Only one new indie film is opening this week, but two of the wide releases felt very indie to me, so I’m grouping these three together, mainly because these are ones that I’ve seen.
- Anna Karenina, the latest screen version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic of Russian literature, gets a highly-stylized, heightened theatrical treatment from director Joe Wright, a period specialist who seems to have been invigorated by making last year’s stylish action thriller Hanna. Filled with beauty and refreshing ideas that endeavor to bring modern meaning to a tragedy, not everything in the film works — it gets bogged down midway through — but the purity of the performances, led by Keira Knightley, allow the naked emotions to shine through. (Landmark Magnolia, Angelika Plano)
- Life of Pi does not take place entirely at sea — the first act safely sets up the action from a land-based perspective — but it does seem to be entirely about the spiritual journey of a young man who embraces three of the world’s so-called “major” religions, and whose faith is then put to the test when he is shipwrecked at sea, the sole survivor of a tragedy that claims the lives of his close-knit family. He is stranded on a lifeboat in the company of a (completely computer-generated) Bengal tiger, which means that he spends a considerable amount of time racking his brain, trying desperately to stay alive. Augmented by wide-eyed optimism and — there is no other description that fits — visual effects that are magical, the young man’s journey becomes our own. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the film is that it feels very much at home as part of director Ang Lee’s ouevre. (In wide release)
- Silver Linings Playbook threatens initially to give people who suffer from Bipolar Disorder a bad name. Bradley Cooper is too nervously mannered to ever be entirely convincing as the Crazy Dude Who Drives Everyone Else Crazy, but Jennifer Lawrence is outstandingly nuanced as a potential paramour, and Robert De Niro makes the most of his best role in years. David O. Russell remains a better director than writer. (In wide release)
Also opening in wide release:
- Red Dawn, a remake of John Milius’ 1984 celebration of jingoism in the Reagan Era, has been described as a victim of MGM’s financial troubles, which left it rotting in a vault for a couple of years. But trusted friends who have seen it have confided that it should have been lost and/or destroyed; for one thing, the Asian invaders were changed from Chinese to Korean during the interim waiting period out of fear of losing the Mainland China market, or some-such nonsense. No thanks.
- Rise of the Guardians is an animated film that mixes popular characters like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy with less-familiar heroes like Jack Frost. Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fischer, and Hugh Jackman provide their celebrity voices. Advance reviews have been mixed, at best.