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REVIEW: The Devil Wears Prada


We’ve always known Meryl Streep had range — that she could master any accent, feel at home in any period, absorb the rhythms of any story. But there’s one thing she can’t do, and that is convey genuine cruelty. Saddled with the kindest pair of eyes in the business and an eerily gentle mouth, Streep has never been particularly adept at playing sadists. Which suggests that those eager to see The Devil Wears Prada as a searing expose of the vicious Vogue editor Anna Wintour might be somewhat disappointed: for all her obligatory meanness, Streep’s portrayal of Miranda Priestly, fictional editor of the thinly-veiled Vogue stand-in Runway, turns out to have a bit more heart than expected. This lack of edge isn’t really a problem: Streep’s energetic performance as this bitch-priestess of haute couture is one of Devil‘s main pleasures. But it’d be less noticeable if the film had any edge to call its own.

    The real problem is that David Frankel’s film, based on Lauren Weisberger’s novel about an idealistic and style-deprived young woman (Anne Hathaway) who becomes the head diva’s assistant, is such a soulless exercise in by-the-book filmmaking that it might’ve been written and directed by two 1983 vintage Commodore 64s. From Frankel’s montage-happy direction to Aline Brosh McKenna’s exposition-heavy script, which is full of transparently stock supporting characters (neglected boyfriend, cold workplace nemesis, etc, etc.) and clunkily predictable third-act resolutions, Devil is a movie that has little interest in itself. The broad-strokes filmmaking here suggests an eagerness to get to the finish line, taking the easy way out of every plot dilemma, unable really to deliver anything resembling taste, discretion, or style. Miranda Priestly would not be impressed. — Bilge Ebiri

REVIEW: Superman Returns
Superman ReturnsThe
best thing about Superman Returns is the opening credit
sequence. That feels like a dis, but it’s not meant to be, not
really. Bryan Singer’s new film, originally billed as a franchise
reinvention, turns out to be more of an homage to the earlier
Christopher Reeve series than expected. And the opening credits,
which replicate the fonts, music, and goofy starfield of the
originals, are a nostalgic (albeit CGI-jacked) dive back into
the corny fun of the Reeve films. It’s a perfect kickoff to a
movie that quickly reveals itself to be a lot more square than
the Superman-as-you’ve-never-seen-him-before hype might suggest.

     The plot isn’t unique. Superman (Brandon
Routh) has been gone for a few years, and he returns to a world
that needs him now more than ever. (This is one of several subtle
allusions to Christian imagery, although, thankfully, Singer
doesn’t overdo it.) Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is engaged, has
a son, and has won a Pulitzer for an article called "Why
the World Doesn’t Need Superman." Anyone want to place a
bet on the title of the article she writes at the end of the
film? Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison,
and, excited by the prospect of revenge, he tracks down Superman’s
Fortress of Solitude, getting his hand on the powerful crystals
the superhero’s father (Marlon Brando, seen here in footage shot
for the original film) gave him eons ago. Thus is Luthor’s diabolical
plan finally set into… zzz.

     It’s an undistinguished plot, but for
the first hour or so, Singer’s film moves along nicely, playing
astutely on our complex emotions about the first of the great
superheroes: in his red-white-and-blue splendor, he’s a vision
of what we like to imagine we once were. (The sense of a changed
world that dominates the film feels like a nod to 9/11.) The
problem is that the filmmakers themselves get too caught up in
the melodrama of the situation, drawing this epic out to a length
the thin storyline cannot support. This flaw is perhaps not fatal,
but it’s a bit of a letdown. Somewhere inside Superman Returns is
a truly monumental two-hour action flick screaming to get out.
But, as though stabbed with a kryptonite shiv, it’s powerless
in the hands of its creators’ overreach. — Bilge Ebiri
REVIEW: Who Killed the Electric Car?
Who Killed The Electric CarWho
Killed the Electric Car?
begins with a funeral that
establishes the film’s conceit: the demise of the environmentally-friendly
GM EV-1 electric vehicle as murder mystery. But what director
Chris Paine delivers in this gripping documentary isn’t really
a hardboiled noir, it’s a love story. The hallmarks of a bad
breakup are in every EV-1 owner’s eyes: anguish, confusion
and resentment that the villains — GM, the White House
and others — not only kiboshed mass-marketed
clean transport but wiped away any trace of its existence.
The freshfaced members of the EV-1 Club, including Paine himself,
might look paranoid if the latter fact weren’t shockingly literal:
faceless suits repossessed the cars and took them to a remote
facility to be, yes, whacked — smashed, stacked and buried.
Even a museum’s EV-1 was rendered inoperable, as if the very
turn of its key would signal the collapse of Big Industry as
we know it. As it falls out, the baddies may get what’s coming
to them, given the continuing success of the hybrid. It fits
then, that the lingering stars of the film aren’t executives
or politicians. They’re the smiling activist Chelsea Sexton
and the alternative-energy inventor Stan Ovshinsky, gentle
voices in a furious, well-researched and fascinating exposé. — Sherry
French art-house film is a time-tested dating aid. It was partly
responsible for the friskiness of the ’60s and the arrival
of softcore porn in the States. Today, it’s been
eclipsed as porn, and as art-house cinema, it has its
risks. Pick something too joyless (an off-film by Claude Chabrol,
recent Godard) and your date may brand you a drip.
Pick something too obvious (the latest Gerard Depardieu) and
you won’t impress at all. And if you pick something too obviously
horny (Baise-Moi, or, horror-of-horrors, Emmanuelle),
your date may turn a nose up at you in disgust. The trick is to find that subtle
French drama that has a bit of everything — something
like Michael Haneke’s Cache, a cerebral art-house film that plays as a thriller (which
will soften the blow if your date’s a philistine). It’s about a
man (Daniel Auteuil) and woman (Juliette Binoche) who begin
receiving strange videotapes of their comings-and-goings. The
arrival of the tapes triggers a burst of classic French tropes — art-world
celebrity, repressed memory, marital discord, urban ennui,
sexuality — and a flurry of political references, from
Algerian oppression to the Iraq war and Middle-Eastern terrorism.
The film is severe and painfully still at times, but all that
quiet dread just heightens the wire-taut tension. You’ll be
so tense by the end, you and your date will be begging for
release. — Logan Hill


©2006 Nerve.com.