Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Movie Reviews: Women Directors Shine!

The Hurt Locker

Not all films are made available to me as advance screenings, so I have to make sure I get to the theater for some movies that have great buzz -- before they finish their runs. And I recommend you do the same with The Hurt Locker, from director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break). The film is a war movie -- but not a typical one with large combat scenes. Instead, it's a more intimate window into the world of modern day war. Set a few years back, the film focuses on a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit as it works to defuse a series of improvised explosive devices (IED) in the streets of Iraq.

Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is a fearless warrior -- who actually craves the feeling of mortal danger that he experiences while defusing bombs. His team members Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge couldn't be more different, but they must learn to work together as a unit. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is more by-the-book and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is a less confident, more fearful participant. Here is where Bigelow could have slipped into war movie stereotypes, but she prevents that from happening. As the group's tour of duty drags on, each member suffers visibly from the psychological strain of war -- and displays a wide range of feelings ranging from helplessness to guilt to desires of revenge. And as the unit deals with one explosive device after another, I was totally absorbed into the suspense of the unpredictability and uniqueness of each situation.

Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evageline Lilly appear in smaller roles. But the film is carried by Renner, Mackie and Geraghty who are all excellent. In fact, Renner and Mackie were both deservedly nominated for Independent Spirit Awards earlier this year. It's a rare instance where the eligibility for those awards do not match up with the Academy Awards. With the Academy extending its field of best picture nominations from five to ten films for next year's awards show, I think we have our first front-runner for a slot. [Rated R; in theaters now]

Grade: A-


  • According to Variety, Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, the team behind The Hurt Locker, will work together again on Triple Frontier. The action-adventure film will be set in the border area shared by Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Production will likely begin next year.

Julie & Julia

Writer/director Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) creates a gem of a film depicting events in the lives of two women -- famed chef Julia Child and one of her biggest fans, Julie Powell, a blogger. The plot follows almost parallel lives between the two women -- even though their stories play out more than 50 years apart and thousands of miles away. In so doing, we are treated to two films in one -- as we travel between 1940s France to watch Child learn to cook and New York City, shortly after 9-11, as Powell aspires to cook all 524 recipes from Child's best-selling book.

The movie begins with Child (Meryl Streep) and Powell (Amy Adams) as secretaries, frustrated in their jobs. They instead switch gears and find happiness as they pursue their true passions -- cooking and writing. Ephron nearly seamlessly bounces us back and forth between the two women. With comic turns and dramatic flashes, we enjoy both their ups and downs -- as each tries to reach her goal. And we learn that both stand the best chance of succeeding thanks to their supportive husbands -- Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) and Eric Powell (Chris Messina).

Streep, who recently turned 60, plays Child in her late 30s. Odd, yes -- but who else has the range and acting expertise to portray Child? Streep is great once again (is she ever not?). And Adams (Sunshine Cleaning, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) continues to impress -- is she this generation's Streep? My only real complaint is that the movie felt a big longer than its two hours -- but it's not easy to breezily pull off two films in one. Ephron's screenplay is adapted from two books: My Life in France, Child's autobiography, written with Alex Prud'homme, and a memoir by Powell. [Rated PG-13; opens Friday]

Grade: A-


  • Is there anyone that Streep cannot play? She even starred as writer/director Ephron's semi-autobiographical self in 1986's Heartburn!
  • Dan Akroyd's hilarious 1978 portrayal of Child on Saturday Night Live makes its way into the film! To view the SNL skit, click here.
  • My screening was attended by the real Julie Powell - who admitted that she was far less sweet than Amy Adams. I concur.
  • Receive a free song download, a bonus track to the Julie & Julia soundtrack, by signing up for a Sony Pictures Entertainment newsletter here.
  • Another female director, Lynn Shelton, is making headlines with the recent release of her film, Humpday. She also wrote and produced the movie.
  • Click here for an alphabetical archive of all movie reviews.

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