Saturday, 12 June 2010

His Butler's Sister

Movie Review: His Butler's Sister

Year of Release: 1943
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Deanna Durbin, Franchot Tone

Plot outline: A young girl visits New York for two reasons: to see her half-brother, and to try to start a musical career (IMDb).

His Butler's Sister is yet another Deanna Durbin vehicle that is smart, funny, and fun. Durbin plays a woman who wants to make a career singing (what else?) but needs to be recognized first. Franchot Tone plays a song writer who's just the one who can help - but he's inundated with young girls who perform impromptu auditions for him all the time, and the last thing he wants is for her to do the same. But she is determined, and through a happy series of accidental events, she ends up his maid. She falls in love with him of course, and this leads to the movie's single significant writing lapse. The final act of the movie introduces a complication that threatens to tear them apart - one that the characters are too smart to fall for - which is subsequently resolved too rashly, leaving one scratching one's head when the final credits roll. But no matter. The heart of this movie is Durbin's down to earth comedy (pleasantly integrated with the luxurious and carefree world of the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties) and, of course, her spectacular singing voice. What I especially appreciated was that the songs were integrated into the plot. All too often, musicals from that era used music as a break from the story. Here, songs are used to develop the story in some manner, so that we get to enjoy the music without everything else grinding to a halt. (AAG)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Friday, 11 June 2010

Julie & Julia

Movie Review: Julie & Julia

Year of Release: 2009
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina

Plot outline: Julia Child's story of her start in the cooking profession is intertwined with blogger Julie Powell's 2002 challenge to cook all the recipes in Child's first book (IMDb).

Corresponding two true stories from over half a century’s distance, Julie & Julia is an appealing idea from director and romantic comedy veteran Nora Ephron. But it’s fatally compromised by one of the stories being stultifyingly boring and suffering by the comparison. So this is two movies in one, one quite charming, the other quite dire. Meryl Streep is never less than entertaining as the trilling Child (having no familiarity with her, I’ve no idea how close the portrayal is – a Saturday Night Live skit watched by Powell starring Dan Akroyd offers a pretty broad caricature) and she has a fine foil in Stanley Tucci as her husband Paul. Soul mates for whom food is an integral part of their shared sensual devotion, they are that rare thing in contemporary cinema: a rock-solid marriage at the heart of the story. As Powell, Amy Adams has much less to work with. Fielding phone calls in a Manhattan office overlooking Ground Zero, advising angry and despairing victims of 9/11 on compensation, the character nevertheless seems horribly self-absorbed, interpreting her gruesome friends’ professional success as a personal slight against her. So she begins her blog, cooks dish after dish after dish and has a brief falling out with her tediously supportive husband Eric (Chris Messina). And that’s it. Modern, internet-enabled narcissism that’s big on complaining and clumsy exposition. Every time the action switches to 2002, you find yourself yearning to return to the bustling Paris of 1949. Indeed, Powell’s only redeeming moment comes when she learns via a journalist that the 90-year-old Child disapproves of her venture. Irrespective of the possibility of them ever meeting, Ephron skips away from the ramifications that this moment offers, having Eric voice some banal platitude before the movie wraps up happily ever after. Streep may occasionally overwhoop in her performance, especially when her sister Dorothy (Jane Lynch) comes to stay. But her sleeves rolled up, can-do attitude injects far more joie de vivre into this ill-conceived picture than it deserves. (JR)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Invictus

Movie Review: Invictus

Year of Release: 2009
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

Plot outline: The true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa's rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country (IMDb).

Continuing a startling renaissance, 79-year-old Clint Eastwood delivers yet another tub-thumping classic - a sports drama that'll have all but the most cynical cheering from their seats. Aside from leaving the cinema with a huge grin on your face, chances are you'll be marvelling at how Dirty Harry is still churning out movies of such high quality. The setting is early 90s South Africa as exiled ANC leader Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is at last released from Robben Island to become the country's leader. Presiding over a population of vengeful blacks and nervous whites, the new president must bring about racial unity. Cannily, he seizes upon the nation's rugby team, the Springboks, to do just that. Mandela impresses upon the struggling, all-white side's captain Fran├žois Pienaar (Matt Damon) that winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup will be just the thing to bring the country together. Taking its name from William Henley's poem, which Mandela quotes here and there over the action, Invictus may occasionally be corny, but then there's no genre better suited for cheese than the sports drama. As Damon leads his team charging onto the field, we want our buttons to be pushed - the harder the better - and Clint doesn't disappoint. Even those unfamiliar with the game will be cheering the tries and booing when the side fail to convert. Also, Morgan Freeman gives a magisterial performance. This guy never feels less than the real deal, while the muscled-up Damon is just as convincing. Some may criticise the movie for never delving too far into the players' lives or personal stories - Winnie Mandela is nowhere to be seen, while Pienaar's own political views are kept secret. But that's forgetting the story is an allegory for tolerance and forgiveness, not a character piece. It all adds up to yet another victory for Clint. (DE)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars