Weekend Movies: “Anna Karenina,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Lust, Caution”

What not to miss on the big screen this weekend.
Keira Knightley in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina. Image courtesy of Focus Features.
Keira Knightley in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina. Image courtesy of Focus Features.


Anna Karenina

Joe Wright threw audiences a curve with his last feature, the contemporary spy drama

Hanna, which came on the heels of two literary period pieces (Pride & Prejudice and
Atonement) that had him pegged as the 21st-century David Lean, maker of elegant and visually
sumputous erudite dramas. His fourth film, an adaptation of Tolstoy’s
Anna Karenina, might signal, on the surface, a return to the form of those first two films. But
don’t be fooled by the Russian literary trappings: This movie is just as much of a
shock to the system as
Hanna was, for entirely different reasons.

Anna Karenina opens on a proscenium with antique oil footlights lining the front of the stage,
and it quickly becomes clear that Wright means to use this as the basis of his structure:
Highlighting the theatricality of the dramatic events of the story by creating a surreal
theater around it. It’s a difficult device to pull off, and it’s going to be a divisive
one as well, if only because there’s really no greater purpose for sets to be moving
around the actors, or for stage doors to suddenly open onto picturesque exteriors
of the Russian countryside.

But what Wright has actually made here is a musical without songs. There is choreography,
there are even some scenes that come inches away from breaking into song, but no actual
musical numbers. What the film does retain from the musical is the notion that one
can use the artificiality of something like a sudden musical number, or characters
watching events unfold from the rafters of a theater, to heighten the emotion and
drama. Indeed, there are times, after one has finally settled into the multiple intertwined
storylines of Tolstoy’s novel, that the theatrical trappings melt into the background
and simply help focus the attention on the action. And even when those devices are
front and center, Wright is a filmmaker of such consummate technical skill that it’s
just a wonder to see what he might pull off next. There’s a lengthy waltz section
in which loves and allegiances between characters shift and morph in the midst of
a mesmerizing set of dances, with people not involved directly in the scene sometimes
freezing, sometimes disappearing completely—it’s the sort of pure cinematic moment
that I could just live in over and over again. It’s far from perfect, maybe even deeply
flawed, but I can’t help but recommend
Anna Karenina simply as utterly satisfying eye candy.

View the trailer. Opens Friday at E Street
and Bethesda Row
.


Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell’s follow-up to
The Fighter was one of the big hits at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and debuts
this week in a limited fashion before coming to more theaters next week before the
holiday. Bradley Cooper stars as a man once again living with his slightly nutty family
after spending some time dealing with more clinical sanity issues of his own, having
been institutionalized for a number of months. Jennifer Lawrence plays a young woman
with her own issues, and the two begin to forge a relationship as they also try to
heal their respective illnesses. Making a movie about mental illness that is funny
without crassly making fun isn’t an easy task, but Russell has long shown a skill
for making comedy out of unlikely material, from the Gulf War in
Three Kings to philosophy in
I ♥ Huckabees.

View the trailer. Opens Friday at Gallery
Place
,
and expands to more theaters Wednesday.


Lust, Caution

With the release of Ang Lee’s adaptation of
Life of Pi next week, the Freer takes the opportunity to look back at the career of this versatile
director. Most of the films in the brief, four-movie retrospective come from the earlier
Taiwan-based portion of his career from 1992 to ’94, including his debut feature,

Pushing Hands, and the hit follow-up,
The Wedding Banquet. But kicking things off tomorrow is his 2007 return to Chinese cinema after winning
the Academy Award in 2006 for
Brokeback Mountain. In
Lust, Caution, the director adapts an Eileen Chang novella, a sexy spy thriller about Japanese-occupied
Shanghai during World War II. One of Lee’s most visually sumptuous films, the movie
was hampered in distribution somewhat due to a US critical response that was more
tepid than the film’s warm reception in Europe and China, along with an NC-17 rating
for the explicit nature of some of its sexual scenes.

View the trailer. Friday at 7 PM at the
Freer Gallery. Free. The Ang Lee retrospective continues
on December 2 and 7.



Chasing Ice

National Geographic tasked photographer James Balog with the job of revealing the
retreat of glaciers. Jeff Orlowski’s film documented that process by placing cameras
at multiple glacier sites around the world, where the glaciers would be photographed
at regular intervals over long periods of time. The results of these time-lapse portraits
of massive glaciers practically disappearing from the frame, utterly changing the
landscape in a matter of months, are the most striking and immediate representations
of climate change imaginable. Orlowski’s film concentrates on the mechanics of the
project itself, and then puts the films on display, which transform years into seconds.

View the
trailer.
Opens Friday at E
Street
.



A Late Quartet

Director Yaron Zilberman collects a formidable ensemble for his sophomore effort with
Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Wallace Shawn playing
the four members of a longstanding, world-famous string quartet. Approaching a quarter
of a century together, they’re rocked by the news that one of their members has some
severe health issues; it releases a flood of emotions, some of them long repressed,
among the members of the group. While some reviews have found the melodrama of the
piece to be a little over the top, it’s rare to get the chance to see this many actors
of this caliber working with one another on just the sort of character drama that’s
designed to highlight their skills.

View the
trailer.
Now playing at
Shirlington

and the
Angelika;

expands into DC at West
End
and the
Avalon

Friday.

Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: D.W. Griffith’s

Abraham Lincoln

With Steven Spielberg’s excellent Lincoln
biopic

expanding to more local theaters this week, it’s an excellent
opportunity to compare
it to one of the earliest visions of Lincoln on screen in D.W.
Griffith’s 1930 biopic,
which stars Walter Huston as the President. Griffith’s film,
one of the few pictures
with sound he ever made, is a much larger overview than
Spielberg’s detailed look
at the last few months of Lincoln’s life. Starting with his
early, pre-political days
and then working its way all the way through his presidency and
assassination, the
film covers a remarkably large period of time in just over an
hour and a half.

Special Features: Not a lot, but reportedly the restoration of the film is so spectacular
you won’t even miss the extras. The disc does include Griffith and Huston doing an
introduction to Griffith’s 1915
Birth of a Nation, which the two filmed on while working on
Lincoln.

View a scene from the film.

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