Y'know, you try to get a new post up every week, and sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. On the plus side, plenty of new movies have been seen in the intervening time, including a few not represented here, namely The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, both of which are reviewed at Battleship Pretension.
The Iron Lady
After praising J. Edgar for telling Hoover's story from his own perspective, you may find it suspect that I'm more or less disenchanted with The Iron Lady for doing same, but hear me out. Eastwood made it clear from the beginning that Edgar was not to be trusted, and brought his unreliability back around to make a thematic point by the picture's end. The Iron Lady presents a series of montages highlighting Margaret Thatcher's victories, minimizing her success, and finding little insight beyond the fact that it apparently took her a few days to get over the death of her husband (spoilers for...something, I'm sure). It amounts mostly to a rather breezy Wikipedia entry that manages to tell us that Thatcher's roots as a grocer's daughter may have had more to do with her political policies than we previously suspected (conspiracy!). Meryl Streep, an actress so much better than the impersonations she's been saddled with of late, is fine in the role - acute, but not terribly compelling or penetrating.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
Because I missed the few opportunities available to me to see Arthur Christmas (I'm busy, all right?), this ended up being the only true new Christmas film I saw this year. The good news is that it has more than enough Christmas to go around. I missed the second Harold & Kumar adventure, and maybe some key developments along with it (I doubt it), but for me, this delivered joys in much the same vein as the duo's now-legendary trip to White Castle. Only in 3D, which, particularly in this case, really does make everything better. Danny Trejo has been widely, rightly praised for playing Harold's Christmas-crazed father-in-law, but I sure wasn't expecting Elias Koteas to show up playing a Russian gangster, and yet there he is! And not a moment too soon. And I'll be damned if, somewhere between a sex-crazed Neil Patrick Harris and Santa getting shot out of the sky, it didn't deliver a nugget of the Christmas spirit along with it, albeit in a manner more befitting South Park than Charlie Brown, if you get my (snow)drift. Wow that was a bad pun, but I really, really couldn't resist it.
While I don't think this quite holds water for the best-of-the-year race in which many would have it, it's a pretty solid little indie debut there. The whole film is largely building to one very key moment, but it does it in a very subtle, surprisingly effective (and affective) way. The moment itself is pretty striking for how quickly writer/director Andrew Haigh undercuts his own emotional note with the painful sting of reality, and how much more poignant it makes it. At first blush I thought the use of sex was perhaps a little too indulgent, but the more I think about it the more I notice its rather smart structure - skipping past it entirely the first time, building up to showing pretty much the whole shebang by the end (without becoming pornographic, mind), which is a pretty solid way of showing growing intimacy.
A film for which I have infinite, unfathomable affection, but a very difficult time actually, you know, discussing. But honestly, that's only because I was laughing harder than I have during any other film this year. I laughed so hard I wasn't looking at the screen for stretches of seconds, too occupied was I with doubling over, spilling into the empty chair next to me, closing my eyes, and losing my damn fool mind. I loved watching this movie, plain and simple. That said, I do know enough of it to know a good one when I see it, and this one has the chops. I have no response to those who say it's uncinematic, other than to suggest they look beyond the inverse relationship between number of locations and number of lines and look at, well, you know, the cinema. Polanski's use of space and depth, and the way he plays with that, is as arresting as any use of 3D I've ever seen, never mind where he chooses to point his camera, how he moves it, what he captures, or how he arranges his subjects. All of which are still concerns of cinema, mind.
That he also directed his four stars (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz) to some of the finest performances of the year seems almost secondary, were it not from the unbelievable humor he wrings from each and every last one of them. I could watch Foster leap up to snatch a bottle of Scotch from the towering Reilly for days, man, never mind Waltz's sudden interest in the proceedings as soon as the bottle is unveiled. It's a film all about behavior, and if it's not probing enough for some, well, fine then, but for those of us who delight in a line delivery, the way a sentence is formed, the way a person reacts to something, and the willingness of four very fine actors to go for broke, well, this is a treasure trove.
And it's just so freaking funny.
A pretty stock sports story about the earnest outsider in it purely for the joy of the sport and his nemesis, who relies on (dun dun DUN) science and personal/political connections to ensure frequent victories (I half expected a Rocky IV montage in which Prost gets strapped into a car full of hypodermics while Senna builds a car out of wood), and in this way its resemblance to Speed Racer extends to arenas outside of merely their shared sport. Director Asif Kapadia also perhaps strains to craft a narrative out of disparate events taking place over several years, but that's kind of the name of the game and I'd be lying if I said I didn't find it compelling regardless. The footage he had access to is pretty stunning, particularly those POV shots from a car (oh, to have seen this in the theater!), and he edits them together into surprisingly visceral showdowns. That it builds to a wallop of an ending is, well, something I'll leave you to discover any further on your own.