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Force of nature: Streep in Julie & Julia.

Cookin’

By Laura Leon

Julie & Julia

Directed by Norah Ephron

Cooking—at least according to Michael Pollan—has become more of a spectator sport than something one actually does. So it’s refreshing to be reminded that at least in some quarters, said activity represents more than an Iron Chef challenge or simply opening a can. Julie & Julia is about a Queens office worker named Julie Powell who, over the course of one year, cooks all of the recipes in Julia Child’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking—and blogs about her experiences. It celebrates cooking as an act of creation and reinvention, that thing we do not just to fill our stomachs, but to feed our souls.

The movie seesaws between the life, circa 2002, of Powell (Amy Adams) and that of Child (Meryl Streep), as imagined by Julie after having read her cookbooks and the letters between the future French chef and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci). Julie, about to turn 30, is in crisis, stuck in a dingy apartment, working in a drab cubicle, and forced to bear witness to her former schoolmates’ financial successes. When one such friend begins a blog to describe her mile-high-club exploits, Julie is spurred to act, and on the suggestion of her husband Eric (Chris Messina), comes up with the Julie/Julia project. Meanwhile, in 1950s Paris, Julia struggles to find something to do with her time, although, as she laughingly admits to her husband, all she really likes to do is to eat. Indeed, one of the best aspects of Julie & Julia are the scenes showing the Childs’ absolute and utter enjoyment of food and wine. The convivial aspect of gourmet food is extremely important, and director Norah Ephron deftly conveys this, not just in the European scenes, but in moments when Julie and Eric are enjoying bruschetta in their second-floor walkup.

As the movie progresses, Julie has the inevitable crises, wondering if anybody’s out there in blogland, or arguing with Eric when she burns a beef bourguignon. While Eric is justified in feeling vulnerable when all of their conversations and activities end up on Julie’s blog, he is eating pretty high off the hog.

Adams is appealing, and works hard to rein in her natural twinkliness. There is a sweet vulnerability to Julie Powell that makes her adoration of Child more palatable and less freaky. However, the movie zings into the stratosphere when Streep is onscreen. She channels Child’s joie de vivre, as can be attested by anybody who ever watched Child’s show on PBS. Her delight beguiles the most Gallic of French tradespeople, and her natural good humor saves the day on more than one occasion. Tucci provides peerless support, basking in the love of this force of nature, and providing moral support and unflinching devotion.

Though the film is a tad overlong, one can’t blame Ephron for falling in love with her subject: great food. I saw this movie at the Spectrum, and can only imagine, when the credits roll, the number of moviegoers who will sprint next door to the New World Bistro Bar to capture something of the feeling they had in the theater. However, the film’s end conceit, voiced by Julie, that cooking brought Julia a joy that was perhaps missing beforehand, doesn’t ring true based on the Julia that we’ve watched for two hours; one never gets the idea that cooking for Child was a substitute, something to fill the void of being, for example, childless. Julie’s conclusion seems more like the effort of somebody writing a term paper and knowing she’s got to end the thing somehow.

Joe Blow

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Directed by Stephen Sommers

This has been said before, and surely with more eloquence, but it bears repeating: Please, Hollywood, stop raping our childhood. For the sake of those who still maintain some halfway decent memories of growing up in the 1980s, the next time a toy company pitches a film based on a line of action figures, just say no. Unless it’s Voltron, because that might actually be so bad it’s good.

Speaking of so bad it’s good, here’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Stephen Sommers, director of the first two Mummy films, helms the picture like a kid playing with action figures; it’s a video game in all but name. Which means a lot of ugly CGI (the landscape scenes don’t look finished), outlandish and hard-to-follow action sequences, and nearly as many explosions as Transformers 2. (To be fair, it’s a half-hour shorter; they’ll make up the difference with the sequel.) Welcome to the new action-fantasy paradigm: Throw as much shit at the audience as possible, and they might not realize it’s shit.

Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, in his best role since Requiem for a Dream, which isn’t saying much considering his last two pictures were Norbit and Dance Flick) are a pair of Army dudes taxed with transporting a set of high-security nanotechnology-based warheads created by Scottish weapons guru James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston). Their convoy is attacked by a mysterious team of bandits led by the Baroness (Sienna Miller), who just so happens to be Duke’s ex-fiancee. Tangled webs, and so forth.

Anyhow, an elite team of soldiers rescue the young men and the warheads and they all go back to some mysterious place called the Pit, where they meet up with General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). “Can we be part of your elite team?” the two newbies ask. Hawk says, “Sure you can, but you have to be in our training montage first.” Brendan Fraser shows up on a motorcycle to watch the dudes get beat up. (What?) Everyone runs off, except Hawk, because Quaid seems to have shot all his scenes in one afternoon. There are some cool ninja fights between good guy Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and bad guy Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun), and some cooler girl fights between Baroness and Scarlett (Rachel Nichols, last seen as a green-skinned redhead in Star Trek). We meet a “master of disguise” called Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) and a nefarious scientist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Paris gets blown to smithereens.

Sommers cherry-picks ideas from like-minded action flicks: underwater sequences and good-guy/bad-girl romance, straight from a James Bond picture; Iron Man’s evil arms dealer and kickass super-suit; the oft-copied airborne stuff from The Matrix; Transformers’ dateline font. The film seems to revel in its own badness: It’s tempting to chalk it up as self- parody, particularly during the Paris scene, which plays out like a live-action version of the opening sequence from Team America: World Police. But the film only occasionally smirks at the viewer; there’s little here to suggest intentional camp. The one dead giveaway comes after the action, as the one song as big and dumb as the film preceding it blares over the end credits: Black Eyed Peas’ smash hit “Boom Boom Pow.” So bad it’s good, indeed.

—John Brodeur


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