Archive for December, 2007

MOVIE: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

December 31, 2007

I really enjoyed both of the other Bourne movies (Identity and Supremacy), and was excited to finally get to see the latest installment in the series.  But though I was entertained, I have to say I was also pretty disappointed.  This movie has about 18 minutes of plot — the rest is just one chase scene after the next.  Granted, they are amazing chase scenes — brilliantly choreographed and extremely fun to watch.  But seriously?  After the second one, which I swear lasted at least 12 minutes and added essentially zero to the story, I was really ready for some actual PLOT.

And what a waste, because there were all kinds of ways this installment’s story could’ve gone.  Jason (Matt Damon) has begun having flashes back to his original training, slowly regaining his memories piece by piece.  And what’s he’s remembering is absolutely horrifying.  Meanwhile, a CIA deputy director (David Strathairn) has decided Bourne is a threat — that he’s out for revenge after the murder of his girlfriend and must thus be stopped at any cost.  As Jason struggles to untangle the mass of memories in his head, he finds himself teamed up with an old adversary, both of them soon evading assasins left and right.

Sounds pretty riveting, right?  Too bad the story itself was only an eighth of the actual movie!

In any case, it IS still fun — I can’t deny it that much.  But I confess if they make a fourth one, I won’t be in a hurry to see it.  Why in the heck someone bothered to make a movie where the ratio of story to filler is 1:8, I have no idea. 

I do still love that theme song by Moby, though. . . Can’t help myself.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Spy, Action, Thriller
Cast:  Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen

MOVIE: Juno (2007)

December 31, 2007

My sister and I had an afternoon free last week (during her son Luke’s naptime), so we decided to go see a movie.  We picked this one after I said I’d read it was not only smart and funny, but also that it was kind of like Knocked Up for women (we had just been talking about how much we HADN’T really liked Knocked Up).  Plus, my sister is pregnant right now herself, so a movie about a girl havin’ a baby sounded like fun.

As it turns out, this movie is not only smart and funny, it’s utterly brilliant.  We absolutely LOVED IT.  It’s about a 16 year-old girl, Juno (Ellen Page), who has sex once with her friend Bleeker and ends up preggers.  At first, she thinks she might abort, but after a visit to an extremely strange abortion clinic called “Women Now,” she is unable to go through with it.  She decides adoption is better and quickly decides on a cute, wealthy couple (Mark and Vanessa, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) who posted an advertisement for a private adoption in the Penny Ads.

As Juno goes through her pregnancy, she begins bonding with Mark, a former rock musician who now writes ad jingles.  But it soon becomes clear that Mark has second thoughts about being a father, and things start getting pretty complicated for Juno from there.

What I loved about this film was not only its razor-sharp wit and its totally killer soundtrack (The Kinks, Sonic Youth, Belle & Sebastian, and Mott the Hoople, to name a few), but the way it mixed real emotion into all the funny (something I’d argue Knocked Upcompletely failed to do).  Many times, the emotion in this movie hangs on the slightest change in a character’s face, eyes, or body language, and, in that respect, I have to give major kudos to both Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner, who were phenomenal in this.  And, of course, who can resist J.K. Simmons as Juno’s father (clearly the donor of her sarcasm gene) or Michael Cera as Juno’s friend Bleeker who clearly loves her and yet is far too sweetly dorky to simply come out and say so?  

I’m so glad I saw this movie before 2007 was up so it could go on my “Best of 2007” list this year.  There wasn’t a single part of this film I didn’t absolutely love, and that goes double for the part where I got to watch it sitting next to my pregnant twin sister, periodically patting her belly as we laughed together on a warm afternoon in sunny California, munching on Christmas candy and slurping Diet Cokes we’d smuggled into the theater in her big (but very cute!) mommy purse.  Thanks, sis, for a truly delightful afternoon at the movies! 

[Pre-queue me at Netflix]

Genre:  Comedy/Drama
Cast:  Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney

MOVIE: Cars (2006)

December 31, 2007

I was just down in (sunny! warm!) San Diego for a week over Christmas, visiting my sister, her husband, and their nearly-two year-old son Luke. Luke is big into cars at the moment, and his favorite cars are the ones from the Pixar movie Cars — not because he’s a huge fan of the film itself, but because he’s read about a bazillion Cars-themed books. After a week there, I too had read about a bazillion Cars-themed books (some of them four-plus times in a row — the kid is a serious fan, I’m telling you!), and I was lovin’ them myself. But, even more fun, a couple of days after Christmas, Luke, Grandma, Grandpa, and I got to watch the actual movie together — them for the second time, me for the first.

This is a truly wonderful film for both kids and adults, as all Pixar flicks tend to be. It’s about an up-and-coming race car named Lightning McQueen (Wilson) whose priorities are all mixed up. All he cares about is winning races, and he doesn’t care who he’s got to drive over to get to the finish line. After a three-way tie for the Piston Cup, McQueen and the other two winners must drive cross-country to get to a tie-breaker race. On the way there, McQueen and his driver (a semi-truck named Mack) fall asleep and somehow McQueen ends up shooting out the back of the truck as Mack speeds off unaware anything has happened. Lost, McQueen is racing around looking for the interstate when he speeds into the small town of Radiator Springs, tearing up the blacktop behind him.

He’s promptly arrested by Sheriff and sent to court the next day for damaging city property. The judge, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), sentences him to community service: McQueen can’t leave Radiator Springs until he’s fixed the entire road — and unless he works really fast, he’ll never make it to the big race in time.

At first, McQueen is furious; he can’t believe he’s stuck in this hick town with all these losers! But the more time he spends with the residents of Radiator Springs — including a rusty tow truck named Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the town attorney Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and Doc Hudson, who turns out to be an old race car himself — the more he comes to realize there’s a lot more to life than just winning races.

In other words: you gotta have friends.

It’s a great story — a classic, of course — and the movie is loaded with cute and clever characters, as well as lots of “inside jokes” for the grown-ups. Of course, it helps to watch this movie with an absolutely crazy-adorable nearly-two year-old (Luke had all his Cars cars laid out on a tray in front of him while we watched, and each time a scene changed, he’d dig out the cars that matched the characters on the screen and hold them up until it was time to change cars again. Oh man, cutest thing ever!). But even if you are a grown-up alone, there’s truly a lot to love. This is another great addition to the Pixar filmography — truly the best in the kid biz, if you ask me. Highly recommended!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Kids, Cartoon
Cast: (voices) Paul Newman, Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger, Tony Shalhoub

MOVIE: The Lives of Others (2007)

December 22, 2007

Note: I’m heading out this afternoon for a week in California, so there won’t be any new posts after this one until December 31st. Check back then for my “Best of 2007” lists and some new movie reviews!

Set in 1980’s East Berlin, this quiet, intelligent movie (which won last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) provides an extremely fascinating and emotionally devastating look into life under the watchful eye of the East German secret police (the Stasi). Gerd Wiesler, played by Ulrich Muhe, who died shortly after this film came out, is one of the Stasi’s best “Big Brothers.” He spends his days listening in on the lives of people the Stasi suspect of being a threat to Socialism, most of whom are guilty of nothing more than being artists. One day, he is assigned to listen in on a famous local couple, a playwright named Dreyman and his girlfriend, an actress named Christa.

At first, it’s business as usual, as Wiesler clamps a massive set of headphones over his ears and begins typing up notes about what Dreyman and Christa are up to. But the more he listens to them going about their lives, the more he begins to internalize their lives, mesmerized by the fact, I think, that they actually HAD lives. Wiesler himself mostly lives in the shadows — a serious man with no family or friends. Dreyman and Christa are exciting people, and it doesn’t take long before Wiesler has essentially come to adore them, eventually starting to lie in his notes and to his superiors in order to protect them.

In essence, this movie is the ironic story of a government that was so afraid its people would become disloyal, it drove them all to disloyalty. We see it happen first to Dreyman, then to Christa, and finally to Weisler himself. But one of the things I loved most about this movie was its ending. Without giving too much away, I think that an American film would’ve ended about twenty minutes sooner, following a traumatic scene that you know will change the lives of everyone involved forever.

Instead, the film jumps ahead several years, first to when the Wall comes down, and then to a few years after that, when Dreyman learns about what Wiesler did for him way back when. Instead of a startling and unresolved ending — the type so many movies seem to have these days — we get a real sense of closure for the characters. I was surprisingly satisfied when the final credits rolled, and that was a really nice feeling!

This is one of the most interesting and unique films I’ve seen in a really long time, and I’m so glad I watched before the end of the year so I could include it in my “Best Movies of 2007” list (which will be posted on December 31st). If you haven’t seen this one yet, I strongly urge you to give it a rental. Maybe not the cheeriest movie you could rent over the holidays, but it’ll sure give you something to think about.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Foreign/Drama
Cast: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Kock, Ulrich Tukur

MOVIE: Rescue Dawn (2007)

December 19, 2007

Several years ago, I saw a documentary by Werner Herzog (of Grizzly Man fame) called Little Dieter Needs to Fly.  It was about a German man named Dieter Dengler who immigrated to America as a kid and joined the military for the sole purpose of learning how to fly planes.  Unfortunately, he picked the early 60’s to sign up, and a few years later, was packed up and shipped off to Vietnam.

On his first flight mission, over Laos, Dieter was shot down, captured, and taken to a POW camp.  From day one, his goal was to escape, despite the fact his fellow inmates told him repeatedly that it wasn’t the prison that was the jail — it was the jungle outside it.  But after lots of observation and planning, Dieter finally pulled it off, escaping along with several other prisoners on June 29, 1966.  Dieter and one other man, a guy named Duane Martin, teamed up together on the outside and then spent several weeks struggling to survive in the insane jungles of Laos.  Twenty-three days after his escape, Dieter was finally rescued when an American pilot spotted him.

What I loved about the documentary was that it featured the real Dieter Dengler, taking us back to the very jungle he’d been lost in all those many years ago, and walking us through exactly what he went through, virtually day-by-day.  He’s a fascinating man with an unbelievable and moving story.  And it was really a terrific film.

Obviously, his story had a tremendous impact on director Werner Herzog too, because twelve years later, he made this movie, Rescue Dawn, which is essentially a more-Hollywood-esque version of the same story, starring Christian Bale as Dieter, and an astonishingly not-funny Steve Zahn as Duane Martin.  And while I thought many things about this film were done well, what surprised me about it was how many things Herzog changed.  Things changed that didn’t need changing, and things changed that really bothered me, like turning one of Dieter’s fellow captives into a mentally unbalanced villain of sorts, who threatens to turn them all in if they try to escape and essentially acts like a coward.  In real life, Dieter Dengler has said on more than one occasion that he considered Gene DeBruin, an Air America pilot (played by Jeremy Davies in the film), to be a hero.  I recently read DeBruin’s family is pretty upset about Rescue Dawn, and boy, I don’t blame them.

Of course, Herzog is pretty infamous for distorting the facts in his documentaries in order to make them more entertaining.  He did this in Grizzly Man, and he did it in Little Dieter as well (for example, there’s a scene in the beginning of the latter film in which the real-life Dieter opens and closes his front door about six times in succession, saying he does this whenever he goes through a door because he can’t bear the thought of being locked in — as it turns out, Herzog had Dengler do this for the film, even though it was completely made up, because he essentially thought it would make for a poignant moment).

In any case, you can mostly solve the problems of inaccuracy in Rescue Dawn by also watching Little Dieter (which is available for Watch Now at Netflix, by the way).  But, alas, you can’t solve the problem of Christian Bale, who, in my opinion, is just kind of boring in this.  To be honest, though, the only thing I’ve ever liked Bale in was Batman Returns, and even there, it was more like “tolerance” than actual “like.”  Every time he does an American accent, it sounds so forced and fake — he always sounds like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho to me, and that never fails to give me the creeps. 

I know, I know: you guys all WORSHIP CHRISTIAN BALE.  I hear you.  I just don’t understand you. 

The actor who DID impress me in this film was, astonishingly enough, Steve Zahn.  I’ve loved Zahn for many years now — as far as funny sidekicks go, you need go no further.  But what I didn’t know about him was that he can not only do “serious,” but he can seriously kick “serious’s” butt.  He is phenomenal in this movie — believable, sincere ,and virtually unrecognizable to boot.  I found his character far more moving and authentic than Bale’s, and that’s all about the acting, in my opinion.

Other than some nicely done scenes and a fairly engrossing storyline (not worth nothing, of course), however, this movie plays like a fairly standard Vietnam flick.  I had been eager to see what Herzog would do with a Hollywood version of his terrific documentary, but I was kind of ho-hum about the actual result.  Nevertheless, it’s a good story and one well worth watching.  Definitely be sure to check out Little Dieter Needs to Fly for some balance, though.  And you might want to read Wikipedia pages about Duane Martin, Gene DeBruin, and other side characters as well (the movie focuses primarily on Dieter, for obvious reasons, but these other guys were pretty amazing themselves).

[Netflix me | Buy me | Netflix Little Dieter]

Genre:  Drama, War
Cast:  Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Pat Healy, Marshall Bell

MOVIE: Descent (2005)

December 18, 2007

Nope, not the movie about the chicks who get stuck in the underground cave with the monsters (that Descent movie sucked, by the way — don’t get me started).  This is a made-for-TV sci-fi flick (three guesses who was in town this past weekend — hi, Mom!) about a group of scientists who have to drive a big drill twenty-five miles down into the Earth’s surface to try to set off some nukes to blow some tectonic plates back into position before they cause massive lava eruptions that wipe out the human race.

Stop — you’re thinking too much.  I can feel it from here.

Because, no, it made absolutely no scientific sense whatsoever.  In fact, it didn’t even really TRY to make any scientific sense.  But the characters weren’t bad — there were two geeks for comic relief, a Klingon disguised as an upper-echelon member of the U.S. military (Michael Dorn), a Beverly Hills rebel disguised as a PhD (Luke Perry, surprisingly believable as a smart person), and a misguided scientist who realizes his folly and sacrifices himself for the good of the world.   Plus, an evil guy gets his comeuppance, the good guys win, and Earth is saved.  What’s not to love?

In other words, we’ve seen worse.  We’ve also seen way, way better (frankly, I still think the best of the “drill to the center of the Earth” movies was 2000’s Deep Core starring Wil Wheaton and Craig Sheffer, and written/directed by our favorite sci-fi master, Phillip J. Roth — kicked the butt of 2003’s Hollywood feature The Core).  But if this one rolls around on the Sci-Fi Channel again, it might be worth setting the ol’ DVR for it.  If you like this sort of thing.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Sci-Fi
Cast:  Michael Dorn, Luke Perry, Natalie Brown, Mimi Kuzyk

The Word of the Year — Yeah, Baby, Yeah!

December 17, 2007

<nerdiness>Did you guys hear this yet?  Merriam-Webster has named their annual “Word of the Year,” and this year’s winner is. . .

 [drumroll please. . . ]


Note to n00bs, purists spell that with two zeroes in the middle, not two “o’s.”  And I found the Merriam-Webster definition somewhat amusing too: “expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word ‘yay.’”  After a triumph. . . . or for no reason at all — so very, very true!

For you non-geeks out there, the term actually originated in the gamer world, where it started out as an acronym for “we owned the other team.”  It’s one of many terms in the “1337” or “leet” Internet/geek language, which is a language I have long found absolutely fascinating because I’m a linguistics dork.  You can read more about “1337/leet” at Wikipedia:

For some reason, this announcement about w00t made me extremely happy this morning.  Oddly enough, last week’s news that the term shagadelic has finally made it into the OED kind of made me want to weep.  But that’s got more to do with a bachelorette party I once went to (mine, as a matter of fact) that involved a male stripper who was dressed as Austin Powers — quite possibly the least sexy thing I’ve ever seen in my life — and not as much to do with the goofy movies themselves.  I confess that seeing an Austin-Powers-lookalike completely buck nekked sort of scarred me for life.  I still have nightmares about that.  It’s the buck teeth, I think.  Um, as well as, you know, like, EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT THAT ENTIRE SCENARIO.

Anyway, hooray for geeks!  This year w00t, next year, lolcat!


Final Four Movies from Thanksgiving

December 12, 2007

The four movies in this post are the last of the bunch I watched while on vacation over Thanksgiving (jeez, finally wrapping up this series at long last!).  I decided to group them all together into a single post because they were all ones I’d seen (and thus reviewed) in the last year or two.  Of the group, I think only Pan’shas a review on this blog — the rest would be in the Yahoo Group archives from back when I was sending out movie reviews to email subscribers. 

I’ve been ranking the movies from my vacation on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being the worst movie we watched (Nextwith Nic Cage!), and 1 being the best.  The numbers next to each movie’s title below represent their ranking numbers. 

#5:  Maximum Velocity (2003).  This is another one of Phillip J. Roth’s movies, a writer/director/producer whose name we always keep an eye out for when renting sci-fi movies, because in our experience, if Roth was involved, the movie is much more likely to be good-bad instead of bad-bad (as a matter of fact, sometimes his low-budget movies are even better than big-budget films about the same subject — for example, Roth’s flick Deep Core, starring the ever-awesome Wil Wheaton and Craig Sheffer, kicked the wussy butt of Hollywood crapfest The Core).  Of all the Roth movies we’ve seen, I think Maximum Velocity probably has the weakest science behind it, but it was still entertaining (both the first time we saw it, and this second time too).   In this one, Dale Midkiffplays a climatologist, Dr. Briggs, who is part of an experimental weather-related project that goes terribly awry and ends up causing the death of his wife.  A couple of years later, a terrible storm hits Earth, and scientists decide the only way to save the planet is to get that old project back out of the scrap heap and use it to alter the storm’s intensity and trajectory.  But, can they convince the project’s original scientist, Dr. Briggs, to come back and help?  It’s not brilliant, but it’s pretty fun, and fun is really the only criteria worth judging when watching low-budget sci-fi movies.  Besides, I’ll watch Dale Midkiff do just about anything, as evidenced by the fact I’ve seen Flight of the Living Dead.  Cast: Dale Midkiff, Michael Ironside, Wendy Carter.  [Netflix me]

#3 The Day After Tomorrow (2004).  Mom and I really enjoyed this movie the first time we saw it (right after it came out on DVD).  So, when both of us caught a scene or two of it on television in early November, it really put us in the mood to see the whole thing again.  Hence, rental.  As I’m sure you guys know, this flick is about a massive storm brought on by global warming that suddenly rages out of control, launching a new ice age and essentially freezing to the core the entire Northern hemisphere.  Struggling to survive the initial wave of the storm are a group of teenagers holed up in the New York City public library, while down in Washington DC, one of their fathers, a climatologist who had predicted the whole disaster, is attempting to walk his way through the blizzard to save his son.  It’s your standard big-budget Hollywood flick, with lots of special effects and a fair helping of cheese (and also, I will confess, an extremely silly scene involving some wolves).  But the science, though exaggerated, is actually not that far off track.  So, yes, it’s a little on the hokey side (okay, okay, a LOT on the hokey side), but it’s still really fun to watch.  See above, re: criteria.  And, of course, it’s always nice seeing Jake Gyllenhaal play a kid who ISN’T a mopey grump.  Way to break out of the mold, Jake!  Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward, Ian Holm.  [Netflix me]

#2 Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).  I had been planning to rent the NEW Die Hardmovie while I was on vacation, but as it turned out, my mom still hadn’t seen the third one.  So, we rented it instead.  I actually saw this movie in the theater — rare for me — and the reason I remember that is because on the drive home, my husband and I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out just how they solved that fountain problem in the movie.  You know that scene where McClane (Bruce Willis) and his reluctant civilian partner Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) get to a big fountain in a park and learn from the bad guy (Jeremy Irons) that they have to put exactly four gallons of water on a scale he’s left there in order to defuse the bomb stashed underneath it?  He’s left them a 3 gallon jug and a 5 gallon jug and they have to somehow get exactly four gallons?  In the movie, they sort of whip through the solution to this problem really quickly, and we hadn’t quite caught how they managed to do it, so we had worked out the solution ourselves in the car ride home, feeling extremely smart once we had it figgered out.  Watching it this second time, I had forgotten our solution (that WAS 12 years ago, after all!) so we paused the movie right at that point and Mom and I worked it out together.  Took us a solid few minutes, too, despite the fact that once you have the solution, it seems really obvious and you feel like an idiot for not having come up with it sooner!  In any case, I love puzzles like that (in fact, I love logic puzzles so much I took the LSAT in college just so I could spend half a day working on them — nerd alert!).  So, for that scene alone, this is a movie worth watching.  But beyond that, it’s just a lot of fun.  I love Jackson’s character — or, more accurately, I just plain love Jackson (I’ve often wanted to make him a Boyfriend of the Week and have the entire write-up simply consist of the word COOL in twelve-inch letters).  And there’s a nice twist to the plot of this one as well.  Recommended! Cast: Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, Samuel L. Jackson, and who cares who else after that?  [Netflix me]

#1 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).  When I first reviewed this movie last June, I predicted it would be ranked at #1 on my annual top-ten list of favorite movies from the past year.  After seeing it a second time, I not only predict that’ll happen, I knowit will  (I’ve written the top-ten list for the movies — still working on books — and it should be going up on the Boyfriend site next week, so stay tuned!).  I’m not going to bother describing it here, since I already wrote about it on this blog (see original review here!) and will be writing about it again for the Top Ten Movies list.  Suffice it to say if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you are REALLY missing out on an incredible experience.  Go rent this movie RIGHT NOW.  Seriously.  Right now.  Go.  I’ll wait. [Netflix me]

Okay, this wraps up the Thanksgiving Vacation Movie Fest!  Coming up next, reviews of a couple of newly-on-DVD flicks I watched this week, plus the annual Top Ten Favorite Movies, Top Five Favorite Bad Movies, and Top Ten Favorite Books lists on the Boyfriend of the Weeksite.  I also, incidentally, have the first Boyfriend for 2008 picked out — my hiatus from the Boyfriend site ends this January, so expect to start seeing a fresh crop of cute guys showing up in the new year!  Woot!

p.s. You know what’s ironic?  When you run the spellcheck here at WordPress, it highlights the word “blog” as a word it doesn’t recognize.  For some reason, I’m amused by this.

Very, Very Disappointed in You, My Readers!

December 12, 2007

Okay, after lo, these many years, I would like you people to explain to me right now why, despite the fact you guys claim to be MY FRIENDS, I had to hear about the upcoming MacGyver Mythbusters episode from MY DAD.

You guys!  I can’t believe nobody emailed me about this!  YOU ARE ALL SO FIRED RIGHT NOW!  You can’t rely on MY DAD to remember to tell me important stuff like this!  I mean, I love my Dad, but he’s a guy!  He can barely remember my NAME half the time (“Hey, you, uh, Marni, Josh, shoot, what’s your name again??”).  (Hi, Dad!  Just teasing!)

Anyway, I went online this morning to check it out, and yessiree bub, they mentioned the upcoming MacGyver special in their “Pirates 2” episode earlier this season (coincidentally, the ONE episode I missed this year — that’ll teach me to click “Skip” on the DVR just so I can record some dumb crime show instead).  Still no word on the actual airdate for the episode, but my guess is it’ll be in January, after a brief hiatus for the holidays.

This week’s episode sounds like a good one too — can a rookie really land a 747?  I have often wondered, given the frequency with which that seems to happen in movies.  And then next week brings us their annual Holiday Episode, though how they can top last year’s Rube Goldberg machine, I have no idea.  I still watch a clip of that thing on YouTube periodically (here, go watch it right now yourself — don’t say I never gave you anything for the holidays).  Love it!

As soon as I find out the actual airdate of the MacGyver episode, I’ll let you guys know.   In the meantime, I’ll be downloading “Pirates 2” from iTunes tonight just so I can hear the official announcement.  That’s how dedicated a fan of my web site *I* am.  Go ahead — post your lame excuses in comments (“My dog ate my email!” “I was abducted by aliens before I could hit ‘Send’!”).  I forgive you.  THIS TIME.  *Sniff!*

MOVIE: A Good Year (2007)

December 8, 2007

I wasn’t sure about this movie, to be honest. Reviews I’d read of it were pretty mixed (I remember one reviewer describing it as being a “3-P” movie — pleasant, pretty, and predictable), but I was still kind of intrigued by the concept. I’ve read and enjoyed many of Peter Mayles’s non-fiction books about his experiences in the countrysides of France, and was interested in seeing what he did with fiction. And though I wasn’t sure how I’d do with a romantic comedy — those can be pretty hit or miss for me — I ended up enjoying the movie overall quite a bit.

It’s about a middle-aged man, Max (Russell Crowe), who is some sort of banking titan in London, perpetually busy and completely focused on money. When he gets word that his once-beloved Uncle Henry has died, he’s thrown for a bit of a loop, but primarily seems annoyed he’s got to leave his job for a couple of days to go down to France and deal with Henry’s estate. Max was extremely close to Henry when he was a child (this we learn through flashbacks, in which Young Max is played by the always-awesome Freddie Highmore), but hasn’t spoken to him in 20 years. As Max got older, his values shifted in a direction that just didn’t work for Henry, and the two eventually lost touch.

Max soon learns that Henry left no will, which means, as his uncle’s only kin, Max has just inherited his enormous house and the vineyard that goes along with it. He immediately decides to try to sell it all so he can take the money and run. But his plan is foiled when he gets to the farm house and finds it’s a shabby disaster. “Hey, at least the wine’s good, right? That’s worth something,” he says to himself. And then he tries a bottle and discovers it’s all but undrinkable. Crap!

As Max begins trying to tidy the place up and figure out a way to sell a vineyard that makes crappy wine, he starts flashing back to the happy times he spent with Henry as a child. The more the memories return, the more Max begins to fall in love with the place all over again. But things get shaken up when a young American girl shows up and announces that she’s Henry’s illegitimate daughter. Since this means SHE’S really Henry’s next of kin, Max attempts to keep her happy enough not to ask any questions. He encourages her to crash at the house for a while, to try to get to know Henry through his land, all the while worried that at any moment, she’ll realize all the property is actually hers and he’ll be out the whole shebang.

Meanwhile, Max has met a local French woman, and soon finds he can’t stop thinking about her. Though she mostly rolls her eyes at his attempts to woo her, writing him off as an arrogant Brit who thinks of nothing but how much more wealth he can accumulate, the quiet joys of the French countryside are gradually having a positive effect on Max’s personality. Eventually, he comes to realize he doesn’t want to go back to the frenetic world of London — instead, he wants to settle down at Uncle Henry’s, get married, have kids, and enjoy a simpler life in a simpler place.

While this movie IS actually as cheesy and predictable as I just made it sound, at the same time, it’s also a sincerely funny, sweet, and extremely good-looking movie (gorgeous scenery and colors — worth watching just for the visuals, in my opinion).

The one downside to the whole movie is, surprisingly enough, Russell Crowe himself. He’s just not romantic comedy material, no matter how hard he tries. I never found his charm authentic — even though we’re supposed to recognize he’s undergoing a massive personality overhaul, I never stopped feeling like he was acting, so I couldn’t relax into his character at all.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, despite Crowe’s awkwardness, and it’s always fun to see Freddie Highmore, who I’ve loved since Finding Neverland, as well as the great Albert Finney. I’m ranking it at number 4 out of the 9 we watched on my vacation — not too shabby!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Romantic comedy
Cast: Russell Crowe, Freddie Highmore, Abbie Cornish, Albert Finney