TIFF 2012: Anna Karenina and The Brass Teapot Reviews (Paolo Kagaoan)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net. Credit: Laurie Sparham

Anna Karenina (2012)

Starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew McFayden, Olivia Williams, Michelle Dockery, Emily Watson, Holliday Grainger, Shirley Henderson, Alicia Vikander, Susanne Lothar, half of England and one-third of Europe.

Directed by Joe Wright

My joke on this post’s casting notes is a reference to a passage in one of the earlier chapters of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The narrator informs us of a Stiva Oblonsky (McFayden), who knows half of Moscow and half of St. Petersburg. Which then reminds me of a line in Titanic probably said by Mrs. Dewitt-Bukater about the lifeboats serving only the good half of the ship. It’s as if ‘society’ is a shorthand term for the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, and as if we, the descendants of the serfs, might as well not exist. I’m in the process of reading Anna Karenina and it’s a master class of cognitive dissonance, Tolstoy exposing the most repugnant examples of urbanite elitism. It’s the same society that will crucify a woman for making a man’s mistakes, especially one of adultery.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net. Credit: Laurie Sparham

Earlier reviews have compared this adaptation of Anna Karenina to Powell and Pressburger or to Baz Luhrmann. But I see more of a resemblance to last year’s Hugo in the way that it exposes skeletal machinations and layers. Neither the colours nor the costumes can distract me from tasting the wood and the sweat of the backstage areas. Wright uses an exposed method of portraying the story on a meta-stage, and in doing so makes Tolstoy’s satire more pungent. If you take Wright’s method as flaws I will respectfully understand yet accept them for strongly bringing forth his message.

Populating this mise-en-scene is a great ensemble cast led by Knightley, who superbly externalizes snippets and varieties of emotion within seconds. Lastly, watch out for Vikander who plays Anna’s relative Kitty, the actress embodying perfection – she’s going to be a star if she plays her cards right.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Brass Teapot (2012)

Starring Juno Temple, Michael Angarano, Alexis Bledel, Alia Shawkat, Bobby Moynihan

Directed by Ramaa Mosley

It’s an attractive concept – what would characters in a movie do if they find an object that would give them money if they get hurt. In this movie it’s the titular brass teapot that finds its way in the hands of a one-time kleptomaniac named Alice (Temple), who is also an unemployed college graduate with an otherwise loving young marriage with John (Angarano). It’s reductive to say that this movie is just a way to watch actors hurt themselves physically. The movie thus responds to the challenge on where it would take its characters, what it would make them endure and how to keep this premise interesting for the next ninety minutes. Although its and our sadism is a big part of the movie, it also focuses on its shallow rewards of wealth and how it would change our leading couple.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

There are, however, elements of this movie which are not as good. Specifically there’s Temple, an amazing character actress and supporting player who can’t cut it in a leading role. She is playing a character with written flaws, someone who is selectively greedy and abrasive, but I’ll give her credit for being creative. She, like this darkly humoured movie, takes us on a journey that helps us redefine pain and endurance. Some parts of the movie look too cheap and fluffy but the many physical gags in between will always work for viewers like me.

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