May 22, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 06 December 2012 12:23
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie - new or classic - to help you choose what to watch. This week’s pick is the new film version of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Every movie creates a world of its own within the first moments on screen. From the initial sights and sounds, starting with the opening credits, a film sets the rules for the experience it will offer. How effectively it evolves will depend, in large part, on how the film delivers its world and if that point of view makes sense for the material.
The daring interpretation of the Leo Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina creates an unusual frame for its classic drama. Rather than prepare us for the inevitable tragedy of the story, or move us with complex characters, director Joe Wright and writer Tom Stoppard choose to stage the story in an exaggerated, theatrical manner that emphasizes the superficiality of the narrative. They bypass a literal approach to the work in favor of creating an artificial world in which they appear to choreograph much of the movement. And, within this fabricated world, they try to tell a heartbreaking story.
What may have creatively appealed to the filmmakers results in a movie as confused as its heroine. Everyone in front of the camera looks uncomfortable in their surroundings as if trying, with each line and movement, to embed some truth in the theatrics. But the performers fight a losing battle in a film that chooses a framework that has nothing to do with the story. If Tolstoy intended Anna Karenina to inspire us to look within ourselves for the reasons we judge, the film merely encourages us to judge a book by its distracting cover.
Anna is a young mother in 19th Century Russia who must live with the consequences of having an affair outside her marriage. On the page, Tolstoy used this situation to study how the social mores of a period may influence how people confront truth. On the screen, Wright’s decision to emphasize theatrics undermines the authenticity of the relationships. The director makes it almost impossible to identify with any of the characters, beyond the costumes they wear, as he sacrifices the film’s literary integrity for the sake of the visual experience. And he fails to sustain the theatrical world by staging key scenes, later in the film, in realistic settings.
The artificial approach influences the actors’ performances. Keira Knightly, a lovely actress of limited range, repeats the inflections and expressions she uses in every film. Because she never lets us see into Anna’s heart, we are less willing to sympathize with the character’s situation. Jude Law tries to inject life into his portrayal of her husband, Karenin, but doesn’t get the chance to detail the character’s evolution. And Aaron Taylor-Johnson is too young to make Vronsky believable. He appears to portray a teenager with a crush who may be the talk of the high school cafeteria instead of a man who uses love as a social weapon.
Visually, Sarah Greenwood’s theatrical sets bring Wright’s vision to life but clash with the emotional core of the novel. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes are typical of a period movie while the interesting music score by Dario Marianelli actually helps connect the images. None of these elements, however, can fix the creative choices that Wright and Stoppard make. They don’t make it easy for us to figure out what they are thinking.
* Content: Medium. Anyone who has savored the Tolstoy novel may wish that director Joe Wright and writer Tom Stoppard had opted for a more literal adaptation.
* Entertainment: Medium. The choices of Wright and Stoppard create a film that is visually distinctive without making sense for the story it tries to tell.
* Message: Low. The confused approach to the film weakens any opportunity for Tolstoy’s point of view to reach the screen.
* Relevance: Low. Had Wright and Stoppard trusted the essence of the material they could have created a powerful entertainment.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Low. Fans of the novel may have a lot to talk about. Others may wonder about the film.
Anna Karenina is rated R for “sexuality and violence.” The film runs 129 minutes.
2 Popcorn Buckets
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve: You want to savor something you will enjoy at the same time you nourish the mind, heart and body. Here are three nutritional movies available this week on cable and online for you and your family.
Friday, Dec. 7, marks the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor that immediately led to American declaring war. Two films showing on Turner Classic Movies recreate the impact of this defining moment.
Tora Tora Tora details the days leading up to the attack from both the American and Japanese points of view. With the scope of a documentary, the film suggests that simple misunderstandings and sloppy miscommunications may have led to an incident that changed the world’s history. And, once the bombing begins, the film helps us appreciate the depth of devastation of that day. This focus on the facts, however, leaves little time to explore the characters, leaving us with a lot of information but little insight into the people behind the events. But it does remain the most satisfying documentation of the event that, in recent years, was converted into the romantic illusions of Pearl Harbor. Look for Tora Tora Tora on TCM at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The personal side of Pearl Harbor comes to life in the Oscar-winning film adaptation of the sprawling James Jones novel From Here to Eternity. This script by screenwriter Daniel Taradash strengthens the narrative of the original work while retaining its edgy qualities. While the production code of 1953 limits how director Fred Zinneman can tell the story, he achieves more in suggestion than many contemporary directors achieve with more explicit approaches. The performances are breathtaking. Montgomery Clift and Donna Reed are heartbreaking as doomed lovers overwhelmed by the events of the moment; Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are equally moving as their more cynical counterparts. In his Oscar-winning role, Frank Sinatra who creates a fascinating portrayal of a soldier who believes the system will support him only to discover the weakness in the ranks. From Here to Eternity airs on TCM on Saturday at 3:15 p.m.
The joys of the holiday season come to life in the favorite fantasy Miracle on 34th Street airing on American Movie Classics. The lovely Natalie Wood creates a warm portrayal of a child with a simple question: does Santa Claus actually exist? Her mother, a department store executive, resists anything sentimental in life; an old man with a long white beard suggests that, perhaps, there may be something to this whole idea after all. With Maureen O’Hara and Edmund Gwenn, Miracle tells its story with energy and focus that make it easy to absorb. Look for this classic on AMC on Sunday, December 8, at 10:15 a.m.
Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.
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