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Movie Review: Anna Karenina

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So I finally saw this movie. I’ve been waiting for it. I like novel adaptations, but I also like to read them before seeing them, which is why I didn’t see the latest Wuthering Heights. With this, I went to the trouble of the book – rather excellent, by the way – and so went to see the film right when it came out.

The word that kept repeating itself in my head throughout the movie was, “Ridiculous.”

Joe Wright is a decent director, I suppose, but I would keep him away from the great classics of literature, particularly if he insists casting Keira Knightley. Atonement was a good film, I even liked it better than the book and Knightley was good, but nope, she’s just not what a period drama needs. Someone will accuse me of being shallow now, but Knightley is hardly what an ideal woman in the 19th century looked like. And those mid-1800s dresses do require breasts to look their best. I’m sorry if I sound harsh, I don’t like to be, but that really bothers me.

But back to the film itself. It’s in the line of recent movies that lack deep feeling: the new Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and The Duchess (for the most part but not as bad as the other two) are brought to mind. Maybe it’s the filmmakers themselves to prefer it, or maybe it’s what they expect the audience to enjoy, I don’t know. Personally, I would like to see more soul-wrenching emotion. (You know the 2006 mini series of Jane Eyre? Watch Ruth Wilson deliver Jane’s response to the proposal. I’m always impressed by it.) A story like Anna Karenina gives the actors the chance to portray intense emotion, and I didn’t see it here.

The movie is much dominated – more heavily at the beginning – by a theatre motif. Things happen as if in a stage set, which took me by surprise and, quite frankly, almost put me off the whole film. I’ve tried to piece together a reason for this strong motif, but as of yet have very little that would be backed up by textual evidence. Another recurring thing was the moving train and its wheels, which keeps appearing from time to time, as if it were chasing Anna. The ball scene would also be an interesting one to analyze, although I was much distracted by the weird waltz that was the first trigger for “ridiculous”.  I will probably end up buying the DVD and watching the movie again, just to be able to analyze it and rid myself of this annoying feeling of not understanding the theatre motif. If someone has seen the film and has thoughts, please share! I’m open to theories!

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complete disaster. The theatre business is rather pleasant particularly at the beginning, where the tone is still light and airy. There are great roles played: I don’t usually care much for Matthew Mcfadyen, but his Stiva was excellent. Ruth Wilson, Michelle Dockery, and Shirley Henderson were charming in their own parts and I took great delight in seeing them. I must also applaud Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander for their roles as Levin and Kitty, because they actually had me in tears. This leaves me, more or less, with the leading males, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnsson, who both did sound work. Jude Law’s Karenin was the only character I would have liked to show a little less emotion, though.

Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson as Kitty and Levin – my favourite couple!

The film also gets points for including two scenes I particularly enjoyed in the book: Levin making hay with the peasants (much less impressive in the film but included nonetheless), the horse race (obscurely situated in a theatre, perhaps because Anna’s behaviour there is under inquisitive eyes – I really must look into this thing), and Levin seeing Kitty again after a long separation (again, much better in the book but very beautiful in the film).

The ladies are judging you!

Although I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I would have liked to, this was an interesting cinema experience. If you’re going to go see it, don’t expect your usual period costume drama. It’s simply not constructed that way. Try to enjoy the strangeness of it – but I do recommend the book much more than I’d recommend the film.

Anna Karenina (2012)

Diretor: Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnsson, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Kelly Macdonald

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Movie Review: Dredd 3D

NB: I wrote this last night, straight when I got home. This morning it saw only slight editing, because I think I got it down pretty much as I like it. You’ll be happy to hear I cut some Karl Urban fangirling out!

It was with horrified disbelief that I received the news that Dredd wasn’t going to have a run in Finland. Yes. It’s unbelievable. There was supposed to be one show at the Night Visions festival, and that’s it. It was sold out in minutes. People were going to the theatre and asking them what they meant, not going to be there later on at all?

So they made the decision to have two more shows. Two. Tickets became available Tuesday morning.

My friend and I only got tickets thanks to an awesome friend of mine who reserved us tickets for Friday.

Because me, miss the chance to see Mr Karl Urban on the big screen? Pfft. Good one.

And holy –

I can’t think of a suitable word to continue that with. It was great. It was beautiful. It was awesome.

Here’s what IMDb says about the plot:

In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

I was expecting ass-kickery, yes, but not on this scale. It was very violent, yes, a little too violent for me, but still so very entrancing. No ammo was saved, no structure left standing when you could just blow it up. Sound effects made the floor tremble without the volume being deafening.

Karl Urban did great. When you’re supposed to be stone-faced and emotionless, I can only imagine how hard it is to build a character. He managed that. And he was funny, bless him. Olivia Thirlby, who played the trainee Anderson, was subtle and very decent. I really applaud the fact that Anderson’s special ability was used to maximum effect – sometimes it was maybe a little too convenient, but we’ll let that pass – without it becoming the point of the movie.

What is the point of the movie, then? I really can’t say. I suppose some sort of message could be dug out of it, but I’m not going to do that. This movie isn’t really about a message. It’s about entertainment made beautiful and, well, entertaining. It’s also very well sorted out in terms of length – any longer, and it would turn boring. As it is, it’s a good use of an hour and a half.

Those who have discussed films with me know perfectly well that I’m not happy with 3D. It’s not that I’m completely opposed to it; I just don’t think it works properly yet. But this experience really was positive. It’s hard to say whether it was the new 3D glasses the theatre had (lighter and better suited for us bespectacled folk) or whether the movie was just better made, but I think this one really benefitted from the 3D. Particularly the SLO-MO scenes, which I suspect were made by using that super slow motion camera (you have seen the Alan Rickman Epic Tea Time, right?), are extremely beautiful.

Let it be noted I just got back from the cinema, and my judgement (pun half intended) isn’t clearest at 2am. However, I can assure you this movie is well worth seeing, if you can handle skinned people and bullets piercing faces in slow motion, or gauging out of eyes. I just closed my eyes during those – sound effects are a sufficient cue.

His pouty face kept me giggling.

Before I go, I have to add that I absolutely loved the Clan Techie, played by Domhnall Gleeson. His eyes are so cool, and he’s an adorable little nerd.

Oh, and I also have to mention the lack of subtitles. For those who don’t know, in Finland movies are subtitled in both Finnish and Swedish. It was unbelievably good to enjoy a movie without them, as reading them is a reflex more than a need and it distracts me a great deal. And without them, you can see full frames, which is blissful.

Such a pity this won’t run for longer. I would have loved to recommend it to everyone and their grandmother.

Because it was actually rather beautiful.

Dredd 3D (2012)

Director: Pete Travis

Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey

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Movie Review – Game of Werewolves

This week there’s the Night Visions festival. As usual, I got tickets to see just one film, as they are all horror and I’m one of those people who doesn’t sleep for a week after a scary movie. Previously I’ve seen Kick-Ass and Sucker Punch at this very festival.

This year it was a little different. Lobos de Arga (Eng. Game of Werewolves, 2011) isn’t a big budget CGI and stunts galore. It’s a low budget, Spanish horror comedy. It’s about this guy Tomás (Gorka Otxoa) who goes back to the little village he was born in, invited by the villagers. He thinks he’ll have a good time, and maybe even write his second novel! But things aren’t exactly as he thought they would be. There’s a curse on the village he wasn’t aware of, and breaking it… Well.

It was so much fun. It’s not very scary, although the effects are surprisingly good. I was ever so sceptical after seeing the trailer (“Oh gods, what have I promised to go and watch?”) but I was pretty much solidly entertained throughout. The opening sequence was absolutely beautiful, and although it takes a minute for the movie to really pick up after it, it’s worth the wait. At times wandering in dark (or, now that I think about it, not so dark) places took a little too long and at least for me the tension didn’t quite last, but hey, that happened like what, twice?

I’d say it’s more fun with genre than an actual horror movie. I don’t get scared by werewolves in general (for some reason – I’m scared of just about everything else) so it’s a little hard to judge, but with a tight budget, the make-up and such can be only so good. I’m not saying they weren’t good! They were very adequate and a positive surprise.

And the music. So good. I noticed some in the audience actually dancing a little in their seats.

The director, Juan Martínez Moreno, was a special quest at the show, and both introduced the movie and answered questions afterwards. He was an awesome guy, very funny – he told us about how frustrating the dog they used in the movie was – and very humble and down to earth. He also had some soundtracks of the film with him, and handed them out to those who could correctly answer questions about werewolf films. I’m a little disappointed with myself, as I’d seen the movies but couldn’t for the life of me remember directors, script writers or even the main actors…

If you get the chance, go and see it! I promise you entertainment. I’d also like to see this movie supported more. It has gotten some prizes around Europe, but it could have more. I don’t mean it’s the best film I’ve seen all year (The Hobbit is still not out yet!) but it’s rare that I’m so thoroughly pleased and content afterwards.

If there’s a detail that bothered me, it’s that there was a full moon on two consecutive nights. I’m not all sure that can be. If I got it right, the moon wasn’t exactly the trigger, but it was there, and therefore I noticed it.

I didn’t find the trailer with English subtitles, so we’ll have to make do with the one where no one talks. Sorry about that.

Lobos de Arga (2011)

Director: Juan Martínez Moreno

Starring: Gorka Otxoa, Secun de la Rosa, Carlos Areces, Manuel Manquiña

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Movie Review: The Duchess

I was supposed to go and see The Duchess when it came out in 2008, but I never did. It was either because no-one wanted to go see it with me, or because I heard it wasn’t good – can’t remember which, but I think it was a reason along those lines. So now I just suddenly decided to get it from the library, park onto my bed, and finally watch it. “For the dresses,” I told myself.

The fact is, marriage in the 18th century is an interesting business. Men want heirs, women stability and security in life. The time period the movie is located in (Georgiana Spencer married Duke of Devonshire in 1774) is not as familiar to me as the Regency period, but the facts of family life were much the same way forty years later. It was also refreshing not to have to get myself upset over small details.

So in this film the young, newly wed Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightly) discovers her marriage isn’t quite what she expected it to be. Her husband the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) sleeps with pretty much whomever he wants, and the wife is merely the means of begetting an heir. Their marriage goes all the more down hill when it looks like Georgiana can’t produce a male child. There are some rather shocking twists, if you tend to slip into the time period like I do, but I’m not going to reveal them here – they won’t be as shocking if you know of them beforehand.

While watching I kept thinking of why people have said the movie isn’t good, and found that it’s actually rather plain to see. It’s silly, if you know anything about history. It’s sort of patronising. It’s too modern, somehow. I don’t doubt that Georgiana really had some rather modern thoughts on gender equality and the status of women in the society, as that kind of people tend to be remembered. However, the way her attitudes and opinions are brought to the screen is childish. She’s gobsmacked when she sees a naked maid run from her husband’s bedchamber; she gasps in disbelief when she finds out her friend’s husband beats her. Granted, she is seventeen, and to do the filmmakers credit she really grows up towards the end, but mostly seems to act like a child.

Although I found the curious marriage and the character of Georgiana to be the most interesting part, I suppose I cannot write about this movie without pointing out that there is a loved one in her life besides her children. The man who has the Duchess’s heart is member of the Whig party and, later in his life, Prime Minister Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). Their affair is built from the very beginning and carries on through the movie. It seems very cliché and lukewarm to me, although Grey does make a wonderful plea towards the end of the movie, for which I applaud the screenwriter, the director and Cooper.

As I said, for those who like history, this movie might look very naïve. But, if you can look past the annoying gasps and incredulity at the facts of 18th century life, it is watchable and, to some degree, even enjoyable. And hey, it includes scenes where Ralph Fiennes is awkward! That, I thought, was quite something worth seeing.

And the costumes are beautiful. The film won the Academy Award for both costume design and art direction, so it’s at least visually very nice.

I’m eager to read a biography of the Duchess of Devonshire now, if only to find out whether she was really as coddled as a teenager as the film lets the viewer believe.

The Duchess (2008)

Director: Saul Dibb

Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, Charlotte Rampling

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Movie Review: Vanity Fair

Okay, so I finished Thackeray’s Vanity Fair today. It was delicious, although, even more so than with Middlemarch, having to read it so quickly wasn’t exactly a good thing. But I’m already looking eagerly towards the probably-happening-very-soon reread!

Now, I wasn’t going to watch the movie until I’d written my paper (i.e. sometime in April), but after reading the book I came to the conclusion that there’s just so much into it that the movie has to be vastly different.

Actually, it wasn’t. I found it surprisingly faithful to the book, though naturally it takes some liberties with characterisation and offers interpretations of things Thackeray only alludes to. My main qualm was that they were trying to make Becky (Reese Witherspoon) look nice personality-wise, and frankly, I don’t think she’s that at all. Other characters I liked – amazing Romola Garai as Amelia, Geraldine McEwan as Lady Southdown, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Bareacres… Just splendid. And Douglas Hodge was absolutely spot on as Mr Pitt Crawley! He had me in stitches, he did!

You will notice that list didn’t include any of the leading men in the movie. Well. That’s because one of the things that make this movie so attractive to me is the gods-damned uniforms. Uniforms everywhere! And the three leading men – Jonathan Rhys Meyers as George Osborne, Rhys Ifans as William Dobbin, and James Purefoy as Rawdon Crawley – know how to carry them. But they do more than look nice. Rhys Meyers does haughty like I’ve seen no one else do it. Ifans is so in love it broke my poor heart on several occasions. And Purefoy managed to make Rawdon so well rounded that I even began to like the character. Only thing I wish is that someone would teach Mr Purefoy to ride, as his skills in the noble sport made him look embarrassing rather than dashing.

There are some little details that bugged me. Some costumes didn’t exactly look Regency. A general off-ness in some scenes. But most of all, Lady Richmond’s ball. The movie places it on June 17th 1815. However, said ball was held on June 15th, just on the brink of Waterloo. (You can find this famous ball on Wikipedia, if you want to read contemporary descriptions or glance at the guest list.)

I can only recommend the movie. It’s slightly on the long side with 139 minutes, but it’s captivating and very pleasing to the eye. Hard to say how it works without having read the book, but I’d say it’s not hard to follow.

Although I do warmly recommend the book as well.

Vanity Fair (2004)

Director: Mira Nair

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Romola Garai, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Rhys Ifans, James Purefoy, Gabriel Byrne

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Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Actually, I saw this movie a week ago. Err. The fact that I’m managing a review only now should tell a lot.

It wasn’t a bad movie. I was dead tired and it was a morning show, and I was afraid I’d fall asleep. I didn’t. It was kind of cool. However, compared to the previous movies in the series, I’d place it between Batman Begins (which I didn’t like much) and The Dark Knight (which was awesome). It probed Mr Wayne’s head a lot without boring the audience to tears and keeping the action intact.

Probably the most-talked new character was Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, who, in retrospect, was a rather unnecessary character and pretty much the token awesome woman. I liked the bits where she went thieving and fighting, and the goggles were brilliant, but in general there was little interest in her.

There was just too much in this movie. Too many characters, too many sub-plots, too much rambling. Hardy’s Bane was mostly hilarious (my friend was of the opinion that Hardy was wasted in the role because you can’t see his face except for about a couple of seconds), although I did like the character, and even more when we come towards the end.

Oh the twist. The twist. Wasn’t expecting that. Gods. That made the movie for me.

I suppose you could go see it. The movie benefits of a big screen and booming sound effects. (Am I getting old, or was did Tennispalatsi just have the sounds on really loud?) And it got a few tears.

Oh, and props for Joseph Gordon-Levitt! He did very well! I watched a whole lot of 3rd Rock From the Sun when I was little, and it keeps baffling me how little Tommy has grown up and gotten to be such a good actor.

So yes. A kind of a messy ending to the trilogy. Impressive-looking, but don’t expect too much.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Michael Cane

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Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

One of the most anticipated films of this summer has been the second Snow White film this year, Snow White and the Huntsman. I went to see it.

Snow White and the Huntsman has a nice, epic-y fantasy twist to it. There’s impressive magic, good actors, and complications enough. All this is nicely balanced, so the two hours ten minutes doesn’t feel too long. The actors do a good job, even Kristen Stewart, of whom I was very suspicious (we learn here that no one should be judged based on Twilight, except maybe Mrs Meyer). It’s visually very impressive, and the costumes are wonderful (they are done by Colleen Atwood, so no wonder). The colours are not very bright, which usually appeals to me, but these darker shades work for me very well anyway.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought I detected lots of references to other films. There were several shots that were reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the stag in the woods – you’ll know the scene when you see it – brought to mind Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The evil queen also has a brother, both of them fair-haired, and my mind instantly jumped to Cersei and Jaime from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Then again, my friend said he didn’t see any of these things in the film, so it might have been just my head working overtime. In any case it doesn’t disturb the movie in the least, and I think it was good to see it. I sort of question the title though – the Huntsman is a much smaller part of the story than it implies and there would have been more surprises if the title had been different. More important than the Huntsman is the fight for justice and good, although admittedly those make a lot less attractive title; Snow White and the Bad Queen is a boring and used title, although it would be more descriptive.

Go see it! It’s a good fairytale for the ones of us who are either too embarrassed to go with the regular versions or just wish to get some fantasy into their system. I don’t think I’ll watch this again very soon, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Well, alright, two things that bothered me: religion, as I don’t like my fantasy mixed with real religion and even less when it’s for no apparent reason, and that there really was nothing funny. I’m not sayin there should be something funny in every film, but when you can see the jokes and don’t laugh and realise that no one else is laughing either there’s something wrong.

But it’s still good entertainment. And you can play actor spotting!

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Director: Rupert Sanders

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell

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