New World, Old World

This has been another movie weekend for the missus and me as we do our best to ignore omnipresent songs trying to lure us into the season’s commercial orgy. So last night, we watched Terrence Malick’s The New World on HBO (that one was a freebie). I think we were both surprised at this relatively “old” flick on a couple of counts:

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First, it was Malick’s usual artful fare, but it was both eminently enjoyable and informative. Colin Farrell played Capt. John Smith, and an actress I wasn’t familiar with, Q’orianka Kilcher, played the most attractive Pocahontas imaginable. Second, our usual movie routine at home is for the missus to bombard me with trivia questions during a movie’s course, which I gladly and quickly GOOGLE on my trusty iPod Touch. In this case, we both learned a lot of the minutiae about this seminal bit of American history.

As far as the movie’s presentation is concerned, we both loved the disjointed scenes, the (apparently) historically accurate English clothing and the nature of the Jamestown settlement, the Native American habits, clothing, culture, and language. Malick goes in for visual character studies and scenic moments, and these were clear and beautiful. And the sound track, which I always pay attention to (this time incorporating music ranging from Carlos Nakai to Mozart) made the music a wonderfully sensory experience.

My Rating 19 of 20 stars.

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And today, I, being an avid reader of Leo Tolstoy, cajoled the missus into going with me to see the new version of Anna Karenina. Here again, surprises abound:

The screenplay was written by Tom Stoppard, who clearly wanted to project to be (like) a stage play, even to the point that scenes morphed from a pseudo stage theater into movie scenery. To fully appreciate Stoppard’s take here, it’s a must for a viewer to have recently read the book, as each scene begins and ends rather abruptly, without explanation or lead-in. Toward the end, Stoppard’s screenplay hops and skips about in offering Tolstoy’s story sequence, giving it a non-linear feel that would grate on avid Tolstoy readers. And for me this ruined the book-ending’s impact.

Keira Knightley is spectacular in scene after scene, and Jude law did yeoman’s work in portraying the stolid husband, Karenin. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was perfectly cast as the foppishly blond-and-handsome County Vronsky, Anna’s Lover, and Matthew MacFayden as Prince Oblonsky could have stolen the limelight, had the acting been less disciplined than director Joe Wright obviously demanded .

The most glaring omission? The eventually consummated romance of Levin and Kitty, and their most happy marriage, which Tolstoy holds up as a counterpoint to the fated love of Vronsky and Anna.

This was a bold and somewhat flawed experiment in movie making, and one not everyone will appreciate for what it is. Still, I look for it to garner an Oscar or two in the next go-round.

My Rating: 15 of 20 stars

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