Monday, 18 March 2013

"The shining", "Bronson" and "Anna Karenina"

- The shining:
Imagine being an off-season caretaker of a hotel for the whole winter. Nobody stays there but you and perhaps your family. You have no neighbour and as you step out of the hotel all you can see is trees and snow. Very often there can be snowstorms. No internet. No telephone. In short, completely isolated.
That's what "The shining" is about. Based on a novel by Stephen King and directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film has a good, interesting story. The main character, Jack Torrance, seems to have been unemployed for a while, which explains why he happily accepts the job, explaining solitude is exactly what he needs, having a writing project, even when he's been warned about a caretaker who once lived there, had cabin fever and killed his own wife and 2 daughters with an ax. What happens next is as expected. Jack accepts the job and goes to live in the hotel with his dull, meek, subservient wife Wendy and his introverted, psychic son Danny, and Jack himself descends into madness and attempts to murder them.
I generally like the film, mostly the story, and the fact that there are some ambiguities that can be interpreted in multiple ways. The best scene in my opinion is when Wendy, having been told to stay out, finally walks towards Jack's typewriter, looks at the unfinished paper on it and other sheets of paper typed by Jack, and in horror she realises that the whole time she thought he was working, all he did was typing a single sentence "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" in different layouts.
However, there are 3 main flaws:
1, some scene changes are a bit too abrupt, there's a sense of discontinuity and each time I can't help wondering how the previous scene is 'solved'.
2, I understand that the ghost of Grady has some influence on Jack and Jack himself has trouble writing, but the development of cabin fever should be gradual. It should be 1st shown that he has perfect solitude but can't write and stresses himself and the depression should develop gradually. I mean, boom, suddenly he acts like a monster and I have no idea what's going on and exactly when that happens. It has been said here and there that unlike Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick characterises Jack as being sinister right from the beginning and the malignancy comes from within Jack himself, but if that's the case it should start somewhere and have some signs before the man enters the hotel. Basically it's unconvincing.
3, Jack Nicholson is a huge disappointment. I would even say he ruins the film, even though "The shining" is a classic and this is considered 1 of his best performances. When he 1st appears, talks to a man, listens to the story and finally takes the job, the whole time I keep being distracted by his eyebrows. The more I watch, the more uneasy I feel with his way of acting- exaggerated, superficial, 'on the surface', Jack Nicholson lacks a certain depth and some subtlety of emotions. He acts with his trademark facial expressions and mannerisms that he uses for many other films. The character Jack Torrance is a failure 1st because of the script, and next because of Jack Nicholson's overacting.
I find it difficult to elaborate on this topic and explain my thought, but, in my opinion, overacting can be OK, melodramatic acting can be OK, but in this case Jack Nicholson's performance is unconvincing and painful to watch because I feel that it lacks depth and is merely on the surface.

- Bronson:
A film about Britain's most famous, or most notorious, prisoner, it blurs the line between comedy and horror. Enjoyable and entertaining, mostly thanks to Tom Hardy's brilliant and funny performance. The guy appeared in a couple of films I have seen but he never made a strong impression on me till now, but I will check out his other films since Tom Hardy's been compared to Christian Bale for his extreme physical transformations.
Once I've finished watching "Bronson", my view changes, however. I've seen great biopics, and can list them, like "My left foot", "La vie en rose", "Raging bull", "The aviator", "The fighter", "Walk the line", "Ray", "A beautiful mind", etc. A good, or great, performance, is the most important thing, but not the only- the script's very important as well. Meryl Streep's magnificent performance as Margaret Thatcher doesn't save "The iron lady" and the same goes for "Bronson". As Roger Ebert puts it: "His favorite pastime is taking a hostage and then engaging in a bloody battle with the guards who charge to the rescue, swinging clubs and beating him into submission. He has triggered this scenario many times, perhaps because he enjoys it so much. Originally sentenced to seven years ("You'll be out in three," his mother calls to him in the courtroom), he has now served 34 uninterrupted years, 30 of them in solitary confinement.
Why? We don't know. The movie doesn't know. If Bronson knows, he's not telling. The movie takes on a fearsome purity, refusing to find reasons, indifferent to motives, not even finding causes and effects."

- Anna Karenina (2012):
I would begin by saying that this film has great production design and cinematography and is 1 of the most gorgeous films I've seen for a while. Joe Wright's decision to set most of the action on a theatre stage is bold, innovative and interesting, apparently an attempt to make it different from the previous adaptations. This has the effect of demonstrating the artificiality of aristocratic life in Russia, a life as fabricated as a theatre set.
Among the actors and actresses, my favourite is Alicia Vikander, who plays Kitty. Keira Knightley is better than I expected, very good in some scenes. Of course, she's still the same Keira Knightley in "Pride and prejudice", "Silk", "Atonement", etc. and can't be called a great Anna Karenina, but I think her acting's improving. Perhaps, the main reason I'm not extremely disappointed is that up till now I haven't seen a really satisfying "Anna Karenina" film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronky looks a bit ridiculous, especially in the 1st scenes, he acts as though being in a comedy. Most disappointing is Jude Law, as Karenin. This man is supposed to be stern, stiff, formal, duty-bound, emotionless, obsessed with society, rules, duties and public opinion. Even more extreme, he seems incapable of having emotions. Anna Karenina has an affair not because he's a cruel man in any way, he just doesn't love her. And when he finds out about her infidelity, he reacts not because of jealousy- Karenin's incapable of jealousy, but because he doesn't want to lose face. Jude Law doesn't have those qualities, he doesn't seem to have authority and control over his wife and sometimes even appears weak. I don't see his devastation when the affair becomes a scandal and he loses reputation, and later, don't really see his cruel heartlessness either. Jude Law's pale performance compared to the actors in 1935 and 1948 or Daniel Day-Lewis in "A room with a view" makes worse a film that already prioritises style over substance.
The love story doesn't touch me. Neither does the tragedy.
In short, the new "Anna Karenina" as a whole isn't worse, but isn't better than the previous adaptations.

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