With his Oscar nominated documentary attacking the fast food industry Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock--who ate McDonalds hamburgers non-stop for a month--found the perfect subject matter in which to insert his everyman persona. He repeated the formula every week on his cable series 30 Days and has now returned to the big screen to try it again this time as an American citizen travelling to the Middle East to do what the Government can’t: find Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately using the war on terror as a vehicle for comedy is at best uneven and at worst tasteless. Spurlock leaves his very pregnant wife at home as he travels to Jordan Egypt Israel Afghanistan Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on a mission to find the famed 9/11 mastermind and make the world a better place for his soon-to-be-born baby. Before he hits the road we watch him mug for the cameras as he gets shots and trains to fight terrorists ‘Rambo-style’. Oy. The bulk of the film finds him alternately asking average joes on the streets if they have seen Osama in the neighborhood lately and worrying about getting back in time for his kid’s birth. As his journey proceeds he gets progressively more serious and philosophical a turn that doesn’t jive with the film’s more whimsical earlier portions. As this is technically a documentary acting doesn’t apply except Spurlock really is playing a character he honed in Super Size Me and his series the everyday guy who inserts himself into unfamiliar places and lifestyles in order to make a point. He’s Michael Moore-light literally and figuratively--an approach that has proven to be amusing in the past but here just feels wrong. His goal apparently is to show that people are really all just the same around the world--same concerns same fears and what really matters in the end is making it a safe place for your own family. Nice thoughts Morgan but it doesn’t really work this time around. Spurlock stars co-writes and directs using a tiresome framing device of a video game that helps us figure out which countries he is in at any given time. As director his main goal seems to be keeping the camera on himself pretending that Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? is about anything other than Morgan Spurlock goes Middle Eastern. There are some memorable human encounters along the way specifically a local who wants to turn the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan--once thought to be the hiding place of Bin Laden--into an amusement park celebrating that fact. Low point is an uncomfortable sequence focusing on Israeli extremists trying to kick Spurlock out of their occupied territory letting him play the victim without shedding any light on why they react with such hatred towards Westerners. As with so much of his film you’re just left scratching your head and moving on to the next segment of a film that might better be titled What in the World Was Morgan Spurlock Thinking?
In other words Prada--based on the bestselling novel by Lauren Weisberger--unfortunately plays upon the sitcom-y boss-from-hell scenario in which the young flunky manages to one up her superior in some valiant way. There are no surprises save for the fact that its set in the world of high fashion invoking all the fabulousness that entails and incorporates the amazing Streep as Miranda Priestly editor-in-chief of THE fashion magazine Runway. Oozing contempt and demanding perfection Miranda at first terrorizes her new assistant Andy (Anne Hathaway) an impressionable lass who wants to be a serious journalist and has no desire to be a “Clacker.” But that lasts for all of about 10 seconds. Andy is soon wearing those Jimmy Choo stilettos and clacking across the floor with the best of them--and the better she gets at her job the more her personal life falls apart. Naturally Andy wises up and realizes life isn’t about Dolce Gabbana and the rest of the gang. Still maybe she could keep one Prada handbag. You know just to remember the experience. Streep is having a nice little resurgence this year with two spectacular performances. In Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion she plays the sunny yet heartbroken half of a singing sister act--and in Prada she’s Satan incarnate. Quite a switch but in the ever-so-capable hands of the Oscar winner it’s a flawless transition. The best part of Streep’s Miranda is all the things she doesn’t say. It’s the searing looks the languid move of the hand--and the hushed tones. This isn’t Kevin Spacey’s screaming lunatic producer in Swimming with Sharks; this is about the threatening quiet and the sacrifices Miranda makes to be lonely at the top. Hathaway as a lovely Audrey Hepburn look-a-like manages to keep her head above water but still hasn’t quite gotten rid of her Princess Diaries gee whizzed-ness. But there’s potential. In supporting roles Stanley Tucci makes a memorable appearance as Miranda’s right-hand man at the magazine doling out snarky but sage advice to our heroine while Adrian Grenier (HBO’s Entourage) plays nice as Andy’s patient boyfriend. The only other real standout star of Prada is the clothes. And the shoes. Oh and the handbags hats belts scarves and other accessories. Director David Frankel--a HBO flunky himself having directed several episodes of Entourage Sex and the City and even HBO’s hit mini-series Band of Brothers--captures this high-powered world of trend and style succinctly giving all fashionista wannabes everywhere a brief but meaningful inside peek. But the real kudos go out to costume designer Patricia Field (an Emmy winner for her work on Sex and the City) who must have had a lot of fun with Prada. She magically produces designs from Valentino (who also makes a small cameo) Donna Karan Bill Blass Galliano and of course Prada. It must be like a painter being given permission to recreate a Picasso or a Monet. Prada is predictable it’s true--but with Streep’s streaked white Cruella De Vil and all the great fashion it’s worth its weight in Versace.