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Thumbnails Feb 12

by Tony Medley

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol (9/10): All the Mission Impossible plots are, well, impossible, but this one is unusually outlandish, something about a bad guy who has stolen Russian nuclear launch codes so Tom Cruise and the gang have to get to the guy before he uses them. The cinematography is rewarding enough for a travelogue. The good guy vs. the world with a hateful bad guy is involving. This is another film where you should just leave your brain at home, relax, and enjoy it.

Young Adult (8/10): Screenwriter Diablo Cody's tale about gorgeous Charlize Thereon, approaching middle-age, is a visceral, challenging study of the skewed morality of a dysfunctional young woman who, in the eyes of her contemporaries, has everything. Well-directed by "Juno's" Jason Reitman, the cast includes Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, and Elizabeth Reaser, all of whom give outstanding performances.

Crazy Horse (8/10): This fascinating documentary about the legendary Parisian cabaret club featuring nude women dancers contains revealing interviews with the dancers, producers, and director, celebrated choreographer Philippe Decouflé, as well as scenes of rehearsals and performances of their dancing called "nude chic" (also revealing). In French and English, at the Nuart from Feb. 3-Feb 9.

War Horse (8/10): Director Stephen Spielberg tells this anti-war story of an English horse that finds itself on both sides of World War I from the horse's point of view à la Jack London. While far too long, it is well told and interesting. Even though the war scenes are well done, they don't capture the horror and stupidity of World War I, where most of the Generals on both sides were war criminals, so little regard did they have for the lives of their troops. The bleakness of life in the trenches is shown, but not the appalling loss of life. Spielberg closes the movie with a scene that looks like it's directly out of "Gone With the Wind." I hope he meant it respectfully as an homage, but it's almost a direct steal.

Haywire (7/10): Steven Soderbergh ably directs mixed martial arts champion Gina Carano in this ingeniously convoluted action thriller, in which everyone is out to kill Gina, that keeps you on the edge of your seat even though you don't have a clue about what's going on until the end. Influenced by Soderbergh's affection for one of his favorite films, James Bond's "From Russia With Love," it is helped by a terrific cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender,  Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, and Michael Douglas.

The Grey (7/10): Underneath this tense Liam Neeson thriller is a thought-provoking allegory about man's relationship with nature in the guise of a battle to the death between an Alaskan wolf pack and oil workers who survive a brilliantly filmed plane crash.

Iron Lady (1/10): This is a political execution by experienced filmmaker assassins, headed by director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan (who doesn't hide her bias, saying, "I remember at university in 1990 there was dancing in the street when she left power, so I knew her legacy and that she was someone who was hated") who reduce English Prime minster Margaret Thatcher, the first woman and longest-sitting PM of the 20th Century, to a demented simpleton. The blatant factual misrepresentation of Thatcher's youthful days is aided and abetted by a cruel performance by Meryl Streep that could be better entitled "Julia Child Impersonates Margaret Thatcher as a Doddering Octogenarian." Ignoring Thatcher's ground-breaking partnership with President Reagan and Pope John Paul II to win the Cold War without firing a shot, almost 70% of the film concentrates on Thatcher with dementia.