Posts Tagged ‘film review’

Film Review: Julie & Julia

November 6, 2009

M streep

Main Ingredients: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Nora Ephron

 Method:

First separate Streep and Adams into two separate storylines. Use Ephron to stir both carefully and evenly, taking care to alternate between the two to prevent either mixture from becoming too sticky. Add a pinch of Tucci to the Streep mixture at regular intervals to ensure it retains dryness. Midway through, whisk Adams more vigorously until she reaches soft peaks. Season liberally with humour to ensure it doesn’t become over-sweet. Finally, combine both mixtures in a flashback-structure and bake for 123 minutes. Serve immediately to a warm audience.

Yep, it’s the cooking movie that everyone is talking about. You probably know the back-story already – Julie Powell, stuck in a dead-end administrative job in New York, decides to spend a year cooking every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s legendary cookbook, Mastering the art of French Cooking. A frustrated writer, she documents the experience on a blog which becomes phenomenally popular. The real-life Powell went on to publish her story and it became an enormous bestseller.

Rather than a straightforward adaptation of this book, Nora Ephron’s clever screenplay combines the Powell story with Julia Child’s own account of her life in France during the 1940s and 50s, starting with her initial forays into cookery and following the difficult process of putting together her infamous cookbook, for many years the equivalent of a culinary bible.

The film cuts backwards and forwards between France fifty years ago and Powell in present day New York but this doesn’t unbalance the movie. Instead, the viewer is frequently struck by the similarities between these two women. Both are hugely likable, both embark on a seemingly crazy project and both are backed up by an adoring husband. It’s refreshing to see a story of triumph over adversity where so much attention is given to the supportive partners in the background. Look beyond the food and the women and this is significantly a film about two marriages which remain rock-solid under considerable pressure.

It skirts perilously close to cliché at several points, but Ephron skilfully keeps things smart and fast-paced. She’s a screenwriter whose reputation suffers from association with her softer rom-coms – You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. But remember – this is the woman who also wrote Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally. Whether you like all her output or not, she’s clearly a sharp lady when she wants to be and she’s absolutely in her element here.

The cast is as good as you know they are going to be. Amy Adams has been undeniably cute and perky for the last couple of years, swiftly adopting the role of supporting actress du jour, but she really holds her own here. La Streep is clearly going to pull in the crowds, but her young co-star has slightly more screentime than the 15-time Oscar nominee, and to this reviewer, it is Adams who carries the real heart of the film.

Meryl is, of course, great value. Hilarious, slightly grotesque, unapologetically outspoken and ever so slightly drag-queen in her characterisation – this is a really big performance. But it doesn’t hinder the film – in fact, it probably lifts it to another level. Just like with Prada, this is a seemingly conventional mainstream movie that is elevated to something a bit special by Streep’s presence. The rest of the cast are also terrific. The husbands are both really appealing and warranting special mention is a delicious appearance by the ubiquitous Jane Lynch as Child’s sister. It’s the sort of role Joan Cusack used to play in her heyday – laugh-out-loud funny and just a bit crazy.

Production design is very strong, especially in the portions of the film set in France and the costume designers employ some very clever tricks to enhance Streep’s height, the real Julia Child having been famously very tall. We’re not quite in Hagrid territory, but her size is cleverly portrayed in several ‘how did they do that?’ scenes.

And it’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the food on display. Even if you’re someone who can’t boil an egg, it will have you itching to have a bash at some of the recipes or at the very least, it’ll make your mouth water – see this on an empty stomach and you’ll be ravenous by the end.

Overall, this is a tasty dish indeed. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s hugely engaging throughout and there are some welcome moments of real poignancy. The term ‘feel-good’ is often used pejoratively to denote a film that lacks substance and isn’t dripping with cool cynicism. But this will make you grin, it really does make you feel good and as such, it will be a deserved crowd-pleaser. 

Bon appetit!

 Reviewed by: The All Knowing I

Advertisements

Film Review: Blessed

October 6, 2009

In recent months, Aussie film pundits have been talking up 2009 as a vintage year for local product. Samson and Delilah, My Year Without Sex, Beautiful Kate – not just high quality, these were home-grown films that punters were actually going to see. The latest addition to the field, Blessed, is a surefire contender for the strongest Australian film of the year, but – here’s the catch – one which may struggle to find its audience.

 

Directed by Ana Kokkinos, helmer of the highly acclaimed 1998 feature Head On, this film started life as a play in Melbourne – Who’s Afraid of The Working Class? Don’t let the theatrical origins put you off. The screenwriter has done a great job of transferring this story from a dialogue-based medium into a celluloid world where powerful imagery and moments of silence are as impressive and emotional as the gritty script.

 

It’s deceptively simple. The first half of the film, titled ‘The Children’, follows the different exploits of seven children over the course of 24 hours. We wander with them through various situations, gradually beginning to understand the motives for their behaviour as backgrounds and family ties are revealed.

 

Midway through, the film switches perspective and we are presented with ‘The Mothers’, seeing the same situations through the eyes of the five mothers of these kids, each with their own story that provides vital context for the viewer.

 

Each half of the movie stands alone as a portrait of disenfranchised working class families struggling to keep their heads above water – in emotional terms as well as financially. But seen together, the cumulative impact is enormous, creating a hugely moving whole that will resonate strongly with anyone who has experienced complex familial entanglements (that’s all of us, right?).

 

Performances are terrific. The kids are naturalistic and convincing – equal parts obnoxious and endearing with not a sniff of a stage-school brat among them. Of the mothers, my money is on Frances O’Connor receiving most of the plaudits in her against-type role as a welfare-reliant single mother who neglects her kids, smokes while pregnant and seeks solace in a series of failed relationships with unsuitable men. Deborra-Lee Furness and Miranda Otto also shine, injecting some real warmth into two potentially unsympathetic characters.

 

Handheld camerawork forces the viewer onto intimate terms with these people and the unglamorous Melbourne locations further contribute to a strong sense of realism.

 

The score is quite beautiful, reminiscent of Decoder Ring’s Somersault soundtrack and used brilliantly to underpin some of the quietly emotional moments.

 

Since Head On played at gay film festivals around the globe, SameSame readers won’t be surprised to hear that there is a queer strand to this web of interconnected lives. We aren’t given, and we don’t need, the full background to share the confused isolation of gay teen Arthur, known by his family as Roo.

 

The scene where he takes part in an amateur porn film might be confronting for some audiences, but it’s an astonishing sequence – depressingly real and ultimately heartbreaking. You’ll just wanted to reach into the screen and rescue this kid.

 

Okay, so this is not straightforward easy entertainment, but it is soulful and rewarding and easily worth 17 bucks and 112 minutes of your time.

 

Blessed has a lot to say about ordinary people leading ordinary lives and despite the overwhelming tragedy of the closing section, this is not a misery-fest – there are real moments of warmth and poignancy here, if you look for them.

 

See it with someone you love – you’ll appreciate a big reassuring hug afterwards.

Reviewed by : The All Knowing I

Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

September 8, 2009

pelham

I won’t beat around the bush – this is pretty bad. If you’ve been anywhere near a mainstream cinema lately, you’ll probably have seen the trailer. Sad to report, you don’t need to see any more than that…

It’s the third filmed version of this story, following a well regarded 1974 version and a little-seen TV-movie from 1998 and it’s easy to see why director Tony Scott decided to revisit the material. On paper it sounds like a lean, mean action machine: bad guy hijacks subway train; passengers will die if his ransom demands are not met within one hour; heroic New York City transit employee comes to the rescue. Cast John Travolta and Denzel Washington as the bad guy and the hero respectively and you can’t go wrong, right?

Wrong. In my opinion, the film was woeful on almost every level…

Tony Scott employs his usual flashy style, with a sudden zoom or a jump-cut every ten seconds or so. Yes, it’s kinetic and colourful and some clever sound-design is employed to amp up the sense of urgency. Scott tries really hard to inject as much action as he can above-ground, with car crashes and swooping helicopters and lots of men in uniform running around. But you can’t hide the fact that for much of its running time, this is basically a filmed conversation between a man having a bad day at work and an angry person on an underground train.

The performances are very ordinary. Travolta does bring some weight to his role – about 50 kilos worth by my estimation. He’s been veering towards chunky in recent years, but this really shows that there was less padding under the Edna Turnblad costume than we thought. The crazy schtick he employs here is strictly off-the-shelf – a mixture of softly-spoken menace and sudden shouting, plus a neck tattoo for extra edginess.

And honestly, is there a duller actor working today than Denzel Washington? I know we like it when he plays bad guys, but presumably this is because we’re shocked he isn’t playing the same old world-weary everyman whose lips quiver to indicate each ‘dramatic moment’. He’s ordinary here to the point of being invisible and frankly, it’s tough to care whether he succeeds or not in his endeavours to save the day.

And whose idea was it to cast James Gandolfini as an obsequious Mayor coming to the end of his tenure? We all know he’s more than just Tony Soprano, but I really don’t think anyone buys this guy as weak and nervy.

I love movies and I’ll always find something positive to say about a film whenever I can. In this case, I’ll allow that the credits are interesting and the gunplay is pleasingly brutal.

I’m not being snobbish and I enjoy a popcorn no-brainer as much as the next person, but if you’re in the mood for that kind of entertainment, approach with caution. You’d be wiser staying in and watching an episode of CSI – it’s half as long and twice as well-made.

Review by: The All Knowing I