The Iron Lady
MEN rarely say that they don't like the company of their own gender but it's not uncommon to hear it from women. Is it a sign of self-loathing or a desire for attention? Margaret Thatcher always said she preferred the company of men, and The Iron Lady makes no real attempt to investigate her psyche. It has been criticised too for largely steering clear of her politics, bar the inclusion of what was historically relevant. This biopic is pitched at mass access and winning awards. However, making it heavily political would have been a no-win situation. Her fans -- they do exist -- believe it was wrong to make the movie in her lifetime, while her detractors would only have been happy with a hatchet job.
Arguably Meryl Streep, in a remarkable portrayal, and director Phyllida Lloyd's take on Thatcher is just a more female one than usual. They concentrate on the woman rather than the figurehead. It opens with current day Thatcher at home, proud and with a penchant for whiskey, drifting in and out of reality. Her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) has been dead for eight years but she still sees and hears him.
Her daughter Carol (Olivia Coleman) comes to clear out Denis' belongings. Thatcher resists and through a series of flashbacks remembers her life from awe-struck daddy's girl to world leader. Archive footage from the poll tax riots, hunger strikes and Falklands war is used to chart her popularity highs and lows.
Thatcher does come across as more human, but not especially sympathetic. She is presented as vain, increasingly dictatorial and more responsible for her own fall than rise. There's more than one way to skin a cat after all.
Michael Morpurgo is a staple of childhood reading and his first First World War epic War Horse comes to the cinema thanks to erstwhile prolific childhood staple-maker Steven Spielberg. Already made into a play, the screen version comes via Richard Curtis and Lee Hall.
Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) is the only child of parents who have fallen on hard times. He sees something very special in the horse he calls Joey and is heartbroken when his father is forced to sell him to pay the rent. War has just broken out and Joey is off to France. The horse's difficult journey provides a different experience of the war -- English, German, French, volunteer, conscript and civilian.
Spielberg is good at epics, he's good at war stuff and War Horse is both of these. The performances are fine, elements of the production rather than pivotal to it, the script, likewise, is functional rather than fabulous. At more than two and half hours long it ran the risk of tedium. However, the episodic nature largely saves it from that and the details make it feel human enough to stay interesting. It's shamelessly emotional in places but what something like this always comes down to is the sheer awfulness of living through war.
It's not one for smaller children but from perhaps 10 up it could appeal. Bring tissues.
Opens on Friday
Brimming with affection and executed with consistent taste, The Artist has become the all-conquering seductress of critics' circles since its screening in Cannes last May. Awards season now beckons, and some are predicting Michel Hazanavicius's charm-heavy film could be the 11th-hour inclusion that pulls the rug from under mooted forerunners.
There is a tangible "modern classic" vibe to The Artist. A faithful pastiche of the silent films that ruled Hollywood until the late Twenties, its bright and breezy anecdote is set during that transition to the advent of "talkies". Jean Dujardin is George Valentin, an all-dancing, all-hamming matinee idol with a clear fondness for himself. Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is the young fan who becomes a rising starlet after accidentally being papped with George on a red carpet.
As Peppy's name swells in font size with each production she's in, George's career is in decline following the decision by studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) to cease making silent films. George is unyielding, and pours all his savings into his own production. When it flops, he spirals from hero to zero, and it is Peppy, now Hollywood royalty, who comes to his aid.
There are probably discussions to be had about "the film within the film", or how The Artist is both a love letter to Hollywood's golden era as well as being a critique of it, but its more obvious beauties are its triumph. Humour is a big part of the narrative -- George's nightmare sequence and his trusty Jack Russell are highlights -- and just when you long for some depth, it arrives under the radar. The silent, instrumental format concentrates the eye to movement, and where the excellent cast is concerned, the subtleties of human expression too.
AT first there were isolated incidents that became a steadier trickle: Michael J Fox, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey, Kim Cattrall. Now, with the likes of Seth Rogan, Michael Cera and Jay Baruchel, the world receives a fairly constant flow of Canadian humour. Writer/director Michael Dowse is part of that, and so too is his latest movie Goon which is extra Canadian, despite American stars, because it is about ice hockey.
Based on a few true stories, this version is about Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) a well brought up but exceedingly dim boy who cannot follow in the family medical tradition. By chance, after defending his friend Pat (Baruchel, who co-wrote), Doug is offered a place on the local ice hockey team. He is to be the goon, charged not with silly things such as scoring goals, but with knocking seven shades out of the other team.
Transferred to national team the Halifax Highlanders, under coach Hortense (Kim Coates), it's hoped Doug can defend and reinvigorate their star player Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) who is badly off form since a thorough beating from renowned goon Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber). Rhea is nearing retirement but sees an encounter with Doug as a great final showdown. Doug meanwhile is pursuing self-confessed bad girlfriend Eva (Alison Pill).
Ice hockey makes GAA look like interpretive dance, and Goon focuses on the violence. However, it's relatively honest violence, and by all accounts an excellent ice hockey movie. But you don't need to understand ice hockey to understand the film. Schreiber isn't in that many scenes but he steals them all. William Scott is well cast and manages to project innocent toughness. Goon is not for everyone, but its appeal is much broader than might first appear.
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