The Iron Lady

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Watching this movie was an interesting experience for me. When I watch a movie for the first time, I usually prefer to do it alone, because some people like to talk during movies (like pretty much my entire family). And then I ask them to stop and then of course they just do it more because it annoys me. I swear, I could be watching  the most intense, important scene of a movie, and suddenly my Dad would say “Who is that actress?…Is she still alive?…Why is Bruce Willis holding a Samurai sword?…I think John Travolta secretly wants to be a woman…” I love my father, but seriously, I don’t watch movies to have conversation. But of course a couple of days ago I have to be nice, and when we didn’t have anything to do I just had to mention that I had a copy of The Iron Lady. And of course, the movie had been playing not ten minutes before “Is that Glen Close?” Happy Father’s Day Dad :).

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Yet despite the unwanted disruptions, I really enjoyed this movie. The Iron Lady is a British film released in 2011 and directed by Phyllida Lloyd about the life of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The movie begins with Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) as an old woman suffering from dementia. As you continually watch her struggling with old age and dealing with her hallucinations of her dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent),Thatcher has flashbacks to when she was a young woman (Alexandra Roach) trying to become a politician in a world of men, and eventually the wife and mother who becomes the first female Prime Minister in a western country.

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There are so many great things about this movie. Although I might be biased as someone who majored in English and history, making me always up for a historical film. I’d say one of the best things about this movie is the artful way in which it was put together. This includes the inspired choice to not have a consecutive storyline but use flashbacks. This choice really gave more power to the tragedy of Thatcher’s aging as she reviewd her life.

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The Iron Lady also has one of the best casts I have ever seen. Meryl Streep was amazing no doubt. Some critics were quoted saying something along the lines of she had more iron than the real Margaret Thatcher did. She was completely transformed. But I also loved seeing Anthony Head, the actor who played Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is currently playing King Uther in the show Merlin, pop up in a huge movie like this. And Jim Broadbent who played Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis, did an astounding job, especially the scenes in which he was Margaret’s hallucinations.

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However, best of all, this movie had probably one of the most subtle yet poignant endings in film history. It ends with the elderly Margaret Thatcher washing a tea cup. Which of course sounds ridiculous by itself, but becomes increasingly powerful when I tell you that early in the movie, when Denis proposes to her, she tells him “I will not die washing a tea cup.” But what’s so beautiful about the ending is that Thatcher cleans the cup, puts it on a shelf, and goes on about her day. She didn’t die washing it, she continues to live. Despite her dwindling mind, she will continue to remain a strong female figure in history for all time. Sorry, did the English major in me just wax too strong?

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I think I only have one complaint about this movie. I felt it got a little repetitive, which I know is inevitable when it is constantly going back in time. However, I got tired of all the images of angry Englishmen tapping on her car window. After seeing it five times, I wonder, was the writer of this film not able to come up with another way to display the country’s outrage?

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I would describe this movie as beautifully tragic. It is tragic in the way that Thathcer is fighting so hard to retain her sanity, in the way that she desperately misses her husband, and in the way that as Prime Minister, she finally understands that even she can go too far. I give the Iron Lady a 9. And after seeing it I should probably add Meryl Streep to my list about my favorite actresses: https://hereslookinatyousquid.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/my-favorite-top-ten-actresses-13-2/.

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My Favorite Top Ten Actresses

I have noticed that in my posts regarding actors, I haven’t chosen many females, and as a feminist, it does not sit right with me. To that end, I decided to write a post dedicated to my favorite actresses. This is now a penis free realm. Hos before bros. Hos before bros. And I think you care about my opinion because…well let’s face it. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be reading my blog.

10. Amy Adams

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Best Role: Charlene Flemming in The Fighter

Amy Adams is on here because even though she hasn’t done as much work as some of the other women on this post, I think she has a large amount of potential. With just a few roles, she has shown more range than most actors have ever shown in their entire careers. I’m really looking forward to seeing the continued burgeoning of Adam’s talent.

9. Meryl Streep

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Best Role: Clarissa Vaughan from The Hours

Meryl Streep has become one of those actresses everyone thinks of when you mention Hollywood. When you watch one of her movies, it seems as if she slips into character as easily as a glove. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie in which she delivers a disappointing performance.

8. Judy Dench

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Best Role: Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love

So here is where I reveal what a history nerd I am by saying that I love the Elizabeth I performances of 3 of the actresses on this list. The other two are Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett. But anyway, Judy Dench is always a pleasure to watch on the screen. She always commands a lot of feeling in her voice, plus a hell of a lot of power.

7. Emma Thompson

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Best role: Karen Eiffel in Stranger than Fiction

I love Emma Thompson. She acts a wide range, and yet every character she does has this fire beneath it that always makes me come back for more. Although I do have to say I was very disappointed that she chose to act in Men in Black 3. Oh well, I gues she has bills too.

6. Natalie Portman

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Best Role: Nina Sayers in Black Swan

I will be very honest. When I saw Natalie Portman’s performance in Star Wars: Episode III, I thought she was a terrible actress. “Anaken, you’re breaking my heart!” She has since redeemed herself in a way I never thought possible. First, she did such a great job in Garden State. She delivered a remarkable performance in V for Vendetta, and kudos to her for still being able to look sexy with a shaven head. Then she was like a bolt of lightening in Black Swan. Her performance in that movie was some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. She really deserved the Oscar she received for it.

5. Helen Mirren

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Best Role: Elizabeth II in The Queen

When I saw The Queen, I saw Helen Mirren perform for the first time, and she captured my heart. She did such a powerful performance as Elizabeth II that now whenever I think of the Queen of England, I don’t think of Elizabeth Windsor, I think of Helen Mirren.

5. Angelina Jolie

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Best Role; Lisa Rowe in Girl Interrupted

Angelina Jolie is an actress with the remarkable ability to make the audience believe that she isn’t Angelia Jolie anymore, but her character. Say what you will about her being a home-wrecker or that her lips have all the collagen in the Western hemisphere, Jolie is a masterful actress.

4. Keira Knightly

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Best Role: Sabina Spielrein from A Dangerous Method

For a while, I had thought Keira Knightley had the potential to be a great actress. Then she did a great job as Elizabeth Benett in Pride and Prejudice, then was astounding in A Dangerous Method. I feel like her career can only keep going up, and I eagerly await her Anna Karenina.

3. Hillary Swank

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Best Role: Alice Paul in Iron Jawed Angels

I don’t kow what it is about Hillary Swank, but every movie I see her in I have to watch it either at a movie theater or alone to make sure no one talks during it so I can hear every word, because she commands so much power and passion. Everyone thinks of her performance in Million Dollar Baby, which was amazing to be sure, but in Iron Jawed Angels, she has a speech in which she explains her cause for women’s rights and even though I’ve seen the movie 20 times, I’m floored every time I hear it. As an actress, Swank has the entire package.

2. Kate Winslet

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Best Role: Hanna Schmitz in The Reader

I love Kate Winslet so much. Not only is she a great actress, she only takes roles in movies that she thinks are high in quality. And whenever she has photo shoots, she doesn’t allow post-touch-ups. And damn, can she act. There are so many movies that I love mainly because of her presence, and I will basically see any movie if I know she is in the cast. She is that great.

  1. Cate Blanchett
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Best Role: Daisy from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I’ll admit, I was going back and forth with Blachett and Winslet for a while as to who I’d pick as umber one, but I finally decided it needed to be Blanchett. She is a powder keg. She commits so much to every role that I feel whatever emotion she portrays. For example, if you’ve ever seen Babel, you know her character gets shot while she’s traveling with her husband in Morroco, and the nearest doctor is in a small village. She pleads with her huband not to let him operate on her, and her entire body, her every movement exudes terror. In that moment I was about to cry it was so tense. Her ability of transferring her emotions onto the audience made me put her as number 1. She is in my opinion the best actress.

Honorable Mention:

Kathy Bates

Maggie Smith

Julie Andrews

Jodie Foster

Out of Africa

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I pretty much randomly watched this film. I had nothing else to do, and the title sounded interesting. I had no idea I would be stumbling upon such a beautiful story.

Out of Africa was released in 1985. It was loosely based on the memoirs of Karon Blixen, and was directed by Sidney Pollack. It is described as a romantic drama, but I don’t like that label, because in my experience of movies that usually contains a negative connotation. But Out of Africa is so full of depth that it has many themes that have nothing to do with romance, including imperialism, feminism, racism, and poverty.

Out of Africa follows the story of Danish woman Karon Blixen (Meryl Streep) who married to become a baroness in the early 1900’s and moved to Kenya to start a farm. In Africa, Karon is abandoned by her husband, and she manages the farm alone. However, a dashing American named Denis (Robert Redford) has caught her eye. But Denis loves solitude, and Karon questions his devotion.

I only have one complaint for this movie. It seemed needlessly long, lasting three hours. The Return of the King is one of my favorite movies, and it is about just as long, but the difference here is that I feel every scene in the Return of the King is needed (I’m sure there is someone out there willing to fight me on this. Bring it on!) However, in Out of Africa, I think quite a few scenes were unneeded. There was one scene in which Karon and her African workers are trying to use sand bags to block a flooding river that is near her farm. Their efforts fail and the flooding is not mitigated. Because of the old rule in films that if a character comes in and puts a gun on the wall, at some point in a movie, that gun has to be used, I figured that something was going to come of this scene, that maybe her crops would be ruined because of it. However, nothing refers back to it. The only purpose of this scene I can imagine is to establish that growing coffee in Africa is hard. Really? That is not exactly an esoteric idea here. A scene is not required to convey it so why are you wasting our time with it Pollack?

But there were many astounding things Out of Africa had to offer. The first that comes to mind is the breathtaking cinematography. It features incredible shots of the African landscape. There is one scene in which Denis is flying a plane over Africa. That two minute scene was some of the most beautiful scenery shots I have ever laid eyes upon, and I’m comparing this to Discovery Channel documentaries.

As far as the story goes, the character development was flawless. By the end, I felt I had known Karon for years. And Denis is such a brilliant character, which I credit to both the writing and Redford’s grand performance. Streep was also incredible, and her Danish accent never slipped (I know because I listen for it. When accents do slip in movies it bugs me to no end).

So please don’t be turned away. This movie is not a chick-flick. It is so much more. There is a reason it won 28 film awards including 7 Oscars. If you have three hours you need to kill (like I said, really freakin’ long) give this movie a try. I gladly award it with a 9.

Adaptation: Who Doesn’t Like an Enigma?

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Writing this critique has been much more challenging for me than my last critique, simply because it was difficult for me to gain a strong opinion about this movie. Interesting that I’ve had a hard time writing about a movie about writer’s block. Charlie Kaufman, get out of my head!

Adaptation, released in 2003, has an extremely complex plot, but I will try to simplify it as much as I can. Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) is a neurotic screenwriter who receives a job of writing the screenplay from a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orleans (Meryl Streep). Kaufman spends months beating himself up emotionally to complete this screenplay based on a book in which nothing really happens. He becomes so desperate that he turns to his twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage) who has become a formulaic writer, the kind of writing that Charlie abhors. In an attempt to find more meat for the screenplay, the twins follow Orleans to Florida where they discover her engaing in an illicit affair with Laroche (Christopher Cooper), the subject of The Orchid Thief, and doing drugs. when Orleans sees Charlie she suddenly decides all too quickly too be convincing that she must kill him. A few swamp chases and an angry alligator later, Donald has died in a car crash, Laroche is dead by big jagged teeth, and Orleans is arrested. Charlie returns home with the confidence to tell the woman he loves about his feelings and to finish the script.

Were you able to follow that? Yeah, I had a hard time too.

The thing about Adaptation is the first hour and a half are perfect. And I mean perfect. The story is relatable and heart wrenching. The viewer can’t help but become invested both in Charlie’s struggle with the screenplay and his tenuous emotions. The acting is phenomenal. Nicolas Cage seamlessly pulls off playing both nervous Charlie and his confident, suave twin, Donald. Meryl Streep’s performance of Susan’s downward spiral is evocative and real. Christopher Cooper’s performance tops them all. His character is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Even more amazing than that, Maggie Gyllenhaal, playing Donald’s girlfriend, doesn’t look like she’s on crack in this movie! Astounding!

However, after an amazing introspective one hour and thirty minutes, things get more difficult. My first reaction to the ending of Adaptation was that the last half hour of the film goes bat-shit crazy. The movie suddenly goes from a deep psychological dramedy to an action thriller in a very contrived, forced way. Susan Orleans’ sudden decision to kill Charlie totally snaps her character arch. She’s clearly been having some problems, being involved in an affair and doing drugs but that does not instantaneously mean murder. Her character up to that point just isn’t represented as someone capable of such a heinous crime. Even more than that, the movie suddenly has chases and bullets and car crashes and hungry alligators who know how to kill an antagonist at just the right moment.

Despite my first instinct, I didn’t think that could be it. After all, the screenwriter of this movie is Charlie Kaufman (no, that name is not just a coincidence) who also wrote the screenplay of Being John Malcovich, a film that is a stroke of genius. I couldn’t see someone writing such an amazing movie and then creating something with so many flaws (although, James Cameron did create Avatar after Titanic). I tried to look deeper, and came up with this possibility.

The movie represents a constant opposing dichotomy between the writing styles of Charlie and Donald. Donald writes using formulaic clichés with the simple goal of making money. Charlie is focused on finding the truth, representing reality. It could be argued that most of the movie represents Charlie’s style whereas the ending represents Donald’s. In such an analysis, the more cliché and contrived the ending is, the more the point is being made.

Or, it could be something else. In my difficulty with coming to terms with this movie, I emailed a very good friend of mine for help. I had no intention of doing this, but his response was just so amazing I have to include it here:

It crystallizes a recurring theme of the film: the artist’s difficulty in translating life, an ever-shifting, mutable thing that defies formula, into the comparatively formulaic conventions of artistic narrative. In life, there is none of the underlying pattern or logic necessary to great art. (The religious and to a lesser extent the philosophic impulse could be considered mankind’s best efforts to fashion these.) Life, if viewed in terms of art, must inevitably seem contrived and ridiculous, cf. the oft-heard dictum “Truth is stranger than fiction.” The ending, with all its contrivance and absurdity, comments upon this separation. Kaufman’s ending seems to suggest that any translation of life into art must inevitably involve a Procrustean mutilation. By stripping away the artistry that typically conceals this mutilation, it becomes more apparent, at least potentially. Alternatively, one could see the ending’s abrupt genre change in terms of evolutionary adaptation, as Kaufman realizesthere is no way to reconcile his sprawling vision and the demands of the market, forcing the screenplay to “adapt” in a more conventional direction.     by Alex Baker

Alex convinced me, but not completely. So, yeah, I now agree that the ending was not simply Kaufman having an aneurism, but a conscious choice for a specific reason. However, I still have a problem with the break in Susan Orlean’s character arch as I mentioned before.

The difficulty in fathoming this movie just shows its intricate complexities. I feel the best movies are the ones that stick in your head, ones that you have to chew on long after seeing it to make sure you understand it. Whether or not the ending is complete crap, Adaptation absolutely fits such a bill. Because of this, its superb cast, and Spike Jonze’s (director) ability to place Maggie Gyllenhaal in a movie without making me vomit the entire time, I give this movie a 9 out of 10.