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Anna Karenina (2012)
Waiting for the train
If an award were given for over-directing, this would win hands down. it's a tribute to Tolstoy that his story came through the fog of metaphor and cliché, from the stage set play-within-a-movie (our only guess as to meaning is that they were skimping on location shooting) to actors twirling around each other to tearing up letters (and with them any semblance of meaning to life) - to the point of tossing the scraps up, only to come down as snow (could it get worse?).
With a story like Anna Karenina it seems the director's only job would be to decide which parts to omit; instead, Joe Wright has decided to turn it into a soap opera. It's as if he were doing Shakespearean sonnets and correcting the rhyme and meter.
And casting Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky? When he first came out I thought they'd done a spoof. He reminded me of Gene Wilder in a Mel Brooks version of Tolstoy. On the other hand, Jude Law was perfect as Karenin, as were Domnhall Gleeson as Levin and Olivia Williams as Countess Vronskaya. Sadly, Keira Knightly seems to have thought she was still doing Pirates of the Caribbean, as far from Tolstoy as you can be.
How two marvelously creative men, Wright who did Atonement and Stoppard who gave us the incredible Coast of Utopia, could do this is beyond comprehension.
A very good historical film
Rachel Weiss plays Hypatia of Alexandra, a Fifth Century philosopher, who is caught in the political struggle among the city's Roman rulers, Pagan elite and rising Christian population.
Her acting is superb. She nails Hypatia's passion for intellectual engagement while shunning the mandatory love interest with the stately demeanor worthy of her subject.
It's a film that should be seen by anyone tempted to take a religion - any religion - literally.
My only hesitation in recommending the film is the overuse of fancy cinematography. The helicopter shots, crane shots and unmotivated camera movement can be excused once, but it tended to draw a bit of attention to itself and away from what is otherwise a marvelous film.
An Education (2009)
Good movie, but was the anti-Semitism necessary?
This could have been a film about a young girl who falls in love with a Jew and, in anti- Semitic pre-Beattles London, loses her place in public school and has to fight her way into Oxford.
Or it could have been a film about a caddish con-man who sweeps her off her feet and she loses her place in school and fights her way into Oxford.
My complaint is that they conflates the two. By making David gratuitously a Jew, the film isn't a comment on English anti-Semitism but an example of it. It worked better in Marlowe's Sixteenth Century England than in today's.
That said, the cinematography and acting are superb and it's a film worth seeing.
A Single Man (2009)
A beautiful story, but very over-art directed
Tom Ford's debut as a writer-director is a good attempt that, in my opinion, has fallen short.
He and his co-writers have produced a superb screenplay from Isherwood's story. Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode perform wonderfully, as do the actors playing all minor characters in the story, but the directing is so heavy-handed that the story becomes a bit hard to follow. Ford has, unfortunately, let the camera become an enemy of the story.
Any single frame of this film is a visual wonder. Unfortunately, when strung together they become an hour and a half Calvin Klein commercial and the story gets drowned in the pool of images.
I'd have loved this film had they not tried throwing every visual metaphor and effect into it.