February 28th Log
A GOOD YEAR
2006, Ridley Scott, United States
1st Viewing, DVD
A Good Year opens with a young boy playing chess with his uncle. We see him cheat to win and this transitions “a few vintages later’ where we see the boy is grown up (Russell Crowe) and working a high-end job as a big money stock trader. The film occasionally flashes back to his childhood as Crowe returns there after his uncle dies and leaves the estate to him. A Good Year is a predictable film in the sense that we know everything that is coming, yet the overall fun and conventional charm is appealing. This is a reteaming of Crowe and director Ridley Scott and it is interesting (if not perfect) seeing both out of there element in a more light-hearted comedy. I wouldn’t consider Crowe the next Cary Grant or Scott the next Frank Capra, but that is the spirit they reach and on most levels they achieve. The real charm of the film comes in the old-fashioned way Scott handles his stars. Besides Crowe he gives compassionate treatment of the supporting cast (Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander, Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore, Didier Bourdon, Archie Panjabi). Especially good is the radiant presence of Marion Cotillard who is given a wonderful star entrance. Cotillard has always been one of my favorite French actresses and hopefully this film will earn her more acclaim in the United States. She is radiant here and is essentially the brightest piece of the film. A Good Year has its flaws, but most of them come when Cotillard is offscreen. The film has some sweet messages about timing and enjoying the true pleasures of life, but it is told in a way that is never too serious. Most of this has been recycled, but A Good Year is a film that seems to embrace the old-fashioned romantic comedies.
THE BLACK DAHLIA
2006, Brian De Palma, Germany / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD
I had planned on watching a different film, but pushed it off for next month simply because I’ve had an itch to watch Brian De Palma’s latest film again. I really enjoyed this film and continue to hear negative feedback. Was I just in a good mood the day I watched it, or I am to forgiving of Brian De Palma’s style over substance filmmaking? What ever it is I enjoy this film on many levels and a repeat viewing only furthered that feeling. What I admire is his style but more specifically the way De Palma captures a moment on a purely visual level. This is expressed most remarkably in a pivotal setup sequence which ultimately combines the two parallel narratives of the film. It is a stunning long crane shot that recalls the mastery of Welles opening shot in Touch of Evil. The Black Dahlia is loaded with noirish elements and perhaps this is the other factor that attracts me to it. The performances aren’t that memorable, but the talented cast is good enough to perform within De Palma moody atmosphere and Vilmos Zsigmond’s expressive stylish photography. The one performance that really stands out is in the films darkest and most haunting moments of fictionalized black-and-white screen tests of Elizabeth Short (highlighted by the performance of Mia Kirshner alongside De Palma's behind the scenes voice as the director). At the center of The Black Dahlia is one of De Palma’s lasting obsessions as a filmmaker: which is that of the lasting subconscious memory. Here it is the image of Elizabeth Smart and even when the crime is solved, De Palma’s remains more focused on the lingering memory that will continue to haunt the detective.