Film Review Roundup: November 2012

Anna Karenina

Following their collaborations in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley reunite for Anna Karenina, an intriguing new take on the classic novel. This is, strikingly, the twelfth film adaptation of Anna Karenina, with previous versions starring actresses such as Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh among the most notable. To make this version stand out, the bulk of the film takes place inside a theater, highlighting the idea that the characters live out their lives on a stage for the world to see. While technically proficient and gifted with an outstanding cast (highlighted by Knightley and Jude Law in particular), the film sometimes falters; Wright’s artistic choices sometimes put the admittedly stunning style far in front of the substance of the story.

Hitchcock

Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren star in Hitchcock, a biopic about the legendary director that focuses largely on the time surrounding the production and release of Psycho. The film was a bit hobbled in pre-production when denied permission to show or copy footage from Psycho, or to use the iconic Bates Hotel, so the main focus of the film ends up being the relationship between Hitchcock (Hopkins) and his wife, Alma Reville (Mirren). This may be the film’s saving grace. Hopkins and Mirren nail their respective roles. Still, much of this storyline is speculative, so audiences shouldn’t take what they see as factual.

Life of Pi

Based on the book of the same name, Life of Pi tells the story of young Pi, an Indian boy with limitless curiosity who is raised in a small family-owned zoo. When the zoo goes broke, Pi’s father places the family and animals on a Canadian-bound ship. While at sea, the ship drowns in the midst of a storm, leaving Pi on a lifeboat with a few of the animals, including a tiger named Richard Parker. Over the better part of a year, Pi and Richard Parker learn to live together in the middle of the ocean. From a visual perspective, Life of Pi is one of the most stunning films released this year. Its use of 3D is particularly remarkable. It rivals Avatar and Prometheus in its use of the medium to actually tell a story. The story itself is more of a tossup. A heavy reliance on religion and faith walks a fine line between emotionally riveting and schmaltzy.

Red Dawn

The original Red Dawn, released in 1984, was unabashedly a product of its time – a Cold War-era reactionary product. In the remake hitting theaters now (after going into production in 2009), the film feels not only woefully outdated, but like the result of a heavily pro-war Tea Party conservative’s wet dream. Logic is tossed out the window, along with the film’s originally shot villainous nation; this version originally replaced the Soviet Union with China, only to change the country to North Korea in post-production. The main reason one can assume this is getting a release is the involvement of two actors who’ve become much bigger in recent years, Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games). Hemsworth’s acting suggests that sticking with Thor for as long as possible is a good game plan, but Hutcherson is charming in a limited role. Josh Peck, who’s mostly known for his role on the Nickelodeon program Drake & Josh, unfortunately overshadows both in screen time. Peck is, in a word, abysmal. His presence as the lead makes the nearly two-hour runtime feel like it’s approaching three. Anyone choosing to see this film should leave their brain checked at the theater entrance.

Silver Linings Playbook

After achieving success directing The Fighter, David O. Russell returns to the quirkier area of comedy where he made features like I Heart Huckabees with his latest film, Silver Linings Playbook. The film stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, a man who’s living at home after an eight-month stay in a state institution. His goal: to reunite with his estranged wife, who’s filed a restraining order against him. Things get murky for Pat when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with her own set of challenges. There’s a lot going on in this film, but thanks to a quick pace, snappy dialogue, and winning chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook emerges as one of the funniest, freshest films of 2012. It’s already being touted as a heavy Oscar contender, and deservedly so. It’s definitely worth watching.

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