MOVIES: 'Iron Lady,' 'Tinker Tailor Solider Spy' & 'Chipwrecked'
Published 3:01 pm, Friday, January 13, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE IRON LADY"
To call Meryl Streep an Oscar contender for her intimate, insightful impersonation of Margaret Thatcher is a gross understatement. Delivering what -- without question -- is the most commanding performance of the year, Streep should be an absolute shoo-in. But one never knows with the Academy.
Beginning in her twilight years in her Chester Square home, she chats amiably with her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), long after his death. The story then artfully flashes back to Margaret Thatcher's political rise, running, unsuccessfully, at first, for the House of Parliament and then becoming the first and only female prime minister of the United Kingdom, relentlessly dominating her party and staunchly leading Great Britain through various financial crises, the miners' strike of 1983, IRA attacks, the Brighton bombing and the Falklands War -- for 11 consecutive years, from 1979-1990.
Daughter of a Grantham grocer, young Maggie Roberts (Alexandra Roach) always spoke with conviction and confidence, often infuriating stodgy, local representatives. Quite smitten, young, compliant Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd) vowed to help her win a Conservative seat in Parliament in 1959.
Aided by hair/make-up designer J. Roy Helland, Meryl Streep replicates not only Margaret Thatcher's facial gestures, implacable demeanor and distinctive posture but also her specific speech timbre which changed -- with training -- from a high-pitched screech to a more authoritative contralto. Streep's detailed physical and verbal mimicry is phenomenal.
The weakness of the project lies with Abi Morgan's glossy, less-than-incisive screenplay, which director Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia!") enlivens by interweaving Rogers & Hammerstein's "Shall We Dance?" from "King and I," as well as other nostalgic music, amidst the archival footage and testy interaction with her daughter, Carol Thatcher (Olivia Colman).
Thatcher's close relationship with President Ronald Reagan gets scant attention, although her famous comeuppance to then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig serves as a delicious prelude to tea. Regretfully, the editing is both choppy and confusing in context.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Iron Lady" is an intriguing 8, highly recommended because of Meryl Streep's incredibly accomplished, cinematic portraiture.
"TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY"
If the plot of John le Carre's 1974 Cold War spy novel seems familiar, perhaps you saw the BBC seven-part miniseries (1979), starring Alec Guinness. Indeed, there's so much cognizance of the generic characters in this espionage whodunit that it's difficult to sustain suspense successfully for more than two hours.
It's 1973 when Control (John Hurt), who runs Britain's MI6, known as the Circus, dispatches a field agent, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), on a secret mission to Budapest to talk a Hungarian general into defecting because he knows the identity of a treacherous "rotten apple" within the highest ranks of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in London, a "mole" who has been feeding vital secrets to a Karla, a powerful Russian agent in Moscow.
After Prideaux is captured and tortured, Control narrows the list to a handful of senior operatives but, after he succumbs to a heart attack, Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) summons George Smiley (Gary Oldman) out of scholarly retirement at Oxford to discover which one is the Soviet spy. Each of the suspects has a code name that was culled from a nursery rhyme: Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) is Tinker; Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) is Tailor; Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) is Soldier, and Toby Easterhas (David Dencik) is Poorman. Smiley's code name was Beggarman, since he was Control's second-in-command. New to the painstaking investigation and interrogation is Smiley's cavalier assistant Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Juggling far too many characters and confusingly ambiguous subplots, screenwriter Peter Straughan ("Men Who Stare at Goats") and his late wife/collaborator, Bridget O'Connor, add a flashback Christmas party fragment, revealing how Smiley learned about his wife Ann's infidelity, which becomes an integral part of the overall theme of betrayal and key to the culprit. Unfortunately, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") lets several scenes drone dismally on too long, making the pace quite ponderous.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is a cynical, sinister 6, a dreary, retro glimpse behind the Iron Curtain.
"ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED"
Thoughts of suicide crossed my mind more than once while watching these popular, squeaky-voiced, computer-generated rodents scramble through their third big-screen adventure. But a trip to the popcorn counter quickly reset my equilibrium.
While on the Carnival Cruise Line en route to perform at the International Music Awards, Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCarthy), along with the appearance-obsessed Chipettes -- Eleanor (voiced by Amy Poehler), Jeanette (Anna Faris) and Brittany (Christina Applegate) -- accidentally hitch a ride on a kite. They land on an uncharted volcanic island, where they not only have to fend for their furry selves, but also cope with Zoe (Jenny Slade), a UPS cargo pilot-turned-treasure hunter who's been stranded there for eight or nine years and has taken to chatting with a variety of "friends" -- a.k.a., sports balls -- a spoof obviously inspired by Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" (2000), a movie that is older than the majority of children in the audience. Commandeering a paraglider to pursue the sextet of rambunctious rodents are their adoptive human dad, Dave Seville (Jason Lee), and resentful former recording exec, Uncle Ian (David Cross), dressed as the chip's pelican mascot.
Written by Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel, it's based on characters created by Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman, dating back to Bagdasarian's Grammy-winning 1958 novelty record, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." Under the frenetic direction of Mike Mitchell ("Shrek Forever After"), the formulaic franchise soldiers on, adding a singular inventive twist when some of the acrobatic chipmunks change personalities as a result of a spider bite, an obvious allusion to "Spider Man."
As for the obvious Carnival Cruise Line product placement, it makes one wonder if any of their luxury liners would actually list the names of the on-board vermin on their manifest.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" is a shrill, silly, furry 4. Pity the survivalist adults trapped in the audience.