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Movie Review: Anna Karenina

by Dan Fields
First published November 23, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Double Icing On Half A Cake

Joe Wright established himself practically overnight as a strong force in period drama based on popular books. He wowed with the relentlessly dour Atonement and then soared with a superb riff on Pride and Prejudice. Couple these efforts with the spunky, bizarro thriller Hanna and you should have no trouble seeing that Wright is a filmmaker both exuberant and offbeat.

His Anna Karenina, based on Leo Tolstoy’s monumentally acclaimed novel, is a parade of elegant design and intricate staging. It is not difficult to guess which Academy Award nominations its makers have in mind. By enclosing the cultural volatility of 19th-century cosmopolitan Russia in an ever-shifting magic lantern, those responsible get to show off and share some cutting insights on the artifice and deception required to sustain imperial high society.

Wright sets the epic tragedy of Anna, a fallen woman if ever there was one, almost entirely within a spacious theatre hall, with the main action unfolding on an impossibly marvelous series of collapsing and interlocking sets. The wings and backstage area become private places of intrigue and the catwalks above serve as sordid back alleys. There are trains and horse races and all the bustle of Moscow and St. Petersburg contained behind a single curtain. The complexity and perpetual motion of this living stage is nothing short of stunning.

The hard truth, impossible to dodge, is that this is not Tolstoy’s world. It is more like Hugo Cabret’s world, and from time to time it even flirts perilously with becoming Baz Luhrmann’s world. Tom Stoppard’s script, though consistently bright and entertaining, abridges the story painfully to fit the stylish construct. Anna Karenina may be the title character, but she need not be the sole focus of the plot. The supporting figures in her life lend important dramatic context to her abasement. Continue reading

Movie Review: Brave

by Dan Fields
First published June 23, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Och Aye! A Bonny Wee Fable

Disney and Pixar have taken an unexpected turn by going more classic than usual, but still with a few new quirks. The arrival of Brave prompts reflection on how rarely their films have featured normal human characters, and how few of those characters have been girls. In addition, the movie has a central theme that is fairly novel even in the long history of Disney – a strong mother-daughter relationship, in which the mother is neither a tragic memory or of the “evil step-” persuasion.

Kelly Macdonald leads the cast of Brave as Merida, a headstrong princess of the Scottish Highlands. She is the firstborn and only daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Raised among the wild heather and misty mountains, she has a deeply romantic soul. This is not your typical Disney princess rendition of romance. In fact, it has no essential connection to losing one’s heart to a prince. Adventure is Merida’s first love, and above all she longs for the freedom to determine her own fate. Continue reading