Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Week of February 10 through February 16 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It’s good to be back, and just in time to bring some exciting news. The Tropic is busy getting you ready for the upcoming Academy Awards on February 26, with all four screens packed with nominees.
THE IRON LADY (Two nominations, including Meryl Streep for Best Actress) is one of those movies that packs a history and biography lesson into a narrative film. I hope that doesn’t put you off because it’s also a fascinating movie. Ms. Streep is, as usual, masterful in a very demanding role, portraying former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Director Phyllida Lloyd (Mama Mia) and her screenwriter (Abi Morgan) have chosen an interesting path to a biopic, focusing on the current life of Thatcher as a somewhat distracted old woman. But it’s by no means an unfavorable portrait overall because her triumphs are powerfully shown in flashbacks – her victories over a hidebound male Conservative establishment, over an Argentine military junta in the Falkland Islands abroad, and over an entrenched union movement at home. She is shown in all her power and glory as the first female Prime Minister of Britain, and the longest serving one in centuries (more than eleven years).

I was not a fan of Thatcher’s Reaganesque politics, but I came away from the movie with admiration for her steely will and her extraordinary ability to cow the stuffed-shirt class-conscious men who didn’t know what to make of this grocer’s daughter who had pulled herself up by her own pump straps.

Britain is also the setting for Steven Spielberg’s WAR HORSE (Six nominations, including Best Picture) but the time is during World War I. It’s a Spielbergian family film par excellence, the story of a boy and his horse. The thoroughbred stallion of the movie title is purchased at auction by young Albert’s n’er do well father in a foolish bidding contest, where he should have been shopping for a plough horse. But the boy and the horse bond, and we are off on a saga that leaves National Velvet in the dust, as the equine “Joe” conquers the plough and then German soldiers when he goes off to war.

I saw War Horse first as a play on Broadway, where it is still running. It’s an amazing production for its stagecraft deploying full-sized horse puppets to depict, among other things, battlefield war scenes. The film medium of course offers Spielberg the opportunity for realism, and he embraces the task as we know he can. It’s a beautiful film about a beautiful young man and his beautiful horse, an uplifting, crowd-pleasing tearjerker, that is a dark horse candidate for the big Oscar prize.

(two nominations, including Best Picture), based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed novel, is the story of a quest by nine-year-old Oskar. His beloved father has been killed in the Twin Towers collapse, and he has found a mysterious key amongst his father’s belongings. The key is in an envelope marked with the name “Black,” so Oskar sets out each Saturday trekking throughout the five boroughs, visiting the homes of “Blacks” to see if he can find a fit for the key.
The picture has some star power, with Tom Hanks as Oskar’s father, Sandra Bullock as his mother, Max von Sydow (nominated as Best Supporting Actor) as a strange tenant in his grandmother’s apartment, and Viola Davis (nominated for Best Actress in The Help) as one of the sought for “Blacks.”

But first-timer Thomas Horn as Oskar carries the film on his young shoulders. The role of precocious whiz kid comes naturally to him, a real-life winner on the Jeopardy! Kids Week show. As you might expect, especially in a movie, there is no shortage of odd characters and strange places that Oskar visits, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of his grandmother’s tenant, as he traverses the near and far reaches of New York.  

Joining these main screen features are the Oscar-nominated Short Films, both Animated and Live Action, and THE ARTIST, touted as the leading candidate to win the award for Best Picture.

See them all! 

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