Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Good Year, A (DVD) (2006)

Stunt casting alert!

A Good Year is a fine piece of movie that relies on stunt casting as its central gimmick. Russell Crowe, known everywhere as the burly, manly actor who appears on-screen in ultra-masculine roles (a Roman general, a captain of a ship, a boxer) in action flicks, and who gets into fights with people off screen. Stunt casting occurs twice here, when for some reason, Russell Crowe is cast as a lead in a mellow romantic comedy that directed by Ridley Scott. This is doubly gimmicky, because A Good Year is an adaptation of a novel by Peter Mayle, the writer of the "Life in Provence" series of books, about a former English go-getter investor who finds a second, more humane and relaxed life in France.

To wit: Russell Crowe plays a lying, cheating, cold-hearted stock investor who makes lots of money. Everyone in London financial circles is jealous of his competence, everyone hates his guts, and everyone secretly wants to be like him. When news of the passing of his favourite uncle (a man who went native as a winemaker in Provence decades ago) reaches him, Max Skinner does the only sensible thing to the vineyard where he spent his best childhood summers at. Yes, the talented corporate raider intends to give the aging walls a fresh coat of paint, pass off its substandard wines as vintage microbrews, and sell the place - lock stock and barrel - to the highest, unsuspecting bidder.

Given that this is a romantic comedy, do not be surprised when the character everyone loves to hate suddenly undergoes a personality change and morphs into Mr Nice Guy before the movie is over. And given its pedigree as an entry in the Provence series, do not be surprised when Mr Moneybags gets overwhelmed by the provincial Provencal culture, its fiery women, fine wines and lush sunshine reflected in golden hues from leaves, and turns into Mr Sensitive Guy.

This is a movie that you'll either love or hate, really. There's Russell Crowe playing completely against type, matched only by director Ridley Scott directing against type. There's the whole improbable self-transforming experience story whose smugness can only be matched by the "cute little exotic French rural province" story that Peter Mayle is equally and strongly loved or reviled for. Sure, all the Oscar-worthy acting chops of Russell Crowe and Albert Finney are here, as is Ridley Scott's directorial excellence (do watch out for the brilliant colours of provincial France!) - but what really bought me into this movie was the unaffected story, set as flashbacks from Max Skinner's childhood. The interplay between Freddie Highmore and Albert Finney brings to mind the quality of childhood, and the nostalgia one gets from recalling scenes from childhood. If you have no problems with the stunt casting and the genre itself, A Good Year is a surprisingly Good Movie.

DVD review

Very tastefully done is Postcards from Provence. You can either, in the old style of embedded videos, switch to the mini-features in the middle of the movie at certain cues, or view the mini-features on their own through the Special Features menu. Through providing behind the camera footage of key scenes, Ridley Scott talks about the great cast of actors in the movie while showing how film production works. One thing you'll notice is that the director's commentary continues after those scenes and trails off halfway - it's all part of the full-movie director commentary, which of course isn't included in our local region-release DVD. It's an extremely annoying effect, and frankly, if you bothered enough to watch these features - which are basically director commentaries and videos - you'd be interested enough to give the full-movie director commentary a spin.

The music videos are fascinating enough - it's not quite well-known that Russell Crowe had a career as a rock singer. The 3 music videos feature original music by "Russell Crowe and The Ordinary Fear of God". Okay, Mr Crowe is a decent enough rock singer, and his band seem to be melodically inclined... but we suggest the actor has far greater talent in acting...

First published at incinemas on 14 May 2007

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