Today’s batch of reviews consists of everything from Oscar nominees and winners to 2012 releases to what might be the most overrated movie of the past year. So, without further ado:
The Iron Lady: Meryl Streep’s portrayal of an aging Margaret Thatcher won her the Oscar for Best Actress back in February over the likes of Rooney Mara and Viola Davis. And while I don’t think she’s the best of the lot (my pick would be Davis, whose performance sticks with you longer), Streep still turns in a masterful performance from start to finish (with the help of some incredible old-age makeup) and is completely convincing as Thatcher. Unfortunately, the film surrounding her is not nearly as masterful. It attempts to cover Thatcher’s life in less than two hours through a series of montages, and while there’s nothing wrong this approach, it comes off as mere checkpoints rather than an in-depth look at what makes/made Thatcher tick. We come out of the film having learned very little, other than we what already know: Meryl Streep can do no wrong. 5/10
A Better Life: The film that earned Demián Bichir a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Actor this year. Though he doesn’t quite stand up to powerhouses George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt, and Gary Oldman, his is still a heartfelt and moving performance. Bichir plays a Mexican gardener struggling to keep a job in LA and raise his teenage son. Rather than going the sentimental route, writer Eric Eason and director Chris Weitz (who seems much more comfortable here than with big-budget flicks like New Moon or The Golden Compass) wisely present a realistic depiction of the plight of illegal immigrants trying to make a living. It’s not a depressing film, but it’s not all sunshine and roses, either. All Bichir wants is to steer his son in the right direction and the film becomes all the more heartbreaking when we see the lengths he’ll go to. It’s not the most original story, but it’s one worth seeing. 8/10
Haywire: Steven Soderbergh (the man behind Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Contagion, and the Ocean’s series) doesn’t always make great movies, but he almost always creates something captivating. Such is the case with Haywire, a spy thriller designed to showcase MMA fighter Gina Carano. The plot is threadbare and forgettable, but the cast is electric and the stunts are incredible. Though she shares the screen with Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, and, in the film’s best sequence, Michael Fassbender, Carano holds her own. She’s a top-notch fighter and a pretty good actor to boot. The film is also notable for its departure from the usual shaky cam work in most action movies these days; instead, it features refreshingly long takes and wider shots so as to fully immerse us in the action. 7/10
Safe House: If not for Denzel Washington (and some impressive action sequences and car chases), Safe House would have been yet another generic thriller. Amidst all the usual stock characters (played by Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, and Brendan Gleeson, none of whom leave an impact), Washington, cool and collected, stands tall. He’s one of those rare actors that can make even the silliest lines sound legitimate. That he alone manages to save the film is a testament to his work. 6.5/10
Coriolanus: How Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s play of the same earned a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I’ll never know (and this is coming from someone who almost always agrees with the critics). Though Fiennes casts several terrific actors including Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, and himself, his interpretation of the play is dull and emotionally hollow. Set in the present (many lines are awkwardly delivered by newscasters and crowds of extras), Coriolanus depicts Fiennes as the titular antihero, a high-ranking soldier who despises the common man. A falling out with his people leads him to team up with his sworn enemy, Aufidius (an impressive Gerard Butler). Although the performances are mostly excellent (with a star turn from Redgrave), the film never really takes advantage of its modern-day setting and doesn’t give us much reason to care about this particular story. 5.5/10
Rampart: Woody Harrelson, who by now has made a career in playing down-and-dirty antiheroes, takes on a challenge of a role: David Brown, a corrupt LA cop whose life is spiraling out of control. In addition to his brutal tactics (roughing up, beating, and in several cases, murdering criminals), David is a compulsive drinker and smoker, and has numerous affairs with random women and his two ex-wives (who happen to be sisters). The film is mainly a slow-moving character study, and a familiar one at that, but Harrelson owns the role. 7/10
In the next set of reviews: Wanderlust, My Week With Marilyn, and more. Also, feel free to request a review!