movie reviews

As I mentioned in my first movie review (of Anna Karenina, HERE), I’m not sure what it takes to qualify as a real movie reviewer, but I like to use these reviews in much the same way as I use book reviews – to capture a bit of my reaction to a movie. I don’t review books or movies that I read/watched in the past, rather I review the things I am experiencing right now. I’m always open to suggestions for books to read or movies to watch…heck, I’m always open to any type of suggestions about what people might like to see me write about! With that said, here are a few thoughts about a few of the movies I’ve seen recently.

as2 Atlas Shrugged 2: The Strike – This movie didn’t just come out, but it’s recent enough to be considered a “new release.” I am a big fan of the writing of Ayn Rand, and one of my favorites is her book, Atlas Shrugged. I was moderately impressed with the movie Atlas Shrugged part 1, and have been awaiting the second film in the series bringing the novel to life. It’s sad to say that, even as a person watching for the release of the film, I had no idea it was out until I accidentally ran across it while scrolling through available movies “On Demand.” The box office was small, but I’m not shocked with that since I never noticed a single drop of advertising for the film. The film was also panned critically – the critics all but hated it for a variety of reasons. I guess it’s no surprise, but by and large I don’t agree with the critics on this one. I thought the acting was passable – I definitely didn’t like that so many of the actors were different than those in the first movie, but the cast did a decent job nonetheless. The “stiffness” of Rand’s dialogue (another critical jab) works perfectly, both in the novel and in the film. For someone who is a fan of the novel, I thought they did a good job of keeping the general feel of the novel. A lot of gushing and dramatic dialogue would have totally broken that feel. The tension that Reardon and Dagny feel between themselves and over the business models that they cling to is highlighted and conveyed to the audience very successfully. Much of the important dialogue, places where Rand really drives home her philosophical points about free market and contribution and what is the public good – much of this is retained, thereby giving the viewing audience a good idea of the things Rand thought were important to convey with this particular novel. The only place I agreed with the critics was that some of the editing and effects were rather juvenile looking; the plane chase scene is particularly poorly done, forcing me to acknowledge that I was no longer suspending my disbelief, but rather watching a film with a tacky plane chase stuck on near the end. That one fail aside, I would definitely recommend this movie as one to see. I’d say see Part 1 before Part 2, and if possible, read the book before watching either.

ozOz the Great and Powerful – Any of the movies that I’ve seen in the theatre recently have been movies that I’ve taken my kids to see. Luckily, they have good taste and want to see things like The Hobbit. I was a little apprehensive to go and see the new Oz movie, but the kids wanted to go, so I rounded them up and off we went. I’m a big fan of the original Wizard of Oz; the kids have seen it, but have never been all that keen on the movie. For them, Oz the Great and Powerful was practically an introduction into the wonderful world of Oz, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. From the very beginning of the film, paying homage to the original by using black and white outside of Oz, the film captures the imagination and takes you on an adventure on par with the classic original. The story line of this film was well planned and original, with a fairly complete backstory developed over the course of the movie. The acting was not the best I’ve ever seen, but it was passable for an effects ladened movie targeted at a younger viewing audience. Speaking of effects, by and large they were magnificent – the land of Oz was brought to life in spectacular detail and color, and everything from backgrounds to fight scenes were very well put together graphically. There were just a few failures with the effects (for instance, a group of horses in the background of a scene which were poorly formed and lacked detail, leaving them looking like 4 legged blobs), which was disappointing because you expect a movie of this caliber to ensure that every single item is as perfect as it can possibly be. The only other issue I had with the movie was the choice to include some rather bizarrely shot scenes with the Wicked Witch. The camera angles in some of the shots was terrible, making her look like a giant head stuck on a tiny body. I know that capturing this classic character must have been something the director and editors struggled with – and mostly they did a good job – but the from below wide angle lens shots were a total failure (at least for this viewer). I think my kids had a good introduction to the world of Oz with this film, and I’m looking forward to re-watching the original with them soon, and seeing how they react now that they have more of a back story to lean on. All in all, this was a fun movie – we saw it in the theatre in 3D, and I would say it was worth the trip out with the kids to do so.

frankFrankenweenie – And now for a review “just for the kids.” Even though I have 5 kids that keep me fairly caught up on what’s new and hot in kids movies, every now and then a movie slips through the cracks. Frankenweenie was just such a movie. We saw it this weekend at Redbox, and upon discovering that we hadn’t seen it, I promptly rented it to watch with my 8 year old (while the other kids played video games or went to their friends). It was a delightfully done and quite enjoyable little film. The whole thing is done in black and white, which I loved, and which the kids asked tons of questions about before settling down to actually watch. They’ve never seen much in black and white. The animation was incredibly well done in this film, and both for the tone and the characters, black and white was perfect. I was impressed at how round the characters felt, as opposed to the typically flat characters we find in film, and animated characters in particular. The themes and tone of Frankenweenie are rather dark, but done in such a way that the viewer never loses sight of the possible light just head. Viewers are asked to think about love, loss, and death, and the deeper emotions aren’t just covered with a joke or a zinger every now and then (like in most animations) – the questions and emotions stay with the audience through much of the film. The story line is a little dark, and perhaps a bit slow for younger viewers near the middle, but the fullness of the characters and the roundness of story/plot left me satisfied at the end of the film.

Matthew Jackson

movie review of anna karenina

anna_karenina_movie-wideStriking out into new territory again, I’ll post my first ever movie review today. I don’t think I’ll do this much, 1) I don’t watch many movies, and 2) I don’t know that I’m qualified to do it. In spite of that, I’ll try it out today. The main reason I decided to review the new Anna Karenina stems from my deep love for the novel. It is simply one of the best novels ever written and printed, in my opinion, and I was highly anticipating the movie. I finally rented it Friday night, and here are a few thoughts.

It is important for me to begin by stating: I am not a movie/novel literalist. I do not expect a movie which is based on a novel to be exactly like the novel. I accept that the mediums are different, and I frequently enjoy the nuance a director/screenwriter adds to the novel’s story. I approached Anna Karenina with the expectation to love it, knowing that it would not simply be the movie put on screen.

In many ways, I was not wrong. Watching the movie was thoroughly enjoyable. Many of the most important pieces of the novel were captured in a beautiful way. The acting was superb, particularly Anna (Keira Knightley), the two Alexei’s (Jude Law, Aaron Johnson), and Konstantin (Domhnall Gleeson). The period clothing was spectacular, as well as the props and settings for the movie. As a viewing experience, the movie was very satisfying. I particularly liked the first night of dancing between Anna and Count Vronsky – as they danced and gazed into each other’s eyes, the rest of the room froze, and was even empty in one shot. This scene was once of the best sequences in letting the viewer truly see the profound attraction that these two figures share for each other.

The issues I had with the movie came not from a desire to see a more literal interpretation of the novel, but rather from a sense that pieces of the particular majesty of Tolstoy’s work were missed – pieces that would have made the film even stronger. Before I make a few points, I’ll say that it was a terrible pity that movie-goers missed the rightly famous first line of the novel! I desperately wanted a narrator to just pipe up and say it before the action began – “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I know that wouldn’t have really fit, but that line sets up the story unlike anything else possibly could.

To the few issues I had with the film…firstly, while the manner of filming could have been interesting (having it set as a play, moving from scene to scene), I found it rather distracting from the actual story line – it seemed a bit flippant for such a deep and powerful story. I felt the director was trying just a bit too hard to be “smart,” and it didn’t quite work for me when paired with this story. The result was a film that was choppy, and failed to allow the power of Anna’s affair, her emotions and decisions, sink in with the viewer. Instead of a poignantly tragic character, she came off as tragically foolish instead. Another issue I had is somewhat related to the first – there’s a seeming effort to create a playful or dreamlike atmosphere with the use of such novelties as toy trains transforming into real trains, the sound of the fan becoming the sound of a passing train, the use of fireworks at the party. Again, I feel that these tricks are not bad in themselves, and several were quite clever, but are placed in the film in such a way as to be below the majesty of the tale.

My “issue” with the movie, apparently (after reading my own analysis), is the atmosphere and the light-heartedness of some of the scenes and effects. These things just don’t fit the line of Anna Karenina, and because of that the viewer (especially a viewer who hasn’t had the benefit of reading the novel) is unable to pick up on the depths of the tale. The deep need that Anna and Count Vronsky feel for each other, as portrayed in the novel, is not adequately brought to life on the screen. A great deal of the impact of a movie is in the world it creates for us, and tragically, this movie misses the greatness of Tolstoy’s work precisely for that reason. Everything else was wonderful, but the almost flippant atmosphere keeps this film from being everything that it truly should have been.

Of couse, that’s just my opinion.

Matthew Jackson