The Iron Lady
A biopic of Margaret Thatcher, the longest serving British prime minister and one of the most hated and lionized women on the political scene during the 20th century. Meryl Streep has won plaudits for accuracy and detail, but the film itself, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, fails to bring the traumatic politics of the 1980s and 1990s to life. In dealing with such a controversial figure, the main failing of The Iron Lady is its unwillingness to offend. Extensive sections of the flick are taken up with a doddering Baroness Thatcher coping with the effects of senility, which seems calculated to downplay the sometimes harsh impacts of her policies. Meanwhile, her battle as a woman in a man’s world serves as the main driving force of her response to everything from the miners’ strike to the Falklands War. For those interested in political history, The Iron Lady is bound to be a disappointment, but there is plenty of fine acting and a perfectly able script from Abi Morgan, who also provided the screenplay for the controversial film Shame, which is due for release here next month.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
This cinematic catharsis from the shock and horror of Sept. 11, 2001, has all kinds of top-shelf production values, an A-list cast, a high seriousness about the human condition in the early 21st century and two Oscar nominations. Souring all these fine elements is a manipulative streak that wants to milk tears of compassion and heartbreak, smothering audiences under a blanket of carefully contrived sentiment. Based on the 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, directed by Stephen Daldry, and adapted by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of Oskar, a precocious and quirky kid who lost his father in the terrorist attack that destroyed New York’s World Trade Center and sets off to solve a mystery about a key his father left him. His quest brings him into contact with all kinds of New Yorkers, all of whom seem inclined to treat him with warm indulgence. There are many good things packaged into this film, but Daldry seems unwilling to let the audience find its own response to the story.
This Means War
A spy-versus-spy comedy along the lines of Mr and Mrs Smith that has Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as two of the CIA’s finest. Best friends turn deadly rivals when they discover they are both hot for the same woman: Reese Witherspoon. While battling for her affections using all the gizmos and tricks of a fantasy CIA arsenal, they also have to battle bad guy Heinrich, played with Teutonic menace by Til Schweiger. Director McG seems rather uncertain whether chasing the girl or the villain is the main story line, and thriller and rom-com elements keep tripping each other up. There’s plenty of well-staged action, but Witherspoon is caught in a position where she is unable to show much spark, and the occasionally amusing set pieces never quite come together.
Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler is a talented comic who has nevertheless made more than his fair share of truly appalling films, and with Jack and Jill he seems to have reached new depths. Playing both the male and female halves of a set of twins separated by a massive gulf of wealth and education, Sandler has ample opportunity to exercise an ugly misogynistic and snobbish streak, which is unpleasant to watch even though Sandler plays both the bully and the object of his scorn. Directed by Dennis Dugan (Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Grown-ups), Jack and Jill has an infantile brutality that can be painful, made worse by the presence of Al Pacino playing himself and trying to win laughs by trampling on his own acting career.