Blindspot 2015: A Good Year (2006)

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Plot: A British investment broker inherits his uncle’s chateau and vineyard in Provence, where he spent much of his childhood. He discovers a new laid-back lifestyle as he tries to renovate the estate to be sold.

Rating: 6.5/10

It seems inconceivable that Russel Crowe and Ridley Scott could combine to commit such a stupendously formulaic movie. A Good Year is the last movie for my Blindspot selections for 2015, and it definitely was not the best. It really is okay – nothing bad or offensive, but seriously boring. The best part of the film is definitely the ode to a good wine and followed shortly by the lovely way the film was shot in sun kissed tones.

A Good Year is a mildly interesting rom-com, but lacks characters that you can emphasize or associate with. The male lead is constantly depicted as a terrible person that delights in bringing others down. The female lead is colored for a short while as a lady with a sad past that isn’t interested in a relationship, but is only mentioned as a token because it is never talked about again.

Then there is the relationship between Crowe and Cottliard’s characters, so ridiculous in a genre that is known for its’ preposterous notions on love.  First, Max Skinner nearly kills Fanny Chenal because he was texting and driving, after which he unearths waiter skills completely unexpected to his character, then there’s a date, kissing, sex, and boom, she’s the love of his life. That seems completely plausible no matter how you phrase it hey? Then there is the entire plot line with the unexpected heir that is actually totally nice and doesn’t want to beat Crowe up for lying to her all the time and selling her inheritance. Don’t forget to mention the whining best friend that is suddenly all amenable and sweet when presented with a sunburnt woman in need of ice on her back. And the whole secrecy regarding the special branding of wine that no one knows where it comes from but there are significant looks everywhere. Silly silly silly.

The film is however, as previously mentioned, beautifully directed and has soft tones to complement the gorgeous Parisian countryside. A Good Year was entertaining enough, but falls very far below the par if you consider the other films on my Blindspot list this year. I will do a recap shortly into the New Year – I’ve had a blast of a time with these films.

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Amélie (2001)

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Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tatou), born to a strict, hysterical mother and a reclusive father, was indirectly diagnosed with a heart defect as a child. Believing it to be too dangerous for her to attend school, her mother taught her at home. She was thus prevented from interacting with other children and as a result became shy and coped with her loneliness by retreating into her vivid imagination.

Life becomes more lonely when her mother dies, and Amélie leaves home as a young adult and becomes a waitress. The Café she works in has eccentricity in its employees as well as regular customers, and after a few unsuccessful relationships Amélie is content with her work there and living in her own world, taking pleasure from all the small things in life.

Amélie finds a hidden compartment in a wall of her apartment, and within childhood memorabilia. Amélie decides to find its owner and return it to him, and if her act of kindness achieves a satisfactory result, Amélie vows to become and devote her life in doing good things for other people.

At first the search for Dominique Bredoteau is frustrating and pointless, but Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), a painter in Amélie’s building, helps her by pointing out that the correct spelling of Dominique’s surname would be “Bretodeau”. With this information Amélie easily find the owner of the lost merchandise, and when he is moved to tears Amélie is happy to embark on her new found purpose.

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Amélie secretly helps people around her, and her life becomes highly entertaining, although she is still in a bubble. When Mr. Dufayel discovers Amélie is starting to become interested into a quirky young man she keeps bumping into at the train station, he encourages Amélie to pursue him. Amélie starts a game with Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), and he soon starts searching avidly for her.

Will Amélie overcome her shyness to take the leap to meet Nino?

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Nino is late. Amelie can only see two explanations. 1 – he didn’t get the photo. 2 – before he could assemble it, a gang of bank robbers took him hostage. The cops gave chase. They got away… but he caused a crash. When he came to, he’d lost his memory. An ex-con picked him up, mistook him for a fugitive, and shipped him to Istanbul. There he met some Afghan raiders who too him to steal some Russian warheads. But their truck hit a mine in Tajikistan. He survived, took to the hills, and became a Mujaheddin. Amelie refuses to get upset for a guy who’ll eat borscht all his life in a hat like a tea cozy.

Rating: 7.5/10

Zoë noticed that I have been having such a run of movies with the French in and it is really true. After seeing and loving Midnight in Paris, I had a big yen to watch another feel good movie. Amélie certainly fits the bill. It is quirky and fun, and the romance aspect isn’t overbearing. It had a bit of a slow first half hour but after that the movie developed really well. Audrey Tatou and Mathieu Kassovitz are both very interesting actors and their portrayals were very well done. They had great chemistry and I thoroughly enjoyed their unorthodox courtship.

This movie is definitely about the triumph of shy people. Amélie’s social awkwardness was endearing and sad at the same time. I really enjoyed her elaborate plans and her clear views on who is good and who is bad.

Recommendation: If you don’t mind subtitles, or if you speak French, give this a try because you will most likely enjoy it!

Midnight in Paris (2010)

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I believe that love that is true and real, creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving or not loving well, which is the same thing. And then the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face, like some rhino-hunters I know or Belmonte, who is truly brave… It is because they make love with sufficient passion, to push death out of their minds… until it returns, as it does, to all men… and then you must make really good love again.

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is touring Paris with his unsatisfied fiancée Inez (Rachel MacAdams), who just doesn’t share his affection for the beautiful French town. Even though Gil is a successful screenwriter, he wishes to be a writer living in Paris, preferably in the 1920’s if he could have his way. Inez shoots all his ideas down and doesn’t seem to think he could make it as a writer. Her parents share these sentiments and want Gil to continue earning huge amounts of cash so that he and Inez can set up in Malibu after their wedding.

Inez and Gil find that Paul (Michael Sheen) and his girlfriend are also touring France. Inez seems very impressed by the pedantic Paul, who just thinks he knows absolutely everything about anything. He offers to read and critique Gil’s novel, and Inez supports the offer, oblivious that Gil would hate it.

Inez and Paul decide to go dancing after a wine tasting. Gil, a bit drunk, declines and walks the streets of Paris. As midnight strikes, Paul is picked up by an old fashioned Peugeot car and lands back in the 1920s. He meets a large amount of his literary idols – Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). When Hemingway hears that Gil is busy with a novel, he takes him to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who promises to read it and offer her opinion.

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Naturally Inez does not believe a word of the story and she leaves before Gil can prove it the following night. Gil takes his novel to Gertrude Stein and meets Pablo Picasso and his beautiful lover, Adriana (Marion Cottliard). Adriana is immediately impressed when she hears the first few lines of his novel, and Gil is very taken with her.

Gil spends more time in the 1920’s, irritating Inez and alerting the suspicions of her father Paul (Michael Sheen), who employs a private detective to find out what Gil is up to. Gil is becoming more attracted to Adriana, but when she finds out that he is engaged she distances herself slightly. Adriana leaves Picasso and goes on a trip to Africa with Hemingway, but Gertrude Stein is sure that it will not last.

Back in the present, Inez shops for furniture while Gil looks at antiques. He meets Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux), a beautiful French lady who shares his affection for the Lost Generation. Gil stumbles upon a priceless treasure – a diary of Adrienne that mentions him by name.

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Gil returns to the past where he gives Adriana a gift. They kiss, and a horse-drawn carriage arrives, taking them back to the 1890’s. Adriana expresses her desire to remain there, and Gil is perplexed with her claims that the 1890’s was the golden age, not the 1920’s. They part ways, with Gil returning to 2011.

After rewriting the first two chapters, Stein is very much impressed with the progress Gil has made as a writer. She even says that Hemingway liked it, but wonders why the main character does not realise that his fiancé is sleeping with another character, characters that were based on Inez and Paul. Gil realises what this means, and confronts Inez. She admits to the affair but discards its importance, but Gil calls an end to the relationship, telling her that they will be happier apart and that he has chosen to stay in Paris. Inez is furious, but her parents also think that their separation is a wonderful idea.

As Gil once more walks the streets of Paris, he meets Gabrielle again, and they take a walk in the rain.

Rating: 7.5/10

I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris. I had an inkling this movie would be good. I was completely right about it (and who doesn’t love being right?!). Midnight in Paris is beautifully directed and I just fell in love with everything about it. The scenery, the love for Paris (it reignited my desperate need to stand under the Eiffel Tower), the way Paris is portrayed, and the absolutely shockingly amazing performance by Owen Wilson all just contributed to my utter enjoyment of the film.

Rachel MacAdams was for the first time ever such a disgusting cow in a role and she obviously has real acting skills to be able to portray Inez and be Ally from the Notebook at the same time. Inez irritated and frustrated me beyond belief and her idiocy of not seeing the worth of Gil while being utterly charmed by the know it all Paul.

The questioning of Gil’s sanity is charmingly underplayed and kept me riveted. Was he hallucinating? Was this all going to end in a sad way? I really kept wondering until Adrienne’s journal was found as confirmation, and even then I wasn’t sure of Gil’s mental stability. I absolutely LOVED Owen Wilson in here. He was funny and charming and really looked like a disorganised writer.

I think Marion Cottliard is a lovely actress and she was so mysterious in here. I hoped they would end up together but their eventual separation was mutual and beneficial. This was one of those movies where the star studded cast didn’t overwhelm or deduct from the final story being told, and I found a famous face entertaining rather than exhausting when being introduced.

Lastly, I really liked that even though there was a love story being told, it wasn’t gooey, and the comedy in the movie wasn’t overwhelming. I am not sure how I would classify this, but I certainly wouldn’t classify it as a rom-com. It is much too intelligent, funny and truly charming to fall into that category, and I actually enjoy rom-coms now and again.

I can really see myself watching this again.

Recommendation: It is a feel good movie and I would think that most people would enjoy this!

Taken (2009)

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Bryan: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you. 

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) seems to be an elderly man that retired to be closer to his daughter. Kim (Maggie Grace) lives with her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen) and her wealthy stepfather (Xander Berkeley). On Kim’s birthday, Bryan gives her a karaoke set, and while she loves it, her stepfather’s gift of a horse vastly overshadows the thoughtful gift Bryan spent months deciding over.

Bryan agrees to do some security work with his friends to protect a pop star, Sheerah (Holly Valance) at a performance. When the crowd breaks loose and someone tries to hurt her, Bryan shows his impressive defensive skillset and saves her life and gets her to safety. Grateful, Sheerah offers her help, and the help of her assistants, to Kim, who wants to be a singer too.

Bryan plans to tell Kim what he organised for her the following day but she once again overshadows his extremely thoughtful acts. Kim and Lenore shows up to ask Bryan’s permission that Kim can travel with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to Paris to presumably see art museums. Bryan is worried, having seen how evil the world is, and rejects Kim’s pleas. Later on he agrees with a very strict set of rules: that she calls him when she lands, each night and if she plans to move location. Kim agrees, and accepts the international phone her father hands her.

At the LA Airport, Bryan discovers that Kim and Amanda are planning to follow U2 on their European tour, not visit museums. He is even more upset when he finds out Lenore knew of their plan and did not tell him. She manages to get him to still allow Kim to board the plane, assuring him that the teens will be fine.

Kim and Amanda meet Peter (Nicolas Giraud) a handsome young man at the Paris Airport. They are very excited about his interest in them, and they agree to share a taxi to save on costs. They tell him a lot about themselves, and Amanda shares that they have the flat in Paris to themselves, something Kim didn’t know about, and she is upset because she promised her father there would be some supervision. The moment Peter is alone he calls someone telling them the exact location of the two girls.

Inside the apartment, Kim gradually relaxes and starts having a good time. After using the bathroom, she notices her father tried to call her, and while talking to him assailants appear and she sees Amanda being attacked by men. She hysterically tells her father what is happening, and Bryan gets her to crawl under a bed in the closest bedroom. He tells her that they assailants are going to take her, and when they do, she should keep the call going and call out as many identifiable characteristics she can. Moments later, she is snatched from the bed and taken away. Bryan tells the person who is listening, one of the assailants, that if his daughter isn’t left alone, Bryan will find and kills them.

Back in the States, Bryan is calmly working through panic. He calls on a former colleague Sam (Leland Orser), who identifies the accents of the assailants as Albanian, and tells him that it is most likely an Albanian human trafficking ring that targets female tourists at the airport, getting them hooked onto drugs and then keeping them in prostitution. Bryan, who put this entire conversation on speakerphone in Lenore and Stuart’s house, makes sure that the successful Stuart didn’t have any enemies wanting to get back at him. When that is cleared up, he asks Stuart to organize him a plane into Paris immediately, and Lenore begs Bryan to get her back safely. He tells her that he must first find their daughter to do that.

                Bryan immediately heads to the flat where Kim and Amanda would have stayed, and investigates the signs of fighting, and quickly analyses where Kim was taken. He gets the broken phone and the memory card with the photos Kim took on, and makes Peter out in the reflection he took of them.

Bryan sees Peter at the airport, but Peter is killed by a bus before giving any helpful information. Bryan meets an old associate, Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin), who is now behind a desk and sorely wishes to leave Paris whole and not suffer under Bryan’s hunt for his daughter. He does point Bryan to Porte de Chichy, where it is rumoured that the prostitution there is being run by an East European gang. Jean-Claude gets someone to tail Bryan, but Bryan is able to easily dodge him. Jean-Claude warns that Bryan will get deported if he continues with his vigilante justice, but Bryan avoids arrest when Jean-Claude tries to corner him.

Bryan gets to a brothel and finds Kim on a prostitute that is very high on drugs. Fighting off the brothel guards, he manages to get the girl to safety, and after feeding her some proper medication to help her, she reveals Kim gave it to her. She gives Bryan information about a house with a red door, and Bryan manages to track it down. There he eventually finds the man he warned on the phone, and after torturing him Marko (Arben Bajraktaraj) tells Bryan that Kim will be sold to the highest bidder at an auction.

                Will Bryan find Kim alive and whole, and most importantly, before she is sold and never seen again?

Rating: 8/10

This movie looked appealing right from the start and did not disappoint in the least. It is one of the best action movies I have watched in ages, and the storyline was solid and based on terrifying truths. I can definitely see myself watching this again; it might even become a recurring type of event.

Liam Neeson was excellent as Bryan Mills, and every punishing act he delivered was with conviction. I loved that Bryan had no qualms taking down people who were hurting his most prized possession, and that he was able to do it with so much talent.

It took me some time recognising where I had seen Famke Jansen (in Breaking Dawn) and I think the role of Kim suited her perfectly well. I had great sympathy and angst for her and Amanda, and thought that they were getting such harsh “punishment” for a simple vacation, even though Kim wasn’t completely honest with her dad about the plans for the trip.

I was eventually so pissed with Jean-Claude and how he was willing to sacrifice Kim and his friendship with Bryan just to have a comfortable lifestyle. It seemed to be a recurring theme, the “hey, it is not personal, it is business” and I especially enjoyed Patrice Saint-Clair’s demise. I mean honestly, who takes some man’s daughter into a life of horror and prostitution and expects him to see it as not personal?!

This movie made a lot of things clear:

Never mess with Liam Neeson, or his daughter,

Don’t travel alone

DON’T travel to Paris alone

DON’T speak to charming French men (is there even such a thing, Zoe?)

Travel with a big strong guy, or Liam Neeson.Have you seen Taken?

Did you love/hate it? Tell me!