Tag Archives: period movies

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: Season Of The Witch

by Dan Fields
First published January 08, 2011 by the California Literary Review

Bored At The Stake

There are many different ways to go when making a film about knights, witches, pestilence, the Middle Ages and so on. Make Witchfinder General, or The Seventh Seal, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Do not, however, make a dull, half-assed period adventure disguised by its ad campaign as a horror film.

Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play two of the most legendary knights of the Crusades (apparently), who nonetheless grow disillusioned and desert the conquest of the Moors. Cage’s epiphany comes after inadvertently slaying a civilian in the heat of battle, which apparently he has never done before despite his unmatched prowess as a warrior. On the way home, they find themselves entangled in a quest to transport a suspected witch to a hidden monastery where she may stand trial for causing a widespread plague… blah blah blah. This is a perfectly good premise for dealing out some cheap scares, maybe a few grim laughs, and plenty of spooky atmosphere. Unfortunately, all three of these are in painfully short supply. For all its delightful B-horror potential, Season Of The Witch is a total snoozer.
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