WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Julie & Julia melds the analogous stories of cooking legend Julia Child’s life in 1950s France with the modern-day tale of writer Julie Powell’s real-life quest to prepare all 524 recipes in Child’s classic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film neatly covers Child’s life in post-World War II Paris with her foreign diplomat husband Paul her foray into and eventual mastery of French cooking and the difficulties she encountered while trying to publish her groundbreaking cookbook. Intercut with Child's story is Powell’s decision to shake up her life as an unfulfilled government employee in post-9/11 New York by challenging herself to cook and blog. Her inevitable trials (she burns an important meal gets in trouble at work and pisses off her husband) and victories (a perfectly poached egg a write-up in the New York Times) are all included.
WHO’S IN IT?
Ever lovely Amy Adams plays endearingly bedraggled Julie with hopeful conviction and Chris Messina is cute and convincing as her sweetly supportive husband. It is of course Meryl Streep who steals the show with her joyful high-energy portrayal of the 6-foot-2 master chef. Streep as she is apt to do turns in a nuanced humanizing and wholly hilarious portrayal of a cultural icon many associate with Dan Akroyd's impressions on Saturday Night Live.
Stanley Tucci proves a savvy charismatic match for Streep as Paul Child Julia’s affectionate charming and unflinchingly supportive husband. Jane Lynch momentarily steals Streep’s spotlight as Julia’s equally tall equally whirling dervishy sister Dorothy.
Julie’s life in Queens is populated by Mary Lynn Rajskub who plays her pragmatic friend and Casey Wilson and Vanessa Ferlito who make memorable cameos as Julie’s condescending corporate ladder-climbing carb-avoiding frenemies.
All of it. Nora Ephron’s script elegantly weaves the story of Child in Paris and Powell in Queens portraying both locales as the prettiest freshest versions of themselves. The film is a joy to look at not only for the sumptuous shots of Powell’s many creations and Child’s rich French fare but also for the pristine recreation of the style and fashion of 1950s Paris. It will make you want to drink champagne cocktails wear chiffon and eat chocolate cake. And beef. And bruschetta. And anything else available.
The film is superbly acted and manages to be funny inspiring and poignant without falling into schlocky chick-flick territory. The story is refreshing in its depiction of two happy drama-free marriages. The true romance here is with all the gorgeous food which Streep Tucci Adams and especially Messina consume with joyful gusto.
At just over two hours the film runs a bit long especially for a comedy. Although it never slows or bores several scenes about publishing the cookbook could have been shortened or cut completely to pick up the pace. While the ending is lovely the film then wraps up a bit hastily.
Julia first learning her cookbook might be published and frenetically rushing into the house screaming “Paul! Paul Paul Paul!” while nearly tripping over herself has just a slight advantage over the scene in which Julie confronts her moral dilemma about killing lobsters and is subsequently traumatized while boiling them alive.
Finely crafted from start to finish Meryl and the food take the cake so to speak in terms of star power. The movie is lighthearted fare for anyone desiring inspiration in the kitchen — or any other life department for that matter.
Meet Chuck Levine (Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James) two devoted--and completely heterosexual--New York firefighters who’ve had a long career watching each other’s backs. So naturally when salt-of-the-earth widower Larry has a hard time trying to get the proper life insurance benefits for his two young kids he asks his best friend a huge favor: to be his domestic partner on paper to get the benefits. No big deal right? Riiight. Needless to say the “arrangement” comes under fire when a snippy spot-checking bureaucrat (Steve Buscemi) becomes suspicious that they are committing fraud. Suddenly Chuck and Larry are all over the news much to the chagrin of their firefighting colleagues. They hire a hotshot lawyer (Jessica Biel) who lights Chuck’s fire to look into the case. But Chuck and Larry have to pretend to be love-struck newlyweds in the meantime fumbling through a charade of domestic bliss under one roof--and along the way find the meaning of happiness love family and all the rest as well. Adam Sandler is up to his old tricks and he’s dragging Kevin James into it this time. Sandler’s usual juvenile smart-alecky leading man has in turns been endearing (50 First Dates) and hilarious (Happy Gilmore). But in Chuck and Larry he just grates--creating his own personal la-la land where he gets to play a womanizer who can bed four totally hot women at the same time--and then feel up a scantily clad Jessica Biel. Please. I covet the days Sandler starred in movies like Punch-Drunk Love. James comes off much better than Sandler as the sweet Larry a guy having a tough time since his wife died. The actor/comedian has perfected the teddy-bear persona who's still a little rough around the edges. In fact if James were the one to hook up with the unbelievably fetching Ms. Biel you’d totally believe it. For her part Biel is cute and fun just like she’s supposed to be. Of course all of Sandler’s cronies make appearances including Rob Schneider as an Asian wedding chapel owner. At least he doesn’t say “You can do it!” Standing out is Ving Rhames as a badass firefighter who comes out of the closet because of Chuck and Larry’s love and shakes his bare tail-feather in more ways than one. With Chuck and Larry director Dennis Dugan a longtime Adam Sandler collaborator (Happy Gilmore; Big Daddy) knows how to create those comedic Sandler set pieces. Take for example the scene in which Chuck and Larry have to save a grossly obese man from a burning building only to watch him tumble down a flight of stairs with the firefighters entangled landing on top of Chuck and then passing gas. Ah the farting fat man...I guess if it floats your boat. There are other more genuinely funny moments in Chuck and Larry but what a Sandler comedy prides itself most on is that at its core there is a beating heart. Chuck and Larry certainly has one making very valid points about homophobia gay rights and the meaning of true friendship but somehow when everyone is going through their own self-realizations in Chuck and Larry’s climactic big scene it feels forced. Oh well. Chuck and Larry is still a formula that has worked well for Sandler time and time again bringing him untold millions. Why should he worry if it isn't his best effort?
Former NFL star quarterback Paul Crewe (Sandler) doesn't really like himself much these days. Unproven accusations of points shaving have sent Crewe into a downward spiral of drunkenness and self-destructive behavior. It all comes to a very bad end one night when he takes a wild joyride in his girlfriend's Bentley with cops in pursuit. Crewe is sent to a Texas penitentiary where he figures he'll just quietly ride out his time in hopes of leaving a changed man. The sadistic warden (James Cromwell) however has other plans for Crewe. He forces the quarterback to transform a diverse group of inmates into a football team so that they can play his elite semi-pro team of guards. You know to make the guards look good when they crush the convicts. What the warden doesn't expect is how far Crewe--with the help of fellow inmates Nate Scarborough (Burt Reynolds) and Caretaker (Rock)--takes his task. He recruits his unlikely but somewhat talented teammates with the promise that they'll get a chance to exact revenge on the guards during anything-goes bone-crushing showdown. This is Crewe's one chance to redeem himself. Can he do it? You can do it Paul!
Seems like when Adam Sandler puts his mind to it he really can't lose. And The Longest Yard proves to another perfect Sandler vehicle. As Paul Crewe the comedian returns to his sports roots (Happy Gilmore The Waterboy) and basically plays the same unassuming slightly sardonic straight man. Crewe though is perhaps a little less angry and more resigned about his circumstances. Sandler also displays a fairly convincing flair for quarterbacking. The thing is Sandler doesn't need to stretch to be successful. He tried it in Punch-Drunk Love--and actually pulled it off quite nicely I might add--but if he's making billions of dollars playing himself why mess with a good thing? It's who he surrounds himself with that counts. Reynolds who played Crewe in the 1974 original looks like he's just as pleased as punch to be there as he relive some glory days as the grizzled coach Scarborough. He even gets in a little playing time on the field. What fun for him. The always-hysterical Rock complements his longtime SNL pal to a tee and with his petite frame next to all these hulking men naturally delivers all the funniest lines ("I'll teach you anything just don't eat me!"). Hip-hopper Nelly in his acting debut brings a certain MTV quality to the proceedings (and has a few songs on the soundtrack). And as far as the rest of the cast of ex-football players and professional wrestlers well they are there for a reason.
The 1974 The Longest Yard is apparently one of Sandler's favorite films and it's easy to see why. First of all it has Burt Reynolds who is so cool as the beleaguered Crewe. Then there's the classic underdog theme in which the good guys are actually bad guys--they are all convicted felons--but who we see systematically beat down by the "Man." You want them to thrash the holy crap out of those mean and nasty guards. I mean cons are people too right? Plus there are some great football sequences. So Sandler along with his Happy Madison Productions decides to pay homage assembles another crack team--including director Peter Segal who worked with Sandler on 50 First Dates and Anger Management--and produces a very worthy remake. They stay close to the original material--comedy tinged with sentiment--but of course can't help but add the requisite Sandler-isms. Those over-the-top "isms"--the bathroom humor the lame prison-sex jokes Rob Schneider yelling "You can do it!" et al.--is what all die-hard Sandler fans want to see so I guess it's expected. It's just not my cup of tea.
According to Anger Management's resident anger expert Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson) there are two kinds of temperamental personalities: explosive and implosive. An explosive personality is the guy who yells at the cashier when his coupons aren't accepted. An implosive personality is the cashier who takes the abuse day in and day out then snaps suddenly and shoots everyone in the store. Apparently this second type aptly describes our hero Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) a nice enough fellow with a cute girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) who believes in him--and he needs that since he has a problem standing up for himself especially when his boss abuses him or the airline stewardess won't give him his headset. When he's sentenced to join Rydell's anger management program over some wildly concocted misunderstanding the abrasive and confrontational doctor quickly decides that the problem is obvious: Dave is a walking time bomb. He diagnoses him with TAS (Toxic Anger Syndrome) and vows to help him come to terms with his demons. At first Dave plays along but when Buddy moves in with him for some intensive therapy--and systematically turns his life upside down--Dave reaches his breaking point. It's time to make a stand and be the man he knows he can be--without killing the good doctor in the process.
Sandler and Nicholson fans have to be wondering: Can two stars known for their highly volatile characterizations blend their unique personalities to create a lasting chemistry? Happily yes. Sandler and Nicholson most assuredly click and more importantly look like they had a ball making the film. Nicholson plays the wacko Rydell at full tilt almost going over the top but reining it in when it's required while Sandler handles his straight-man character as carefully as he can. You let out a little sigh of relief however when the comedian finally does let loose because a Sandler movie without one or two great meltdowns just isn't a Sandler movie. Management is also full of actors who've played angry people once or twice in their careers including John Turturro (Do the Right Thing) and Luis Guzman (Traffic) who along with sports fanatic Nate (Jonathan Loughran) and two adult film stars Gina (January Jones) and Stacy (Krista Allen) are members of Rydell's therapy group the "Fury Fighters." Of course no movie about anger would be complete without bringing in some of the real world's most famous bad tempers so Anger Management features cameos by college basketball coach Bobby Knight tennis pro John McEnroe and New York Yankee Roger Clemens. In fact the film is just riddled with cameos--see how many you can spot.
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when screenwriter David Dorfman pitched the idea to Sony Pictures: "OK it's about two guys who have problems with anger. One who doesn't know he has a problem ends up being treated by the other who dealt with his anger issues by becoming a therapist. But here's the kicker! We'll get Sandler to play the hapless patient and Nicholson to be his doctor!" The studio exec's eyes light up money is exchanged and boom! You've got Anger Management. Yes this combination seems like it should flow like honey from a hive but the story relies too much on its two stars and too little on the overall concept. Like the studio exec we expect a side-splitting comedy; what director Peter Segal (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) delivers are some hysterical moments for Sandler and Nicholson--the duo sing West Side Story's "I Feel Pretty" while holding up traffic and kick the bejeezus out of a monk who used to be Dave's childhood tormentor (played by John C. Reilly)--coupled with a barely credible premise and stereotypical characters.
Marvin Mange (Schneider) works in the evidence room of a small town police station. He has always wanted to become a full-fledged police officer and follow in his father's footsteps only he's too wimpy to pass the physical endurance test. Nothing is looking good for this asthmatic loser until his car goes careening off a cliff. Marvin survives thanks to the cabin-bound Dr. Wilder (Michael Caton) who after having cracked the genetic code patches him back together with various animal organs. With no memory of what has happened to him Marvin goes about his daily life until strange things start to happen. He develops abnormally acute senses and after sniffing out a heroin-filled balloon located in a drug smuggler's butt he becomes a local hero and--best of all--a real cop. His antics get the attention of Rianna (Colleen Haskell) a volunteer at a local animal shelter. A hardcore vegetarian Rianna finds Marvin's ability to catch a Frisbee with his mouth and regurgitate a worm for a motherless baby turkey endearing. But Marvin is quickly losing his battle with his animal self and keeping up appearances becomes increasingly difficult.
It is very difficult not to sympathize with Schneider's character in this film. With his big droopy eyes you almost get the impression that even Schneider feels sorry for Marvin. And even though his lines are not inherently funny and the delivery is slightly blasé his stunts are really rather amusing. He actually looks like a cheetah when he runs and he licks his leg with the genuine elegance of a feline. And you have to respect Schneider for not taking the same route that so many other Saturday Night Live alumnus have stretching a good five minute skit into a disastrous two hour feature film (imagine watching a cinematic version of Richard "The Richmeister" Laymer). As for Haskell (Survivor) though she is incredibly adorable and natural looking she delivers her lines so slowly that she almost sounds childlike. Thank goodness there were not too many multi-syllabic words written into the script for her character Rianna. Bemusing cameo appearances from both Norm Macdonald and Adam Sandler add to the film's climax.
First-time director Luke Greenfield does a great job with the stunts (like Schneider gliding across the water like a circus seal or running inside a man-sized hamster wheel). They'll leave you wondering how they did it. Some props deserve an honorable mention like Marvin's bachelor pad with the garage door doubling as a home entertainment center or Dr. Wilder's barnyard laboratory. But while Schneider's antics will have you laughing they are not enough to carry the entire film. Tom Brady who wrote the screenplay with Schneider has worked on television shows such as The Simpsons and Men Behaving Badly and should have delivered nothing less than solid laugh-a-minute comedy-but didn't. The story leads up to a disappointing conclusion that looks like it was drawn up in 60 seconds. Nonetheless the story is sweet in its own corny sort of way.