The first batch of films to open in 2012 reviewed by Paul Byrne including The Iron Lady, The Artist and more…

THE ARTIST (France/Belguim/PG/100mins)
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius. Starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pye, Ed Lauter.
THE PLOT: It’s Hollywood, 1927, and silent movie giant George Valentin (Dujardin) is once again playing up to the adoring fans, his trusty dog (Uggie) by his side. In the scuffle up against the police line, Peppy Miller (Bejo) drops her purse and, whilst retrieving it, finds herself beside the man himself. And on the cover of Variety the following morning, with the headline WHO’S THAT GIRL?. That girl just happens to be auditioning as an extra on George’s new movie, and the two once again cross paths. Their lives will cross a few more times over the coming years, as Peppy becomes the queen of the talkies and George – stubbornly refusing to embrace the arrival of sound – becomes yesterday’s man…
THE VERDICT: Believe the hype, my fattened friends. If Woody Allen took on Sunset Boulevard, he just might come up with something as magical, moving and mischievous as this. Shot as a silent movie – save for one hilarious scene – The Artist is a loving homage to the early days of cinema as well as a surprisingly touching love story. It’s also about not entirely abandoning the old as you embrace the new, Hollywood littered with the corpses of early greats who became overnight cessations. Dujardin and my future wife, Bejo, are incredible throughout, tapping into what made silent movies so special, and they will no doubt be the darlings of the awards season. As will The Artist, a film that looks destined to win the Best Film Oscar. Even if it is French. And distributed by Harvey Weinstein. RATING: 5/5

THE IRON LADY (UK/12A/105mins)
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman, Anthony Head, Iain Glen, Roger Allam, Ronald Reagan.
THE PLOT: Charting the rise and fall of Britain’s longest-running prime minister, from Grantham greengrocer’s daughter Margaret Roberts – the light of Mayor Roberts’ eye – to her forced resignation from the Tory leadership in November 1990, The Iron Lady opens, a doddery old dignitary, the onset of dementia clearly present. Her beloved Denis having passed away years ago, the old Maggie still converses with the ghost of her late husband (Broadbent) as they chuckle, fumble and pratfall their way through another day of official engagements and book-signings.
THE VERDICT: It’s plain from such a beginning that we should feel some kind of sympathy for this doddery old lady. Which may not always be easy for an Irish viewer. Or ex-miners. Streep reunites with her Mamma Mia director for a film about as politically hard-hitting as Oliver Stone’s toothless Bush biopic W. (2008). Lloyd seems to be aiming for something closer to Richard Eyre’s Iris, the 2001 biographical film telling the story of British novelist Iris Murdoch’s relationship with John Bayley. The fact that Jim Broadbent also played the doting husband in the latter, nursing the elderly Iris (Judi Dench) as she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, only adds to the sense of soft-soaping here. Streep is wonderful; the film is not. RATING: 3/5

DREAMS OF A LIFE (UK/IFI/95mins)
Directed by Carol Morley. Starring Zawe Ashton, Neelam Bakshi, Lee Colley, Jonathan Harden, Daren Elliot Holmes, Cornell John, Alix Luka-Cain.
THE PLOT: In January 2006, the corpse of 38-year old Joyce Vincent was found in her London bedsit, and it was soon discovered that she had lain there for three years. With the TV still on. And her body disintegrated so much into the carpet that Joyce could only be identified by her dental records. With little known about her at the time, documentary filmmaker Carol Morley tracks down those who knew Joyce Vincent, and discovers a popular, attractive and flirtatious would-be singer who never stayed in one place for very long, moving on to a new job, and a new lover, without leaving too much of a trace. Just why that was is discussed by former lovers, friends and co-workers, whilst her life is reconstructed, both through archive photos and by actors.
THE VERDICT: On April 27th, 2011, Playboy playmate and B-movie queen Yvette Vickers was found at her Benedict Canyon home, the 82-year old believed to have been dead for close to a year. That someone can slip away and nobody notices is a chilling thought, but, as people lead more insular and isolated lives (thanks, internet!), lonesome deaths can hardly be all that surprising. Not that there aren’t many moments to ponder in Carol Morley’s fascinating documentary drama, the moving target that is a beautiful woman proving just as out of reach in death as in life. So, you know, let that be a lesson to all you hot chicks out there – settle for the next wide-eyed gimp who proposes. Just make him promise to check your pulse every morning. RATING: 4/5

SURVIVING LIFE (Czech Republic/IFI/109mins)
Directed by Jan Svankmajer. Starring Jan Vaclav Helsus, Klara Issova, Zuzana Kronerova, Daniela Bakerova, Emilia Dosekova.
THE PLOT: Dreaming of a mysterious girl (Issova), Evzen (Helsus) is keen to return to this topsy-turvy world, where bears run around with hard-ons, dog-headed businessmen bang poodles on the street and lotto and cinema tickets are often one and the same. And where beautiful women in red will happily bring you back to their place after a little mistaken identity. And so it is that Evzen does everything in his power to stay for as long as he can in the land of nod…
THE VERDICT: With his trademark animation married to a relatively accessible flight of fancy, legendary 77-year-old Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer’s supposed swansong is a surrealist marriage of Terry Gilliam credits and Gianni Di Gregorio’s wry and wrinkled skirt-chasing. In many ways, it’s just Svankmajer’s imagination running away with him, once again, Surviving Life being a film full of sly symbolism and blatantly bonkers motifs. Fans will undoubtedly love it, but the uninitiated will run a mile from the DIY cut-out animation. And the 40-foot chickens. RATING: 3/5 

GOON (USA/16/91mins)
Directed by Michael Dowse. Starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Live Schreiber, Kim Coates, Eugene Levy.
THE PLOT: Doug (Scott) is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but, dammit, he is a tool. And he’s about to prove it to his academic and disapproving family – by becoming an enforcer for his hometown ice-hockey team and leading them to glory. To bloody, foul-mouthed, foul-filled glory. Hmm, I think we might have seen this movie before. The Mighty *ucks, anyone?
THE VERDICT: From the pen of Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s buddy Evan Goldberg (and based on the book Goon: The True Story Of An Unlikely Journey Into Minor League Hockey), and directed by the Canadian responsible for It’s All Gone Pete Tong. RATING: n/a

REVIEWS BY PAUL BYRNE