random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Good Year (2006) ***1/2

A Good Year (2006)

PG-13 (for language and some sexual content)
1 hr. 58 min.

written by: Mark Klein, Nick Griffin, Ted Griffin (from Peter Mayle's book)
produced by: Erin Upson & Ridley Scott
directed by: Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott is a director known for not only telling great stories but for also creating a tapestry of color in which to tell these stories. Whether the genre be sci-fi or drama, his films always look amazing to me. He's got a devastating capacity to craft beauty within truly treacherous scenarios. The man's visually crisp eye can make crashed helicopters, gothic Roman duels, and futuristic dilapidations striking enough to adorn walls as art. Spilling emotion amidst spilling blood is second nature from this weathered director. In his latest film he displays a beautiful scenic locale and a touching story filled with compassion, reflection and awakenings. Added to the mix is his mainstay player Russell Crowe as a nostalgic businessman who is slowly thawing emotionally and thus surfaces this film, based on a best-selling book, which turns out to be a surprise delight into the winding
French vineyards of Provence.

Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) works with fiscal numbers, "lab rat" sales associates, and tremendous amounts of capital inflow. He's comes across as cold, detached and myopic cuz quite frankly, he is. His personal assistant, Gemma (Archie Panjabi) keeps him updated with everything in his life be it business or personal cuz he just doesn't want to be bothered. Atop his social pipeline in beautiful industrial London, this bachelor has ensnared everything (and everyone) he could tangibly want by embracing his apathetic, cold persona. Perfectly aware of himself, Max achieves greatness without a true sense of charisma or anyone close to share in his success. But, he wasn't always like this....

Albert Finney and Freddie Highmore in 20th Century Fox's A Good Year

Yes, London's popular fiscal shark has a much warmer past, however. An echo of previous delight as a young boy begins to flicker as a letter arrives notifying him of his late Uncle Henry's (Albert Finney) passing. His uncle looked after young Max (Freddie Highmore) on his winding Provencal vineyards in France during his youthful summers, teaching him the simple pleasures of whimsical living, gracious defeat, and fruits of the earth. Without much warning, Max has the past dropped in his lap as he discovers his lineage as the sole blood relative and inheritor of the wondrous vineyard.

Suddenly, his harsh, satisfying life scrapes to a halt as he schedules a rapid sign-and-sell procedure in Provence for the estate. Once he arrives, all of the countryside's striking scenery ensnare Max once again and he is brought back in time as waves of unsuspecting nostalgia engulf him. He finds that most radiant of all is the presence of Fanny (Marion Cotillard) an enchanting waitress in a local restaurant. As he takes his time (begrudgingly at first) reacquainting himself with his uncle's property, Max starts to bask in the warmth of the only home he ever knew. When circumstances require he stick around for a few days, the true splendor of a forgotten past pours its way back into his heart. Amidst the memories of his uncle, a war over the land with the vigneron (Didier Bourdon), and a blooming passion, he finds himself in his own long lost past.

The story plays out like a very light blend of "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "The Money Pit" with a dash of "Cinema Paradiso" and a hint of the root of self discovery amidst nature's intoxicating nectar of "Sideways". However, it boasts an amusing surface-level sweetness that goes no deeper with its flavor. I have to admit I was taken by it's sweetness and quite surprised. Then again I can't remember a movie bu Scott or Crow that I hated. He's one of those guys that I truly enjoy seeing onscreen but I don't necessarily respect his behavior off screen (then again I know not to believe everything the media says). Sounding more like a dare than a cinematic idea, the two glistening stars from Gladiator fumble a bit while trying to lend their inherent appeal to such a down-to-earth scenario. Though not flawless with execution, they carry this sublime literary adaptation Peter Mayle's novel , A Year in Provence well on their shoulders well enough.

Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard in 20th Century Fox's A Good Year

As a blaringly stereotypical corporate shark, Crowe nails the part as a delightful caricature with a razor sharp tongue. As to be assumed, the subdued, pensive moments are where Crowe's natural dramatic talent glisten in the French sun. Even with Crowe's ginger feet amidst this new comedic genre, his garish Skinner still musters up a few stark chuckles. He success with humor, as does much of the rest of the cast, reflects on the quality of the script's dialogue. At times, he reminded me of a Grant or Peck in those old rom-coms (that's romantic comedy). Though quite saccharine-laced here and there, the screenplay delivers some truly fantastic lines of pure, distinct humor.

The really did enjoy the tender, quiet and amusing flashback scenes where Finney and Highmore give the film it's grounding foundation of which Max reflects upon. There was enough charm in that pair's rapport and humor in Crowe's overdrawn inheritor to make this film a true delight. Plus, the exchanges between Skinner and his assistant are almost like classic His Girl Friday banter, it keeps his connection between him and his tumultuously pleasing life in London grippingly comical. A couple other characters are added and are handled quite well for what they are: there's Max's business associate and best friend Charlie (Tom Hollander, whom I just saw in "Pirates 3") and then there's Christie (Abbie Cornish) a traveling American who claims Uncle Henry was her father. None of these characters come across as too stock or unreal cuz each actor exudes a certain comfort to their roles.

It's not surprising in the least that this movie is deliciously vivid. Scott is known for framing his scenes in beautifully vivid colors, watch any of his movies be it "Thelma and Louise" or "Gladiator," all his films are rich in color and texture which usually serve the mood or theme of the story quite well. Two worlds are shown here, the metropolitan elegance of London and the flavorful resonance of France, create a legitimately problematical argument for the Max that is clearly torn. Some of the shots Scott and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd capture are astoundingly breathtaking. It would take just such a visual heaven to lure the shark from his cold sea. Accompanying this visual grandeur is a uniquely edgy score by Marc Streitenfeld who composes his first feature with great experimentation and confidence. His rhythmic and fluctuating score is quite appealing. All of this supports the films splendid, smile-inducing demeanor that had me leaning back in my chair smiling along as I watching the beaming sun highlight the French countryside.

Russell Crowe in 20th Century Fox's A Good Year

This movie did not get the best reviews when it was released last fall but I still wanted to see it cuz of the director. Sure, Someone else might've been able to play the role of Max, but Crowe does know how to play cocky quite well. some may say that this film doesn't achieve the level of grandiose that Scott is know for but I say "does it have to?" Taken for what it is, it is pure escapism and delightful at that. I appreciated what Scott was doing within the creative moments of true dramatic empathy amidst weathered tension. I see a valiant, witty attempt to deviate from such common formulas of this genre. It's good to see a director and lead actor clearly removed from their comfort zone, pouring a pleasant wine that's undoubtedly worth the sugary taste, glass by glass.

It's difficult for either Crowe or Scott to go wrong, especially when in collaboration. This film is no exception, though it's to a lesser degree than the pair are accustomed. Still, I feel that Scott has made a rom-com that is guy-friendly. Yep, this can be classified as a guy flick. Crowe invokes genuinely amusing humor and naturally pensive moments set within a light, amusing rom-com. He really makes the movie showing one of the most notoriously rugged dramatic actors with a soft spot.. I couldn't even imagine this movie with some more relegated to this genre....say Hugh Grant? Blech! I recommend this for those looking for a beautifully shot, whimsically portrayed rom com. It's the kinda movie that I'd easily return to just for the escapism, to get lost in place where time stands still.

Special Features:

  • A unique feature called Postcards from Provence is included. The desire for Making Of Featurettes and Directoral Commentaries has become quite mainstream amongst DVD enthusiasts. Scott has taken both elements and tossed them in a blender to create a wonderful hybrid experience. Though a seemingly normal audio commentary at the start, once Ridley kicks into gear and starts discussing the content of the film, in comes a new visual portion documenting the crafting of a scene. Untraditional, yet quite uniquely stellar, this hybrid is a very nice accompanying piece. Sadly, those that are traditionalists will have to watch the production (though it has chapter listings) with both the commentary and the making of portions. Those interested should be pleased with this great, focused insight into numerous scenes in the film (for example, a discussion of the effect of water pressure and its flooding capabilities over time into a pool is discussed during one portion).
  • There's a short Crowe and Scott promo which is pretty much basic clips featuring the two talking about the film. Though it's not very long, it captures both Scott and Crowe in some very candid moments that display their natural rapport.
  • An array of Trailers and TV Spots are included, encapsulating theatrical and International differences. Also included are trailers for Kingdom of Heaven, The Illusionist, Master and Commander, and Sideways.
  • Finally, a few of Russell Crowe's band Music Videos are included set to some of the backdrops (or similar color schemed settings). These are alright I suppose. I don't really feel like I need to be forced to have an opinion of Crowe as singer. I'm just fine with his acting.

Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe on the set of 20th Century Fox's A Good Year

The Skinny:

  • Max's wardrobe is largely influenced by Crowe's own uncle, David William Crowe.
  • When the book was published, Mayle's ideas were actually very different from Scott's original premise. Scott then decided to film the story as he envisioned it from the very beginning.
  • Aaron Eckhart originally had a role in this film, but dropped out.
  • The car that Max drives is the smart fortwo cabriolet in the pulse trim. The colour is stream green with the black tridion safety cell.
  • During Max's date with Fanny, several of the clips playing in the background are from the French film "Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot"
  • The book Christie borrows from Max is "The Shadow of the Wind" by Spanish writer Carlos Luis Zafón.
  • According to director/producer Scott, every scene of the film was shot within eight minutes of his home in Provence, where he has been living for 15 years.
  • The vineyard scenes were filmed at Château La Canorgue during the 2005 harvest in the Luberon area of Provence.
  • The film was badly received by critics and (as of January 2007) has estimated losses of around $20 million, being a commercial failure. In the US and UK, critics savaged Crowe's performance as miscast and in France it was attacked as cliché-ridden.

Moving Pictures


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