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

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Movie Review

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Movie Poster

I would be lying if I said I weren’t a big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I find the character fascinating and intriguing. I find the cases Holmes investigates riveting. So it was with utmost pleasure that I went to watch the sequel to the original Sherlock Holmes movie, titled: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

While the opening was a bit rickety and all over the place, the movie soon finds it sound and sets in. Opening in 1891 London, with Europe on the brink of war, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is pursuing professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), whom he believes is the cause of many explosions around the world, seemingly unrelated to each other. So Holmes sets out with his best friend Watson (Jude Law), along with a gypsy sidekick named Simza (Noomi Rapace), to unravel the mysteries behind Moriarty’s plan.

The movie’s highlight is definitely the chemistry between its two male leads: Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Their scenes together are always a breath of fresh air, bringing some comical relief to very tense scenes. Acting wise, Downey is as good in the sequel as he was in the first movie. He carries the movie almost all by himself with Jude Law strutting along to provide much needed support at key points in the movie.

Noomi Rapace is never allowed to stretch her wings in this. Her character is never pursued and is kept as such – an unimportant female sidekick, which the first movie also had in the form of the gorgeous Rachel McAdams who also has a very brief appearance at the beginning of Game of Shadows.

When it comes to its plot, Game of Shadows is convoluted, complex and at times difficult to keep track with unless you’re very focused on what’s happening on screen. In a way, it’s not a movie you want to watch if you have nothing better to do. Of course, everything gets answered eventually but it’ll be a much enjoyable experience for you as a viewer if you were very attentive at all the minute details. However, plot-wise, many of the deficiencies in the first movie are also present here: The villain’s intentions are never fully clear, the female sidekick is always left at the sideways.

As in the first movie, the director Guy Richie has a knack for speeding up action scenes and then slowing them down immensely. Sometimes, such as in a chilling forest chase scene, this works brilliantly. Other times, however, it feels useless. He builds the production in his movie with more or less tertiary layers that help somewhat in the buildup of the plot, but at the end of the day, it’s Downey’s character that helps propel the movie forward.

The whole movie, in fact, can be considered as a two-act play. The first act is one of guns, explosions and gymnastics whilst the second one is more of a big chess game. If you’re a fan of action sequences, the excitement of the first part will carry you through the second. If you’re a fan of puzzles, the first part is fast-paced enough for the second part to set it before you know it.

A Game of Shadows has more action sequences than its predecessor and they’re all very well executed, be it the scene involving the gypsy Simza escaping an assassin with the help of Holmes or a chilling train scene that will go on and on without you wanting it to stop. And at the end of the day, the movie – despite its many flaws – remains very entertaining and as engaging as its predecessor. Some might have felt it was a let down but I beg to differ. The movie was just so much fun to watch. You won’t get out of it feeling like your life has changed. After all, which movie does that to you? But it will leave you feeling like you had two hours of your life well-spent as you leave the theater.

You will most definitely enjoy the gorgeous cinematography, the great special effects and the exquisite chemistry between Law and Downey on screen. All of these three together form a combo for a very enjoyable movie you shouldn’t miss.

7.5/10 

Hugo – Movie Review

Based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s new feature film.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy whose father (Jude Law) died in a fire at a museum, leaving him to the care of his uncle Claude. The only possession left with Hugo is a machine called an automaton which he intends to fix. And so, Hugo is taken to work at tending to the clocks at a train station in 1930’s Paris. It is there that he has to rely on theft to survive and work on fixing the automaton, hoping it would give him some closure or information as to the death of his father. At that train station, he stumbles on a man named George (Ben Kingsley) who owns a toy shop. Hugo soon becomes friends with George’s niece, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who strangely holds a key to fixing the automaton and open an adventure for the two of them – all as the station’s Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen) goes after Hugo, in attempts to take him to the orphanage.

Hugo is a stunning movie. It is beautiful, gorgeous, mesmerizing. The cinematography, the visual effects, the direction, the music – all of these combine together to give you a very pretty movie to watch. It takes you in. It fascinates you at many points. It captivates you. It transcends out of the movie theatre, taking you to Paris, the city in which it was supposedly set.

But all of the above combined also need a good plot or story to help the fabric be tightly knit together into delivering a full-package movie. So the central question regarding Hugo arises: is the plot engaging enough?

The answer is a succinct miserable no.

Not only is the story so bland that it makes the movie altogether boring, it really puts a damper into all that the movie had going for it. The cinematography, though as I said is beautiful, becomes emotionally ineffective. The movie starts to go all over the place, not knowing really the point behind making it – is it a tribute to old cinema or is it an entertaining children’s movie? Is it a fantasy or it is pseudo-reality?

Hugo, being a movie revolved around machinery and clocks, has very machine-like acting as well. The actors – all of them – deliver strained performances that never really hit home, even when there’s enough emotional material for them to deliver. The comic timing in the movie is off that you find yourself rarely laughing even at its heartfelt moments. The action buildup is theoretically there but in reality never happens. You can tell what’s going to happen from a mile away and eventually, it happens. There are no surprises, no twists, nothing to mentally captivate you.

Hugo is more a vehicle for its director, Martin Scorsese, to share his passion for movies – especially historic movies – than to actually deliver a movie that is truly great in its own merits. If you compare Hugo with Scorsese’s previous works, Shutter Island for instance as to not stray far, you’d find the latter way out of Hugo‘s league in terms of overall effect on the viewer even though there’s obviously more work done in Hugo than Shutter Island.

The main difference between the two, apart from the fact that Hugo is mostly a Christmasy children’s movie and Shutter Island a dark adult thriller, is that the former has a very weak story while the latter has a stunningly intelligent plot – although it’s not as captivating visually. For a viewer with a taste like mine, Hugo feels very empty overall but a movie like Shutter Island would be very satisfying.

Being voted movie of the year by the National Board of Review and being nominated for almost every award imaginable, my expectations for Hugo were rather high. And frankly, it has all the ingredients to truly take your breath away: good actors, Paris, breathtaking visuals, a great director…. Sadly though, despite all of its potential, Hugo fails miserably. It remains flat, convoluted, very useless and emotionally flat. It may be breathtaking visually but on the overall, it’s a clockwork lemon.

Perhaps instead of having “one of the most legendary directors of our time takes you on an extraordinary adventure” on Hugo‘s poster, the sentence should have really said: “One of the most legendary directors of our time takes you on a uselessly stupid adventure” – for a movie concerned with storytelling, Hugo sure fails at telling a very simple story.

Don’t waste your money on this if you want a decent movie for your children this Christmas. Just buy the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD. At least you’d want to watch that movie again. And at least that movie is truly stunningly, gorgeously, marvelously epic all around.

5/10