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Journey to the Center of the Earth

Fun saved by the third dimension.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A professor, his nephew and their Icelandic guide fall through a virtually bottomless pit and meet up with some wild adventures, and it all happens in 3-D, in the dumb-fun action movie Journey to the Center of the Earth. Without 3-D, this would be just another dimwitted adventure movie, but with 3-D this becomes an almost-campy prehistoric romp.

Geology professor Trevor (Brendan Fraser) lost his scientist brother years ago. When his late brother’s teenage son Sean (Josh Hutcherson) comes to stay, the two stumble upon a copy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth with elaborate handwritten notes by their late brother/father. This leads them to Iceland, where they meet Hannah (Anita Briem), who recently lost her Jules Verne-fan of a father. Out looking for a scientific transmitter, the three get trapped in a cave. Searching for a way out, they fall through the biggest darn hole anyone has ever seen. Now they must try to return to the earth’s surface — while facing many a mysterious thrill and prehistoric monster. 

Plot details really don’t matter. This is about 3-D enhanced action and adventure. From the moment the screen tells us to “put on your 3-D glasses now” (I love that part) to the closing credits where you still don’t want to take your glasses off because the words on the screen still look pretty cool, this movie is one wild 3-D ride. 

First-time feature director and longtime special effects guy Eric Brevig not only delivers potent 3-D action but also seems to relish in the jokiness of some of the more blatant uses of 3-D effects. The opening 15 minutes feature such 3-D devices as spat mouthwash, a tape measure and a yo-yo.

  Meanwhile, Brendan Fraser is the perfect action dufus star for this movie. It’s almost impossible to think of him playing a serious role or a romantic lead anymore. The guy has one gear — dumb adventure lead — and it’s a hoot. Fraser plays his action hero on the verge of being in on the joke, never taking himself too seriously and never camping it up too much. As we might expect, a Brendan Fraser action vehicle in 3-D is good dumb fun.

Good action • PG • 93 mins.

© Columbia Pictures

Meryl Streep as cooking phenom Julia Child in Julie & Julia.

Julie & Julia

Light, smart, original and interesting, it’s way more satisfying than certain empty-calorie blockbusters.

reviewed by Mark Burns

A young gastronome pops her life out of a rut by cooking her way through Julia Child’s opus in this foodie charmer.

Julie (Amy Adams: Doubt) is an unpublished writer fast approaching 30 and frustrated by soul-crunching secretarial work. Taunted out of stasis, she finds her creative purpose in blog — chronicling her quest to plate every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year’s time. As her endeavor unfolds so does Julia’s (Meryl Streep: Doubt) history, particularly her Parisian evolution from ambassador’s wife to kitchen guru. Their stories evolve in parallel as the student learns of love, passion and perseverance (and French cuisine) through the master’s culinary verve.

The result is a refreshing twist on the standard biopic, pairing one fan’s tasteful homage with a snapshot of the legend’s definitive years. Both elements are taken from truth: Julie Powell chased this quest and authored the movie’s namesake; Julia Child’s My Life in France serves source for intimate insights on her own life. It’s a tidy solution to the biopic problem of biting off too much to chew on. Julie’s education through the pages of Julia Child’s book provides tidy context for digesting a sensible portion of a flavorful life.

Director Nora Ephron (Bewitched) excels at this interplay. Scenes of past and present marry neatly and feed off one another, moving the story forward. Story benefits from focus on the depth of Julie’s motivations and the growth she finds along the way. And rather than limiting Julia to a series of easy touchstones, the tale reveals a hearty, round, surprising character. (With her absorbing portrayal of Julia, Meryl Streep steals every scene, though Adams manages to hold her ground.)

Tone is sentimental but generally avoids the drip of sap. The film comes closest in the Julie aspect as she struggles for balance in her life. Light humor seems to be the rule — with a couple of happy shocks — though weightier drama seeps in for healthy balance.

Tics include occasional flatlining in the sainted men and an air of girlishness on the Julie end. But such complaints are nitpicking, really. This one’s light, smart, original and interesting. It’s a solid film.

Foodies should spear this one. It’s certainly more satisfying than certain empty-calorie blockbusters (yo Joe).

Good biopic • PG-13 • 123 mins.

Just Like Heaven

It's the fun details, whether in the dialogue, the plot or the interaction of the characters that sets a good romantic comedy apart. No such luck here.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A pretty ghost visits a handsome tenant in her old apartment and they try to answer those what the heck is going on here? questions in the anemic romantic comedy Just Like Heaven. This seemingly slapped-together film by director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) has little in the way of comedy or romance and littler still to wrap your head around.

Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) is an ambitious and caring young doctor with hardly anything in her life besides work. That is, until she is hit by a truck in a terrible accident. Fast forward a few weeks to David (Mark Ruffalo), a depressed soul looking for the right San Francisco apartment with the right couch to drink away his troubles. He thinks he finds that apartment, until the ghost of Elizabeth starts appearing in what used to be her old place. After the initial shock wears off (though their juvenile interactions never do), they try to piece together what may or may not be going on. You see, Elizabeth can't quite remember her past, and David is not exactly forthcoming with his. Love, fate and some fear-of-death hi-jinx help them figure it out.

Like many a failed romantic comedy, this film lacks concern for the details. When we go to see such movies, we know we've seen it all before (yes, even a love story where one of the players is a ghost). It's the fun details, whether in the dialogue, the plot or the interaction of the characters that sets the good ones apart. No such luck here. Indeed, David somehow can even afford this great apartment without working. And in San Francisco, no less!

Lost and lonely Witherspoon and Ruffalo are admittedly fine and occasionally likeable. After all, they are usually darn good. They just don't have much interesting to do or say. They are even surrounded by other interesting and usually funny actors, like Donal Logue, Dina Spybey and Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder. Still, nothing sparks.

At the risk of giving too much away, the film also has an odd sub-message in favor of keeping people on life support even if they are in a coma with no brain activity. Suffice it to say that some of its conclusions are oddly opposed to letting go and reconciliation—even as the film pretends to be about just that.

Poor romantic comedy • PG-13 • 95 mins.

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