you are left haunted and mesmerised, waiting eagerly for what both Durkin and his star Elizabeth Olsen have to offer next.

This is a slow burner by any definition, cutting seamlessly from past to present, interweaving Martha’s (Olsen) time in a self-sustaining cult to the psychological damage it effects on her now. The prevalent use of close-up with stark locations create an eerie atmosphere to the film, one that effortlessly reflects the traumatised mindset of the protagonist.

Struggling to interact with her haughty older sister and impatient brother-in-law, Martha becomes increasingly distant and paranoid, something increasingly justified as the violence and hypocrisy of the cult is revealed. Martha may have physically escaped but her experiences seem forever ingrained in her mind.

Imperative to this psychological character study are of course the performances, with Olsen never failing to captivate her audience, utterly vulnerable and yet displaying feistiness you root for. Notable support is provided by cult leader John Hawkes who is quietly terrifying, as well as Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy as Martha’s only family, providing the judgmental, metropolitan counterpoint to Martha’s former communal existence.

Just as Martha’s time in the cult is one she won’t easily forget, this is a film that will stay with you long after you have finished watching it.

Verdict: Subtle, understated and yet disturbingly powerful. One not to be missed.

The Curtain Call for British Independent Film?

It has taken me a while to form a response to David Cameron’s recent demand for more mainstream filmmaking. Initially it confirmed my hostile and ineloquent opinion that he’s a complete douchebag. However having recently attended a talk for students interested in careers in the media industry, Cameron’s statement has had not only greater resonance for me, but also wider implications for student everywhere.

Although this is nothing new, it appears that government interests are increasingly at odds with the interests of the people. It’s all very well wanting to aim higher, target overseas markets and “make commercially successful products that rival the quality of international productions”, but Cameron is essentially showing himself to be bureaucratic, verging on the autocratic, by interfering with the film industry and demanding what type of films should be made. He’s suggesting that the commercial, the mainstream and the capitalistic is more necessary and more valid than independent, lower budget films. It is dangerous territory to enter, especially considering the commercial and critical success of independently funded films such as the Harry Potter franchise, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. It is a narrow-minded and financially driven perspective. Of course we mustn’t forget that the film industry is a business and the boss of every creative, aspiring filmmaking is a producer with pound signs in his eyes. Nevertheless to embrace the mainstream with such fervour is to limit the range and variety of films that the British film industry is capable of making. So goodbye to intense, gritty dramas such as ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ and hello to big-budget action films that serve only to benefit the box office and the corporate studios as opposed to accentuating the talent and originality that British filmmakers have to offer.

At its most fundamental level, independent filmmaking is a more accessible way for student filmmakers, screenwriters and actors to get their foot in the door. Whilst you may have posters of every Spielberg films on your wall, it’s unrealistic and quite frankly disillusioned of Cameron to believe that this is standard of success that filmmakers should aim for. Students don’t have that kind of budget or equipment; our way to get noticed and get our work out there is to start small and work our way up, but without the support of independent companies such as the UK Film Council the likelihood of this happening only looks to decrease. By focusing on the mainstream, Cameron is crippling student aspirations of entering the market. He is closing the door before we even have a chance to get a foot in.

Good intentions may be at the centre of these demands; it will boost the UK economy and what not. Nevertheless, the very unpredictability of the film market is what makes the industry exciting. There are of course trends and target audiences that producers base their decisions of what films to make and what films not to make on, but no-one can really guarantee whether a film will be commercially successful or not. Take a look at ‘Monsters’ for instance, a low-budget film produced and distributed by a British independent film company Vertigo Films that proved a huge success. Although unable to rival the likes ‘Avatar’, a producer or studio executive with years in business would have been unlikely to predict the success of such films, let alone an ignorant meddler such as Cameron.

Balance is the solution. By channelling government funding in a certain direction, Cameron is disadvantaging an entire sector of the British film industry and encouraging a certain genre or formula of films to be made. Not only is this unexciting and restrictive, creatively cocooning the minds behind the films, but it tips the scale wholly in favour of corporations and multiplexes, rather than art-house or independent cinemas. No harmony will ever be achieved by favouring one child over the other. Instead we should celebrate the commercial alongside the innovative, unconventional and independent and perhaps for once be trendsetters, rather than following in Hollywood’s footsteps.