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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada — DVD Review

Previews of The Devil Wears Prada suggested little more than a typical comedy. Yet, the surprisingly enjoyable picture offered at least a glimpse of some real character development.

Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) heads into the business world with her degree in journalism in hand and full of ideals. She ends up working as a second assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), head of Runway magazine. Andrea decides to suffer through what she deems the absurdities of the fashion world for a while for the connections and resume boost working for the shrew Priestly brings. She soon adapts quite well, but faces the reality that success means truly joining the world she once mocked.

Usually these types of films have a clear-cut rooting interest for the audience as hope abounds that the protagonist will come to her senses and follow her better instincts. I honestly didn’t want Sachs to “do the right thing” as I watched, and her eventual loyalty to Priestly was intriguing. There’s a real change in the character that leaves the ending in some doubt.

Streep did a great job of playing the boss from hell. As over-the-top as she was at times, there was never a moment where she seemed fake. There’s even a nice touch at the end that offers the character depth without the aw-shucks feel that would have signified it gone too far.

There were a few pitfalls for The Devil Wears Prada. The attempted coup on Priestly, which brought out Sachs’ loyalty, was a bit complicated for a light-hearted film. Sachs’ transformation into a fashion plate, even with the help she got from Nigel (Stanley Tucci), the magazine's art director, seemed questionable based on her presumed finances.

Tucci and Hathaway were fine, but didn’t especially standout. Priestly’s first assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), was pretty good and managed to be more than a prop for Sachs.

The Devil Wears Prada doesn’t set the world on fire, but was not bad at all.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Castaway — DVD Review

The first time I saw Castaway I was less than impressed, but that was because I was on a blind date. Watching Tom Hanks on an island with nothing but a soccer ball to talk to left way too much silence while I sat beside a woman I literally met 30 seconds prior to entering the theater. All I could think was, “Make something happen!” It only got worse when something finally did happen . . . while my date was in the bathroom.

So, who ever said first impressions were important?

I’m not even sure I know why this movie stops my channel surfing almost without fail every time I come across it. The story behind its filming and the themes considered are far more compelling than what’s actually depicted on the screen. Chuck Noland’s (Tom Hanks) struggle to stay alive after being the only survivor of a small plane crash that leaves him washed ashore a deserted island examines the human instinct to simply live.

Castaway (2000) was filmed over an extended period to allow Hanks to go through the transformation required to portray a character that survives in isolation for a number of years on nothing but instinct and intelligence, as well as love for a woman. There are a few scenes that even I notice as rather special from a visual standpoint. At one point Noland shares the sea with a whale in such close proximity it makes the viewer’s pulse skip a beat or two.

But what has turned this film into a “new classic,” I believe, is how truly thought provoking it is. Castaway taps into the desire many, if not all, of us seem to have to strip away the amennities of modern life and live on a more basic level. One of the most memorable scenes is when Noland proudly proclaims, “I have made fire!” While no one would envy the circumstances under which he is forced to almost re-discover this rather basic element of life, the exhiliration he feels in overcoming what modern man would consider obstacles to create fire is something we do envy and draws us to the film.

Then, of course, there’s Wilson — the soccer ball that becomes Noland’s companion. As someone who has experienced feelings of isolation (due to a disability), I was intrigued by this element of the story. Sure, it was a bit contrived that Noland was a FedEx executive marooned with a few packages that made for good supplies, but the personification of this ball says a tremendous amount about our need for each other. The symbolism of Wilson face coming from Noland’s own blood could spawn at least an essay or two. We need companionship at all cost, it screamed. The man literally weeps at the thought of losing this ridiculous ball, and it’s completely believeable.

A related element is his beloved Kelly (Helen Hunt), whose memory he holds on to over the years as something worth fighting to live for. His longing for her serves as his motivation to stay alone. After years alone, he feels the same about her as he did the day his plane went down, and the way things play out is incredibly sad, yet again thought provoking. Without giving too much away, they’re both forced to accept the death of the love of their lives more than once.

Ultimately, the film tackles what even the strongest wills would have considered under such circumstances — suicide. In fact, it may be too ironic for some that his inability to devise a way to kill himself is what keeps him from the act, when he’s proven himself rather ingenius throughout the story. After his failed effort to commit suicide, one more thing washes ashore bringing him renewed hope. I mention that not to spoil anything, but because it leads to an overlooked line that should be considered a classic: he knew he had to “keep breathing . . . you just never know what the tide’s gonna bring.”

Castaway isn’t a perfect movie, and I’m not even sure its status as a “classic” will hold up. Its “crossroads ending” was a bit too tidy, and may be the films’ ultimate downfall from that lofty billing, but it is without question a film to make a point to watch.