"Anna Karenina" – All the world's a stage, very literally, in Joe Wright's wildly theatrical adaptation of "Anna Karenina." If you thought the director's five-and-a-half-minute tracking shot in "Atonement" was show-offy, you ain't seen nothing yet. Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") have taken Leo Tolstoy's literary behemoth about love, betrayal and death among the elite in imperial Russia and boldly set it almost entirely within a decaying theater. The inspiration comes from the notion that the members of high society conducted themselves as if they were performing on stage. The result is technically dazzling, a marvel of timing and choreography. "Anna Karenina" is at once cleverly contained and breathtakingly fluid; it's crammed with rich, intimate detail yet moves with a boundless energy that suggests anything is possible. But wondrous as all this artifice is, it's also a huge distraction. The self-consciousness of the structure keeps us at arm's length emotionally. Rather than feeling the suffering of the adulterous Anna (Keira Knightley), we're more likely to notice how beautiful the suffering looks – the flattering lighting, her wild mane of dark curls spread meticulously across her pillow case. And eventually the trickery actually becomes a bit predictable. Still, it's impossible not to have huge admiration for this ambitious, complicated risk. Jude Law co-stars as Anna's cuckolded husband with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the flirtatious cavalry officer who woos her away. R for some sexuality and violence. 130 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2" – Finally – finally! – the "Twilight" franchise embraces its own innate absurdity with this gleefully over-the-top conclusion. This is by far the best film in the series. This does not necessarily mean it's good. But as it reaches its prolonged and wildly violent crescendo, it's at least entertaining in a totally nutso way. The first four adaptations of Stephenie Meyer's mega-best sellers about the girl-vampire-werewolf love triangle were, for the most part, laughably self-serious affairs full of mopey teen angst, stilted dialogue and cheesy special effects. Sure, they pleased their fervent audience, made billions of dollars worldwide and turned their three core actors into instant superstars. But they weren't what you would call high-quality cinematic experiences. Now, Bill Condon (who also directed last year's "Breaking Dawn – Part 1") finally lets his freak flag fly. Here is the Condon of "Gods and Monsters," the one who loves lurid horror. Here is the Condon of "Dreamgirls," the one with an eye for panache. His final "Twilight" movie dares to have a little fun – it actually makes you laugh intentionally for once, teetering on self-parody as it does. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) are now married vampires and parents to a newborn daughter, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). With the help of the bloodsucking Cullen clan and vampires gathered from around the globe, they must band together with Edward's former romantic rival Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and his werewolf buddies to protect the half-human, half-vampire spawn from the evil and suspicious Volturi. PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity. 115 minutes. Three stars out of four.
_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic