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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Killer Joe Review (Kirk Haviland)

Killer Joe (2012)

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church

Written by Tracy Letts

Directed by William Friedkin

Iconic director William Friedkin returns to the big screen this week with Killer Joe, his first feature since 2006’s Bug. The director of classic films like The Exorcist and The French Connection this time around brings us an extremely dark comedy of a murderer for hire that goes wrong in almost every way. Killer Joe may also be the film that brings us the most compelling performance in McConaughey’s career as the titular Joe.

After losing two kilos of drugs from a local supplier, Chris Smith (Hirsch) hatches a plan to get the $6,000 he owes to save his life. Enlisting the help of his father, Ansel (Church), mother-in-law, Sharla (Gershon) and sister, Dottie (Temple), Chris lays out the particulars of his nefarious scheme. You see Chris and Dottie’s mom, Ansel’s ex-wife, has a $50,000 life insurance policy that is all in Dottie’s name. Not having the fortitude to execute the deed of killing her themselves, the group enlists the services of Police Detective Joe Cooper (McConaughey), a corrupt officer that has a thriving murderer-for-hire business on the side. Cooper comes with a set of strict rules for business, one of which is that he gets paid up front in full that Chris and Ansell find out about upon meeting the man. Not getting the money, and despite his own rule, Joe becomes enthralled with the beautiful yet simple minded Dottie and proposes that she become a retainer on funds due. Dottie agrees, very reluctantly and without a lot of notice from Chris and Ansell, to the terms set forth by Cooper leading to a very sensual private dinner between Joe and Dottie. Of course things don’t play out as planned and Chris is left trying to scramble to find a way out for his now infatuated sister, whom he may or may not be obsessed with himself in a very non-brotherly way. And the already dangerous Cooper proves just how dark he can get.

Killer Joe is a very disturbed little film. The script from Tracey Letts does not fear to go where most movies would not. Equal parts wit, kink, and melodrama, Killer Joe takes a simple premise and does something completely original with it. The dialogue is original and crisp; a well-developed script that does contain a predictable twist towards the end, but the manner in which this twist is presented is both uncomfortable and hilarious at the same time. McConaughey is brilliant in the film. His Joe has a menacing nature in every moment he is onscreen, explosive and destructive in the blink of an eye, yet doting on the simple Dottie. Speaking of Dottie, Juno Temple does everything she can to steal this movie from McConaughey. Her performance mesmerizes you when she is onscreen. Temple has been putting together a great string of films and is definitely someone to keep an eye on. The rest of the cast also puts in some solid work, with this probably being the best thing I’ve seen Gershon in the last 10 years. The setting and set design resonate the desperation and broken down dynamic of the family at its core. Friedkin is a master at ratcheting up tension and not letting up when the audience is ready to let go, but exactly when he feels like it, which is epitomized by the final act of the film – it’s relentlessness. You’ll never look at KFC the same way again.

Killer Joe is a brutal and unflinching dark comedy that is also hilarious. Friedkin should be applauded for realizing his vision and doing it so unflinchingly. If you can handle it, Killer Joe is a definite recommend.

Killer Joe starts, hopefully in a theater near you, this Friday Aug 10th. Check your local theater listings for details.

Till Next Time,

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