REVIEW: The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
Written by: Abi Morgan (screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach and Iain Glen

It’s no surprise at all that Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher is amazingly conceived and executed, worthy of any acting trophy that exists.  Everything from the posture to the voice and especially those trademark darting eyes are in full force in a movie that unfortunately fails to capture the true gravity of its subject.

Phyllida Lloyd, whose credentials include the much-maligned screen adaptation of Mamma Mia!, brings a typical biopic aesthetic to The Iron Lady.  Every character fits in its appropriate place and blends in with the environment unless they aren’t supposed to.  Abi Morgan’s screenplay, the biggest thing to blame for this film’s mediocrity, often extenuates Thatcher’s struggle to be taken seriously as a female politician.  Everything else is glossed over.

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REVIEW: J. Edgar

J. Edgar
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Dustin Lance Black (screenplay)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts

Two men are fighting over a woman.  One declares that he may in fact be ready for a wife, while the other, in a fuming rage, declares that he cannot marry that woman.  He smashes some glasses and throws the first punch.  Not to be outdone, the other man fights back with all his strength, but to no avail.  The other man has him pinned to the ground.  And then they kiss.

That is the climax of J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial endeavor and the sliest genre subversion since his masterful acting/directing one-two punch in 2008’s Gran Torino.  He is of course filming the illusive FBI titan J. Edgar Hoover, who here is embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio in his finest screen performance.

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REVIEW: Howl

Howl
Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Written by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman (screenplay)
Starring: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, and Jeff Daniels

There’s a moment in Howl, an aesthetically pleasing rumination on the creation and subsequent censorship trial of the infamous poem by Allen Ginsberg, where one of the many expert witnesses called to the stand is asked to explain its meaning.  He remarks that you can’t be asked to translate poetry into prose.  So it goes for the rest of the movie, where co-directors and co-writers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman take the poetry of “Howl” and the prose of interviews and court trials surrounding it, and weave a film out of it.

Epstein and Friedman have an insistence  on historical accuracy from the beginning.  The filmmakers go above the call of the common “Based on a true story,” slogan and instead proclaim that all of the dialogue in this film was uttered by the people it’s attributed to.  They even go so far as to say that in that sense, it could be read like a documentary.  Once you get a glimpse of the finely arranged frames, the shifting color palettes, and the highly-stylized animation sequences, though, you’ll know it’s something else.

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REVIEW: Carlos

Carlos
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Written by: Olivier Assayas & Dan Franck (screenplay)
Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Nora von Waldstätten, Alexander Scheer, and Ahmad Kaabour

Five-and-a-half hours in the shoes of a terrorist that most people have forgotten about isn’t somewhere most people would want to spend their time.  Yet Carlos, the expansive epic from French director Olivier Assayas, moves through its unheard of length with enough energy to fuel five American action classics.  That fuel isn’t powered by explosions and gunfire, but by the sheer intrigue of the story and the mythic figure being deconstructed at its center.

Carlos The Jackal, a native Venezuelan, began as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez before he decided to revolt against Israel as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  He moves from minor assassinations to bombings to bossing rather quickly.

One big surprise in Carlos is how the director shows us how many of these terrorist attacks were botched.  It becomes clear early on, when the murders are up close and more complicated than a gunshot, that Assayas isn’t idolizing his criminal.  Carlos may think he’s Scarface, clutching his testicles in front of a mirror after pulling off an attack, but his constant failures and the desperate way Edgar Ramirez portrays him show otherwise.

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REVIEW: 127 Hours

127 Hours
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Aron Ralston (book)
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, and Sean Bott

Aron Ralston cut his own arm off to escape a boulder that pinned him against a canyon wall.  That much we know.  The rest, drawn from his hallucinatory recounting in his autobiography and combined with some creative liberties from a passionate filmmaker, is a story waiting to be told.

It’s interesting to think how certain directors would handle different source material.  A story like this could tell how Aron recovered after his ordeal, or it could show his ordeal.  If you’re looking for the gooey easy way out, the former is your best bet, but Danny Boyle isn’t going for the easy way out.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Monster

Monster
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Written by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, and Annie Corley

You don’t have to say someone’s name to show who they are.  Some of the best biopics, most notably this one and Todd Hayne’s I’m Not There, never acknowledge the subject’s name until the very end.  On IMDB, Charlize Theron is cast simply as Aileen, not Aileen Wuornos.

Monster is proof of a lot of things, most notably that there really isn’t much to a name when you think about it.  Selby (Christina Ricci) simply calls her new lover Lee, an affectionate name in comparison to what most other people call her.

Street walker, hooker, prostitute- whatever you want to call her job, it defines her more heavily than anything in the sordid past that led her to it.  Monster starts out grabbing for your heartstrings, as Aileen narrates a look at her troubled childhood with a musing about being discovered like Marilyn Monroe.  In the enhanced colors of this dreamy flashback, we cut abruptly to her as an adult in the 80’s, sitting under a highway overpass as it pours rain.  In this movie, there are happy moments, and there is life.

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