Julie and Julia – A Movie Review

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Feb 222010

Click here to watch the trailer for this movie at Yahoo Movies.Based on two true stories, “Julie & Julia” intertwines the lives of two women who, though separated by time and space, are both at loose ends until they discover that with the right combination of passion, fearlessness and butter, anything is possible.

Genres: Comedy and Adaptation; Running Time: 2 hr. 3 min.; Release Date: August 7th, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and some sensuality.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Jane Lynch

Directed by: Nora Ephron

I watched this as an Amazon On-Demand movie one evening last week while Lay was at work. He was not interested in seeing this movie, but I was. And I found myself enjoying the experience.

Nora Ephron likes to observe how two people meet and bond with each other, ultimately forming a relationship that we hope will transcend time, and like in her previous films, she manages to nuance both characters seamlessly and bind them in our eyes to a point where we can’t care for one without wondering what will happen to the other. It is a rare accomplishment.

The film is based on two true stories. First there’s the story of the world-renowned Julia Child, who wrote the American classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It is the story of Julia’s arrival on France in 1949, how she learned to cook, and how she went about co-writing the book with two of her friends. The other story happens in 2002. It follows Julie Powell, a government worker who lives atop a Pizzeria with her husband, and who decides that to find some meaning in life she’ll cook all of Julia Child’s recipes in a maximum of one year, and write about the experience in a blog. The film seamlessly interweaves these two stories, with Julia’s life experiences going into her cookbook, and those experiences wafting through the years to Julie’s kitchen.

The film may seem, at first, unimpressive…and it is, to a point. It’s a biopic, and we must admit that lives are seldom as impressive as Hollywood makes them out to be, so don’t be expecting ingenious plot twists or the characters coming full circle at the end. The film portrays the life of America’s most beloved cook and of a woman following in her footsteps. Just that. But it is amazing how the lives of these completely different women are similar, even though they live in different centuries and countries. They’re both: happily married, they both experience an important move at the beginning of the film, both take up cooking to fill up an emptiness in their life and both harvest so much passion and art from what they cook; both are writers, but find almost the same hardships when looking for publishers, both have similar marital problems, and at the end they both understand how life works for them.

Ephron knows how to relate two characters. These two women have never met, but they’re so similar and share so much that we wonder whether they may be family. And notice how Julie adores and reveres Julia, even though she’s never met her, and how Julia is the motivation and spark behind Julie’s life even if she’s not aware of her existence. Meryl Streep as Julia Child takes over what could be an uninteresting story and injects it with glee and joy with a powerful and entrancing performance, an Oscar-worthy one. Amy Adams as Julie Powell is very good too, depicting a typical struggling American woman and bearing her heart for the audience. Her story is a bit uninvolving too, but her performance does wonders for what could otherwise be a stale film.

“Julie & Julia” has two seamlessly intertwined story lines and two superb leading ladies. The cinematography and editing are very well done, but not spectacular. The production design is very good, actually, especially on the Julia storyline, recreating bourgeois France in 1949 and seeping us into the charming and infectiously fun lifestyle she led.

It’s not the movie of the year, but Streep and Adams and outstanding, and all the supporting characters are excellent. The screen play is very interesting, and the two stories are woven together nicely. This is is a movie well worth watching.

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Dec 292008

It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the school’s strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country, and, indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius is galvanized to begin a crusade to both unearth the truth and expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shred of proof or evidence except her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn, a battle that threatens to tear apart the Church and school with devastating consequences.

Genres: Drama, Adaptation and Politics/Religion; Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.; Release Date: December 12th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley

This is an excellent movie. While I never saw the play, I think the movie maintained the qualities of a play because of John Patrick Shanley. I felt pulled into the movie, not as a passive observer, but more like someone uncomfortably over-hearing conversations to which one should not be listening.

Hoffman pulls off one his top performances here (and think of cannon of work that comes from). He has such conviction as this priest, moments of tenderness and (possibly) righteous anger… and then those little moments, like when he suddenly asks Sister Aloysius (Streep) in the heat of their climactic argument “Have you never done wrong?” that suddenly really makes things interesting. This isn’t just bombast between two heavyweights like Hoffman and Streep, but a master’s class in subtlety, tone, the way a face looks when it tries to look controlled. This is a big performance for Streep as well, and she is perfect in the part. I am not a product of Catholic eduction, but from what I’ve heard, Streep must have some experience with it. Amy Adams has shown herself to be an excellent actress, and pulls off her part perfectly. Viola Davis has a very short part in the film, but it is critical to the story, and she teals her scene practically and goes head-to-head with Streep in one of those revelatory scenes that works on multiple levels.

Doubt will certainly be an Oscar contender, and it deserves to be there. It is an excellent drama, filmed and acted in a way that keeps the audience attention completely centered on the movie.

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Lions for Lambs

 Culture, Movies, Politics, War  Comments Off on Lions for Lambs
Nov 182007

Lions For Lambs Movie PosterLions for Lambs begins after two determined students at a West Coast University, Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Pena), follow the inspiration of their idealistic professor, Dr. Malley (Robert Redford), and attempt to do something important with their lives. But when the two make the bold decision to join the battle in Afghanistan, Malley is both moved and distraught. Now, as Arian and Ernest fight for survival in the field, they become the string that binds together two disparate stories on opposite sides of America. In California, an anguished Dr. Malley attempts to reach a privileged but disaffected student (Andrew Garfield) who is the very opposite of Arian and Ernest. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C. the charismatic Presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), is about to give a bombshell story to a probing TV journalist (Meryl Streep) that may affect Arian and Ernest’s fates.

Robert Redford

Drama, War, Political Thriller

Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Peña, Andrew Garfield, Peter Berg, Kevin Dunn, Derek Luke,

Most films of this type are almost always packed with stereotypes about army men, Senators, journalists and it ends with a great deed or tragedy that is supposed to move the audiences. ‘Lions for Lambs’ discusses the same situation with a bit more realism and thoughtfulness than some of these films.

The plot of the film revolves around three events that are happening simultaneously – an ambitious Senator’s (Cruise) interview with a leading journalist (Streep), a formerly zealous and now careless student’s meeting with a professor (Redford) of political science and a military attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan. The three events are deeply interconnected but the focus in every scene is on what every character believes in, and how it influences where America is and where it will be in the future.

It actually debates the issues fairly even-handedly. No point of view is made to be bigger than the other. Yet, every view is articulately put forward. With no melodrama at hand, Redford presents different outlooks and makes the end product look effortlessly open-ended. Most significantly, the effect the film has on the audience is not mitigated by the lack of high voltage screaming and background music. The role as well as the viewpoint of politicians, the middle-class American student, the committed soldier and journalists is offered only so that it can be scrutinized by the audience.

I saw this film by myself, as Lay hates Tom Cruise. I’m not a huge fan, but he does a decent job in this movie. The rest of the cast does a great job as well. The story/ies are a bit hard to get your arms around right at first, but stick with it, and it all comes together. This was not a wasted afternoon, and I’ll probably make Lay watch this movie in DVD.

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A Prairie Home Companion

 Culture, Fun Stuff, Movies, Movies I Own, Music  Comments Off on A Prairie Home Companion
Jul 092006

Prairie_Home_Companion.jpgA look at what goes on backstage during the last broadcast of America’s most celebrated radio show, where singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty, a country music siren (Streep), and a host of others hold court.

Directed by
Robert Altman

Comedy, Music

Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Marylouise Burke, L.Q. Jones, Sue Scott, Tim Russell, Tom Keith

I went to see this movie yesterday by myself, as I knew it was not a movie Lay would enjoy. Although I think he secretly enjoys the radio show, as I often have it on when we are heading Saturday evenings.

If there is anyone more laid back or brighter than Garrison Keillor in show business, let me know, because Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, based on Keillor’s long-running Minnesota Public Radio saga, shows Keillor as an audience sees him each week?like a god gently guiding an eccentric ensemble through excellent performances made to look as easy as his demeanor. This film stands as a testimony to the director’s gift for sustaining strong characters in layers of dialogue approximating overlapping conversations at an interesting party.

Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the singing country Johnson sisters bring back memories of Reese Witherspoon’s amazing turn as June Carter and Streep’s own previous country singer in Postcards. Ditto Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as the singing and joking Dusty and Lefty. But best of all is Kevin Kline as Keillor’s real radio creation, Guy Noir, the ’40’s dapper, inquisitive, naughty narrator and security head for the production. Klein embodies the melancholic mood always at least hidden underneath any show’s last show, despite Keillor’s nonchalant assertion that every show is your “last show.” Around this realistic, charming premise of talented performers at their last performance, writer Keillor interjects a ghostly beauty in a white leather trench coat, Virginia Madsen playing Dangerous Woman, the spirit of death, gently accompanying those about to die and the moribund show itself. The character is a lyrical embodiment of the theme that nothing lasts but the love shared in any experience. Keillor remains in character after someone dies by stating he doesn’t “do eulogies.” Nor does he do one for the show, which in real life still lasts in St. Paul from 1974.

So enjoyable are Altman, his ubiquitous HD camera, and his busy dialogue that you feel a part of the proceedings, catching the sweet smell of success for everyone attached to this thoroughly realized song of love to theater, music, and creativity.

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