The Iron Lady, A Dangerous Method, Beauty and the Beast in 3D, Contraband
You’ve read about it for so long, now you can see what Meryl Streep and the woman who directed her in Mamma Mia do with one of the most divisive figures of our lifetime, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. And what David Cronenberg called an “intellectual ménage a trois” of Freud, Jung and a female patient. Beauty and the Beast is back, the lovers of Once are struggling and Mark Wahlberg brings a film plot all the way from Iceland.
Here’s the list:
The Iron Lady: 3 stars
A Dangerous Method: 3
Beauty and the Beast 3D: 4 ½
The Swell Season: 3 ½
Contraband: 2 ½
Joyful Noise: --
Son of the Sunshine: --
Saadart Abad: --
THE IRON LADY: Today’s “occupy” types would understand the signs. We see them in a demonstration well into this biopic about Margaret Thatcher. “Profits, profits, profits,” says one. “Maggie’s Millionaires,” reads another. Even Conrad Black gets it. In a recent article he blasted the “garish and spivvy ostentation” of the people who made money in Britain thanks to Thatcher’s economic policies, and he’s a fan and friend. The film doesn’t seem to get it though that what people remember most about her is the pain her tax-cutting, privatizing and union-busting eruption caused for many, while enriching some others. It could have been the main focus, instead it burbles in the background and only spurts out occasionally in news clips.
It’s hard to find a main focus. Her rise in a man’s world is there, naturally, but not lingered upon. There is too little of her in cabinet, in Parliament or on the world stage. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to know it all already. Well, maybe in England. Her memories years later, which give rise to the flashbacks that drive the story, don’t seem to include much in the way of doubt or reconsideration. Just the same single-minded belief in her ideas that we see throughout the film. She gets them in bite-size affirmations during her younger years and sticks to them.
So, it’s not the content that’s the chief reason to see the film. It’s the astonishing performance by Meryl Streep as Thatcher, in her adult and lonely-senior years. She does disappear into the role and smoothly works in her tics and mannerisms into an outstanding impersonation. I could have done with fewer of her hallucinations that her late husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) was still alive and talking to her and more about the forces that brought about her extraordinary rise and fall. Phyllida Lloyd also directed Streep in Mamma Mia, a piece of trivia that may explain a few things.(International Village and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
A DANGEROUS METHOD: Reason takes a beating in this biopic. It’s overpowered by sex and desire. And furthermore, David Cronenberg’s look at Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the woman and ideas that came between them suggests that that is normal among human beings. The exposition of that idea is both over-heated and too-cool an intellectual exercise.
Keira Knightley brings the heat (too much in her early scenes) as Sabina Spielrein, a young woman suffering an over-the-top bout of hysteria. She’s brought to Jung (Michael Fassbender) who’s ready to try the “talking cure” pioneered by Freud (Viggo Mortensen) although he’s not sure about the Viennese doctor’s emphasis on sex as the chief driver of the human psyche. He soon learns, though. A colleague’s advice to not repress or regret anything plus the patient’s memories of enjoying physical abuse by her father soon finds Jung in bed with her and, in some particularly grotty scenes, spanking her. Freud hears rumors and objects. He also warns Jung against backing spirituality and mysticism because psychoanalysis is too young to accommodate competing ideas. This psych seminar is enlivened by the performances, a sly Freud, a resolute Jung and, once she settles down a bit, a vulnerable but assertive Sabina. She was a real person who went on to make her own contributions to psychoanalysis. (International Village and four suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: They did it to The Lion King, that made money so here is another Disney animation classic rendered into 3D. For most the film, that doesn’t add much, although in two scenes, the ballroom dances, the added depth is palpable and thrilling. Still, if that’s what it takes to get this film back up on the big screen, it’s to be celebrated.
The fact is there’s already so much there. This was the first animated film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar. The drawing and the character movements are detailed and lifelike, although in 3D there’s an infrequent perspective glitch on a character’s head. The story is told with respect for the style and mood of the old fairy tales. There are both warm and scary scenes. The wolves attacking at night would terrify any young child. The heroine Belle is assertive and modern, pursued by the vain Gaston but obliged to find some lovability in the grumpy Beast. The minor characters like Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Chip are charming and often funny. Celine Dion became famous. She sings the title (and Oscar-winning) song with Peabo Bryson. This is a wonderful film that still stands up today. As a bonus, you get a new cartoon showing what came next after Tangled, the Rapunzel film of two years ago. This is the wedding but when the rings get lost there’s a frantic and very funny quest to find them. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 4 ½ out of 5
THE SWELL SEASON: When we last saw Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, they were on TV accepting an Academy Award for best song. That was from the movie Once, in which he, as a busker in Ireland, and she, as a Czech immigrant, struck up a friendship. This new film is something of a sequel, showing what happened to them in their real life.
They recorded an album and set out on a concert tour that last about two years and took a toll. They were lovers but with an 18-year age difference and clashing ideas on fame. He had wanted it since he was a teen; she found it oppressive and grew tired of having to meet the fans. “I need to find my own way,” she insists. His mother says he should do something to be in the paper every day and his drunken father is sure his son won the Oscar for him. By contrast, her family is too normal to get much screen time. What we do get is an intimate view of a relationship slowly disintegrating during the American leg of their tour. It’s a captivating progression, from skinny dipping and fun to a breakup one morning over coffee, all caught in crisp black and white and with lots of soulful music. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
Playing in tandem with ….ANIMATION EXPRESS: 90 minutes of new short films produced by The National Film Board. Locals, Marv Newland and Anne Marie Fleming, have significant works on display, his is a riot of colors and shapes; hers is about a child of Holocaust survivors.
CONTRABAND: There’s implausible action and plot in this blue collar thriller and very little originality. Not that it matters, of course. The audience likely won’t care that this is a remake of an award-winning Icelandic film, directed by the man who starred in and produced it. The new star (and one of the producers) is Mark Wahlberg, comfortably playing himself once again. He’s a family man in this one, with a wife (Kate Beckinsale), two kids, a small business and a criminal past. You know what’s coming. He’s forced back for one last job.
He sets out to smuggle counterfeit money from Panama to New Orleans or a cackling crazy drug dealer (Giovanni Ribisi) will kill his family. Somehow, he also manages to get drawn into an unrelated armored car heist, a major gun battle with police and the theft of a Jackson Pollock painting. Also, somehow, the story manages to stay on track and move along efficiently. A litlle bit of European artiness creeps in, but only a bit. The most interesting scenes show the workings of the big freighters and the Panama Canal. That’s not original, but it’s rare in the movies. (The Dunbar, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
Also … ( 3 I haven’t seen)
JOYFUL NOISE: I love gospel music but couldn’t be in two theatres at once and missed this one. Lots of reviews on line call the story hokum but praise the music as spirited and crowd-pleasing. The story, that plays out between many songs, puts Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton against each other in shaping up a small town choir for a national competition. Latifah wants to stick with their traditional material; Parton favors pop and country songs. A romantic complication for the younger moviegoers has Dolly’s grandson (Jeremy Jordan) falling for Queen’s daughter (Keke Palmer). Both, of course, also sing up a storm. (International Village and 6 suburban theatres)
SON OF THE SUNSHINE: The First Weekend Club continues its mission of getting Canadian films shown. Next Wednesday, Jan 18, in a new location, The Denman Theatre, they’re bringing Son of the Sunshine, which has been playing a festivals for almost three years and winning awards at some of them. It has drawn solid praise from papers like the Toronto Star and the Montreal Gazette.
Winnipeg actor Ryan Ward wrote and directed it and stars as a young man with Tourette’s syndrome. The National Post described his portrayal as “uncanny”. He gets a bloody nose on the Toronto subway, is shown as part of a dysfunctional family and has his life changed by some experimental surgery. Life becomes more normal. He gets a job and a girlfriend but he also loses something. You can read more at http://www.firstweekendclub.ca/canada-screens-jan-18-2012-son-of-the-sunshine.html
SAADAT ABAD: One week before the highly anticipated Irani film, A Separation, arrives, the star’s subsequent film is already here. (Although unpublicized and in only one theatre). Leila Hatami plays a women in the upscale Tehran neighborhood of the title, which means "The place of happiness." She’s trying to rekindle that feeling with her husband by holding a surprise birthday party. As the guests gather and later at the dinner table tensions build and secrets come out. (Granville Theatre)
NOTE: The images are movie still provided by te studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.