Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Oct. 7 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Oct. 7

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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

9 Not to be confused with Rob Marshall's upcoming musical Nine (or, for that matter, with the summer hit District 9), this single-digit offering is actually director Shane Acker's expansion of his own Oscar-nominated short film from 2005. That animated work ran approximately 12 minutes; this new version clocks in at 80 minutes, shorter than most theatrical releases but still thin enough to outstay its welcome by at least a quarter-hour. Set in a post-apocalyptic period caused by a gruesome battle between humans and the machines that ended up turning against them (sorry, no Arnold Schwarzenneger cameo this time around), the plot centers around a doll-like creature (voiced by Elijah Wood) identified by the "9" that's marked on his back. 9 discovers that humanity has been completely eradicated and fearsome mechanical monsters roam the earth, but he has no idea of his own origins or what his future might hold. He meets other rag dolls like himself – a warrior woman (Jennifer Connelly), a kindly scientist (Martin Landau), a scheming elder (Christopher Plummer), a timid sidekick (John C. Reilly), and more – and they argue as to whether they should continue to live in hiding or confront the enemy head-on. It's easy to see why Tim Burton signed on as a producer: The staggering visual scheme is dark, dank and dangerous, and characters often meet unexpected – and undesirable – fates (as the PG-13 rating suggests, this one clearly isn't for the wee ones). But these attributes, atypical for animation, are seriously undermined by a pedestrian end-of-the-world storyline and by characters with zero personality. **1/2

TAKING WOODSTOCK A major disappointment from director Ang Lee, Taking Woodstock purports to tell the true story of how the legendary youth festival came together in time for a few blissful days of peace and music during the summer of '69. Forget, for a moment, that Michael Wadleigh's Oscar-winning 1970 documentary Woodstock basically functions as the beginning, middle and end of the event's filmic chronicle; on its own terms, Taking Woodstock is a dramatically shaky work, misguided in some spots and misleading in others. Lacking the narrative clarity of Almost Famous and the visual ecstasy of Across the Universe, this movie rarely comes into focus on any level. At its center is the dull character of Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), a New Yorker who's trying to help his parents (Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman) save their ramshackle motel at the same time he learns about an upcoming music festival that's just been banned by a neighboring town. Working in sync with the concert's promoters as well as a neighboring farmer (Eugene Levy), Elliot makes the prospect of the "Woodstock Music & Art Fair" a reality. But first, there are myriad problems to confront, including disapproving townsfolk, building codes, a sudden influx of hippies (lots of hippies), and a mother whose behavior is overbearing at best and monstrous at worst. Staunton's generally a hoot when she's in ham mode, but she tests viewer patience here with a performance as an abrasive Jewish mom that borders on caricature. Among all cast members, faring best by far is Tony Award nominee Jonathan Groff, who in his film debut plays beatific festival organizer Michael Lang with the right mix of savvy and sensitivity. Several storylines are introduced and then abandoned, meaning that while many of the characters are getting satisfactorily high, audiences are unfortunately left with a movie that's only half-baked. **


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