Reel Life mini-review: "Anna Karenina"
Joe Wright's visually stunning epic "Anna Karenina" hardly seems like a war movie, yet within its images rages a battle between the opposing forces of theatrical artifice and cinematic literalness.
Written by Tom Stoppard (from the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy), "Anna Karenina" begins in imperial Russian upon a grand theater stage where actors, prepped and costumed, take on their characters to present their tale of martial duplicity and disappointment.
Then, the wings, cat walks and fly spaces dissolve into realistic scenes with live horses and full-scale locomotives, only to quickly revert to actors on a set and a small model choo-choo on the tracks.
On paper (or on screenwriting software), this might have looked like a grand and daring way to reinvent Tolstoy's 1874-set story for the 21st century.
But the media mix doesn't mesh. The conceit constantly calls attention to itself and thwarts our efforts to emotionally connect with the characters, all decked out in Jacqueline Durran's breathless array of exquisitely designed costumes.
This narrative schizophrenia works like a straitjacket for Wright's cast, reducing the bubbly Keira Knightley's title character into fits of forced smiles and breathy, Kristen Stewart-like exhalations.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson's dashing blond cavalry officer Vronsky -- whose sexual chemistry threatens Anna's marriage to a stuffy Russian official (Jude Law) -- seems to have escaped from a cheesy romance novel, not a Tolstoy work.
The rest of the cast, including Olivia Williams as Vronsky's classy mother, Matthew MacFadyen as Anna's philandering brother Oblonsky, Kelly Macdonald as Anna's sister-in-law Dolly, and Alicia Vikander as Dolly's sister Kitty, bear up under strange and strained circumstances with considerable aplomb.
"Anna Karenina" opens at the River East and Century Centre in Chicago, and the Evanston Century 18. Rated R for sexual situations, violence. 130 minutes ★ ★ ½
Reel Life mini-review: "Chasing Ice"
If you've seen Al Gore's Oscar-winning doc "An Inconvenient Truth," you already know most of what "Chasing Ice" covers, or discovers as is the case here.
National Geographic photographer James Balog became fascinated with the effects of global warming, particularly the melting of the world's glaciers. He and a team of intrepid helpers set up cameras at several glaciers, with each camera snapping a photo every hour.
The first part of Jeff Orlowski's doc concentrates on the difficulty getting this project launched. Cameras didn't work. New circuits had to be built. A lot of time and money went for nothing. At first.
The second part -- the payoff -- comes when we can actually witness in time-lapse photography the rapid retreat of the world's once mighty glaciers over a few brief years. It's like watching the movie version of the color slides Gore displayed in "Inconvenient Truth," except these images evoke gasps at how fast the glaciers deflate and disappear before our eyes.
Global warming? More like global warning.
"Chasing Ice" opens at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago. Rated PG-13 for language. 73 minutes. ★ ★ ★
Never Tuckered out
In 2006, stand-up comedian-turned-actor Chris Tucker received $25 million to star in the comic action film "Rush Hour 3," making him at the time the highest paid actor in Hollywood history.
Starting this weekend, the 41-year-old native of Decatur, Georgia, can be seen in the new domestic family comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" as Danny, a quasi-sidekick to Bradley Cooper's emotionally confused young man.
I caught up with Tucker on a recent trip through Chicago.
Q. Your character in "Silver Linings Playbook" is one serious acting job, quite unlike what fans have come to expect from recent films.
A. Early in my career I did "Dead Presidents," so I knew I could do the serious roles. I thought it would be a different twist from the "Rush Hour" movies.
Q. Your role of Danny seems to have been cut down from a larger one. Am I wrong?
A. It was actually a smaller role. I knew it was a small role, but I decided to do it because I thought it was an important character. I decided to do it for that reason. What we read in the script was all in the movie, then the stuff that I added they kept, too.
Q. You became a born-again Christian in 1997. Is it true that you turned down the sequel to the hit movie "Friday" because of that?
A. No, I was already doing another movie. I never thought about doing a sequel. A lot of things I didn't want to do at that time. I wanted to try different stuff.
Q. Any chance you will rejoin Jackie Chan for a fourth "Rush Hour" movie?
A. There is a chance. There's a definite possibility we might do one more.
Q. What did Chan bring out in you that made you guys click?
A. He made me feel comfortable. He made me feel like I could be myself. There wasn't any kind of tension. That's what made the movies work, the comfort zone I was in.
Time to retire 007?
Dear Dann: Re: "Skyfall": It's time to retire the franchise. While I liked the nod to the generational divide, it's the same hackneyed storylines. Racing through yet another market and toppling food carts. Endless fighting on top of a train. "Dying" and "resurrecting," again.
What bothers me the most about all the praise heaped upon this Bond movie is that James failed, big time, on two assignments: First, he did not retrieve the encrypted info, which led to the outing and killing of three undercover agents and the bombing of the MI6 headquarters, killing six colleagues.
And second, he gets (a character we will not mention here) killed! How could he keep his job? -- Connie Arkus, Schaumburg
Dear Connie: You make excellent points and I agree with them. Why Daniel Craig's reinvented agent remains tethered to conventions of 20th-century films (fruit-cart collisions, Bond "outrunning" machine gun bullets) I just don't understand. Perhaps it's true that a 007 cliché, just like Tomorrow, never dies.
The spectacular crash of a London subway train might have been the single greatest act of villainy in Bond history -- Javier Bardem's insane Silva casually wipes out a few hundred commuters just to prove he can -- except that there's not a single passenger riding on it. A great, horrific moment bungled.
Also, Connie, I'm bewildered how 007 somehow gets his Aston Martin DB-5 equipped with machine guns and an ejector seat. Bond won the vehicle during a card game back in "Casino Royale." Who did he win it from? 008? 002? Why would a gambler own an Aston Martin loaded up with all of Q's goodies from "Goldfinger" in 1964?
So, Connie, you can see why I couldn't give "Skyfall" four stars in good conscience, despite that, on the whole, I still consider it the best 007 thriller since, uh, "Casino Royale." -- Dann