The well-known script writer and teacher Robert McKee says, that if you leave a movie theatre talking about the costumes or music, it wasn't a very good film. I think you can add to that: talking about how good looking the movie stars are. And so to the two latest films I have paid money to see: Anna Karenina and Oz the Great and Powerful. Both were good, but not great – in my opinion.
Firstly let me say that Anna Karenina is my favourite book – ever, so I knew before seeing the film that it wouldn't match the heights of Tolstoy's writing. Having said that, I think it made a good try at marrying the two story threads that form the book: the passionate affair between Anna and Vronsky and the true love and commitment of Levin and Kitty; and I liked all the lead actors, except for the guy who played Vronsky. Was it just me or did his moustache look ridiculous? Plus he looked so young! (could be me getting old, I admit), but worst of all, I always imagined Vronsky dark and manly rather than blonde and boyish (regular readers will know that I rarely fall for fair-haired men). I don't think there was a lot of chemistry between him and Keira Knightley either; and although I like her and she truly has star power, I've always thought her too skinny (again, could be me used to my own fuller figure).
The costumes, sets and music were great, though the director uses a visual theatrical motif throughout the film which constantly reminds the audience that we are watching a 'play' (also odd because the film is based on a novel, not a play).
At various points we see the actors on a stage and even 'back stage'. I don't think this works, though visually it was beautifully done. Ditto for the use of model trains. When we watch live theatre there isn't the pretence of realism in terms of 'trains' or 'horse races' but we have the reality of actual people speaking their lines right in front of us. Film is more about suspension of belief (I think), while we watch a film nothing is 'real' though it appears more 'real' and we abandon ourselves to belief. This was impossible to do with this film when (for example) in one scene Levin leaves a room and climbs stairs past the curtains and pulleys of the set, into the loft of the theatre to visit his dying brother.
In a nutshell: good, but could have been better, especially given the source of the story: 3 stars.
As for Oz the Great and Powerful: James Franco sure was nice to look at – tall, dark(!) and handsome, and as charming as they come, which suited his character perfectly. Costumes, sets etc – brilliant. Storyline – good. Rating 3 1/2. Again, could have been a lot better, but it was enjoyable.
Have you seen either or both of these films? What did you think?