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Movie Reviews

By Stockton Briggle


Meryl Streep has an almost mystical ability to morph into what seems to be an unending parade of famous people. Her Julia Childs portrayal was uncanny, and now she has literally become one of the most powerful women in history. If you are old enough to remember the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, who as Prime Minister transformed Great Britain during the Reagan years, you will feel like you are sitting in a front row seat witnessing it all over again.

Streep does not simply “play” a character, she inhabits their very soul. The technical aspects of how she does it remains one of the great acting mysteries of all time. Beginning with her astonishing performance in “Sophies Choice” she has thrilled, amazed, and delighted us
with her towering gifts. You may not like Margaret Thatcher after you see this film, but you will have a keen understanding of the powerful forces the shaped her politics and her life.

Streep will be nominated (again) for her performance. That’s as sure as the attack she ordered on the Falkland Islands. Not to be missed.


John LeCarre has long been the master spy storyteller. He was a spy himself and his books ring with the authenticity and disillusionment of modern day clandestine games. And games is what he is superb at starting with his early novel “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold’ featuring his most famous creation, George Smiley.

In “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” we have one of his best known and most exciting of plots. Smiley has been forced out of MI-6, separated from his wife and trusts no one. Back at his old office trouble is a-brewing, however and it will be George that the service calls on to solve what would be a catastrophic blow to the British intelligence community. Somewhere deeply imbedded in the highest MI-6 leadership circles is a Soviet mole.

Remember now, we are talking about the days of the “cold War” with paranoia running rampant between Russia and all western nations.

On this canvas, LeCarre gives George Smiley the greatest task and test of his career; find and capture the mole. Gary Oldham, as Smiley, gives the performance of a lifetime. Hidden behind a pair of vintage spectacles, exerting complete control of all of his senses, he is a marvel to watch. Oldham is surrounded by some of Britain’s best actors, Colin Firth, Cirian Hinds, Toby Jones (of Truman Capote fame) and the young up and coming actor Bernard Cumberbach, the new Sherlock Holmes on Masterpiece Mystery.

The movie takes its time and applies layer after layer of meticulous plotting that kept me totally involved from beginning to end. I’m betting that you will be as well. Oldham gives a performance not to be missed and if there is any justice in the world, he should get an Academy Award nomination. You want real old fashioned suspense? Put this movie at the top of your list


Let’s talk about the 9 BEST PICTURE nominations. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE and THE TREE OF LIFE are in the “very small chance” category. And then there were seven. Of the seven, MONEYBALL and THE HELP cannot be ignored, but ultimately they won’t win. There is no doubt that Brad Pitt is one of the best actors working in film today. He is, like George Clooney, a movie star. There are lots of quality actors these days, but very few genuine movie stars. MONEYBALL is all about Brad Pitt’s amazing performance and he richly deserves the Best Actor nomination that he received for the film. However, a central galvanizing performance cannot be the reason to win Best Picture.
THE HELP is a moving and original testament to a time that most people my age remember uncomfortably well. Again, rich performances by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, it will have its avid supporters, but won’t quite bring home the bacon, so to speak. And then there were five.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a delerious frothy ice cream sundae that reflects Woody Allen’s best work in years. Allen is at the peak of his directing prowess here and he has created one of the most engaging movies of the year. If the Academy wants to honor him again this is the time to recognize such a long and distinguished film making career. But I don’t think that voters will be so inclined. And then there were four.

When it comes to Steven Spielberg, no body does it better. One of our great filmakers, he and his work can never be ruled out, but I wonder if WAR HORSE will leap that most difficult of battlements and bring him another Oscar. It is as moving a story as you will ever find and Spielberg has more than honored its intentions. What it does lack is the stunning imagination that brought the horse to life on the stage in London and New York. That was a true work of art. A strong contender, but no blue ribbon.

I think the top three will be HUGO, THE ARTIST and THE DESCENDANTS. What a choice to have to make!

HUGO is Director Martin Scorsese’ tribute to film making and to the glory of movies in all of its wonder. He has chosen to make the film in 3D and one look at the amazing shots tell you why he is “the master” in all things film. There are some shots that literally take your breath away. Every aspect of this film has been carefully considered and executed. The casting, art direction, music, costumes, leave nothing to be desired. And yet, I was oddly unmoved by the story and felt as though I had been on a tour of the Louvre and was not allowed to see The Mona Lisa; emotionally disappointing, but visually opulent. A reluctant pass.

For me, the two to watch are THE ARTIST and THE DESCENDANTS. You know how occasionally. you go see a foreign film and come out wondering why we can’t make those life reaffirming little movies that play at the local art houses? That is what, by some miracle, Alexander Payne has done with THE DESCENDANTS. I cannot say enough about how emotionally rich and insightful this movie is. For me, it is the most rewarding film of the year. A dead heat with THE ARTIST which celebrates the birth of movies with so much flair and imagination that it can barely contain itself. A tribute to a much simpler technological time, it has all of the heart and joy that Hugo with all of its splendid elements can only long for. In my heart of hearts, I hope THE ARTIST gets the accolades it so richly deserves.

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