Published at KCActive.com on May 4, 2012
The Iron Lady
In case you were wondering: Yes, Meryl Streep is our greatest living actress. There is clearly no role this woman can’t play, as her Oscar-winning performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady attests.
The movie itself is a mess, which makes Streep’s accomplishment stand out even more. Director Phyllida Lloyd shows the elderly Thatcher puttering around her house, having imagined conversations with her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent). As she observes the changing world around her, Thatcher recalls key moments in her life, from her days as a politically aware teenager to her controversial run as Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Thatcher emerges as a tough leader who shattered the glass ceiling without ever being overtly feminist, but The Iron Lady stumbles when dealing her less admirable traits. We see her alienating former allies, but with little understanding of why she turned on them. Her intelligence is never in question, but she is rarely shown giving serious thought to her decisions. She’s just right, and she knows it, and that’s that.
Abi Morgan’s screenplay is strenuously apolitical, which is fine up to a point. I don’t need a filmmaker to tell me what to think about a historical figure. However, it would be nice to get some insight into how the British political system works and what larger impact Thatcher’s decisions had. Instead of offering that kind of depth, Lloyd and Morgan just go through the usual biopic checklist, depending on their actress to overcome the poorly structured script. That Streep does so is as much a testament to her stubborn brilliance as it is to Thatcher’s.
Extras: A handful of making-of features, focused on elements like casting and costumes. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 —LL
We Bought a Zoo
Cameron Crowe’s heartwarming family film is very loosely based on the story of Benjamin Mee, a journalist who operates a private zoo in England. We Bought a Zoo turns Benjamin into an American widower who makes a fresh start by purchasing the rundown property, now located in rural California. It’s a blatant attempt to Hollywoodize the story, as is casting Matt Damon in the lead role, giving him two precocious/troubled kids, and pushing Scarlett Johansson as a would-be love interest.
Astonishingly, this does not ruin the movie. Crowe has an innate resistance to tear-jerking schmaltz so the emotional scenes earn your involvement by resembling real human interactions. Damon is terrific as a man who deals with his grief by taking on a nearly impossible project, then realizes that connecting with his children is even harder. Colin Ford holds onto audience sympathy as the sullen teenaged son, and Mary Elizabeth Jones, as Damon’s young daughter, is all kinds of adorable.
The animals provide plenty of comic relief, as does the ragtag group of zoo employees, but they aren’t just there for laughs. They all have important roles to play in the Mee family’s recovery, and some genuine dramatic moments of their own. If We Bought a Zoo wraps up a little too neatly, or has a few too many obvious gags, it still engenders enough good will to make you ignore its problems. For the most part, anyway.
Extras: A commentary track by Crowe, editor Mark Livolsi and co-star J.B. Smoove; a making-of doc (which is much longer on the Blu-Ray); additional Blu-Ray features on the real Benjamin Mee & the musical score; deleted scenes; a gag reel; a photo gallery. (PG). Rating: 3.5 – LL