Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Good Year

Review by Michael Jaffe

Rarely can I say that I am a sap. I loathe and openly mock romantic comedies, heartfelt family films and Russell Crowe. But when a film takes the most predictable story line of all, casts Russell Crowe in the lead and sets it in France, a country which, I must say, is not really my favorite, the obvious prediction is that the only thing to put me in a good mood is the end credits. How wrong I was. A GOOD YEAR, Ridley Scott’s break from epic pictures, sets Mr. Crowe as a money grubbing, English asshole who goes to France to claim his uncles chateau, and learns a lesson about life in the process. Its as run of the mill as you can get. As I started the film up, I rolled my eyes because you have Ridley Scott, the guy who made BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN and GLAIATOR and BLACK RAIN, making a small picture about life lessons. But while the scope of the film may be small, it hits its mark as neither a comedy nor a drama, but simply a charming little film with moments of both.
While it didn’t really hit many of the emotional chords that it was aiming for, the acting and cinematography was superb. It was as if I was watching UNDER THE TUSCAN sun again but actually liking the movie! Russell Crowe doesn’t really do much in the role other than hit every line just right. The flashback scenes, that have to his childhood, feature Albert Finney, who could whistle for two hours and I wouldn’t be able to blink, as his Uncle Henry and the time young Max, played by Freddie Highmore, spend together. Freddie Highmore does a most excellent impression of Mr. Crowe. The true star of the picture though is Marion Cotillard. Now everybody’s sweetheart after winning the Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf, here she takes a simple role and really doesn’t do anything extraordinary with it. The incredible part is that while as Ms. Piaf she covered her beauty, her it shines so bright. While gorgeous, charming and truly endearing in the role of Max love interest, I can’t help but get slack jawed at her very appearance on screen. She truly is a joy to watch.
The second most beautiful thing in the film is the southern French countryside. Mr. Scott must really have a love for where they shot because while London is shot as a dark, lonely industrial city, the countryside is all warmth and nature. As someone who has been to the south of France and stayed in a chateau, all I could think about was how it was exactly as I remember it. And that is what this film really boils down to; a very beautiful and predictable love. While unrealistic and truly fantastical in its spendor sometime, all I wanted to do afterwards was listen to Yves Montand on vinyl on the veranda of my chateau with a beautiful woman, a handsome cigar and a bottle of the deepest red wine I can find. 7/10

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Review by Michael Jaffe

By writing a review of STRANGE WILDERNESS I am doing something that really shouldn’t be attempted: intellectualizing this film. And by using the word “film” I am probably overdoing it again. STRANGE WILDERNESS is a collection of scenes filmed with reckless abandon, some of which are hysterical because of their obvious spontaneity and some which make you stare slack jawed at your neighbor as if to ask “is this movie real?” That this is a major release really is a testament to Adam Sandler’s power in Hollywood because this is exactly like GRANDMA’S BOY. There are a lot of Sandler cronies floating around, being high and doing ridiculous shit that is just like what any other 20-year-old stoners would do except more extreme.
The basic premise for STRANGE WILDERNESS is that Peter Gaulke (played by Steve Zahn) and Fred Wolf (Allen Covert of GRANDMA’S BOY) make a wilderness show called “Strange Wilderness” except that it sucks and will get cancelled if they can’t get something for better ratings. Then an old friend shows up and says for 1000 dollars they can buy a map that takes them to Ecuador and a cave where big foot lives. Hilarity ensues. The plot and the series of events that ensues makes so little sense you will cause yourself sever damage if you try to understand what is transpiring. The characters are all very odd and all the faces involved (Zahn, Covert, Kevin “FARVA!” Heffernan, Justin “HI, I’m a Mac” Long, Jonah “the fat kid from SUPERBAD” Hill and Ernest “I’m 90 and have an Oscar. Why am I in this” Borgnine) are well known and relatively respected comedians who have done much better work in other films and apparently were offered a million dollars each to shoot in Disney land’s fake jungle for 2 weeks and smoke a lot of weed with producer Sandler. Justin Long is surprisingly hilarious as a guy who really has smoked himself retarded and isn’t giving up his favorite herb anytime soon.
There really is about 60 minutes of real movie here and then just a lot of sidetracked insanity. There is nitrous oxide inhalation, body paint, weird tattoos, lots of weird fake penises, a boob, lots of stupid jokes and actually a few spots where I laughed out loud. I am not sure you should see this movie without any type of substance, but I did and I FELT high when I walked out of the theatre. It truly is an unbelievable feat that this film in its current state was made and released to the public.
I laughed and gaped in astonishment and just about had one of the more enjoyable times at the movies I have had in a while. With terribly low expectations going in, the stupid, lowbrow humor was exactly what I was expecting except more. With such films as NARNIA and NATIONAL TREASURE making hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, dumbing the masses, I am glad films like STRANGE WILDERNESS still exist where reasonably intelligent youths can go and forget about the horror that is real life and seriousness (fuck you Hillary, I’m voting for Barack). If a viewer can accept that this is a piece of shit film, it really becomes a hilarious, R-rated episode of the live action SIMPSONS with dumber writers and more innuendo. Its nuts. You’ll love it. 6/10 sober, 11/10 when fucked up.

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