Forget that the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping romance novel comes from the man who brought us the slick-but-stuffy Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Every frame of director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is a wonder to behold overflowing with visual spectacle and roaring performances. Keira Knightley Jude Law Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the cast fit perfectly in the high drama epic but it's really Wright's playground. Following Hanna an artful spin on the action movie Wright returns to the period drama but injects it with dazzling daring choices. A book like Anna Karenina could once fit in reality but its larger-than-life legacy precedes it. Wright acknowledges that from frame one approaching the film like a grand ballet or opera where grand gestures broad emotions and overt theatrics are commonplace. That vision clicks transforming Anna Karenina into an exhilarating moviegoing experience.
The storyline of Anna Karenina isn't far off from a daytime soap: It's 1874 and Anna (Knightley) is floating through existence as the wife of influential government player Karenin (Law). But when her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) summons her to Moscow to save his marriage Anna's entire world is shaken up. She meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) a cavalry hunk who finds himself smitten with the taken lady. She's in the same boat: The two strike up a flirtatious relationship that evolves into one of sexual passion. A scandalous affair would incite trouble in the preset day but in the 19th century it's the ultimate crime. Quickly Anna's life comes crumbling down.
The intertwining melodrama of Anna Karenina earned the novel its classic status but Wright uses the material as a launching pad for imagination rather than a tome to translate to screen. Many of the scenes are staged in a theater creating an instant awareness of the production. Sets shift and are reconstructed into new rooms; actors costume change in the span of single shots; action sequences like a thrilling horse race are conducted on stage with special effects you might see on Broadway. Wright works this sort of stylization in the other direction too; a character could walk an empty stage open a door and suddenly be on a snow-covered hill. Anna Karenina isn't the first film to use the effect but in Wright's hands it's exhilarating.
The movie is Wright's third collaboration with Knightley and easily their most successful. Knightley never struggles to stay on the same page as the heightened material whether she's nailing a dance sequence or breaking down in a flood of tears. Casting an ensemble around Knightley is no easy task but Taylor-Johnson gives his best work yet as the debonair love interest and Macfadyen steals the show with moments of physical comedy.
We have expectations of the texture and structure of period romances. Anna Karenina defies them. Masterpiece Theater it is not.
To a great deal of people, this man means a lot.
He's a man who will certainly not be forgot.
His name's Theodor Geisel, known well as Dr. Seuss.
He's a man of great wisdom, not hardly obtuse.
And he must mean a lot to ol' Johnny Depp:
a dapper young scrap with a pep in his step.
Many a film does this Johnny produce.
And now he'll produce one of ol' Dr. Seuss.
Ol' Johnny as' Geisel—a wonderful match!
To play this dear writer, ol' Depp is a natch!
The project is young still, not quite underway.
But if Depp has his way, then we'll see it some day.
And a film about Seuss? This is long overdue!
The man who imbued us with many a Hoo.
So celebrate, all, this splendiforous news.
A movie, by Johnny, about Dr. Seuss.
In case that wasn't clear, Johnny Depp is putting together (to possibly star in) a biopic about Dr. Seuss. Nothing is cemented yet, but Depp is apparently dedicated to the idea. In the past, Depp has starred in biopic films about writers including , J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan (in Finding Neverland), satirist John Wilmot (in The Libertine), and Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the Gonzo journalist's book of the same name; Depp will also be starring in the upcoming Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary, in theaters October 28). Keep your ear out for news on this development; it could be a real winner.
Libertine is a grungy biopic but is itself devoid of any appeal to the senses and shortchanges us on anything truly decadent other than John Wilmot’s binge drinking. Wilmot (Johnny Depp) the Earl of Rochester was a favorite of King Charles II (John Malkovich) and better known for his debauched excesses than for his poetry at least during his lifetime. He ignores his wife (Rosamund Pike) who--as we are told but sadly not shown--he abducted and would have been executed for had she not interceded on his behalf. He finds a new love in a little-known actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) whom he takes under his wing and coaches to be the greatest actress on the London stage. They begin a romance but once she is the toast of London she is done with him. Given a commission from the King to write a play to smooth relations with the French he delivers a scatological farce that mocks the King himself and is subsequently banned. Suffering from syphilis and the many ill-effects of alcohol abuse his once-handsome features are distorted in disease. But he manages to rise from his deathbed to come to his King’s aid one more time. You can’t blame Depp for being attracted to this part as he gets to transform into the disease-riddled stages of the Earl’s later years. He rants and rails and tosses insults left and right but we never really see what other people find attractive in this man other than his sheer outrageousness. He has all the urchin grime of Pirates of the Caribbean's Captain Jack Sparrow minus the mischievous charm. As his beautiful well-heeled wife Rosamund Pike wavers between suffering and scorn. Samantha Morton plays Elizabeth Barry with more petulance than divaesque. John Malkovich is surprisingly gracious as King Charles the indulgent monarch who keeps banishing Rochester only to summon him back. The Libertine opens with a dimly lit monologue from the Earl in which he boasts “I am up for it all the time.” Wilmot’s liaisons with men are merely hinted at and the love scenes are disappointingly tame. For a film about sensuality and decadence first-time director John Dunmore has completely missed the mark. The press notes proudly boast that cinematographer Alexander Melman purposely strove for a dirty de-glamorized look for the film but the film stock is so grainy that it appears to be 16mm blown up to 35mm. In other words nothing at all pleasing to the eye or to the ear as the obvious score by Michael Nyman is heavy-handed and intrusive. Dunmore has accomplished the impossible which is to render Depp even before his character’s decline completely unattractive with harsh lighting and a series of bad wigs.