Wednesday, 8 June 2011

DVDs in Devon: 'Julie and Julia' + 'How to Train Your Dragon'

I've been visiting my grandmother in sunnyish Devon with my girlfriend this week, but I have managed to see a couple of films on DVD - giving me something to write about now as everyone takes a midday nap.

On Monday, at my nan's insistence, we all sat down to watch Nora Ephron's last film, the 2009 culinary double-biography 'Julie & Julia' starring the dependable Amy Adams and the legendary Meryl Streep. I was pleasantly surprised.

'Julie & Julia' acts as both the story of US TV cooking legend Julia Child, as she learns how to cook as the middle aged wife of a US diplomat in 1950s Paris, and of Julie Powell - a popular New York-based cookery blogger who became famous after tackling every recipe in Child's mighty Mastering the Art of French Cooking within one year.

An unashamed "feel-good movie", it feels like a bit of a whitewash, as it nakedly celebrates both women with little scrutiny of either character. It's also a little predictable and sloppy the way that Julie's moment of crisis comes courtesy of an unconvincing fall-out with her husband, rather than say, as a result of online criticism or the pressure of balancing her new celebrity with her mundane job in an insurance call centre. But this is my only serious gripe against what is overall a charming and polished film.

Both Adams and Streep make their characters fun and the film enjoyable. Especially the latter, as she impersonates the beloved cook, taking on her odd mannerisms and bizarre speech pattern perfectly. Stanley Tucci is also worth a mention as Child's loving husband.

As a point of curiosity, it was interesting to note how Ephron shot at many of the same Parisian locations as fellow New Yorker Woody Allen would later use for his 'Midnight in Paris'.

Tuesday night we watched the Dreamworks animation 'How to Train Your Dragon', which entertained me far less.

I confess, I'm not a fan of the Dreamworks house style anyway, but 'How to Train Your Dragon' did nothing for me. The story is exactly the same as that of so many other cartoons (notably the superior 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs') as a young schlemiel (always an inventor) struggles to fit in with a society that doesn't understand his individuality. In this case a whiny young Viking lad (Jay Baruchel) struggles to embrace the family business of killing dragons. Instead he befriends one of the creatures and alienates himself further from his horrifically unsympathetic father (Gerard Butler), before saving the day and changing the world.

The character designs and animation are far superior than any of the other Dreamworks movies, and it's also less of a crass, celebrity-filled gag-fest, but it still lacks the nuance and artfulness of a Pixar film. There is some pleasure to be had looking at the imaginative and varied dragon designs, but the movie is clumsily written and goes to all the obvious places in perfunctory fashion.

It also struggles under the weight of a third act that makes no sense, narratively or thematically, as the film has its cake and eats it too. The "love not war" morality of our dragon-training hero is here undermined by the film's generic need for a massive climactic dragon fight and a conventional villain, as a huge dragon-shaped deus ex machina emerges as the cause of all the Vikings' troubles and is destroyed without damage to anyone's conscience.

Tonight we're due to watch 1981 rom-com 'The Four Seasons', written and directed by its star Alan Alda, apparently one of my late granddad's favourite films.

No comments:

Post a Comment