Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

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dad1153
Joined: Thu Apr 16, 2009 10:32 am
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Re: The Films of 2012

#1 Post by dad1153 » Fri Dec 28, 2012 10:03 pm

Color me surprised that there doesn't seem to be anyone in this forum that has commented on Joe Wright's take on "Anna Karerina." I've missed the dozens of movie and TV adaptations of the Tolstoy novel (which I read a lifetime ago in high school); everytime I see "Network" I felt kind-of shamed by Chayefsky for not even remembering what the book was about.

This is definitely the weakest Joe Wright/Keira Knightly collaboration yet (and this coming from someone who loved "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement") but it has a 'let's pretend its a theater play' vision that it commits to (even though it feels messy and cheap). Dario Marianelli's music is exquisite, Jude Law steals the movie by virtue of playing repressed intellectual jealousy perfectly (he's the closest to a human being in a sea of 'types') and Keira, as usual, goes all in. While the new "Les Miserables" builds great sets and then proceeds to ignore them to focus on the close-ups of the cast (who does Tom Hooper think he is, Carl T. Dreyer?), "AK" goes out of its way to show how cheap/theatrical it is (the horse race scene in particular) but, either because of budget or creative thinking, I found it jarring to have such a great tale of mad passionate adultery (undercut by Aaron Taylor-Johnson's very effeminite-looking Vronsky... whenever they're together Aaron and Keira seem to be having a contest as to who looks the prettiest) amongst the uptight bourgeois Russian society before the Zar revolution presented as if it was a Broadway show with Baz Luhrman-like camera tricks. There's a "Black Swan"-type dance sequence in the middle that is about the most erotic and sensual (than even the movie's actual sex scenes) thing I've seen in movies this year, but overall "AK" is flashes of brilliance amidst too messy and show-offy a movie vision.

Between the critical and box office reactions it's easy to see how Universal/Focus/Working Title are going to put their weight behind "Les Miserables" over "AK." Shame, because on any other year "AK" should have scored some consolation noms for set/dress design (the obviously-staged/theatrical settings isn't without its charm), costume design and even photography for the 'transition' scenes.

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Jeff
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:49 pm
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Re: The Films of 2012

#2 Post by Jeff » Sat Dec 29, 2012 1:26 pm

dad1153 wrote:Color me surprised that there doesn't seem to be anyone in this forum that has commented on Joe Wright's take on "Anna Karerina."
It's the first movie I've walked out on in a theater in a decade or more. I was really looking forward to it. I like Wright's other period literary adaptations a lot, and was excited about what I thought sounded like a fresh take on Anna Karenina. I thought that Hanna was perhaps Wright's best film, and it sounded like he was going to bring some of that visual panache to AK. I only lasted about 45 minutes. I like the idea of Wright's conceptual take, but the artifice was so extreme that it kept me from emotionally engaging with it on any level. I think that deep psychological investment in the characters (especially Anna) is crucial to this story, and Wright intentionally keeps the viewer at such a distance that it becomes impossible. Obviously, I'm not qualified to assess the actual merit of the film since I haven't seen it all. I'll give it another shot at home. It was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, and it takes a lot for me to give up on a film, but I almost felt like Wright's hand was reaching through the screen and shoving me out the door. I was another unnecessary prop in the puppet show he was putting on for his own amusement.

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FerdinandGriffon
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Re: The Films of 2012

#3 Post by FerdinandGriffon » Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:10 pm

Jeff wrote:I like the idea of Wright's conceptual take, but the artifice was so extreme that it kept me from emotionally engaging with it on any level. I think that deep psychological investment in the characters (especially Anna) is crucial to this story, and Wright intentionally keeps the viewer at such a distance that it becomes impossible.
I agree that the film doesn't work, but I have to admit that I admire Wright for his audacity in mounting a production like this. There hasn't been a Hollywood film that wears its artifice on its sleeve so cavalierly as Anna Karenina since at least the sixties, and though his style is far from polished, after this and Hanna Wright must be counted as one of the most eccentric and adventurous directors working in the contemporary mainstream. Anna has more similarities to Shinoda's Double Suicide and Clair's Les Grandes manœuvres (both society love tragedies working in an overtly cinema-theatrical mode) than any recent Anglo-literary adaptation. And though Wright runs out of ideas and settles into a more conventional mise-en-scene about a third of the way through, the way in which the opening scenes continuously explode the idea of theatrical space and reorientate the proscenium to move between scenes, mileus and emotional zones left me breathless and a bit giddy. No, the acting is not very well tailored to the style, and no, the style is perhaps not well tailored to the source material. However, in the Tolstoy I have read* there is a consistent theatrical motif structurally identified with high society and metropolitan life, and Wright's adaptation is, I think, sensitive to this.

*Not Anna Karenina, but Resurrection.

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knives
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Re: The Films of 2012

#4 Post by knives » Sat Jan 12, 2013 1:03 am

So I get the sense from the forum that I'm the only person to love Anna Karenina to the point where I think it is not only one of Wright's best, but one of the best ever comparable to what Davies has done with his own adaptations. I'm sympathetic to Jeff's complaint that the artifice was too much (though I had personally gotten used to it by the half hour mark) but it didn't work that way for me. If anything it extended my emotional investment though obviously that is such a subjective thing. Even though it is a tactic I doubt Tolstoy would approve of I think more than any other Tolstoy adaptation it captures the complex moral experience related to religion his writing produces. Before this I honestly didn't expect Duvivier's waking dream to be topped as an adaption, but for me it does by better representing the film making of the era than that in a sense anyway.

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Shrew
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Re: The Films of 2012

#5 Post by Shrew » Sat Jan 12, 2013 3:51 am

I liked Anna Karenina too, though I'm not sure where you're going with Davies there. What do you mean by that last sentence there, that Anna Karenina is representing the filmmaking of the 1880s?

I wonder where Jeff left? Was it the dance? Up till then the film puts so much effort into setting up its theatrical construction (and it's all a bit silly and bordering on Baz Luhrmann over-the-top-shrillness, especially the brother's household and workplace, but it worked for me), and the dance feels like its the climax of that, taking on the form of some pop music video, then bringing the editing and actors to a frenzy. I liked that approach (as I think the point is this relationship is foolish and immature, but ultimately undeniable), but I could see it pissing off people who wanted the spark of this grand doomed romance to seem less like a high school prom.

But all that effort setting up this stage seems a bit wasted in the middle part of the film, which struck me as much more routinely cinematic and less self-conscious. And therefore a bit more boring to me.

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Brian C
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Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

#6 Post by Brian C » Sat Jan 12, 2013 4:59 am

I admired Anna Karenina a great deal but I think it would have been stronger for me with better actors. I know Knightley is widely admired, but I feel that her limitations are always very clear when she's dealing with highly emotional material, and I think this is the weakest of her work with Wright. I'm also pretty sure that Aaron Taylor-Johnson was miscast; I can understand what he was trying to do with the character, play him as someone compelling but inaccessble, but he's so remote that it was hard to put much credibility into their affair together. I don't know what to make of Taylor-Johnson, really - he was so dull in Kick-Ass and he's not real great here, either, but he was so good in Savages. Such different roles and a full spectrum of results.

Jude Law was fantastic, though. I think with two better leads, this might have been a really great film, and as is I'll still be excited for Wright's next movie. It's so bold and strikes out some pretty unique cinematic territory, that I can't dismiss it altogether. But my admiration is mostly on a technical level, because emotionally it's not really compelling to me.

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colinr0380
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Re: The Films of 2012

#7 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 9:30 am

I'm really looking forward to seeing Anna Karenina as it sounds as if it is picking up and embellishing on the artifice of Atonement in some ways - to those who have seen both, how does it compare? Is the theatrical setting used in a similar ironic, distancing manner?

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knives
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Re: The Films of 2012

#8 Post by knives » Sat Jan 12, 2013 1:56 pm

Shrew wrote:I liked Anna Karenina too, though I'm not sure where you're going with Davies there. What do you mean by that last sentence there, that Anna Karenina is representing the filmmaking of the 1880s?
1930/40s as intended with the Duvivier comparison. Sorry for not making that clear. As to Davies I was struck by its similarities to The Deep Blue Sea and The House of Mirth in terms of emotional expression, cinematography, and use of colour.
colinr0380 wrote:I'm really looking forward to seeing Anna Karenina as it sounds as if it is picking up and embellishing on the artifice of Atonement in some ways - to those who have seen both, how does it compare? Is the theatrical setting used in a similar ironic, distancing manner?
I don't feel this way. I thought it gave some real potency to the emotional journey and visually added to some of the themes of the story such as how only one character gets to the real world. He also made the artifice come alive like how he sets up the toy train as very much so a toy train and yet in one shot at least it comes alive as much as if it were a real train coming through the screen.

karmajuice
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Re: Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

#9 Post by karmajuice » Sat Jan 12, 2013 5:59 pm

I too liked the film quite a lot, and I thought the theatrical artifice was a risky but ultimately rewarding move. I don't think it inhibits my emotional engagement (if anything it enhances it, because so much of the novel deals with the interior of the mind, and Wright manages to express certain emotional states visually), and it also helps condense an obscenely long source novel into a feature length running time. I was actually disappointed with the second half, which doesn't follow the aesthetic approach of the first half with the same rigor. Some scenes vital to the work were cut out entirely, and that weakened the film, but I was surprised how well the material held together, given how much they had to excise.

I also adore the final scene of the film, especially the last shot, which has no equivalent in the novel. It's a total invention on the part of the filmmakers, and it suits the material so well it feels absolutely necessary.

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CSM126
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Re: Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

#10 Post by CSM126 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:42 pm

I envy you, Jeff. I wanted to walk out, but didn't. I guess I would have felt guilty because that would have put me at two walkouts in one year (the one being the ghastly Darling Companion, which I left about fifty minutes in, and was my first ever walkout). AK is just wretched. The intentional fakeness is, to be blunt, stupid. It comes off like the red headed stepchild of Double Suicide's puppeteers or And The Ship Sails On's cardboard props. Those films had a vision for the fakeness that worked. Wright seems to do it just because it's cute. The script and actors don't help (I hated every performance). It's all so cold and passionless and, well, fake.

To be honest, I fell asleep for about ten minutes somewhere in the middle. And that's pretty sad considering I was attending an early afternoon show and had had a full night sleep. Not many movies have literally bored me to sleep (although, of last year's films the equally-awful Deep Blue Sea had the same effect). Just an utterly misguided film.

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manicsounds
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Re: Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

#11 Post by manicsounds » Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:42 am

The theater setting was quite unusual, and unexpected. It reminded me of Branagh's "Hamlet" with its use of space and also with some Powell/Pressburger films.

The Blu-ray extras are all short average EPK pieces, the "Adapting Tolstoy" featurette goes into the theater setpiece which was fun and interesting to watch but obviously way too short.

(I'm doing a double feature with this and the 1935 version later.)

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