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Movie review

  • 2006-11-29
A Good Year
Fearless

A Good Year
Based on Peter Mayles' bestselling novel "A Year In Provence," "A Good Year" is about high-flying London trader Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) who returns to the estate of his recently deceased Uncle Henry in the south of France where he was raised. Stripped of the trappings of his shallow life, his childhood memories begin to come back in waves. In regular flashbacks, he recalls his uncle's lust for life which has somehow eluded him. As he prepares to callously sell the place off, he becomes wary of the motives of the caretaker of his uncle's terroir and an alleged illegitimate American daughter who could be a competing heir. Directed by Hollywood veteran Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner," "Gladiator"), the film revolves entirely around Crowe whose performance is both charming and touching. Despite a thin love story between Skinner and a local French woman, "A Good Year" is tinged with a humor and lightness reflective of its Provencal locations. Much levity is made of the age-old rivalries between the English and the French. The film neither glorifies the world of the London trader nor the idyllic life in the south of France. I haven't read the book, but the film makes me want to. 
1/2 ( Sherwin Das )

Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott obviously decided they needed a vacation and so went off to shoot a film in picturesque Provence. Moreover, they decided to show the world that they could do comedy and were not merely limited to gladiatorial epics in which Crowe had to say such memorable lines as "I am weary from battle." The problem is that "A Good Year" is not a good movie. The romance is about as romantic as a NATO summit. The comedy is about as funny as a NATO summit. And the movie as a whole is about as enthralling as a NATO summit. The story is basically that greedy, immoral, money-making bastard Max Skinner (Crowe) inherits a beautiful chateau in Provence when his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) dies. Skinner plans to sell it off as quickly as possible and make a quick killing. But then he falls in love with a beautiful local waitress and rediscovers the good life. Hence the "good year" bit of the title, which also alludes to wine, which is a central metaphor of this profound meditation on the vicissitudes of life. Or am I talking about the NATO summit? I'm confused, I don't mind admitting it.  
1/2 ( Tim Ochser )

Fearless
Set in China near the turn of the last century, "Fearless" is based on the life story of legendary "wushu" (martial arts) champion, Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li). When the talented fighter's arrogance early in life leads to tragedy, he leaves home humbled and disgraced, roaming aimlessly across the vast country. Found and nursed back to health by a beautiful blind woman from a mountain village, he begins his physical and spiritual regeneration. Returning home, he founds a martial arts school and cements his reputation as a respected teacher and unrivaled fighter. "Fearless" masquerades as an epic period piece but flirts with being (and is marketed as) a martial arts movie. Fans of both genres will be disappointed as it is neither the former nor the latter. In this conventional film about redemption, there is no shortage of long melodramatic close-ups of heroes and evil villains portrayed as caricatures. Li's acting range is clearly limited and hinders the more serious ambitions of the film. Historically, it is of some interest, however, as Huo seems to represent the victory of traditional Chinese culture and values over the physical and economic strength of China's occupiers at the turn of the century. 
( Sherwin Das )

The tagline for Jet Li's latest action movie, "Fearless," epically reads: "Fate made him a warrior, courage made him a hero." Well, by this same logic I could say that "Hollywood made Jet Li a martial arts actor, Fearless made him a martial arts great." Li, the inferior successor of Jackie Chan, the slightly less inferior successor of Bruce Lee, finally proves himself worthy of such company. Unlike Li's previous action films, which, in hindsight, seem to blend into one long stream of kung-fu fighting, "Fearless" actually creates scenes to remember. For example, when Li takes on a cunning group of…wait… wasn't that in… or was that Bruce Lee… never mind… I forget. Well, whatever it was I was watching, I enjoyed it immensely at the time. So I can't recall much of the plot, but there was good versus bad, mystery and murder, stunt after stunt, quip after quip, stunt, quip, stunt. Lots of swords, lots of kicks, lots of grunts. Although it may not be clear from my review, "Fearless" is clearly Li's most impressive film yet. Finally, he shows formidable talent as both a martial arts stuntman and professional actor. The film is beautifully choreographed and a joy to watch 
( Tim Ochser )
 

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