24 December 2012

Reviews: Hitchcock and Anna Karenina

Since I had the pleasure of seeing these two films in a double feature this past week, I thought both for the sake of consistency with my viewing and for the fun of linkage that I'd review them here together, in a single post.


Genre: Comedy

Mr. Elfman's score says it all really: a jaunty, at times charming little piece that, despite heavily using the metaphor of a pool, fails to dive deep into the interpersonal dynamics of action on screen. Note that I categorized this film as a "Comedy" above, but also that I don't believe by reflecting on its screenplay that it was meant to be a comedy outright. In this note is really the whole of my review; the tone of the piece is so often wrong, playing on the side of the light rather than on the side of the dark and filtering intimate hard interactions through a winking lens of late '50s' Hollywood-style perfection. By diving despite this strange tide white-washing everything, Dame Mirren is the soul right in this film (though, it must be said, Mr. D'Arcy gives a spot-on supporting performance of Anthony Perkins). Her performance is graceful and complex, while her on-screen husband played by Mr. Hopkins is surprisingly unidimensional. Part of this discredit is certainly due to the errors of the screenwriter, Mr. McLaughlin, but the major part I think lies in Mr. Hopkins' hands. One cannot rely on the brightness of a young actress like Scarlet Johansson to paint by chiaroscuro the lines and hues of one's own role for oneself. There should have been more to Hitchcock than this....

Grade: B-.

Anna Karenina
Genre: Drama

It must be so disappointing for Ms. Knightley, to no longer blush like the first flower on the vine for one of Mr. Wright's films. Though not quite old enough to play this film's eponym, she is also not quite as young as she used to be; the vibrant youth that characterized her wonderful portrait of Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice, directed by Wright in 2005) is all too absent from this latest role as the now classic Russian dramatic protagoniste. Rather, she flops, limpid and labile, feigning stunted versions of the true amplitudes of emotion and determination that the role is meant to embody. Mr. Law at her side, too unfortunately, is commensurately disappointing, flabby and staid. Indeed, only really Ms. Williams as the Countess Vronsky ever snapped my attentiveness to the screen - "snapped" indeed, for it was clear that thus Mr. Stoppard's lines were meant to be read, punctuating staccato the elegant choreography of the actors and sets preset by Mr. Wright. Truly, he stumbled upon some efficient machineries for delicately, appropriately shifting through the many scenes of the tale from which this film is adapted. So, unlike in Pride & Prejudice, here his best work is rather not in channeling the talents of his actors than in assembling those talents and their environs into lyrically contiguous tableaux vivants especially within the physically constrained domains of a single theatre. This achievement, however, was not perfect; he and his editrix missed some few (to my count) easy improvements in cutting together the series. For example, in an relatively early scene, a gunshot is fired after we as the audience are shown an establishment shot of a misty lake. This shot countermands the abruptness of the shift from the previous scene, by installing serenity after volatility and thereby making a rather underwhelming or even inconsummate climax to the preceding emotion. By having reördered the events here, so that the gunshot caps the emotion of the previous scene and the establishment shot reorients the audience after the brief scene into which it's been already transitioned, the ebb and flow of the piece would have been made more consistent within itself (as other instances of such punctuation were common throughout the rest of the film) and more impactful as an audio-visual narrative than it was. This type of improvement could have vastly elevated the grade of this film from interesting and beautiful - plaudits to costumer Ms. Durran - to captivating and elegiac.

Grade: B+.

18 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Genre: Drama (Epic)

There is little that I have to say about this first chapter of the prequel before The Lord of the Rings series (2001-3). While entertaining, its being filled with purposefully active excerpts from other sources, like The Simarillion (Tolkien, 1977), punctuated the beauty of the dramatic sweep run by the earlier series and slotted the heart spoon of the directed machinery to let pass through the true roots of fraternitas, gravitas, and caritas that make the soup-stew of a legatic tale powerful, zesty, and ultimately digestible. Technology is pleasing but shifting and unstable. Narrative is the only sure thread. Weaving without it is missing; weaving without it is the verisimilitude of this branch of filmmaking. Action minus intention is impotence - handsome impotence but impotence still. Impressive fashion is pheasantry. Search the woodlands. Radagast was there.

Grade: C+

10 December 2012

Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Mr. Cooper's work here is nothing short of astounding. Complemented by Messrs. Cassidy and Struthers' excellent pacing, the acting picks up momentum in fits and starts as well as possesses this uncanny evenness that is redolent of the ideal realization of the character as adapted by Mr. Russell. Truly, Mr. Cooper here is at his finest as ever and now retroactively may be worthy of having already appeared on Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio. Perhaps it was working with the experienced Mr. DeNiro, here also surprisingly delivering a compellingly whole character after a series of fragmented caricatures like the oft cited Jack Byrnes from the execrable Meet the [x] series, in not only this film but also their previous Limitless (2011), that helped refine Mr. Cooper's craft to the extent that it achieved the nuanced complexity of a truly leading man. Perhaps otherwise it was simply the fullness of time. Whatever the reason, I applaud Mr. Cooper and, though I find it hard still to hold him against the apparently indomitable Mr. Day-Lewis this year, I have now serious hopes for his future roles.
Ms. Lawrence too does well. However, her acting style is markedly different from Mr. Cooper's here. Whereas he clearly digs into the piece and works his character from its natural core, Ms. Lawrence has blueprinted her schema and works her character from a control room - technically en pointe but still once removed. I wanted to believe her more strongly than I did, as strongly as I believed him in the subtleties of his gestures and furrows and frowns, but I could not do so. Truly she was fine, acting at a level well above the standard set this year by the average leading lady. However, in comparison with Mr. Cooper and Mr. DeNiro - not to mention Ms. Streep already in her category - she had only technical finesse where she should have had original emotion. Though not in her category, Ms. Field in Lincoln too possessed this shyness from acuity in her own performance; yet there, for the tenor of the piece, the shyness worked. With Mr. Russell's patently far less staid film, the shyness doesn't cohere.
As for Mr. Russell himself, this work is far and away an improvement on narrating through a particular subculture akin to that of his last film, The Fighter (2010). Here he successfully found the thread of this story and stripped away all the extraneous fibers that otherwise could have bound and confused it within a thicker pattern of ideas, as there did occur in The Fighter. Here he thus has a focus and a chemistry that together matched direction and dynamics to crackle, waver, and flare with hypnotic passion like the first good fire in a new hearth. Making so many solid choices, he nourished the potential of his own adapted screenplay and enabled it to be a simple but not simplistic, readable but not risible, engaging but not contentious meditation of how people make sense of the sequences of events that they observe in their lives while they are still participating in continuing those sequences (hopefully) to desired ends. As Mr. Spielberg did well in Lincoln, Mr. Russell does well here; the little everyday affections complement the aspired notion with thorough personality, entrenched deeply and intricately in others.

Grade: A-, charming.