Four to Watch (Nickell-odeon Mini-Reviews)

January 31, 2012

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To catch up on our movie watching, my wife Diana dared us to go on a movie marathon. So (after a morning trip to a psychic fair) we embarked on a whirlwind tour, getting home just before the witching hour. With her handling logistics (directions, times, and eating on the run) and me driving the getaway car, we crisscrossed town and watched four new feature films. All were in the good-to-excellent range, and I recommend them to fellow skeptics and humanists. (As I say, a humanist is an atheist with a heart.) Here are capsule reviews (presented in ascending order of excellence).

Iron Lady. Biopic about former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose lifelong defense of conservative “values” is softened by this humanizing portrayal. It offers a haunting look at her declining years with her struggle against dementia, visits by her dead husband (hallucinated and so not ghostly), and—especially—her portrayal by Meryl Streep whose re-creation is stunning.

Rating: Three wooden nickels (out of four)

Three Nickels

A Dangerous Method. Exploring the relationship between psychology pioneer Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his foremost disciple Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), this intelligent film’s central thread is woven by a Jung patient (brilliantly played by Keira Knightley). She suffers from “hysteria” but is ostensibly cured by Jung and ends up as his protégée and, unethically, his mistress. From brief scenes of Jung spanking her to erotic arousal, benefitting from the luxury of his betrayed wife’s money, and dabbling in paranormal speculation, the film concludes with the eventual break in their relationship, exacerbated by the unbalanced but bewitching former patient.

Rating: Three and a half wooden nickels (out of four)

Three and a half Nickels

Albert Nobbs. The title character of this remarkable story is a woman passing for a man on a quest to fulfill a dream. It seems a modest dream, but in the realm of nineteenth-century Irish business—truly a man’s world—it is quite formidable. Albert fades into the role of a meek waiter in a classy hotel, but, as his dream begins to take center stage, life’s unscripted drama presents challenges he is ill prepared to meet. I should say no more except to point out that Glenn Close—having played Albert in a stage version many years ago—has long struggled to create this motion picture, for which she became co-producer, co-writer, and absolutely unforgettable star.

Rating: Three and a half wooden nickels (out of four)

Three and a half Nickels

The Artist. This movie about movies loves film the way van Gogh loved paint. Film star George Valentin (Michael Dujardin) mentors a talented starlet (Berenice Bejo) who goes on to fabulous success in the new talking pictures. He is left trapped in the no-man’s-land of silent movies—literally so in this exceptionally witty, silent-film treatment that you wait (and wait, through his long despair) to break into sound and for him to reclaim his life. As he learns, someone has been secretly waiting for the opportunity to lend him a hand.

Rating: Four wooden nickels (out of four)

Four Nickels