Sunday, September 09, 2012

Film Review: Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

Adultery. It’s always made for some of the most delicious film, TV and book storylines (and, as a Chelsea fan, I can't say I'm a stranger to my player's committing it #trollface). Indeed, between 1873 to 1877, Leo Tolstoy used it as the basis of his novel, which he published in eight parts. Joe Wright, always one for a literary classic (Pride & Prejudice, and to a lesser extent depending on how much you rate McEwan, Atonement), adapted this 19th century Russian lit classic to the big-screen. After scouting across the continent for filming locations, he finally settled for the unusual, somewhat Dogville-esque of having the vast majority of the film filmed on a stage. The big difference between Anna Karenina and Dogville however, though, is where the latter barely had any set at all, with the locations and props chalked into the wooden floorboard, the set of Anna Karenina, whilst discernibly all a stage, is vast and opulent, with moving backdrops and richly designed interiors aplenty. The purpose of Wright choosing to having the movie filmed on a stage was because he said that Anna felt like her entire life was “on a stage”, and, indeed, the scenes where she faces society and stylistic touches are added (such as dancing couples freezing into a tableau whilst she dances with Count Vronsky) are certainly very effective indeed.

 Performances in Anna Karenina are uniformly excellent. I remember, a decade ago, when Bend it Like Beckham first came out. It was a cute little movie about a girl juggling the pressures of her society and what she wanted, but one of the things that also stood out was Keira Knightley as the feisty friend who helps her get into a local girl’s team. It wasn’t the most polished performance, but then again, in Bend it Like Beckham, it didn’t need to be. A year later was Pirates of the Caribbean, where once again, she was appropriately spirited (her delivery of “you like pain? Try wearing a corset” is classic), but seemed to be continuing a trend of delivering solid, not spectacular, supporting roles as the pretty lady. Add in a few ill-fated turns in the likes of Domino, King Arthur and The Jacket, and the running joke amongst Brits was that Keira Knightley, though a pretty face (and a very beautiful one at that, something that is exhibited very well by Jacqueline Durran’s lavish costumes in Anna Karenina), wasn’t much scrub at acting itself.

Well, the era of mocking Knightley’s acting prowess is well and truly over, because she was quietly strong in Atonement, captured Lizzie Bennet’s playful cheekiness in Pride & Prejudice, and also more than up to the task as the crazy patient in A Dangerous Method. In Anna Karenina, she is excellent; I’d even go as far as to say she was awards-worthy. The thing about her Anna is, that not many viewers, reading the plot prĂ©cis on the page, would have a whole lot of sympathy for a woman who voluntarily jacks in a comfortable marriage including a son she dotes on, all in pursuit of carnal desire with an admittedly dashing Count (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who wouldn’t say no). But Knightley imbues Anna Karenina with all the elements of her character, not just the ~selfish horndog~. She is a caring mother, a loyal sister to Stepan Oblonksy (a serial cheat, played with humour by Matthew Macfadyen; some would regard this is a quasi-incestuous casting, seeing as he played Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, and that) and overall, Tolstoy and Wright would have us believe, not a bad person. I certainly didn’t think she was, and that is all to the merit of Keira Knightley’s wonderful performance. It is funny, because one of the things she is oft-criticized for in her acting (the way her lip pouts and her jaw juts out) is snuffed out for the majority of the film, and it is only when her affair with Count Vronksy sours that it re-emerges, yet, ironically, this quite suits Knightley’s acting and certainly helps convey the mad, irrational woman Anna is being driven to become.

 The support is also terrific, save perhaps Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who I still have my reservations about. Save his ridiculously obvious fake moustache, he more than looks the part of Count Vronksy, with his piercing blue eyes and thick muscular arms. But when delivering his lines, he comes across as a bit needy and drippish, rather than the potently sexual being that Vronksy is, and that Anna couldn’t resist. As such, it’s fairly easy to envision Anna turning him down, and one has to suspend some belief when Anna initially succumbs to her lust for her. Jude Law, on the other hand, as Anna’s stuffy, boring, but loving husband, is magnificent. It’s a thankless role, as the man 20 years her senior who sees his wife as beyond reproach, but his love and trust in her only stifles her further, but he delivers it with such subtly and nuance that the love triangle aspect of the film is appropriately murky in that I genuinely couldn’t take a side.

Then there is the subplot about Konstantine Levin (played by Bill Weasley off the Harry Potter films, Domhnall Gleeson) and his enduring love for Oblonksy’s wife’s sister, Kitty (newcomer Alicia Vikander, a very pretty Swedish actress). Whilst Anna Karenina’s love affairs are complicated in that she has two men to choose from, Levin is confused and increasingly antagonised by the state of Russia, and therefore it is his philosophies that hold him back. Some of his conversation with the workers in his father’s manor go on a little bit longer than necessary and certainly aren’t amongst the film’s most memorable moments, but indeed, this is a common criticism of Tolstoy’s source material; the love/sex stuff is ace, but the Russian politics bored even the most learned of literary critics. So we can’t fault Wright, or Gleeson too much for that. Furthermore, the Levin/Kitty romance forms the most emotionally affecting scene in the film; Levin, having gone away for months after his initial marriage proposal was rejected by Kitty, comes back to see her, where they speak wordlessly to each other using only cubes of letters; a sort of 19th century hangman/Scrabble amalgamation. As Kitty admits she was wrong to turn him down, Levin lifts his hands to reveal three simple letters; I L Y. Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much on the page, but on the screen, and with the earnest facial expressions of the actors thrown in, it really was a cathartic moment of redemption for Levin, one of the few genuine good guys of the piece.

 Overall, Anna Karenina is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in the cinema this year, which is truly high praise for a 19th century set Russian love saga with not a car chase in sight. Joe Wright deserves much praise for his brave take on a literary classic and his cast more than step up to the task, with Knightley, Law and Gleeson all show-stealing. As with many other Focus Features films (Brokeback Mountain, The Constant Gardner, Swimming Pool), the film is a treat to look at, with its swirling camerawork and the set which changes in front of your eyes. Anna Karenina caused controversy aplenty when it first came out due to its depiction of infidelity, but in truth, there is so much more to the book, encompassing themes of love, life & death, conformity, femininity and individualism. In just over two hours’ running time Wright was never going to cover every single one of them, but the end product, like our fearless, misguided lead, is beautiful to look at.

Grade: A-

If you enjoyed this post, check out Poker Blogs' review of 21!

Chelsea players captaining their country on international duty this weekend.

Frank Lampard, Moldova vs England (in the second half when Gerrard was subbed off)

Petr Cech, Denmark vs Czech Republic.

David Luiz, Brazil vs South Africa.

Branislav Ivanovic, Scotland vs Serbia.

Fernando Torres, Spain vs Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Baby, instant soup doesn't really grab me.

Weekly round-up of a few noticeable meals I've had.

Japanese style chicken curry. £2.95, work canteen.

Creme brulee and chocolate ice cream, Haagen-Dazs.

Meal of the week: steam & ale pie with mash and gravy. £2.95, work canteen.

Delicious chocolate brownie explosion, Haagen-Dazs.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Restaurant Review: ASK

picture of me and my brother at ASK. My eyes closed when the photo was taken (I look the same as usual.)

A different format than my usual for ASK, due to the fact that the fact that I didn't like my dish - veggie pizza - was entirely my own fault as I ordered in a hurry (don't ask), without having properly reading the menu. So I didn't see that the ingredients were all things I didn't like, which is at no fault of the cooks. Also, I went with my entire family and therefore had a huge range of foods. So instead of using words today, I'mma shut up for once (I heard the whoops :p) and just post the photos.




All that, and drinks, came to just over £100. Overall, the rest of the fam seemed to enjoy themselves so I'll give ASK a B+.

If you would like me to review your restaurant, get in contact via email at

Saturday, September 01, 2012

First day of the month nostalgia.

This was taken in China in 2009. I like it because a) my godawful fashion sense hasn't changed a bit over the three years, crap hairclips and all, b) I'm "playing football" and c) I seem amused.

Therefore it's a good memory of a holiday that was otherwise rather too hot, too mosquito-infested, and too Chinese for my liking. :p

A few delicious things I've eaten this week.

Sausage, mushy peas, mashed potatos and gravy. £2.95, work canteen.

Italian meatballs and pasta. £2.95, work canteen.

Sweets, sweet shop.

Chicken, potatos, gravy and green beans. £2.95, work canteen.

Restaurant Review: Smollensky’s (Strand)

Such is the bustling, crowded nature of the Strand, that blink and you’ll miss Smollensky’s Bar and Grill, which is wedged in a small space just next to Boots. It’s quite unfortunate for them, yet fortunate, in some ways, because, on the day of paying this place a visit with the girls from work, their grill was broken, meaning I couldn’t choose a steak or a burger that I had my eye on. This is at the same time fortunate, because I LOVE fish, and tend to mark seafood and fish dishes more leniently. So, that little setback was good and bad.

I ended up having fish in both my starter and my main – I had Eggs Benedict with Salmon for my starter. It was exquisite. The bouillabaisse sauce was unabashedly rich and accompanied the eggs perfectly; I wolfed the dish down in seconds. For my main, I had the fishcake, which despite tasting delicious, disappointed me; it was advertised with the salads, yet, aside from a grand total of about five green beans accompanying the meal, there really wasn’t much in the way of “salad” on my plate at all, purely the fishcake. It did taste wonderful, I’ll concede, but if you consider that that entire meal came to £12.95, one could not help feeling a little short-changed, swanky central London location or not.

I went with five other women and some of the other dishes ordered were mussels (which I hear were excellent), and the sea bass (just as good). We had several plates of chips amongst us all, which went down a treat, as, there was certainly something to the salt applied to the chips that set it apart from the usual chips you get as a side in restaurants. I would welcome those chips to McDonald’s, and gladly pay a 50p or so premium for my fries when I go to Maccy’s, because the difference was palpable. We all shared a couple of desserts; I tried a cake of some kind, which was sweetly chewy, but certainly far from being the finest in the genre.

Finally, a note on the customer service. It was not good. I have been to restaurants where the location has been one notch above a hole in the wall, yet the waiters have been totally friendly and attained to my every need. And rightly so, if they expect a tip, they’d best work for it. The waiters at Smollensky’s were, at best, negligent, and, at worst, sullen and unhelpful. It’s generally restaurant etiquette to check that the customers have knives and forks when handing them their dishes (what are we supposed to eat with, our fingers? Just wondering), but the waiters here did nothing of the kind. They did not check that our table was constantly topped up with jugs of water, and weren’t within sight when we needed other things. When we had the audacity to ask our waiters for things, the expression on their face told us all we needed to know – they weren’t happy. So much for service with a smile. So naturally, it made perfect sense that they would help themselves to a 12.5% service charge at the end of the meal, then.

Overall, I’m glad I went to Smollenky’s as it is a big name that I’ve heard lots of good things about, and the food indeed did sparkle, and the selection of food could have been even more impressive had the grill not been working. But even more pressing than a malfunctioning grill was the issue of the waiters, who thought far too highly of themselves to render our Smollensky’s experience totally recommendable.

Grade: B-

If you would like me to review your restaurant, email me at

It had to be done!