REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Posts Tagged ‘meryl streep’

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009)

In Adventure, Animation, Comedy, F, Family on August 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

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STUDIO – 20th Century Fox

CASTGeorge Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Chase Anderson, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson

DIRECTORWes Anderson

MPAA Rating: PG

When the nominees for the 81st Academy Awards were announced in January 2010, one of the Best Animated Feature picks was a movie I had not heard of. Directed by Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox, released in November 2009, only managed to recoup about half of its reported $40 million budget in six months. Undaunted, I put it in my Queue, and waited for its arrival.

Based on the book by Roald Dahl (author of  “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), Fantastic Mr. Fox is the story of (naturally) a fox (voice of George Clooney) known for his reputation as a notorious bird thief. One day, he and his newlywed bride, Felicity (voice of Meryl Streep), get caught while stealing squab. At that moment, she tells him she’s pregnant, and she makes him promise that if they get out of this alive, he will find a new job. Fast-forward 12 (fox) years later, and Mr. Fox, Felicity, and their son Ash (voice of Jason Schwartzman) live in a nice, yet humble, hole in the ground. Mr. Fox, now a newspaper columnist, spots a tree for sale in the morning paper. Later that day, while viewing the property, he sees three farms in the distance. He consults his attorney, Mr. Badger (Bill Murray), who advises against the purchase because the owners of those farms are very dangerous men. Feeling the urge to steal again, he buys the tree anyway, moves his family in, and plots one last job: steal from the three farms.

A typical morning in the Fox household

Visually, Fantastic Mr. Fox is fun and stimulating. Director Wes Anderson doesn’t try to do any new tricks. Rather, he employs the old ones with cleverness and flare. There is one sequence, for example, in which Ash’s cousin, Kristofferson (voice of Eric Chase Anderson – Wes Anderson’s brother) is introduced to whack-bat, a sport which somewhat resembles cricket. According to the coach (voice of Owen Wilson):

“Basically, there’s three grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and a player at whack-bat. Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket and the whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the umpire calls hotbox. Finally, you count up however many score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine.”

Kinda makes cricket look easier to understand, huh?

Another clever device in this movie  is the insertion of the word “cuss” in place of profanities. Adults will, for the most part, get the true meaning behind the “cussing” (for lack of a better term), while still making this movie safe for kids’ ears. There is some violence in this movie, including a few (off-screen) bird kills, some gunplay by the farmers, and more than a few pine cone grenades.

There is a subplot involving Ash and Kristofferson, to which many kids should easily relate. Kristofferson is Ash’s cousin from out-of-town, and though Kristofferson is younger than Ash, he is also taller, more athletic, more mature, and more sociable than Ash. At first, Kristofferson’s presence make Ash envious, particularly when Fox becomes very impressed with him. As the movie progresses, Ash learns how embrace his differences, while both finding his own identity and gaining his father’s acceptance.

There are a lot of good things to say about Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it is not without its flaws. I have said this before, and I will say again: for the most part, the voice talent sounds like they’re phoning it in. What projects of this nature need is personalities, not stars. If someone is both, like Bill Murray, great! Bring ’em on. But, through most of the movie, Clooney and Streep lacked the energy to hold my attention to the dialogue. I said the same thing when I wrote about Coraline (another stop-motion Best Animated Feature nominee). And when you have big-name stars who (for lack of a better term) don’t have any “spark” when they speak in person, then how could they work as voice actors in an animated movie? True, Fox is a bad-boy type, and Clooney suits him well. But to me, George Clooney’s voice is about as interesting as the sound of noodles boiling in water.

Overall, it is refreshing to see animation making strides like this, and without the Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks names hanging above them. Nothing against the work of those companies, but the more choices, the better the competition. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a good family film, suitable for children age 8 and up. It is visually inventive, and it includes an eclectic soundtrack which features (among others) Burl Ives, The Beach Boys, The Bobby Fuller Four, and The Rolling Stones. There are even two songs originally found in the Disney archives: “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”, and “Love”, which was first used in Disney’s animated Robin Hood (By the way, in that film, Robin was – you guessed it – a fox). It may lack some necessary energy, but Fantastic Mr. Fox both tells a good story and teaches a valuable lesson about embracing our differences.

OUT OF AFRICA (1985)

In Adventure, Best Picture Winners, Drama, Motion Pictures, O, Romance on March 30, 2010 at 12:31 am

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STUDIO — Universal 

CAST — Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Iman 

DIRECTOR —  Sydney Pollack 

MPAA Rating: PG 

In the summer of 1986, I was a strapping young lad of 21, stationed at Camp Red Cloud, in Uijongbu, South Korea. I had a girlfriend at the time named Lynda; she was also in the Army. One day, we were walking by the AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Services) movie theatre on post, when I noticed that Out of Africa was playing. I had heard it just won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, so I suggested to Lynda we go see it. To this day, Out of Africa remains as the only motion picture I had paid to see in a cinema which made me fall asleep. 

Naturally, one can understand my resistance to screen this movie again. But it was placed on my Request List, and I figured it was better to get it over with early on. Well, after watching it again with fresh eyes (and staying awake through the whole thing), I came away with a somewhat surprising opinion of this movie: It’s not as bad as I remember! 

Okay, hear me out. My memories of seeing it in Korea were those of disappointment, to say the least. Visually, Out of Africa is stunning, but the story had about as much “oomph” in it as an Andy Disk right hook. But today, I am different man than I was then. I am more open-minded, wiser, and more… seasoned. And on that note, let’s get into how I see Out of Africa today. 

Karen (Meryl Streep) entertains Denys (Robert Redford) at dinner

The movie stretches over many years, beginning in 1913, when a young Danish lady named Karen (Meryl Streep, in one of her myriad Oscar-nominated roles) enters into a relationship with a Swedish gentleman, Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer). He brings her to Kenya, marries her, and they settle onto a nice, large plot of land for their cattle ranch coffee plantation. It quickly becomes a loveless marriage, and Karen is left in charge of the property, while her husband traipses around the far reaches of the Serengeti. Meanwhile, a somewhat free-spirited big-game hunter named Denys Finch Hatten (Robert Redford) quickly becomes enamored with her, and the two soon form a bond. 

If you are looking for action, this isn’t the movie to see. The most thrilling parts involve lions on the hunt, of which there are three, but then again, this is a romantic movie. Without a doubt, Out of Africa is a so-called “chick-flick”, even going so far as to follow certain modern romantic movie formulae. On the other hand, if you are in film school taking a course in cinematography, this movie is required viewing. If there is one good thing I can say about Out of Africa, it’s that it is one of the most beautifully filmed motion pictures I have ever seen, and I doubt few movies will ever top it (Another movie in this elite category is 1990’s Dances With Wolves). 

And speaking of Dances With Wolves, the musical score has a recognizable sound to it. That is because those sweeping violins you hear come from the trademark style of John Barry, who understandably received his third Oscar for musical score (and fourth overall) for his work in this film. As for the script, it is a good one, though some parts found me checking the time upon occasion. Meryl Streep’s performance was very good, and I have a lot of respect for the character she plays in this movie. Here, Karen is portrayed as an independent woman who was willing to work alongside her field workers; I have a lot of respect for bosses who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Robert Redford is charming enough, and he was still a major box office draw in 1985, but I get the feeling the part might have been better served going to Mel Gibson, who at the time was just coming into his own in America, and a “serious” movie at that time would’ve proven him a capable actor who could do more than Mad Max. 

If this movie were to be remade today (2010), I get the feeling that Kate & Leo would reunite to do it. As it stands, with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, I got the impression of an “off -the-rack” suit in a tailor-made environment, which I think is the primary weakness of Out of Africa; mediocre chemistry between the leads can hurt a film like this, and in this case, it did. Still, it makes for a beautiful postcard for the African continent, and even 25 years later, women will still swoon over the sparkle in Redford’s blue eyes. 

JULIE & JULIA (2009)

In Biography, Comedy, Drama, J, Motion Pictures on March 1, 2010 at 11:47 am

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STUDIO — Columbia

CAST — Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina

DIRECTOR —  Nora Ephron

MPAA Rating: PG-13

When this movie came out in 2009, I was skeptical about it. I had heard about the “Julie/Julia” project, but to make a motion picture about two separate lives about two different women who lived in two different time periods seemed far-fetched to me. And I must be up-front about this: Julie & Julia is not the kind of movie which (on the surface, at least) I would just pop in the DVD player and watch. But, since Meryl Streep received her 40th Academy Award nomination, I gave it a shot.

(Okay, I kid about Meryl Streep. But, as of this writing, she has received 15 Oscar nods – with two wins – since 1979. Nothing against Ms. Streep; she is an exceptionally talented actress. But it’s almost as if to say she’s the Academy’s “go-to” girl if they need a fifth name to fill out the Best Actress category, especially if she alters her voice in any way. But I digress…)

Julie Powell (Amy Adams) recalls her mother making Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon

About 25 minutes into this movie, I actually exclaimed out loud “I get it!” I actually began to see this as one portrait of two women who led parallel lives. And the parallels are almost uncanny! In case you are not aware, the late Julia Child was one of the most popular TV personalities of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1961, her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published. And her cooking shows, beginning with “The French Chef”, ran off-and-on from 1963 to 2000, and she is one of the reasons The Food Network exists today.

So, what are the parallels? For starters, Julia Child (Meryl Streep) was a former OSS file clerk in post-war Paris who became the first female graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. Julie Powell (Amy Adams), an occupant of a cubicle in a government office in post-9/11 New York City, decided to take on the ambitious project of re-creating all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s book. In one year. And write a blog about it. Both women overcame obstacles on their way to achieve their goals. For Julia, it was writing and re-writing her book for years, only to be rejected by numerous publishers untill one finally said “yes”; for Julie, it was the ridiculous idea of actually starting this blog of hers (at her husband’s suggestion), wondering if anyone would ever read it anyway.

Now, starting a blog is something I can personally relate to. I have just started this blog myself, and I can relate to Julie’s frustrations in the early days of her blog, whose only reader at the time seemed to be her mother. As of this writing, only my brother and a couple of friends have read these reviews. With that cloud of uncertainty hanging over me, I sometimes wonder if my efforts will ever bear fruit. Watching this movie reminded me that all I have to do is keep pressing forward; some day, this little blog of mine will have a life of its own. But, I digress again…

This movie was fun to watch. Seeing Meryl Streep as Julia Child, I began to ask myself in some scenes, “Where’s Meryl?” That is usually a good indicator of a good performance. And the food! Oh, my God! I could almost smell some of those dishes! Here I am, writing a review about a movie featuring gourmet cooking, and I’m eating a toasted bagel. It’s almost as if I’m saying that I’m practically insulting the film!

Writer/director Nora Ephron is a food lover, or “foodie”. That’s a little snippet of information I picked up while watching the “making of” featurette on the DVD. But her love of food comes through in spades here. There’s an old adage in the culinary arts that “presentation is everything”. If it doesn’t look appealing, you may not want to try it. Here, the presentation was delicious, tender, and rich, with butter! Lots of butter (a Julia Child trademark)! Julie & Julia is a great date movie, sure to bring out the passion in all of us.

Bon apétit!

4 out of 5