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.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Despite seemingly having it all hunky Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) has still never been able to leave the nest. It’s actually easy to see why. It’s free and his mother (Kathy Bates) dotes on him. But Tripp’s parents especially gregarious dad (Terry Bradshaw) are anxious to get him out of the house so they can have their own lives. That’s where Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) comes in: a professional consultant who works specifically with fed-up parents who want their adult sons to move out. She dates them convinces them its time to fly the coop and then lets them go. It’s mostly foolproof--but not in Tripp’s case. No this is different because Paula starts to have feelings (Can you blame her? Just look at the guy) jeopardizing not only her job but the fact she may have found the perfect guy. OK Launch seems contrived but give it a chance; it might grow on you. As with any romantic comedy it’s about watching two attractive people--in this case McConaughey and Parker--spar and connect. Well at least most of the time. But there’s another trend in rom-coms these days: wonderfully original supporting characters who add color and can oftentimes steal the show all while allowing the main characters to shine beyond the standard girl-meets-boy scenario. Tripp’s two best friends Demo and Ace--played by Bradley Cooper (Wedding Crashers) and Justin Bartha (National Treasure) respectively--are a real hoot. As is Zooey Deschanel (Elf) Paula’s anti-social bird-hating roommate Kit (great name by the way); she nearly steals Parker’s thunder especially when she and Bartha’s Ace hook up. Also delightful are Bates and Bradshaw as Tripp’s patient parents itching to break free. Who knew an Oscar-winning actress and former Super Bowl champ could have chemistry? Under the direction of Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon) Failure to Launch isn’t the end all be all of romantic comedies but it does take delight in some of its idiosyncratic approaches towards the genre. For example the womanizing Tripp may seem to have a devil-may-care attitude about his living situation but he’s really has some deeper issues going on. And Paula’s job--it seems a bit mean-spirited don’t you think? She leads these poor guys on and then once they leave the house dumps them. So in a way she gets her due. Of course Dey’s attention to the side characters also gives the film a big boost. He probably learned a lesson or two from watching Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. Ultimately in what you’d think might be another stale rom-com Launch surprises you with its wry humor and multi-layered performances.
Top Story: Oscar Organizers Say Show Will Go On
The Oscars show producer Gil Cates told nominees at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual luncheon in Beverly Hills Monday that the show will go on--whether or not there is a war, Reuters reports. As the United States prepares for a possible invasion of Iraq, many nominees wondered whether discussing war at the March 23 awards ceremony would be appropriate. "If we go to war," Cates cautioned, "the telecast will reflect that reality both in those parts of the show that we can control and those parts that we can't control--your acceptance speeches."
Broadway No Longer Dark
Striking musicians settled a contract dispute with theater producers Tuesday to end a walkout that shut down 18 musicals since Friday, Reuters reports. The dispute that led to Friday's strike was over minimums, the smallest number of musicians required for a Broadway orchestra. After 12 hours of talks the union agreed to a smaller number of musicians in the largest Broadway theaters and both sides said that the theaters would reopen Tuesday night.
Brits Invade Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the Clash, the Police, and Elvis Costello and the Attractions on an emotional night at the Waldorf Hotel in New York Monday night, Reuters reports. British influence dominated the ceremony, as did antiwar sentiments expressed by a number of star musicians--a contrast to the recent Grammy Awards. "When people take to the streets to stop the war, the spirit of the Clash is there," Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello said. The Clash accepted their honors without vocalist-guitarist Joe Strummer, who died of heart failure last December at age 50.
Minnelli's Lawyers Call It Quits
Two lawyers for actress Liza Minnelli quit Monday, saying their relationship "has completely broken down" over a civil suit involving the aborted sale of her Beverly Hills home, claimed by Minnelli stepmother, and a couple who tried to buy it last year. Reuters reports that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge was scheduled to decide whether to allow lawyers Arthur Barens and Robert Kaufman to bow out of the case but Minnelli hired a new attorney, making a court ruling unnecessary. Last August Merhdad Saghian and Stephanie Jarin claimed Minnelli backed out of her agreement to sell the home to them for $2.75 million.
Erotic Mag Loses Suit Against Oprah
The publisher of a magazine of erotica and sadomasochism who claimed Oprah Winfrey's magazine of the same name was tarnishing his trademark lost a court battle yesterday, Reuters reports. U.S. District Judge John Koeltl threw out the lawsuit filed by Ronald Brockmeyer, who bought the trademark--a stylized letter "O" in large type enclosed in double arrow marks--in 1996. Koetl said readers could not confuse Brockmeyer's magazine containing photos of "whip-bearing, naked women engaged in sadomasochistic and lesbian acts" with Winfrey's publication, which is aimed at helping women improve their lives guided by the performer's values.
Dion Promises Family-Oriented Show in Las Vegas
Singer Celine Dion, who launches her three-year stint in Las Vegas on March 25, promises to keep the show family-oriented. According to Reuters, Dion tells Time magazine that people think her husband-manager, Rene Angelil, is going to gamble away all their money and their son is going to be raised by strangers. "We don't live in a casino, and I'm not going to change diapers on a craps table," Dion tells the magazine. Dion says she will leave home at 4:30 in the afternoon and be home by 10:30 at night. According to the singer, the casino doesn't want the show to go any longer than 90 minutes because "they want people to go back and lose money" at the slot machines.
Variety reports: Universal Pictures is remaking its classic monster film The Creature From the Black Lagoon, developed by a producer Gary Ross, whose father, Arthur Ross, wrote the original 1954 screenplay. The original Creature, which became a camp classic, featured the Gill Man terrorizing archaeologists in the Amazon while falling in love with a beautiful girl played by Julia Adams... Disney meanwhile has bought remake rights to the 1937 film Topper as a vehicle for director Adam Shankman and star Steve Martin. The original picture starred Cary Grant as a man haunted by a married pair of madcap ghosts... DreamWorks has bought the rights to Action News, which will feature Will Ferrell as a pompous newscaster in the 1970s who is matched with an ambitious and talented female journalist.