Thursday, February 25, 2016

Anna Karenina (2012)

Year 8, Day 56 - 2/25/16 - Movie #2,257

BEFORE:  Domhnall Gleeson carries over from "About Time", and several actors from "Pride & Prejudice" return - it's clear I had this one next to "P&P" for that reason, and I was able to shoehorn the time-travel / romance film in-between.  But I'm back into book report territory tonight, so get out your notebooks, kids. 

I've got a cold coming on, which doesn't surprise me since there have been people with colds at both of my jobs, and at home, so I don't know where I got it, but I got it.  I'm going to try and muddle through and not skip a day, so I can finish the February chain on time. 

Here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up with linkings for tomorrow, February 26:

Deborah Kerr carries over from "The Night of the Iguana" to:
"King Solomon's Mines" with Richard Carlson carrying over to:
"The Young in Heart" with Lucile Watson carrying over to:
"Waterloo Bridge" with Robert Taylor carrying over to:
"Knights of the Round Table" with Mel Ferrer carrying over to:
"Lili" with Jean-Pierre Aumont carrying over to:
"Day for Night" with Francois Truffaut carrying over to:
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" with Teri Garr carrying over to:
"Young Frankenstein" with Peter Boyle carrying over to:
"The Candidate" with Melvyn Douglas carrying over to:
"Ninotchka" with Felix Bressart carrying over to:
"Bitter Sweet" with Nelson Eddy carrying over to:

I've seen another three of these: "Close Encounters", "Young Frankenstein" and "The Candidate", bringing my totals to 92 films seen, 205 unseen, and 6 added to the list.  It's a weird mix of sci-fi, comedy and politics tomorrow, but "Ninotchka" and "Balalaika" sound like Russian films, so TCM and I seem to sort of be on the same page, once again.

THE PLOT:  In late-19th-century Russian high society, St. Petersburg aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the dashing Count Alexei Vronsky.

AFTER: I know a little bit about the way Russian names work, thanks to reading X-Men comics.  The man's middle name is usually a variation on his father's name, and when women get married, they adopt a variation on their husband's name.  So the former Anna Oblonsky married Count Karenin, and thus became Anna Karenina, right?  So her brother is Stephan Oblonsky, and his wife is Darya ("Dolly") Oblonskaya.  Anna's lover is Vronsky, which oddly rhymes with her maiden name of Oblonsky, but his mother is the Countess Vronskaya.  Then we've got the Ivanovas, the Petriskys and the Shcherbatskys.  Geez, that's a lot of names to keep track of.   

But when I heard "Vronsky", I kept thinking of the Mel Brooks film "To Be or Not To Be", where he played Frederick Bronski, and his wife was Anna Bronski, then there were other characters named Sobinski and Siletski, and everything got really confusing, but at least it was in a comedic way.  

I grew up during the 1970's and 80's, being led to believe that the Soviet Union was "The Evil Empire", but this is set before the Bolshevik Revolution, before Communism took hold, so there was still this sort of aristocratic level of society, here it's contrasted with the lower-level agrarian society, but it's important to remember that it existed.  Just like in "Doctor Zhivago", the upper crust always seems to have another house that they can go to, I guess having a summer house outside Moscow was a thing, much like people in the U.S. have little cabins in upstate New York or Maine where they can go during fishing season or skiing season.  

But this is all still very soap-opera like, dealing with affairs of the heart among rich people, which may be interesting to some, but off-putting to others.  Maybe you want to fantasize about the high-society people who go to the opera and fancy balls, but don't you also just love to hate them?  And what do they know about love, anyway, carrying on with their affairs, having children born out of wedlock and arguing over whether they should get divorced, and who gets custody of the kid.  Hey, these rich types may seem like they've got it all together, but nothing could be further from the truth.  

I admit I don't know much about Tolstoy, but since he covered a lot of the same territory as we saw in "Pride & Prejudice", I'm just going to regard him as the male Jane Austen.  Oh, there's stuff here about farming and politics, but really it's about the torrid affairs and the romances among the elite.  It's sort of like when boys play with dolls, but they're called "action figures" instead.

There were some very weird stagings of scenes here, like the director just didn't want to film things straight, but wanted to monkey around just a bit with special effects.  But just a little dash of FX makes them seem out of place somehow, and I'm not sure what the point was of making things look like a stage production, since I don't think the novel "Anna Karenina" was famous for being performed on stage.  Are we supposed to feel that "All the world's a stage?"  OK, but that's Shakespeare's point, not Tolstoy.  It's like someone was showing off - look, we can make it appear that all of these actors are frozen solid, as if they're all props, and when Anna walks past them all, they come to life.  Isn't that COOL?  Well, no, in fact it's rather pointless.  The end result was as if Baz Luhrmann directed a film with art direction by Wes Anderson, but with no added narrative value from those staging tricks.

ASIDE: Ah, I see by reading the trivia page that most of this movie was shot in a rundown theater, so it seems they wanted to make the best use of that by making it quite clear that everything was shot in a rundown theater.  So much for the art of illusion.  This appears to be a conscious decision, allowing some characters to walk between doors to other settings that were not connected in the fictional world, it's an interesting idea, but ultimately it brings nothing to enhance the plot of "Anna Karenina".  If you want to see tricks like this used better, just watch "Birdman" again.

Once again, I found the dialogue very hard to understand - and it wasn't because of some difficult Russian accents, because most of the actors here had British accents.  You know, because they're British.  Maybe it's just Keira Knightley that's hard for me to understand, it was mostly her lines in "Pride & Prejudice" that I had to rewind several times to hear.  I think her decision to have her jaw wired shut a few years ago isn't going to help her acting career very much.  I know she's playing nobility here, but jeez, unclench a little...  

I just can't believe that the same actor who played Vronksy was also the lead in the movie "Kick-Ass" and played Quicksilver in the 2nd Avengers film.  AND he played the young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy", that just doesn't seem possible.

Also starring Keira Knightley (last seen in "Pride & Prejudice"), Matthew Macfadyen (ditto), Jude Law (last seen in "The Holiday"), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Olivia Williams (last seen in "Hyde Park on Hudson"), Kelly Macdonald (last heard in "Brave"), Alicia Vikander (last seen in "The Fifth Estate"), Emily Watson (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Shirley Henderson (last seen in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), Pip Torrens (also last seen in "Pride & Prejudice"), Susanne Lothar, Alexandra Roach (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), Luke Newberry, Ruth Wilson (last seen in "Saving Mr. Banks"), Michelle Dockery (last seen in "Non-Stop").

RATING: 4 out of 10 love letters

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