Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mini-Reviews: Anna Karenina, Holy Motors & Killing Them Softly (2012)


Anna Karenina (2012)

Gorgeous, but 'meh'.

Directed by Joe Wright
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster
Written by Tom Stoppard (script); Leo Tolstoy (novel)
Starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, and Emily Watson

***

In this adaptation from Leo Tolstoy's famous novel, an aristocrat (Knightley) begins an affair with a young Count (Taylor-Johnson), resulting in the chagrin of and persecution from her husband (Law).

Wright and Knightley make a good team, previously collaborating on Atonement and Pride and Prejudice. Both of those films are beautifully made and boast fine performances from the Oscar-nominated actress. Karenina, on the other hand, is neither her nor Wright's finest hour. A legendary novel set in 1800s Russia sets the stage for a lavish production with heartwrenching drama. Unfortunately, this film succeeds greatly on the former and fails admirably on the latter. While everything looks superb, the story comes across as distant and dull. I loved what I saw on screen, but I was never invested in these characters. Though the cast and crew should be commended, I was disappointed with the disconnect I experienced. However, I can slightly recommend it for its technical achievements, not to mention the fact that you might find it a more engaging film than I did.

Oscar Potential: Best Actress, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Holy Motors (2012)

Lavant gives a phenomenal performance.

Directed by Leos Carax
Produced by Martine Marignac, Albert Prevost, and Maurice Tinchant
Written by Leos Carax
Starring Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Michel Piccoli, and Jeanne Disson

****

Monsieur Oscar (Lavant) is paid to role-play. Or is he? This follows him for a day, as he performs these roles for the unknown viewership that is watching.

Carax has been out of the filmmaking loop for a while, and he's back with a phenomenal, if divisive, film. Told in an episodic format, this film is free to experiment, which it, of course, does at every opportunity. It's a bizarre, moving, and mysterious film that features Denis Lavant in one of the best leading male performances of all time. He plays every role with such conviction, and he simply blew me away. The cinematography is worth mentioning, but the real star here (apart from Lavant) is the fantastic use of makeup. Not unlike Cloud Atlas, this is a film that thrives on the wonderful - well, memorable at the very least - moments the viewer experiences. There are scenes here that will stay with me forever. Whether you like (or will like) this film or not, it definitely leaves an impression, and must be seen to be believed. Consider this a restrained, spoiler-free rave for one of the year's best films.

Oscar Potential: Best Original Song ("Who Were We?"), Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Jackie (Pitt) and Frankie (McNairy)

Directed by Andrew Dominik
Produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz, and Anthony Katagas
Written by Andrew Dominik (script); George V. Higgins (novel)
Starring Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Sam Shepard

***1/2

A card game robbery gone right causes unrest in the local criminal world, leaving Jackie Cogan (Pitt) to clean up the mess.

I genuinely cannot wrap my thoughts around this film, which I will certainly revisit as soon as possible. There's a lot of dialogue, and the film manages to be quiet one moment and in your face the next. Moments of brutality are drowned out with endless scenes of character-driven conversation, some of which work better than others. Brad Pitt may be the name about the title, but several of the other cast members, especially Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Ray Liotta, steal the show. These violent, twisted, and disillusioned characters will determine how much you like this film. If you don't want to spend time with them, you'll probably be disappointed. I enjoyed most of their interactions, yet the film is no paragon of pacing. Maybe it's the crisp style that made the film drag after the first hour, as it eventually looses steam. What starts as a low-key marvel ends as a daring, somewhat uneven, work from Andrew Dominik and company. Regardless, I was impressed overall.

Oscar Potential: None

10 comments:

  1. Great post! I'll watch Anna Karenina just for Emily Watson, who's one of my favorite actresses, and because of my love of the novel. It sounds like Holy Motors is a must-see just for Lavant's performance. I'm still on the fence about Killing Me Softly.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, Holy Motors is worth a look, at least for his performance. Don't know what you'd think of Killing Them Softly, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

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  2. I really want to see all three of those, I heard Anna Karenina is definitely style over substance which is why I'm waiting for DVD - it's such a great novel, what a shame Wright didn't capture the magic of the characters on screen.

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    1. I will see it again at some point, but I was very disappointed on a first viewing.

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  3. Ha - "Gorgeous but meh" was pretty much my exact reaction to Anna Karenina. I'm really torn on Holy Motors. It seems like there's no middle ground for it. Either people love it, or they absolutely hate it.

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    1. Holy Motors is one of those films for sure.

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  4. Great brief reviews here. We're nearly in full agreement, although I liked Anna slightly less and Softly slightly more. But either way, Holy Motors rooooocked.

    I too can't wait to see Softly again.

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    1. Thanks man. It's a weak 3 stars for Anna, but I do want to see the film again when it comes out on DVD.

      HOLY. MOTORS. Awesome film.

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  5. Great brief reviews here. Only seen Anna out of those three and I enjoyed it, the production design and costumes were amazing.

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    1. Thanks. Yeah, they were fantastic.

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