Anna Karenina [2012] – Movie Review

Anna Karenina Joe Wright 2012 movie poster

Joe Wright, the director who gave us “Atonement” and “Pride and Prejudice” tries his hand at one of Leo Tolstoy’s most popular novels and does so by going bold via a new cinematic vision that’s never be done before.

Anna Karenina, the story we all know of the woman who after being tormented by an uncaring husband seeks companionship in a much younger suitor, is given a fresh approach in Joe Wright’s version. The movie has a theatrical aspect that is most definitely quirky. If you are able to get past the weirdness of it, Anna Karenina will prove to be a highly enjoyable movie. If not, then it’s two dreary hours for you.

Keira Knightley gives a great performance as Anna and is definitely helped by the setting the director envisioned for the movie. She brings a ton of sensuality and sexuality to the table, as she has previously done with similar period pieces. Her best scenes, however, are as much a product of her own acting chops as they are of the art direction, camera angles and whole vision. Newcomer Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whom you’ve probably seen before in Kick-Ass and Nowhere Boy, gives a terrific performance as Count Vronsky, Anna’s younger lover. His performance is definitely years older than his young age of 22 and he delivers the right amount of emotion and subtlety that the character requires. Jude Law is almost unrecognizable as Anna’s husband Alexei Karenin. His role, however, borders on the irrelevant at times due to his grossly underdeveloped characters and that’s one of the major flaws in this adaptation.

Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, while visually enchanting, is flawed when it comes to character development. If you haven’t read the book, Anna’s movie character comes off as a bored housewife whose husband couldn’t satisfy her anymore while, in fact, it was Anna’s husband who drove her to cheat on him but constantly shutting her out. This is not portrayed in the movie. Alexei Karenin is shown as a near saint who can’t understand why his wife would cheat on him and who’s ready to forgive her despite all odds so that by the time the end credits roll, your sympathy towards Anna, the movie’s main protagonist, is next to none.

This adaptation of Anna Karenina is fresh and energetic, risky and ambitious but it’s more about image than it is about content. What Joe Wright did was infuse some sense of modernity into this nineteenth century tale which might get it to connect with a younger demographic that’s not all too willing to read the keystone-sized book. Anna Karenina is one of the most visually inventive movies of the year and despite that taking out some substance, I was still taken away by the world portrayed on screen. However, all in all, the movie is nothing short polarizing, starting with Wright’s new take on the art direction to the way the screenplay was written, culminating in the finished product as a whole. I personally really liked it – but I can see why others would absolutely hate it. Anna Karenina is a movie that seduces you but ultimately fails to break your heart as the ice-cold train wheels break hers.

8/10

A Dangerous Method – Movie Review

Psychology and cinema have a long history together with the former often shaping the latter into delivering movies of great caliber. Last year’s “Black Swan” was a manifestation of that: a psychological thriller examining the darkness of human nature. In A Dangerous Method, psychology is literally in center-stage as this is a movie about how two of psychology’s most influential scholars came to their theories: Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

David Cronenberg’s new cinematic feature opens with an exquisitely chilling scene. Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is in the back of car shouting her lungs out as two men barely restrain her as they take her to a mental institution to be examined by Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), who’s attempting Sigmund Freud’s (Viggo Mortensen) new method of treatment, called psychoanalysis. Spielrein is an unhinged Russian aristocrat who wants to become a doctor while Jung is eager to prove himself to his colleagues and the community and would, therefore, make Spielrein his main case. To his patients, Jung is superior. To his colleagues, he is always inferior. And it’s from there that his need to prove himself arises. Soon enough, Spielrein is “cured” but instead of letting her have a clean break with her sexual fantasies, Jung immerses himself in them, whipping her before having sex with her, putting a strain in his marriage where the sex is “tender” to which Spielrein offers that she “can be ferocious.” Meanwhile, Jung debates with Freud in numerous correspondances on how to improve psychoanalysis, featuring the dissolution of the relationship between them.

A Dangerous Method boasts what I believe is a brilliant and highly interesting trailer. But simply put, don’t let the trailer fool you into thinking this is more than a historical and biographical movie. It’s a history book on screen, which makes it boring, redundant and, eventually, pointless. The production feels disconnected. The movie’s pace is slow and when it picks up it’s only for a few minutes.

For a movie about emotions and feelings, the movie also doesn’t offer much in that department. Apart from a great performance by Keira Knightley who outshines both male leads, the movie is stark, grim and too safe. For a movie about psychoanalysis and the repressed sexual urges of Man, there’s simply too little of that… there’s too little visceral emotions in there for it to have any credibility outside the historical realms it’s featuring.

Let’s talk about Knightley. I mentioned the opening scene for a reason. The second half of that scene features Knightley blowing you away with her twitching, writhing, screaming, laughing…. She’s hysterical in front of your eyes and she does such a good job at it that it’s hard to think A Dangerous Method won’t be a great movie, even with her extending her jaw to cringe-inducing measures as if trying to pull that coveted golden Oscar statue towards her. But then as Jung begins his movie-long analytical character, coupled with an even more analytical approach from Freud, whatever emotion brought to table by Knightley is diluted beyond recognition to form an emotionally disembodied movie about emotions. Through the rest of the movie, even as she’s cured, Knightley retains an element of craziness to her character that keeps you on guard whenever she’s on screen. You get to certain points where you wish the Jung-Freud sequences had been rewritten to feature her: less historical accuracy, more in-depth approach, more emotions, more crazy.

As mentioned earlier, Fassbender and Mortensen’s characters are simply a psychology book in reading. Some of their script can be found in a psychology book somewhere even verbatim, perhaps.  But both actors do their best with the characters they were given. Taken in absolute value, the performances are good enough to pull this movie as it is. But when you expect much more from a movie dealing with Freud, Jung and psychoanalysis, you want the script itself to be more out of the box and their performances to be crazier.

It might be that I had too high expectations but A Dangerous Method seriously underwhelmed and disappointed me. Not only does this movie have no award-season chances (or limited chances at that) but it poses the question of how many times could the Freud-theme be handled in cinema before finally getting it right? You’d think a director like David Cronenberg would be good enough to bring the crazy of his previous movies to a movie about crazy. But it looks like it’s not the case. And ultimately, there’s nothing dangerous about A Dangerous Method except the one word in its title.

Upcoming 2011 Movies To Be Excited About

I’ve come up with a list of ten movies coming up in 2011 that you should definitely be excited about:

10 – Larry Crowne:

Don’t judge me but I can’t help but be excited about a movie that has Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.

9 – Transformers 3: Dark Side Of The Moon

Sure, it’s already a financial hit, a week before its release, but as someone who was thouroughly entertained by the first two Transformers movies and even though Megan Fox will not be present in this one (sadness), I expect this to be one of the biggest movies of 2011, at least financially. And if you’ve liked the first two, this one should be a no-brainer for you to go watch.

8 – Crazy Stupid Love:

Emma Stone: “Damn, it’s like you’re photoshopped” *insert lots of laughter* —> *googles release date*

7 - Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

I have really enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes movie and hopefully the sequel delivers as well.

6 – One Day:

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess spend the night of their college graduation together and throughout the years, they revisit each other to see where they are in their lives. Based on the trailer, this looks like it’ll be a very interesting movie.

5  – The Tree Of Life:

This movie has been very polarizing. So I have no idea what to make of it. But it was one the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Festival, so it must be good enough, no?

4 – Where Do We Go Now?

The new Nadine Labaki Lebanese movie. Set for a September 22nd release in Lebanon, this is probably one of the most hyped about Lebanese movies this year. It doesn’t hurt that some of it was filmed in my hometown.

3 – A Dangerous Method:

A movie with Keira Knightley, Vigo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender about Freud? I’m there. Just watch the trailer. The movie looks brilliant!

2 – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo:

Just finished the book upon which this movie is based and it’s a highly entertaining read. Set for a late 2011 release, the movie stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara and, even though no trailer has been released yet, judging by the movie’s poster, this will be great.

1 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

This should be a no brainer. Epic trailer. The movie is based on an epic book and it’s the conclusion of the series that was an important part of the upbringing of millions.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Movie Review

The first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was a strong opener for the franchise, which reached its peak with its second installment: Dead Man’s Chest, a movie that was awesome all around: great acting, great storyline and an awesome cliffhanger, the likes of which you only see in certain TV shows where the wait is simply a few months. So the expectations for the third installement, At World’s End, were very high. But the sophomore slump expected for Dead Man’s Chest apparently skipped a generation and landed on At World’s End, making the movie a total disappointement.

So it’s safe to say that I wasn’t too excited about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise reboot, with their fourth installment: On Stranger Tides. With most of the cast returning (the only people missing are Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, not that I care that much) and adding new faces in the form of Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, the franchise was set to restart anew.

And restart it does. Not only is the movie an immense enjoyment, it is also engaging and visually stunning.

Starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, On Stranger Tides is the three-way race to the Fountain of Youth between the English, led by ex-pirate Barbossa, the Spaniards and the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, which is Blackbeard’s (a rival captain portrayed by Ian McShane) ship. Each one of those three has their separate knowledge of the path to the Fountain of Youth and their own agenda for going there. But the path to the fountain is filled with dangers and in order to harness the fountain’s powers, one needs to collect a mermaid’s tear, two chalices of the ancient ship Ponce de Leon’s wreck, both of which are not as easy to get as it seems.

Penelope Cruz portrays Angelica, one of Jack’s old flames and Blackbeard’s daughter. I thought she was an interesting addition to the franchise, becoming, yet again, the only woman on a crew of pirates. She’s quite safe in her role, not presenting anything groundbreaking on screen, but it works in the space she’s allowed to have in the movie.

On Stranger Tides also welcomes newcomer Sam Claflin, a Christian missionary, whose role as Philip in the movie is essential on two accounts: crucial advancement of the plot and some comic relief at particular tense moments.

On Stranger Tides begins with a set of duels and escape attempts. It isn’t until after the first thirty minutes that the movie starts to bite into its plot, with the characters well off at sea. It is then that you are presented with a truly magnificient scene involving mermaids and the movie starts running full throttle till the end.

Johnny Depp, whom I believe did the last Pirate movie of obligation more so than passion, is back in force for this installment. It’s refreshing to see Jack Sparrow be his regular self again: playful, never serious and uncannily witty.

The special effects in On Stranger Tides are brilliantly executed as well. If the overall acting ensemble didn’t engage you in the movie, the whole effect of this “other world” will do the job. There isn’t any part that looks unrealistic and everything is executed with the utmost care for details. Moreover, Hans Zimmer is, yet again, a genius at what he does. The score of On Stranger Tides is chills-inducing, especially when the Pirates of the Caribbean theme gets played inside the cinema and you get that warm feeling of epicness inside you.

Overall, On Stranger Tides is a breath of fresh air in a franchise I thought had lost its way. It’s an enjoyable movie that, despite its many flaws, manages to entertain you and, at least for two hours, make you forget about the things you left at the theater’s door. It immerses you and you can’t help but be thoroughly enjoyed by whatever’s taking place on screen. You don’t need to have watched the previous installments to understand what goes on in this one, just go as you are and watch!