Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Iron Lady

The Flick: The Iron Lady

The Peeps: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, etc.

The Dealio: This is your life, Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Sort of. Told in a random scattering of back-and-forthing, the retired and largely reclusive Thatcher meanders between the mists of Swiss-cheesy memories (and, it is strongly suggested, in the grip of some unnamed neurological disorder) and the threatening present, where things just do not make sense in any way she can understand. She spends long periods of time in the company of- and being alternately scolded and cheered on by- the ghost of her long-gone spouse, Denis. When, she seems to wordlessly wonder, did everything and everyone pass her by?

The Grading Session: Out of a possible 5 pengies: 4.31 pengies for the story, 5.0 pengies for the acting. There were a couple of deficits in the film: 1st, one minute Thatcher is a young, inexperienced female from the country who dares to challenge the male establishment. Then, seemingly overnight, she marries Denis and gets elected. I am pretty sure a few things happened in between (like her becoming a barrister and a chemist, having twins, struggling through some political contests before getting a few smaller wins). Also- and this is just for me, as an under-informed Yank: how about a catch up at the end to tell us what happened since the movie ended? I do so love this detail whenever a flick is based upon a real-life personage. I also felt the film dragged in a few places (loads of scenes of her puttering around, messing with Denis' belongings, watching TV or old films and listening to The King and I. Could we not have lost some of those in favor of the holes I groused about above?), Editing is a wondrous, powerful thing. Lastly, I never cease to be amazed by Streep's embodiment of her roles. Whether it is Maggie Thatcher or an Abba-happy bohemian, she scarfs down the essence of her peeps and makes them her own. Brava. Again.

Lessons Learned: On your way up, remember your family. Later on, you will surely be glad you did. They are the ones who are for you, even first thing in the morning, when you are at far from your best and others are against you. All else is fleeting. Lastly this: apparently, departed spouses drink cocktails- and mix them, too- dance beautifully and can be sent packing by loud music and TV shows. Who knew?

Notable Quotables: Margaret Thatcher: Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become... habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

We Bought A Zoo

The Flick: We Bought A Zoo

The Peeps: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johanssen, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, John Michael Higgins, etc.

The Dealio: Relatively new widower (Damon), uproots his family from life in the big city to a more...rustic setting: a lovely old property, off the beaten, compleat with the zoo of the title. Along the way, we get to deal with the predictably ticked off at all the changes teenager,(Colin Ford), the myriad nay-sayers, the block-headed bureaucrat who has a fetishistic relationship with his automatic measuring tape, the peppy, spirited, can-do adorable young 'un and a motley cast of misfit support-crew. Not that there is anything wrong with this. There is comfort at seeing something a bit predictable -especially at the holidays. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss this as a sub-par or bad film. It is not. It is what I refer to as a palate-cleanser: once we have had our eye-sockets expanded by the special effects of Mission Impossible, our stomachs clenched by The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and our minds pretzeled by Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, it is a fine thing to just enjoy a charming and engaging story, with oodles of high notes, expertly acted.

The Grading Session: 4.36 pengies out of 5. However...there is really no excuse for this to be an over two-hours' long palate-cleanser. And- sorry, Cameron Crowe, but you just can not make Scarlett seem everyday and plain by putting her in work clothes and minimising her make-up. Still, if you are in the mood for a comfort-food type flick, this would be my suggestion. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: All San Diego County references to the contrary, the Rosemore Animal Park is actually in England. My companion at the screening kept saying 'We are definitely going to check this out; why haven't we already discovered this one?! We totally rule at staycations, so, this one would be a natural.' But, not if it is in England. Plus this: Thomas Haden Church is totally incapable of sloughing off in even a minor role. Another leveraged-into-superb supporting job.

Notable Quotables: From Benjamin Mee: You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it. (This is one I happen to agree with..which)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Flick: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Peeps: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic, Geraldine James, etc.

The Dealio: For those totally unfamiliar with the gig: under-a-cloud journalist Mika Blomqvist (Craig) is hired by an aging industrialist (Plummer) to retreat to his country estate under the guise of writing a family history. But his real assignment is much murkier and more perilous: he is to find out what happened to his client's grand-niece, who disappeared over 30 years ago, and whom he fears is dead. At the hand of another family member. Blomqvist accepts the job and its myriad challenges, and finds more than he bargained for in the prickly, mysterious and troubled research assistant, Lisbeth Salander- the Girl of the title. Through many twists and turns- often quite violent, Blomqvist frequently takes a backseat, as Lisbeth arises to assume center stage. In fact, as in the first book, Salander makes for an quick decision for the reader/audience. Either you like her and bond with her immediately. Or you do not- in which case, most likely, you will not finish the story in either format. It was a source of great disappointment to me that, after coming down firmly as one of the first (I really did like her. Understand her? No. Not really or completely. But I did admire her determination and sheer guts), I found the 2nd and 3rd installments of both books and the Swedish movies to have Salander sidelined for the bulk of those treatments.

The Grading Session: 4.59 pengies out of 5. Again, really too long. Of course, the book was about 800 pages, so...yeah, that's really a load of source material. Given the huge job of condensing it down, and being fair to all concerned, I believe the casting was terrific and a wonderful fit. Mara's Salander, visually and verbally was more apt and a better fit to me. I did not understand why some of the pay-offs to plot were munched and tweaked. Especially when one major one made no sense what so ever. But, I chose not to dwell on those, since, taken as a whole, this was a worthy effort. I would be interested, however, to see if the follow-ups are actually made, and what their reception will be, if they are. The soundtrack was tip-top, if predictable. Nice job, Trent. However, Sweden didn't fare as well, and I find myself oddly reluctant to spend any time there. It- in this movie, at least- was a mad mash-up of Gotham City and Whoville. What's up with that? As always, your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: All together now: don't judge a book by the cover. Everyone assumes something about Salander that makes her not only beneath consideration or even common courtesy, but also eminently dismissible. Also this: I am in awe of anyone who actually understands about 1/2 of the things Salander is able to do with computers.

Notable Quotables: Armansky :'She is...different.' Frode: 'Different in what way?' Armansky: 'Different in...every way.' Vanger: 'Bring your drink. Leave my knife.'

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

The Flick: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

The Peeps: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyquist, Josh Holloway, etc.

The Dealio: When a seemingly simple hand-off goes sideways and agents are killed, and explosives cause international repercussions, the MI team is forced to go asset-free and come to a resolution on their own. As always, should the team be captured or killed, the State department will disavow yadda-yadda-yadda. Is there even a nano-second when you think that Ethan Hunt (Cruise) will not accept the gig? I mean, we've all seen him dangling off the tippy-top of the tallest building in the world, right? And we know that this was not just a pledge-prank, right? Okay then. You have got the gist.

The Grading Session: 4.29 pengies out of 5. Story takes a second seat to the non-stop action- and it does pay off, keeping us interested and involved. But, seriously, the minor players (Pegg and Renner especially) steal the scenes they share with Cruise- and with The Building. You get what you expected here. Nothing more. Nothing less. And, really, is that such a bad way to spend a few hours over the hols? I think not, but your mileage may vary.

Lessons Learned: Do not get distracted by a pretty face when working a hand-off. Also- no one is ever exactly what they seem. Look deeply before deciding on your next move. Lastly- Cruise, apparently, has absolutely no fear of heights. Or blue screen.

Notable Quotables: Benji, explaining the tack-glove: 'Blue is glue.' Ethan: 'And red?' Benji: 'Dead'.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

The Flick: Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

The Peeps: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry (!), Eddie Marsan, etc.

The Dealio: Sherlock is up to his wicked, ol' eyebrows in conspiracies, complex webs and shadowy, threatening entrances and exits. And, much to his disgruntlement, the reluctant, soon-to-be-wed John Watson is being dragged into yet another of Holmes' wild rides. At the heart of things- as is so often the case in the last half of the Homes tales- is his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarity (played with flaring eyebrows, and soft-voiced malice by the malignantly magnificent Jared Harris). Complicating issues are a raft of gypsies who may or may not be helping Homes. Or Moriarity. Or merely, themselves. Also, Irene Adler, who shows up to muddy the waters. And then there is Fry's cool-headed brother Mycroft. What's he up to, anyway? And, lastly, there is this wedding deal. Then another tale to write, and, well, it wouldn't be Sherlock Homes if it was simple...would it?

The Grading Session: 4.83 pengies out of 5. This one bears all the calling cards of a classic Guy Ritchie production: fiddled-with time sequences, buckets' full of fisticuffs- of the very highest order- often both in the same scene. RDJ's Holmes is a more wickedly visceral, muscled and athletic Holmes, in comparison with Basil Rathbone's cerebral, elegant and studied characterisation. Sort of like the difference between Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire- both great in their own ways; both very, very different. Too, I do like the casting in this series. Not a misstep in the lot. A little too long- stop me if you've ever heard me say...err, write, this before, though.

Lessons Learned: Bad things can happen to people in even the most public of settings. Also (as if we hadn't learned this from the entire Hangover oeuvre), do not allow someone who gives you agita on an average, run-of-the-mill day, to plan your bachelor party. Ever. Lastly this: never assume you know what is going on with your furniture if Holmes is around. You simply haven't a clue. (or, as he would say, 'clew').

Notable Quotables: Watson, reading from a note from Holmes: 'Come at once if convenient. If not convenient, come anyway.'
Holmes: ' If we can stop him, we shall prevent the collapse of Western civilisation. No pressure.'