Anna Karenina is the 26th filmed version of Tolstoy’s novel, originally written in serial form from 1873 to 1877. From 1911, audiences always like the married woman who loves a single man, becomes pregnant, leaves her marriage, has the child… and you know the rest. In one way or another, there have been many times 26 with similar plots—and Tolstoy was 17 years behind Flaubert’ s Madame Bovary, first serialized in 1856. This recent release stars Keira Knightley as Anna and Jude Law as Karenin. Large it is, directed by Joe Wright under a theater bound proscenium arch and as an operetta (without songs). This framing device, repeated periodically, is distracting. The drama seems distant, as if it were in the nineteenth century rather than a classic story filled with class structure, envy, indecision, capturing love at its crest and the shattering truth Anna finds in herself. Often, a scenes last too long and the acting is tossed asunder to favor symbols and/or contrivance. And most of the deeply drawn Tolstoy characters are treated as mere contrasts to the main lovers. The result harkens back to the Henry James and Jane Austen novels-to-films trend of the 1990’s, many over-produced and underwhelming.
The Silver Linings Playbook
On the other hand, The Silver Linings Playbook, is a not-so-hot comedy-drama as a bi-polar boxer returns from prison to his parents’ home to get himself together. His wife and children have left him and his wild mood swings. Bradley Cooper is the lead and Jackie Weaver and Robert DiNiro are his parents. He is an obsessive Philadelphia Eagles fan, but, since no one actually talks “football,” it is only an ongoing plot device for local and a convenient tool for a motif of a family’s fabric. The presence of skin deep concerns in a character driven story feels that the mood is half-hearted at best. There are moments of comedic humor, but for me, they were not worth the 2 hours.
Of interest and still in theaters are the James Bond thriller, Skyfall; the Israeli documentary, The Flat; Ben Affleck’s Argo and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
Many of the year’s best have been released on DVD and blu-ray. Available now is the restored and expanded epic that is David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (Sony) with an all-time great performance by Peter O’Toole. The blu-ray is so sharp that you might be tempted to brush the sand from your clothes. Brazil (Criterion) is the ambitious Terry Gilliam at his best. This combination of “1984” and “Blade Runner” is supremely high tech and engrossing with mystery and discovery around every corner. Sci-Fi futuristic never had it so good and creepy. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Olive Films) directed by Sidney Lumet in 1962, is as grisly as a dysfunctional family can make itself. All families have baggage, but Eugene O’Neil did not offer any easy way out for his stand-in parents Katherine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson and “kids” Jason Robards, Jr. and Dean Stockwell. Letter From an Unknown Woman (Olive Films), directed by Max Ophuls from a novel by Austrian Stefan Sweig in 1948, is a romantic drama whispering dreams and disillusion from the young woman played by an older Joan Fontaine. Just as we have to forgive her age, she has to deal with naïveté and hero worship of a famous pianist well cast for Louis Jordan. Finally, there is Rosemary’s Baby (Criterion) with Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and support by the likes of Ruth Gordon and Ralph Bellamy. Roman Polansky’s filming of Ira Levin’s novel is an original, a movie of mood, mystery and horror few movies of the genre have equaled. Other recent releases include some of this year’s best: A Separation, Monsieur Lazhar, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Disney’s 1950 Cinderella. These are just a few gift ideas!