Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 2 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 2 

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JULIE & JULIA Working overtime as writer, director and producer, Nora Ephron has taken a pair of books – My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme, and Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell – and combined them into one irresistible motion picture. It's a film that rises two stories, on one hand focusing on the legendary Julia Child (Meryl Streep) as she begins her journey toward becoming one of America's greatest chefs, and on the other following Julie Powell (Amy Adams) as her idea for a blog – cook all 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days – eventually leads to fame and fortune. The Julia Child segments of the film are magnificent. As the towering, exuberant Child, Streep delivers another astonishing performance, never lapsing into mere caricature but steadfastly making sure to capture all facets of the woman's personality. The best parts of the Child sequences focus on the marriage between Julia and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci, reuniting with Streep on the high heels of The Devil Wears Prada). Movies aren't normally where we turn to watch happily married couples in action, but the Julia-Paul relationship is one of the most blissful seen in years, and Streep and Tucci dance through their interpretations with the grace and ease of an Astaire-Rogers routine. When compared to the Julia Child portions, the Julie Powell chapters aren't nearly as compelling, but they're far from the drag that others have suggested. And as in Babette's Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman and Big Night (another foodie flick with Tucci), the camera gazes so lovingly on each prepared dish (even the burnt ones!) that it's virtually impossible to exit the theater without wanting to head immediately to a gourmet restaurant. That, then, is one of the beauties of Julie & Julia: While other ambitious movies are content targeting the heart and the mind, this one adds another palatable layer by also going for the stomach. ***1/2

A PERFECT GETAWAY A Perfect Getaway might be far from perfect, but it's good enough to be considered one of this summer's biggest out-of-left-field surprises. A twisty thriller that will keep most audience members alternately on their toes and on the edge of their seats, this feels like a classic case of a B movie showing its more heavily hyped A-list competition how to get the job done with little fuss or fanfare. A Perfect Getaway is set in Hawaii, but forget Sarah Marshall: Despite some humor spicing up the picture at regular intervals, this mostly shows how Paradise on Earth can quickly morph into a living hell, as news spreads around the islands about how a newlywed couple was gruesomely murdered by another couple who got away. Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich), newlyweds themselves, are determined not to let this disturbing information disrupt their honeymoon, which consists of hoofing it through remote Hawaiian terrain. Largely to steer clear of a menacing couple (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton) giving off that Natural Born Killers vibe, they hook up with another pair (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez) whose own peculiarities quickly unnerve them. Is it possible that Cliff and Cydney's new friends are the actual killers? A key scene about two-thirds through the movie is overplayed and in effect makes it easier to guess the major plot pirouette. Yet even those who pick up on the forthcoming twist should enjoy this picture for its other merits, including the shifting dynamics between the characters, some memorable fight sequences, and the manner in which writer-director David Twohy plays with audience expectations. A Perfect Getaway will strike some as being too clever for its own good, but others (like me) will view it as an escape from the late-summer doldrums. ***

PONYO Compared to past Hayao Miyazaki titles like Castle in the Sky and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, the Japanese import Ponyo is minor-league stuff. But compared to the animated garbage that typically passes through stateside theaters, it's practically a godsend. This tale about a goldfish (voiced by Noah Cyrus) who longs to be human is a bit on the elementary side, and the translated dialogue (shaped by E.T. scribe Melissa Mathison) isn't up to snuff for a Miyazaki feature. But as always, Miyazaki fills the screen with so many wondrous images that viewers are immediately swept up in his fantastic universe. Tina Fey, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett are among the name actors voicing various characters, although I was especially fascinated by the nautical wizard who spoke with the voice of Liam Neeson but looked less like Schindler and more like David Bowie in his Labyrinth garb. ***

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