Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina

Thanks to my friend Julian who told me about the trailer via Twitter, I had forgotten that I was going to do a spotlight post on this film when I first picked up the novel. I still have not finished the Leo Tolstoy masterpiece, still stuck at about the halfway mark. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish it, it’s really quite a heavy book about Russian aristocratic society on top of the obvious tragic love story, but watching the trailer actually makes me think I shouldn’t give up on it, yet.

Before I get into the casting and overall thoughts on this adaptation, first check out the poster and the trailer below:

CASTING

Firstly, let me confess that I’m not exactly sold on Keira Knightley‘s casting. The trailer doesn’t exactly change my mind. In fact, I’m already bored looking at her here, I don’t know if I can watch two hours of her being gloom and doom, suffering in the name of love.

I wasn’t sure who I’d rather see in her place, but now I think perhaps Mélanie Laurent, the French actress who was in Inglourious Basterds and most recently in Beginners. She actually look like she could be Russian and she has that melancholy yet mysterious look about her. Plus she’s not as well-known as the pouty-mouthed Keira, which would’ve made it fresher. Alas, Joe Wright apparently loves working with the English actress, this will mark his third project with Knightley after Pride & Prejudice and Atonement.

Now, the casting of Aaron Johnson piqued my interest, he’s wowed me in a couple of things he’s done, particularly as young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy. At only 22, there’s something so sensual about this young man, such virility and vigor. But there’s also restlessness and unworldliness that he seems to be able to inhabit as Vronsky, which as you know in the book would lead to the downfall of their torrid romance. Not sure he pulls off the mustache look though, I’m just not fond of it and I find it quite distracting. Funny how reading it in the book is quite different than seeing the character on screen. I almost wish Wright would take creative liberty and forgo the mustache on Vronsky, I mean he’s taking a bunch of creative license on the story anyhow.

Now on to the wronged husband Alexei Karenin. In the book he’s described as not being much to look at, so initially I was baffled at Jude Law‘s casting. I mean he’s as far away from ‘ugly’ as you can get, in fact he’s perhaps one of the most beautiful man in the world, so props for the make-up people to actually make him look unattractive enough.

Interesting to see Keira’s Mr. Darcy, Matthew MacFadyen appearing as Anna’s brother, Oblonsky. Other notable British cast include Emily Watson, Olivia Williams and up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan’s son) as Levin, whose story parallel Anna’s in the book.

STORY

Anna Karenina is the quintessential doomed love story. A married woman falls in love with a dashing and wealthy calvary officer and must pay the price of being shunned by society for her actions.

What I find complex about the book is the double plot, as I mentioned above, the story of Anna & Vronsky and that of Constantin Levin. Naturally the film will focus more on Anna’s crumbling marriage and infidelity, so in a way it’s a simplification but digestible version of Tolstoy’s epic Russian saga. What I love about it is the rich characters and how Tolstoy create such complex and nuanced characters, there’s no simple hero/heroine or villain. In fact, Anna is a deeply flawed protagonist, at times it’s hard for me to root for her.

As much as I admire Tolstoy’s meticulous attention to detail, I also find it frustrating and overwhelming, I mean he’d go on and on Levin’s agricultural interest, all that details about 19th century farming is over-indulgent. Especially when the first intimate encounter between the two forbidden lovers is skipped over completely. Judging from the trailer though, we’ll likely see lots of heaving bosoms, longing glances and steamy trysts in this passionate adaptation. The screenplay is written by Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard who won Best Screenplay for Shakespeare in Love.

STYLE

Now this is one area this movie won’t be lacking. Even right from the opening sequence with the conductor directing a stage performance, we can expect a lush, lavish, and gorgeous movie that’ll transport us to 19th century Russia where everyone speaks with a British accent 😀 I love vintage train stations and surely there’ll be as many scenes set there as in various palatial locations.

The costume design and set pieces are beautiful to look at. Waif-looking Keira certainly wears the period costumes well and Wright knows how to light her and frame her in such a dramatic way. It reminds me a bit of Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence in terms of all that pent-up longing, and it makes heartache looks so appealing, ahah. I think Wright might give Baz Luhrmann a run for his money in the style department.

Overall Thoughts 

I was intrigued initially but this trailer doesn’t quite move me. I teared up every time I saw the Les Miserables trailer but not with this one, somehow Keira just leaves me cold. Even the poster with the words ‘AN EPIC STORY OF LOVE’ emblazoned under the two doomed lovers just seems so corny. Overselling it a bit? I mean, the only *epic* thing to me is the visuals. Perhaps I’m a bit fatigue from seeing all the costumed drama being released this year — The Great Gatsby, Les Miserables are also out around the Holiday season.

I do like this genre mind you, and I’m a fan of Joe Wright’s work [saves for the manipulative The Soloist], but this feels like too much style over substance, which is the same fear I have for the similarly opulent-themed Baz Luhrman movie that’s also based on a celebrated book. Granted Wright’s first two period dramas were highly acclaimed, so perhaps this one would follow in that footsteps? We shall see. But right now, I’m not sure I’d see this one on the big screen.


What say you, folks? Thoughts on this Anna Karenina adaptation, particularly on casting?

The Flix List: Five Notable Breakout Performances of 2010

I’ve been having way too much fun making lists lately, but this post is a continuation of sort from my Year in Review post. As I was making the list, I thought about some of the notable performances I saw from actors who aren’t yet a household name, hence the term ‘breakout.’  Some of these actors might have been working quite a while and might’ve garnered a certain level of recognition for their past work, but because of the popularity/buzz surrounding their movie last year, their career is swiftly gaining momentum. It’s no coincidence that all of these actors have been in my best picks or honorable mentions, and their performances certainly are a large part of what made the films great.

Obviously I haven’t seen ALL movies that came out last year, so my list came from the twenty-nine movies that I did see (thus, don’t scold me that I don’t put Jennifer Lawrence on the list as I haven’t seen Winter’s Bone). Anyway, here we go:

  • Andrew Garfield
    When they announced he was going to be Spiderman, I had only seen the 27-year-old Brit in the Red Riding Trilogy trailer that showed him in a retro outfit, smoking and sporting a sideburn, not exactly the clean cut Peter Parker one’d imagine. Then I saw him in The Social Network as Zuckerberg’s scorned BFF and I no longer went “Andrew who?” His earnest and affecting performance as Eduardo is one of the most memorable things about the film. I’ve since seen him in Boy A, a small indie about a formerly imprisoned young boy struggling to build a second chance at life. Again, his performance is one of the best things about the film and one that proves this young man has range, so don’t expect him to be type cast as a young superhero. He’s already rumored to also star in Michael Mann’s biopic of Robert Capa (per SlashFilm).
  • Tom Hardy
    Ask any girl who’ve seen Inception and it’d be hard pressed to find one who didn’t remember Tom Hardy’s character. But y’know what, dudes remember him, too. My buddy Vince asked me the day after he saw Inception last month, ‘who’s that British guy in the movie?’ and almost at the same time, I got an email from a colleague saying how much she loved him in the same movie! 😀 Coincidence? I think not. Even among a stellar ensemble, Hardy really stood out. Just as he did in Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla as Handsome Bob. Trust me, even sharing a screen with Gerry Butler, the guy still made an impression on me (if you know me at all, y’know that’s quite a feat :D) A lot of people who’ve seen him in Bronson would also say this guy is super bad ass, gaining 42 pounds and muscles to play the notorious criminal.

    He’s in high demand right now, lining up nearly half a dozen films post Inception, including high profile ones such as Mad Max and The Dark Knight Rises.

  • Olivia Wilde
    TV watchers are probably already familiar with the lovely Wilde from her stint in The O.C., The Black Donellys, and most recently, House. But 2010 has really been her breakout year on the big screen. Even before the movie opens, geeks and average moviegoers alike have likely seen her splattered in every piece of marketing campaign for TRON: Legacy, sporting a sleek, black bob in skintight leather suit. Fortunately, she’s got an inherent likability and acting talent to go with her pretty face. She didn’t get to do much in The Next Three Days but with her more beefed-up role in Cowboys and Aliens out this Summer, her career is definitely on the up and up.
  • Aaron Johnson
    I saw two Aaron Johnson movies last year that couldn’t be more different from each other, Kick-Ass and Nowhere Boy. Yet Johnson was believable in both and showed tremendous versatility as well as screen presence. He’s also proven adept with accents, always a great asset for any actor. His American accent in Kick-Ass is so darn convincing you’d never know he hailed from England. Johnson’s not even old enough to drink but displays a certain maturity in the way he carries himself on screen (perhaps that’s why he’s married to Nowhere Boy‘s director Sam Taylor-Wood who’s more than twice his age). He’s rumored to star in Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Killer next, and I hope we’ll see more of him in leading roles in the future.
  • Hailee Steinfeld
    You may not know her real name, but you sure remember her if you’ve seen True Grit or at least the trailer. As I said in my Year in Review post, the fourteen-year old held her own alongside her much older and more experienced actor. Her delivery and conviction was so spot-on and nothing less than awe-inspiring that naturally won the hearts of critics everywhere. She’s been nominated for practically every film society award around the country, as well as the coveted Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor. Not bad at all considering this was her feature film debut!

Honorable Mentions: Armie Hammer in Social Network, Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass

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Well that’s my list, folks. Which up and coming actor(s) caught your attention last year?

TCFF Day 2: Nowhere Boy Review

The Twin Cities Film Fest continues!

I didn’t sign up to volunteer Wednesday night, so right after work, hubby and I headed downtown to see the John Lennon childhood biopic Nowhere Boy. Playing at the same time on AMC Theater 1 was Phasma Ex Machina, which was attended by its director Matt Osterman. Machina is Osterman’s feature film debut, the film explores the gray area between life and death and how science may be the bridge between the two. From the film’s official blog, we’ve got a quick snippet from the Star Tribune’s film critic Colin Covert who had some real nice things to say about it: “Stephen King would love “Phasma Ex Machina” (“The Ghost in the Machine”). This sharply intelligent Minnesota-made sci-fi drama centers on a young technical savant and the device he builds to enable his late parents’ spirits to return home. Unaware that they have passed, several ghosts enter into complicated emotional and ethical relationships with the orphans and widowers they left behind. Writer-director Matt Osterman neatly combines creepy effects with understated details (the tinkerer gets most of his apparatus from the Ax Man). A few inconsequential rough edges aside, this is a winner.

Check out the trailer from the official TCFF page, definitely something worth checking out once it’s out on dvd.

Nowhere Boy

NowhereBoyPoster

I was pretty excited to see Nowhere Boy. Partly because I was intrigued by the story of music legend John Lennon, as we both share an unconventional upbringing without a father and inconsistent presence of our real mother. The other reason was Aaron Johnson, who impressed me in Kick-Ass that I pretty much wanted to see everything else he’s in from now on. I had no idea he was in The Illusionist until my friend Ted pointed out to me afterward, apparently he played the young version of Ed Norton’s character in the flashback scenes. In any case, I don’t know if this movie ever played here in the Cities, as it was released late last year in the UK.

Well, the film—and Aaron—definitely didn’t disappoint, even the slight projector snafu at the beginning of the film didn’t dampen the great experience of watching this movie. I’ve done a bit of research about the movie to know this isn’t a Beatles biopic, and though there were scenes of the teenage John and Paul McCartney playing music together, this is really a story about John’s childhood (roughly from 15-18 years old) when he was living with his aunt Mimi, played brilliantly by the always-reliable Kristin Scott Thomas.

John with Mimi and with his real mother Julia

The movie focuses on the ‘nowhere boy’ who’s lost as to where he really belongs. Mimi is so strict and seemingly devoid of emotion, though in the course of the movie you realize the opposite is true. Contrast that with the character of John’s real mother, the bohemian and tempestuous Julia who seems like the ‘perfect’ mother. She didn’t mind that John was suspended from school, instead she took him to an amusement park, introduce him to music and dance, basically living the good life, homework and responsibilities be darned. Now, what kid wouldn’t want to have a mother like that? Plus, Julia seemed to be the perfect ‘substitute’ for the jovial uncle George whom he was closest to.

Sam Taylor-Wood & Aaron Johnson

First-time director Sam Taylor-Wood depicted the opposite personalities with aptitude, and as the audience we can’t help but sympathize with both characters despite their flaws. The only thing that made me uneasy at times is the way Taylor-Wood filmed the scenes between Julia and John. If I had just come into the movie blind without knowing what the movie is about, I’d think that Julia was John’s cougar lover and not his mother! Especially the part when she laid down on her back on top of John in the couch, there was definitely that creepy Oedipus complex thing going on. I’m sure I’m not the only one as my hubby thought the same thing!

All around performances are terrific, especially Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia (a bit of trivia, Duff is James McAvoy’s real-life wife). They portrayed such complex characters with finesse and effortlessness, making them much more than one-dimensional roles. But the movie truly belongs to Aaron Johnson, who carries this movie with his melancholic blue eyes and endearing swagger. Taylor-Wood shot so many dreamy close-up shots of the then 19-year-old it could equal a personal home video 😉 Johnson’s definitely got movie star quality, he possesses the kind of screen presence so magnetic it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. I can’t judge whether he delivered an accurate portrayal of Lennon as I don’t really follow the singer’s career. For that I turn to my pal Becky who’s a huge Beatle fan:

Ok, so keep in mind these thoughts about Nowhere Boy are coming from someone who’s favorite Beatle was John Lennon, seen a Hard Day’s Night over and over (see it if you haven’t), and it was just five years after the movie ends when I was scream ing for the Beatles like the Elvis fans were screaming for him just like the scene in the movie (I was 10.) I really was looking forward to seeing this time in John’s life because I had heard he was raised by an aunt, but that’s really all I knew. The film fills in all the blanks.
I was totally blown away by Aaron Johnson’s performance of John. He so resembled him in looks, speech, body language and attitude that he is in the same league as Jamie Foxx (Ray), Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash in Walk the Line) and Will Smith (Ali). I’m afraid he won’t get the same kind of recognition, but certainly deserves it for his role here.
And at the very end of the film, a caption said that John didn’t forget to call his Aunt Mimi from Hamburg, and called her every week for the rest of HIS life. And after seeing this film, I truly believed he really did.

As I talked to a few people after the movie’s done, everyone unanimously praised this movie. Lennon definitely has a story worth-telling and it’s nice to learn how the boy became the legend he’s known today. My colleague Laura’s boyfriend Marcus regards the movie “emotionally exhilarating… just like Lennon’s music.” Here’s a quick snippet of his ‘review’: Joy, sadness, sympathy, humor were just some of the emotions you will feel from the beginning of the film to it’s end. It’s amazing that John Lennon was such an advocate of peace when he experienced so much sadness  Whether you’re a music fan, a Beatle fan or a film buff, you will enjoy the untold visualization of John Lennon. This movie is a must see!

Indeed, I’m glad TCFF screens this one as this movie was totally worth going to the cinema for!


Have you seen Nowhere Boy? What did you think of the movie?

Labor Day Weekend Roundup: Kick-Ass, Expendables, Purple Rose of Cairo

Happy Wednesday, folks! Hope your weekend was a good one. Well, mine was hectic to say the least, part of the weekend I was working on my fantasy movie pitch, speaking of which, have you read it yet?

Well, Clooney is box office king this weekend with The American. I didn’t see it though, I finally saw The Expendables. But just barely ten minutes in, I wish I had bought the ticket to that one instead. After the movie, half my friends who went to see The American while some of us saw the Stallone movie said that they didn’t like it, either. They said it was downright boring and the story is ‘pointless.’ One of them said he nearly fell asleep until the steamy sex scene appeared on screen, ha!

Anyhoo, I also managed to see two other movies this weekend. Instead of posting a full review of each of them, let me just jot down my thoughts on each of them in one post. (Beware, it might contain some spoilers)

Kick-Ass

Plot: Dave Lizewski is an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a super-hero, even though he has no powers, training or meaningful reason to do so.

I admit I was excited to see it as we both have been curious given the rave reviews. Thankfully, we weren’t disappointed! I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite being far more violent than I thought, and most of the brutal scenes were involved Chloe Moretz who’s a mere 13 years old!!

From the get-go, this movie grabbed my attention. Both of us were very impressed by Aaron Johnson’s performance as the high school comic book geek, and was floored to learn that he’s from England! The movie is funny throughout, and watching this scrawny looking kid trying to be a superhero is endearing, I mean the idea might be ill-conceived but he definitely has a good intention. But the story turns out to be engaging and the action sequences well, kicked ass!

Aaron as the nerdy Dave, and in real life

Nic Cage was pretty darn good (a nice change after all the atrocious stuff he’s been involved in) as Big Daddy, an ex-police officer turned secret mercenary superhero who lives with her young daughter Mindy, known as Hit Girl (Moretz). Moretz is quite the scene stealer here, upstaging both Johnson and Cage in a lot of scenes. Mark Strong was playing his usual villain role with panache, and this time with a hint of New York accent?In any case, he’s always good in a role like this, not to mention he gets the best death scene in the movie (like in Robin Hood), but I gotta admit I’d love to see him be a good guy for once.

The real revelation here for me is the 20-year old Aaron Johnson. His American accent was so flawless I would never know he’s not from here, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that once again the actor I fancy happens to be a Brit 🙂 He looks so perfectly nerdy but when I Googled to find out more about him, dorky isn’t what I’d use to describe him at all, in fact, quite the opposite! Then I realized I did read about him playing John Lennon in Nowhere Boy. Looks like we have another versatile young British thespian here, no wonder Andrew from Encore Entertainment thought of him as being a noteworthy young star under 30. I’d have included him had I seen Kick-Ass at the time.

In any case, I’m even more excited about Matthew Vaughn directing X-Men: First Class now, he’s got a knack for stylized actions sequences, as well as ear for a witty dialogue. I was quite impressed with another movie of his, the fantasy adventure Stardust, so hopefully he’ll continue to get more work in Hollywood!

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The Expendables

Plot: A group of elite mercenaries, the Expendables, are deployed to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to halt local pirates from executing the hostages.

Well, I’m not going to say a lot about this one as I don’t even want to think about it. If you read this blog long enough you know I’ve been anticipating this movie ever since I heard about it a year ago. I went in undeterred by the critics and with a low expectation, I mean, with this cast of 80s action stars AND Arnold’s cameo, it’ll be a helluva entertainment, right? Wrong! I came thisclose to leaving the theater even after 15 minutes, which I never experienced before.

I should’ve listened to my friend and guest blogger Ted who said this movie is bloody awful. I don’t expect Shakespeare obviously, but does the dialog have to be THAT terrible? And the action sequences, the saving grace we all hope for, was pretty dismal, too. Despite being all brutal and gory, as to be expected, it just looks cheaply made, not too mention old-fashioned. I mean I get the ‘vintage’ vibe is deliberate, but I didn’t think the action stuff have to look like they’re done 3-4 decades ago.

Believe it or not though, the girls in the movie (there are only two of them) actually fare WORSE than the boys, especially Charisma Carpenter (definitely didn’t live up to her first name as she had none at all). I mean, goodness me, her scenes with Jason Statham made him look like an Oscar contender. I understand that “the appeal of Charisma Carpenter isn’t her acting!” as Andy from Fandango Groovers put it, but come on!

I mean it really is, folks, there is absolutely nothing I could praise about this movie. Sure, the “He wants to be president” line from Sly to Arnold’s character did draw a lot of laughs, but if that is all there is to it, I could’ve just waited for the dvd… or better yet, watch it on YouTube. I thought that at the very least, despite plot holes bigger than Steve Austin’s biceps, I still might get a good comedy out of this, y’know like the A-Team. To be fair though, I did like Mickey Rourke’s character, but maybe because he doesn’t seem to take this role seriously and at least I can understand every single word he is saying, unlike y’know, the leading actor!

The definition of expendable |ikˈspendəbəl| – (of an object) designed to be used only once and then abandoned or destroyed. If only Stallone would treat this movie like that definition, alas, with Expendables 2 in the works, we haven’t seen the end of this, yet 😦

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Purple Rose of Cairo

Plot: In 1930s, Depression era New Jersey, a movie character walks off the screen and into the real world.

After watching two action-packed movies, I was ready to unwind with something much more mellow. This movie came highly recommended by my friend Prairiegirl as well as Peter from Magic Lantern film blog. Well, thanks to both of them that I came across this gem as it’s an utterly delightful film! I’m not exactly a Woody Allen fan, and considering how dark the themes of his movies of late (Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream), I was surprised at how ‘innocent’ this one is.

It mixes the world of fantasy and reality so seamlessly that as the audience I was swept away by the surreal world of Mia Farrow’s character Cecilia. I mean, who hasn’t dreamed about meeting their favorite character in a movie, don’t we all wish sometimes the person we’re so in love with could just, well, leap off from the screen and actually talk to you? I’m a bit of a dreamer myself, and though I don’t necessarily find solace from the world of the movies, there are times that a scene or character I’m seeing is so bewitching I wish I could be a part of it.

Jeff Daniels wooing Mia Farrow

This is the first time I’ve seen a Mia Farrow movie, but she is definitely perfect as the down-on-her-luck waitress who’s disillusioned on her marriage and living in poverty. But the star of the movie is Jeff Daniels, playing two characters—well one essentially, the actor (Gil Shepherd) and the screen persona(Tom Baxter)—but they’re totally different characters. He projects such warmth and wholesome hunky-ness that’s so endearing. That scene in the bordello is just priceless!

The romance is just endearing and lovely, and even in the short running time (about 1.5 hour), I was immersed in the characters and really wanting to see Cecillia find happiness. The dialogue is a real treat, too, especially between Cecilia and Tom Baxter, no wonder Allen was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 1985 Oscar. I’m kind of glad that Woody himself is nowhere to be found in this movie, no offense to him, but I think he’d kind of be a distraction in this movie

I wish the ending had been more of a happy ending… oh how I wish Gil hadn’t left for Hollywood. But oh well, I guess reality bites… there is no Prince Charming to rescue us like the movies want us to believe.

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So folks, what movies did you see this weekend? Or if you have any thoughts about any of these movies, let’s hear ’em!