‘Devil’ may have had an excellent promotional campaign, but the connection with M Night Shyamalan should really set alarm bells off to those in the know. For all the bluster about being a supernatural thriller, ‘Devil’ is surprisingly conventional, often tediously so, and is ultimately painfully preachy and annoying.
Five people enter a skyscraper lift, all with their own secrets. Half way up it stops inexplicably, as things start to go wrong. Then the lights go out and passengers start dying, but why? That’s what cop Chris Messina must find out, with communication with the passengers inexplicably poor and other terrible accidents happening around him. One security guard insists that Satan has intervened, but with what agenda?
What could have been a classic blood n guts fright fest comes across more like a poor TV movie, with the most obvious passenger of all (Jenny O’Hara) hosting the Devil, who aims to cull His way through the other passengers until He reaches his intended target. Of course Logan Marshall-Green’s dark secret just happens to connect to Messina’s dark past, leading to a woefully predictable moral quandry for the investigating officer, which of course (being a Shyamalan creation) is resolved in the most patronising and preachy manner possible. Director John Erick Dowdle does, I admit, achieve the impossible and makes this irritating mess pretty entertaining – there may be almost no suspense but there’s sure some fun shock value. Screenwriter Brian Nelson’s work though is ultimately a pretty weak affair – no credible character development, a thoroughly uninteresting story with the world’s most pointless voiceover practically screaming the film’s subtext for those stupid enough not to have read the title of the film.
Only worth bothering with at the cinema if you’re really bored, otherwise a definite example of wait until it’s on the TV and see it for free!
How does the first film to be adapted from a blog stand up? The answer is: pretty well. It’s a sweet little affair, although it suffers slightly from being very much two films running in parallel – one failing to stack up anywhere near as well as the other. Amy Adams plays real world blogger Julie Powell, who famously blogged about cooking all of celebrity chef Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) recipes from her book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a year. So far so boring right? Well Adams’ half, as she pursues a project which would make most cooks reach for the red wine in more ways than one, is the weaker of the two. She plays Powell very much in the mould of a Meg Ryan, and it’s hardly surprising, considering it’s written and directed by “When Harry Met Sally”‘s writer Norah Ephron. The humour is warm and well-meaning, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen many times before, and Powell’s cooking challenge, whilst interesting, doesn’t make an interesting story for a film. Where the film comes into its own however is in La Streep’s half – she injects Powell’s inspiration Child with a warm, understandable humanity beneath the over-the-top manner which was her real world trademark. It’s no mean feat, but the impersonation isn’t just remarkable on a physical level, it’s also well thought-out. Streep clearly doesn’t try to play the real Child, she plays the Child as we imagined her – it’s ultimately the central theme of the film, and she’s more than up to the task.
Ephron runs gentle parallels between the two women’s lives at two key point in each – Powell/Adams’ blog challenge (and the impact it has on her personal life) and Child/Streep’s accidental and then single-minded pursuit of French cookery whilst living in Paris with her diplomat husband (the sublime Stanley Tucci) half a century ago. Fortunately though she pays disproportionate attention to Child’s story – and it’s fascinating to follow her ego-free rise to superstardom, as Powell gets caught up in the internet age by her own increasing celebrity. The film’s interesting perspective on celebrity in two very differing ages never quite takes off though, and it’s one of the two points Ephron comes slightly unstuck on. Child was rumoured not to support Powell’s project, and the notion of the imagined Child being sufficient inspiration for Powell is also regrettably only lightly touched upon, although Streep sticks tightly to it in her delivery. For us it’s certainly true.
‘Julie & Julia’ may not be a ‘great’ work, but it’s delightfully positive fare, with a towering performance by one of the greatest screen actresses of all time, still at the peak of her powers.