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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 6.67%
Pretty Bad63.33%
Total Crap: 20%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Good Year, A
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by Erik Childress

"Ridley Scott’s Under the Tuscan Sun"
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I’m not a supporter of book burning by any stretch, but I’d be willing to bet that most readers wouldn’t lose sleep if not a further tale about people finding their inner selves in another country was published. Man or woman, old or young, it doesn’t matter. We’ve all seen pictures of France, Italy and London; the pretty ones anyway. We all know how beautiful it can be. Trust me, if you spent your whole life, sans vacation, wallowing in the suburbs or bumblejack country, a night in Downtown Chicago on a breezy summer night would feel like heaven by “the milkshake pool next to the lesbian cloud” (to quote a Scrubs-ism.) Of course, any vacation which could dry out Russell Crowe’s intensity is probably a good thing. Just not as a lark by his Gladiator director doing Benny Hill jokes while he discovers the joys of life.

Back when he was a boy, Max Skinner (Freddie Highmore) grew up on the French chateau owned by Uncle Henry (Albert Finney). His vineyard allows him big speeches on the glories of wine tasting which giving his nephew the kind of vacation home not afforded by aficionados of Franzia. While his formative years are skipped over, surely his spoiled existence attributed Max to become a money-and-power hungry stock broker (Russell Crowe) who still enjoys his wine but has an ego big enough to form his own entourage even if its invisible. Then comes word that Uncle Henry has died and Max is off to the south of France to finalize the paperwork.

Max has no regard for the vineyard workers he grew up with, Francis (Didier Bourdon) and wife Ludivine (Isabelle Candelier). Another day, another million, he’s looking for a quick sale of the estate and then back to the office. Only he’s put on suspension for a bit of insider finagling and decides to stay on a bit longer until the sale is completed. Naturally, this will give Max the time to reacquaint himself with the simple beauties of his youth and perhaps even a local beauty (Marion Cotillard) he’s had more than a few run-ins with than memory serves. Things get further complicated as another beauty shows up in the young package of Christie (Abbie Cornish) who claims to be the illegitimate daughter of the late Uncle; thus calling Max’s inheritance into question.

Oh the eternal dilemma of a rich guy who might lose out on becoming more rich. Ah, secre bleu, se ez more sen one way for a gentleman su be riche. Oh OK, it’s about a rich guy’s search for inner happiness too, the kind poor people usually can’t afford either. Before this turns into some rant about middle class ire, A Good Year takes a whole heap of time searching for its footing as well. Max is a confident, if unlikable chap that tests Hitchcock’s theory that audiences will like a character if he’s good at his job. But the indignities he must suffer - in the guise of the director of Alien, Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down adding slapstick to his resume – are so bumbled even by French comedy standards that the film stalls each time we have to wait for Crowe to climb out of an empty pool or do six laps in fast motion around a cul-de-sac in a tin can car while our brains pull up the Benny Hill theme and Curly’s “WHOOP-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop” to accompany it.

Max is typically the kind of snotball that usually shows up as the supporting villain deserving of his comuppances. But, we’ve supported these sort of selfish-to-philanthropic transitions before, so why not now? Mainly because by the time Max gets to busing tables for the pretty waitress (one of those blue collar gigs he had before becoming a power broker), we’re still not sold on his sincerity and the story doesn’t make him a clever enough schemer to win him points even as an anti-hero. If he were at least serious about putting the moves on his cousin, the comedy could have taken a decidedly darker turn into screwball realms, but there’s nothing to suggest that Christie is deserving of such treatment or anything but what she says she is all along. Part of that is due to the luminescent presence of Cornish, an Australian actress whom you can sense we’re about to see a lot more of. At the Toronto festival, I had just seen her as a drug addict in Candy where she resembled Naomi Watts’ kid sister. Then, in A Good Year, I didn’t even recognize her at first, but kept thinking that Charlize Theron’s little sister was making her first big screen splash. At least there’s likely one good thing to come out of this presumptious good year.

Like Ocean’s Twelve, its inescapable to imagine that the project was chosen as an excuse for some big-name actors to hang out in beautiful locales, while getting paid to keep up their exposure to audiences. Ridley Scott has no handle on the material, which breezes along without a sense of purpose except to flip off French cyclists with taunts of Lance Armstrong. Twice. Still the most amusing moment in the film. The first time, that is. It’s nice to see Crowe going for light comedy for a change, but its just the wrong character in the wrong project altogether for an actor whose on-screen career has been defined not just by award-level performances but script choices deserving of them (Mystery, Alaska aside.) Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography makes the film a beauty to look at, but its little more than a souvenier given to you when your wealthy friends get back and tell you all about their glorious vacation. You nod your head, smile here and there and after you leave you tell them to stuff it.

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originally posted: 10/20/06 01:48:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/22/08 rori mullinos brilliand to watch 5 stars
1/19/08 Troy McCullough Me and my girlfriend loved it , we thought what a nice leave you smiling movie... 5 stars
12/12/06 William Goss Goes down better than it should, but the strain to be light is constantly apparent. 3 stars
11/21/06 Jack Mooney Looks like they tried too hard 3 stars
11/13/06 baabee delightful ! I saw everyone wearing a smile when leaving. 5 stars
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  10-Nov-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Feb-2007



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