New in Film for August 7, 2009

Julie and Julia

There's half of a great movie here — the one featuring Meryl Streep as Julia Child, and not the Smithsonian-enshrined, encased-in-amber, forever-in-reruns Julia Child either but the toweringly lean and tremendously lustful Julia Child, new to France in the late 1940s and ready to devour everything in sight, even her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci). The other half? Undercooked. Writer/director Nora Ephron has excised the heart (and gizzard and liver and so on) from Julie Powell's memoir, an absolutely delightful read in which Powell uses Child and, in particular, Child's 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to discover "what it takes to find your way in the world." Here, Powell is reduced to a multiplex cliché. Still, if Ephron is to be criticized for treating Powell like a soggy sitcom creation, she (along with Streep) should be celebrated for rendering Child in flesh and blood—all passion and pleasure, even during moments of self-doubt. Not in forever has a movie character been this joyful, this playful, this much fun to be around. The filmmaker gets us to positively revel in everything Julia, from the perfect slicing of an onion to the publication of a cookbook a decade in the making to the afternoon "naps" she and Paul would enjoy between feasts. Yes, indeed, Julia Child as sex object! Robert Wilonsky


A Perfect Getaway

Because they're usually so badly made, B-movie thrillers rarely merit more than a chuckle and a roll of the eyes, but with A Perfect Getaway, writer-director David Twohy (Pitch Black) strikes the proper balance between the genre reverence for and a loopy subversion of the film's "terrorized romantic couple" formula. The couple in question — nerdy screenwriter Cliff (Steve Zahn) and wife Cydney (Milla Jovovich)—have just arrived in Kauai, Hawaii, for their honeymoon when they hear about a recent murder of newlyweds on the secluded island. Suspecting a white-trash couple (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton), they befriend another pair of lovebirds (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez), who seem nice enough despite some ominous signals that they too could have homicidal tendencies. Twohy knows that his film's raison d'être is to lay out ridiculous red herrings while keeping us guessing who's targeting our heroes, but he finds inventive ways to mess with expectations, whether it's by supplying a bizarre backstory monologue or dishing dark humor at the unlikeliest of occasions. Rest assured, though, the story's big twist is reliably out-there, culminating in a no-holds-barred battle to the death that's craftier and more muscular than the norm. A Perfect Getaway is never great, but Twohy isn't aspiring for greatness — he's after gritty and lively and weird. And that's good enough. Tim Grierson

 
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