A Good Year (2006)
A feel-good movie that highlights the beauty of France as much as it does its stars, A Good Year provides a languid, gorgeous viewing experience. Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe–who first worked together on the Academy Award-winning Gladiator–are reunited in this romantic film. Crowe plays Max, a workaholic London bonds trader who doesn’t know the meaning of vacation. When his uncle dies, leaving him a picturesque estate in the south of France, Max views it as an opportunity to cash in the vinery and pocket the profits. The film is reminiscent of Diane Lane’s Under the Tuscan Sun in the way the scenery plays as much of a role in the film as its characters. The lush village and streaming sunlight portray Provence as an idyllic, magical place. Even Max falls under its spell. While not a particularly likeable character, especially in the early part of the film, Max also isn’t a bad guy. When he gets the chance to live life at a less manic pace than which he is used to, he finds that a good year isn’t dependant on a financial windfall. Though Scott tries to drum up some suspense in the film (Is the beautiful visitor really Max’s illegitimate cousin? Will Max fall in love with the feisty local woman he trades quips with?) nothing that happens comes as much of a surprise. Still, while the film doesn’t fully utilize Crowe’s range of skills, the actor is charming in his role and A Good Year provides a fine time in the cinemas. —Jae-Ha Kim Click here for the DVD.
An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)
On the strength of his Hitchcockian-thriller debut, Mute Witness, writer-director Anthony Waller was hired to direct this belated sequel to the 1981 horror comedy An American Werewolf in London, but lycanthropy in the City of Light just ain’t what it used to be. The movie offers plenty of gruesome makeup and special wolf-transformation effects, and there are some effectively spooky moments in the plot involving an underground population of hungry Parisian werewolves. One of them is seductively played by Julie Delpy, who is rescued from attempted suicide by an American tourist (Tom Everett Scott, from That Thing You Do!) but ultimately can’t hide her dual identity when darkness falls and the full moon shines. The movie begins well, but gradually succumbs to nonsense and mayhem, prompting critic Roger Ebert to observe that “here are people we don’t care about, doing things they don’t understand, in a movie without any rules.” In other words, you’d have to be a die-hard horror buff to give this one the benefit of the doubt. –Jeff Shannon Click here for the DVD.
Before Sunset (2004)
In 1994, director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) made Before Sunrise, a gorgeous poem of a movie about two strangers (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) wandering around Vienna, talking, and falling in love. Ten years later, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have returned with Before Sunset, which reunites the same characters after Hawke has written a book about that night. Delpy appears at the final book reading of his European tour; they have less than two hours before Hawke has to catch a flight to New York…and in that time, they walk around Paris, talk, and fall in love all over again. It sounds simple, perhaps dull, but it’s written with such skill and care and acted with such richness that it’s a miracle of filmmaking. On its own, Before Sunset is moving and wonderful; seen right after Before Sunrise, it will break your heart. –Bret Fetzer Click here to pick up the DVD.
Note : Although it doesn’t fit the theme of this website, Before Sunrise is also a great film.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Critics and controversy aside, The Da Vinci Code is a verifiable blockbuster. Combine the film’s huge worldwide box-office take with over 100 million copies of Dan Brown’s book sold, and The Da Vinci Code has clearly made the leap from pop-culture hit to a certifiable franchise. The leap for any story making the move from book to big screen, however, is always more perilous. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, the plot is concocted of such a preposterous formula of elements that you wouldn’t envy screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, the man tasked with making this story filmable. The script follows Dan Brown’s book as closely as possible while incorporating a few needed changes, including a better ending. And if you’re like most of the world, by now you’ve read the book and know how it goes: while lecturing in Paris, noted Harvard Professor of Symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned to the Louvre by French police to help decipher a bizarre series of clues left at the scene of the murder of the chief curator. Enter Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), gifted cryptologist. Neveu and Langdon team up to solve the mystery, and from there the story is propelled across Europe, ballooning into a modern-day mini-quest for the Holy Grail, where secret societies are discovered, codes are broken, and murderous albino monks are thwarted… oh, and alternative theories about the life of Christ and the beginnings of Christianity are presented too, of course. It’s not the typical formula for a stock Hollywood thriller. In fact, taken solely as a mystery, the movie almost works–despite some gaping holes–mostly just because it keeps moving. Brown’s greatest trick was to have the entire story take place in one day, so the action is forced to keep moving, despite some necessary pauses for exposition. As a screen couple, Hanks and Tautou are just fine together but not exactly memorable; meanwhile Sir Ian McKellen’s scenery-chewing as pivotal character Sir Leigh Teabing is just what the film needed to keep it from taking itself too seriously. The whole thing is like a good roller-coaster ride: try not to think too much about it–just sit back and enjoy the trip. –Daniel Vancini
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French Kiss (1995)
When Kate’s fiancé calls from Paris to tell her he’s in love with another woman, Kate determines to do anything to get him back. She even overcomes her fear of flying so she can chase him down in the romantic city of lights. Then, while airborne, the panicky Kate meets Luc, a somewhat sleazy character who just happens to be a thief — and who secretly plants a stolen possession in her bag. Luc intends to retrieve the loot when they land; unfortunately a conman grabs the bag first, thwarting Luc’s well-laid plans. Soon he and Kate are frantically scouring the beautiful French countryside in hopes of getting back her precious carry-on. The romantic situation hardly goes smoothly, either: Kate continues her obsession with ex-fiancé Charlie, while Charlie’s new girlfriend takes a liking to Luc… who unexpectantly falls in love with the broken-hearted Kate.
Critically this movie received a lukewarm reception, but time has shown that director Lawrence Kasdan and principal actors Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, Timothy Hutton and Jean Reno have collectively delivered a sweet masterpiece loved by many. Ryan was at her comedic best in this film, and Kline’s French was so dead-on that when the movie was released in France, many of the film-goers were under the impression that he was an unknown French actor making his debut. Click here to pick up the DVD.
From Paris With Love (2010)
An uncomplicated, moderately entertaining action film, From Paris With Love offers an enthusiastic performance by John Travolta as a just-this-side-of-crazy agent and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) as the low-level operative newly partnered with him. Outwardly an aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, James Reese (Rhys Meyers) is also a low-level CIA operative, tasked with generally mundane duties. Then his inside contact offers him a high-level assignment that could lead to a promotion to full agent. All Reese has to do is drive CIA agent Charlie Wax (Travolta) around Paris on an undisclosed mission. But Wax is a shoot first, don’t bother with questions kinda guy, and the straitlaced Reese quickly finds himself riding shotgun to a killing-spree through Paris’ underground drug sub-culture. The drugs lead the obviously opposite duo to a hidden terrorist cell, and they race to stop the suicide bombers’ plot. Wax’s wise-cracking, one-on-many fight scenes are adequately entertaining–especially when he flings bad guys down a curving staircase, as Reese tries to avoid getting hit by the bodies–but the action generally leaves you wanting more. An undesirable characteristic in an action movie. Based on a story by Luc Besson, (The Fifth Element and The Transporter movies), one can’t help wonder if the complexity of the story and characters could have been improved if he’d written the screenplay himself. However, the simplistic story offers a few surprises and laugh-worthy one-liners. The climactic final chase scene–Agent Wax hanging out the window of a speeding Audi, armed with heavy artillery and a driver with nerves of steel, as he attempts to stop one phase of the planned attack–is as impossible as one could hope for in this kind of movie. And hearing Travolta call his burger a “royale with cheese” is almost worth the rest of the movie. –Jill Corddry
Click here for the DVD.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Julie & Julia is a film that should be relished with gusto–accompanied by the freshest and best ingredients, pounds of butter, and bottles of the very best wine. It lovingly celebrates the life of one of American food’s most influential and beloved figureheads: Julia Child–played here with zest, humor, and a sweet, subtle respect by Meryl Streep, whose performance is spectacular.
Julie & Julia is based on the book by Julie Powell, a frustrated New York bureaucrat who wants to be a writer. “But you’re not a writer until someone publishes you,” she moans. So she gives herself a challenge: to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, and to blog about it. As Powell (played with chirpy determination by Amy Adams), begins to find her groove as a cook, and her voice as a writer, the project takes on a life of its own–and in the end it does provide the struggling young woman with her life’s purpose, to her very pleasant surprise. But mostly, Julie & Julia is a valentine to Child, to Child’s amazing love affair with her dashing husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci, as divine as any soufflé in the film), and to her outlook on embracing life, and ordering seconds. Streep throws herself into the Child role with real affection for her character, and while certain of Child’s idiosyncrasies–including her warbly voice and unflappable haphazardness in the kitchen–are retained, it’s Child’s character and vision which form Streep’s portrayal, and which make the film so involving and rewarding. Nora Ephron directs with deftness and a light touch, though she seems at times to be encouraging some of Meg Ryan’s onscreen tics in Adams (the self-conscious head tilt, for one). But mostly she simply allows Streep to channel Child and her love of food, her husband, and 1950s Paris. And that is a recipe for something truly sublime. –A.T. Hurley Click here for the DVD, and here for the movie poster.
Killing Zoe (1994)
The first-time director is Roger Avary, one of a new breed of filmmakers who appear to conceive of cinema as a superior form of abattoir. (He co-wrote “True Romance” and “Pulp Fiction.”) Not since the dying days of Jacobean tragedy has this much blood been spilled in the name of public entertainment, although you’d be pressed to find anything tragic in the antics of Avary’s creations. Eric Stoltz plays a safebreaker who comes to Paris to see an old friend, Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade). Together with their band of merry men (the merriment is all heroin and liquor), they try to rob a bank, and foul it up. From time to time-during the opening credits, or at the start of the raid-the movie kicks into life, with traces of Godard in its hectic insouciance. But this eagerness to find a style has nothing to launch from-no obsessions, no arguments, no strong feelings, just a vague desire to rub our noses in the dirt. Also starring Julie Delpy as a whore with-of course-a heart of gold. -Anthony Lane Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker Click here to purchase the DVD.
Night on Earth (1991)
Jim Jarmusch’s 1991 ensemble comedy turns a gimmick into a revelation. The story begins in Los Angeles one evening at 7:07 p.m. A talent agent (Gena Rowlands) gets into the back of a taxi driven by a sullen, chain-smoking young woman (Winona Ryder), and over the course of their bumpy conversation, Rowlands’s character becomes convinced that the cabby would be perfect for a particular part in a movie. Meanwhile, at that very moment, taxi drivers in New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki are all having unique encounters with a variety of fares, breaking through that invisible social barrier between the front and back seats of their cars, often to absurd or touching effect. Among them are cabby Roberto Benigni’s ranting confessions to a priest, Armin Mueller-Stahl’s relinquishing of the wheel to a stunned Giancarlo Esposito, and Isaach De Bankolé’s relentless discussion of sight and sex with an angry, blind woman (Beatrice Dalle). What emerges is a chain of brief intimacies (not always welcomed by the characters), like a number of matches lit simultaneously across the globe, flickering brightly for a few short moments. This popular work by Jarmusch helped confirm his reputation as a fiercely independent filmmaker of rare perception, rigor, and classical sensibility matched with original thinking. –Tom Keogh Click here to get the DVD.
Paris, Je T’Aime (Paris, I Love You) (2006)
Hard to categorize, this movie was a joint effort from 18 different film-makers, and is also listed on the “Drama” page of this website. Here’s the synopsis, from Amazon.com:
In PARIS, JE T’AIME, celebrated directors from around the world, including the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, Gurinder Chadha, Wes Craven, Walter Salles, Alexander Payne and Olivier Assayas, have come together to portray Paris in a way never before imagined. Made by a team of contributors as cosmopolitan as the city itself, this portrait of the city is as diverse as its creators’ backgrounds and nationalities. With each director telling the story of an unusual encounter in oe of the city’s neighborhoods, the vignettes go beyond the ‘postcard’ view of Paris to portray aspects of the city rarely seen on the big screen. Racial tensions stand next to paranoid visions of the city seen from the perspective of an American tourist. A young foreign worker moves from her own domestic situation into her employer’s bourgeois environs. An American starlet finds escape as she is shooting a movie. A man is torn between his wife and his lover. A young man working in a print shop sees and desires another young man. A father grapples with his complex relationship with his daughter. A couple tries to add spice to their sex life. These are but a few of the witty and serendipitous narratives that make up PARIS, JE T’AIME. Click here to purchase the DVD.
Robert De Niro stars in this great, fast-paced thriller. In a world where loyalties are easily abandoned and allegiances can be bought, a new and deadlier terrorist threat has emergedfree agent killers! Featuring “high-octane action” (Gene Shalit, “Today”), a “first-rate cast” (L.A. Daily News) and exhilarating car chases that “are nothing short of sensational” (The New York Times), Ronin is “the real deal in action fireworks” (Rolling Stone) directed by “a master of intelligent thrillers” (Roger Ebert). The Cold War may be over, but a new world order keeps a group of covert mercenaries employed by the highest bidder. These operatives, known as “Ronin,” are assembled in France by a mysterious client for a seemingly routine mission: steal a top-secret briefcase. But the simple task soon proves explosive asother underworld organizations vie for the same prize…and to get the job done, the members of Ronin must do something they’ve never done before; trust each other!
I watch this movie at least once a year. The chase scenes are some of the best on film, and Dinero and Reno have a great on-screen chemistry. Click here to buy the DVD.
What could be a skillful but ordinary action flick gets a surprising emotional heft from the presence of Liam Neeson as the hero. Bryan Mills (Neeson) has given up his career as a spy to form a relationship with his estranged teenage daughter–but when, on a trip to Paris, she’s kidnapped by slavers, Mills uses all his connections and skills to turn the city of lights upside down and rescue her. Like most of the movies that writer/producer Luc Besson has a hand in (such as La Femme Nikita, The Transporter, Unleashed, and many other French action movies), Taken drips with lurid violence (a bit toned-down to get a PG-13 rating, but there’s still plenty of it), deranged sentimentality, and stereotypes of all kinds. But this doesn’t stop his movies from being effective thrill-rides, and Taken is no exception. Taken pays just enough attention to the illusion of procedure–making it seem like Mills knows all the right steps to track down his daughter–that the movie cheerfully seduces your suspension of disbelief, despite many plot holes and scenes where Mills doesn’t get scratched despite bullets flying in all directions or pretends to be a French policeman despite not speaking French or even adopting a French accent. What holds it all together is Neeson; his gravitas and emotional availability make his character–the usual action fantasy of impossible competence and righteous fury–somehow seem real and relatable. –Bret Fetzer Click here to get the DVD.
The Transporter (Les Transporteur) 2002
Move over, Vin Diesel, because The Transporter, Hong Kong action veteran Corey Yuen’s English-language directorial debut, is revving up to steal your thunder. As the other top-billed action star to emerge in 2002, British hunk Jason Statham–previously seen in Snatch, Ghosts of Mars, and The One–plays a hard-driving courier for well-heeled underworld clients. He follows simple rules: (1) Stick to the deal; (2) Don’t ask names; and (3) Don’t look in the packages he transports. All’s well until he violates rule 3, discovering a Chinese beauty (Qi Shu) in the trunk of his tricked-out BMW, and foiling a deadly plot to smuggle Chinese slaves through the port of Marseilles. The first hour is ass-kickin’ fun, and the stuntwork is impressive throughout, even as the plot degenerates into a predictable series of bone-breaking showdowns. Statham boasts an appealing combination of brains and brawn, suggesting the suave versatility of a promising career. Coproduced by action auteur Luc Besson and filmed on dazzling French locations, The Transporter is an action fan’s delight. –Jeff Shannon
Click here for the DVD.