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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Keira Knightley in an image from Anna Karenina, opening November 30 at a/perture cinema.Anna Karenina is finally about to descend on a/perture this week, to the excitement of many fans of Keira Knightley and costume dramas.  But this is a very different beast than Pride and Prejudice or The Duchess, I learned when I saw the film at home in Houston over Thanksgiving break.  There were a number of things I wish I had known before seeing the movie, and I figured I would share a few with you here to maximize your viewing experience.

1. Read the book.  If you have the time to read a thousand pages of dense Tolstoy before you can come see Anna Karenina, I’d recommend it.  Joe Wright has directed an Anna Karenina for people who love Anna Karenina, a version meant to be a welcome break from convention (more on that later) for people who have seen the story adapted time after time.  You’ll appreciate it more if you’ve read the book – I haven’t, by the way.

But let’s be real, this is highly impractical.  So time to move on to more realistic tips …

2. Read a plot summary before.  SparkNotes and Wikipedia have done an excellent job for you there.  I know it might seem like it spoils the fun to know about the story before you go in, but Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard are not going to wait for you to catch up with them.  They seem to think you already know who these characters are and what motivates them.  If you are like me flying blindly into the movie, that will feel kind of frustrating.

So don’t be behind the eight-ball from the start of the movie.  Know what you are getting yourself into.  And if you don’t like spoilers, don’t read the whole summary.  Just read enough to where you get the gist of the story.

If it makes you feel better about “cheating,” know that my theater professor told us to do the same thing before we saw a Shakespeare show.  “No one in the world goes to see Shakespeare to pick up on the plot, so read a summary before.”

3. Get some historical context.  It’s okay to be a little shaky on your Russian history. I think my Modern European History teacher from high school would be mortified if she saw how clueless I was when my friend asked me in the middle of the movie what was going on in Russia at the time … and I just had absolutely no idea.

After a quick brush-up, I’ll impart a few things worth taking into consideration when mulling over Anna Karenina.  At the time Tolstoy wrote the novel, Russian culture was at an impasse.  Some thought Russia should follow the rest of Europe’s lead to imitate their success.  Others thought Russia should and would be most powerful if it stayed Russian.  And Russia at the time was also in political turmoil as tsars reached for more and more power while the intellectuals pressed for democracy.

These two tensions manifest themselves throughout the film.  Keep a look out for them.

4. Read up on Tolstoy a little bit.  He’s an interesting guy.  Trust me on this … it might not add all that much to your viewing experience, but his life and times are definitely entertaining.  Oprah’s book club did a great profile on him, although resources like SparkNotes and Wikipedia are again worthwhile too.

5. Know Joe Wright takes “all the world’s a stage” a little too literallyAnna Karenina is literally set on a stage and in a theater.  It was Joe Wright’s idea, and he came up with it two weeks before production began – throwing his production team into chaos trying to rework their various crafts.

The stage is a very interesting metaphor for the Russian society that Anna has to almost literally perform in.  Sometimes it’s an excellent way to suggest layers of depth in the story.  But at others, it can be a little bit confusing.  If you can’t quickly make logic of where a scene is taking place in the building, stop thinking about it and listen to the dialogue.  That’s your best bet to find intellectual satisfaction.

Hope these tips help you to enjoy Anna Karenina more fully!

Every year, one movie speaks to a sense of now.  Whether intentionally (“Up in the Air“) or unintentionally (“The Artist“), their messages resonate with current concerns and taps powerfully into the zeitgeist.

I highly doubt that any movie in 2012 comes along and captures that spirit better than “Argo,” and if it does … then I’ll have to upload a picture of myself with a foot in my mouth to my Facebook page.  Some of the similarities to the current times could not have been foreseen, and no one wanted to foresee the tragic loss of four Americans to an attack on an overseas embassy.

Regardless, it happened, and it makes the immaculately constructed and taut opening that depicts the siege of the embassy in Tehran is viewed through an entirely different lens.  We think not only of the people trying to escape a volatile 1979 Iran but also of Ambassador Steven and his slain colleagues.  The painful coexistence of the now with the then is deeply unsettling, and it sets the tone for a movie that entertainingly and thrillingly historicizes the contemporary.

However, I don’t attribute the success of “Argo” merely to coincidence and fate.  The movie works because it was meticulously and intentionally crafted by director Ben Affleck, who continues to make leaps and bounds with each movie he makes.  And “The Town” was by no one’s standards a bad movie.  He proves that on-the-job training does not a bad filmmaker create as he continues to learn from his own mistakes, correct them, and improve on what was already working.

Affleck is proving to be an emerging master in setting tones and establishing convincing settings.  Moving away from his comfort zone of hometown Boston, he still manages to make the doldrums of Washington feel stagnant in the face of international crisis.  His Hollywood is another very interesting world, one where everyone is an actor and a pervasive layer of superficiality coats everything.  It is here where Affleck’s CIA operative Tony Mendez must venture to find a cover story for a covert rescue of six Americans who evaded being taken hostage.  The transfer from the dimly-lit hallways to the lavish poolsides makes Mendez feel quite lost.

Thankfully, Chris Terrio’s script gives us a brilliant guide to this perilous terrain in Alan Arkin’s Robert Siegel, a self-aware hack who sees right through all the industry BS.  The tongue-in-cheek commentary is brilliant, and in the hands of crotchety Arkin, it’s hilarious too.  John Goodman is also on hand to provide a much jollier, less cynical counterpart to Siegel; the two work marvelously in league with each other.

While “Argo” may be willing to send up the film industry, it’s a movie fully and wholeheartedly convinced of the artistic power of cinema.  Mendez may be slick and furtive, but his skills are often less useful in the different austere landscape of Tehran.  His planning and acting can only get himself and the six diplomats so far.  In the end, it’s the movies and their universal language that save them.

That’s what it’s all about, right?  A movie that reminds us of film’s power to connect people from different cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences.  A movie that shows us of the value of a little bit of ingenuity in the midst of bureaucratic stalemate in the government.  A movie that encourages people who might have different goals to work together for the greater good of humanity.  This is cinema, this is creativity, this is cooperation.  This is “Argo,” this is 2012, this is now, this is us.

Have you noticed anything different about your moviewatching experience at a/perture in the last few weeks?  No, the seats did not get even more comfortable, nor did the food did not get even more delicious.  I’ll give you a cryptic hint: it’s something you see but don’t see.

Tantalized?  Confused?  Ok, fine, here’s what I’m talking about:

a/perture's newest addition, a digital projector!

Ain’t she something?!  Welcome the newest member of the a/perture family, the digital projector!

If you follow film culture, you might have heard some groans from the industry and die-hard cinephiles about the transition from film to digital.  If you don’t, I can boil it down for you pretty simply.  Rather than having literal reels of film as the source of your image, it is being replaced by a digital file on a computer.

Mainly, the grumbling comes from the nostalgic.  They have an emotional attachment to a celluloid image and love it even though it deteriorates over time.  In a way, going to digital is like giving up your first car.  It may be a little battered and bruised; it’s care-worn with age.  But even when you are upgrading to a brand new car, it’s hard not to think about how much you will miss the beat-up old thing.  After all, it’s the only thing you know.

But if 2011 in movies taught us anything, it’s that the history of the world (and especially film) is not written by those whose gaze is fixed firmly in the past.  Nostalgia is a nice fantasy, but we have to live in the real world.  And whether we like it or not, the future of cinema is digital.

And even though it’s scary to abandon one technology and explore brave new worlds with a new one, we have to count on innovations to move us forward.  Remember, George Valentin did laugh off the advent of the talkies in The Artist … and we saw how well that worked out for him.

So I’m going to put on my Peppy Miller hat and tell you what you have to look forward to in the future from a/perture cinema and our brand spanking new DLP projectors.  The movies you see will now be clearer, sharper, and brighter.  You will get to see them in a range of over 35 trillion colors.  (Yes, that’s trillion with a t.)  These projectors are foremost in reliability and really guarantee that you are seeing the film as the production team wanted you to see it.

But don’t take my word for it.  I talked to Dr. Mary Dalton, a professor of Communication and Film Studies at Wake Forest, with the intent of getting an opinion that perhaps was not at either extreme.  And even she said, “I couldn’t think of a disadvantage […] although it could limit your access to older titles.”

She then went on to say,

“A print is always new.  It’s as new the first day of a run as the last day, and that is really significant because the sound quality and picture quality are always going to be high.  You’re not going to have pops, and you’re not going to have dirt.  Overall, it makes for a more consistent and high-level viewing experience.

Most prints that you used to get in cinema were fourth generation from the negative.  So when you’re working with digital, you’re only looking at a second generation.  Also, you don’t have any change-over reels.

Overall, I think it’s exciting.  I think it’s a win for audiences and I think a win for a/perture in the long run.”

So if you haven’t stopped by to see the new amazing picture quality, come experience the new perks of being at a/perture!  (I’ll spare you another pun on one of our titles.)

“Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” was a common rallying cry on the campaign trail for Vice President Joe Biden. I am not going to comment on the validity of the statement; I’m attempting an aesthetic evaluation after all, not a political debate. However, I will refer you to Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary “Detropia,” which shows the American automotive industry on life support and Detroit rotting around it.

The filmmakers provide a harrowing look at the detrital conditions of the city; at times, I caught myself wondering if their establishing shots were new footage or stolen from some horror film set in a decaying Motor City. Ewing and Grady cut a cross a broad swath of post-recessional Detroit experience, ranging from the government to the business owner to the artist all the way down to your average citizen.

Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a spin, and everyone has a story. Some people are there because of their pride, some are there to maintain order, some are there as opportunists to seize a bargain or fill a niche. Though each subject comes from an entirely different point of view and frame of reference, they can all agree that Detroit is a fallen colossus, a sinking ship of which they are among the last to abandon.

“Detropia” is a devastating portrait of that city, and it twists a knife in the wound of the economic downfall in a way that really stings. While “Up in the Air” and other similarly zeitgeist-tapping films merely graze the surface, Ewing and Grady use the power of documentarian veracity to make the rotting carcass invade all our senses. Though they disappoint on a simple storytelling level by not following each story to completion and thus leaving a number of loose ends hanging, they serve up a slice of life that is searingly real … but deny us the last bite.

Check out our board on a/perture’s Pinterest page, “celebrating detropia,” for a collection of images that show Detroit in all its beauty and horror.