The Iron Lady (2011) PICK
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011) PICK
The Three Musketeers (2011) PASS
Brad Bird, the gifted director of The Incredibles, makes his live-action debut in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, new on home video. So preposterously entertaining that it makes watching other recent action movies feel like work, Ghost Protocol is highlighted by a string of brilliantly conceived and executed stunt sequences, filmed in a lucid style that lets you actually see what’s happening. Fancy that!
The standout sequence is among the best action scenes in the last 25 years: Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt making like Spider-Man on the surface of the world’s tallest building, the Birj Khalifa in Dubai. As good as the stunt itself is, the behind-the-scenes info on how it was done in the substantial making-of featurettes (totaling nearly 100 minutes) available with the Blu-ray/DVD combo edition is better. (Cruise really spent a lot of time climbing and swinging 130 stories in the air in the punishing Middle Eastern sun and winds.)
Is there anything more to Ghost Protocol than spectacle and style? Well, no, not really. That, some gorgeous globe-hopping backdrops (beautifully filmed by director of photography Robert Elswit) and the considerable star power of Cruise and his co-stars, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton. Too bad there’s no commentary track, though Bird does offer some nice commentary on a collection of deleted scenes.
Also among last year’s best cinema achievements is Meryl Streep’s beautifully modulated, deservedly Oscar-winning performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. An empathic, fluid portrait of Thatcher’s life from youth (played by Alexandra Roach) into the dementia of old age, the film focuses less on Thatcher’s political life — though her political convictions and achievements are highlighted — than on her relationship with the love of her life, Sir Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent), who remains very much a presence in Margaret’s life, even after he dies.
Finally, did the latest dim-witted revisionist take on Alexandre Dumas’ much-adapted swashbuckler, The Three Musketeers, really deserve the critical shellacking it took? I’m calling it a pass — but it’s a qualified one, since the dim-witted flick not only isn’t awful, but is actually kind of fun. The climactic swordfight atop Notre Dame is one of the best duels in years.
Content Advisory: The Iron Lady: Depictions of political and military violence; fleeting female nudity at a political demonstration; some cursing and limited profanity. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol: Much intense action violence; some suggestive content, including images of erotic art; a few instances of profanity and some crass language. Teens and up. The Three Musketeers: Swashbuckling action violence; some suggestive banter and double entendres; some cursing and limited profanity. Teens and up.