A little bit of French Kiss mixes with the screwball elements of The Valet and The Closet for a fun, wild romp in this romantic comedy set in the French Riviera. Audrey Tautou stars in this fabulously funny film about a woman looking less for love and more for money in a beau. Being devastatingly beautiful helps her snag some rich gentlemen, but it also snags her a bartender, whom she mistakes for a wealthy playboy and he does little to correct her misperception. From there, the two set about together trying to out-do each other in the “rich” loves department. The bartender, who was hilarious in The Valet, is played by comic French star Gad Elmaleh. Between Tautou and him, they make the movie…his expressions of terror and her naivety make for a highly entertaining film.

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Not being one of Roman Polanski’s biggest fans, I was initially apprehensive about this one. But, I like Harrison Ford and Betty Buckley so I gave it a try. It is a sharp, exciting thriller that really utilizes the feel and atmosphere of Paris. Many thrillers fall short of using location to heighten or complicate the suspense. Polanski really captures the essence of Paris here…from the elegant, tourist side to the dark, seedy underbelly. The plot keeps pretty simple…an American doctor, in Paris for a convention, is convinced his wife has been kidnapped. Yes, it is a little more convoluted than that, but that’s the gist of it. From there, Polanski weaves a thrilling tale of intrigue that will keep you riveted until the finale.

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Bernardo Bertolucci continually pushes the envelope and sometimes, I feel, he does it deliberately just to stir up controversy. That is how I felt when I heard about The Dreamers . Once again, the film opening was mired in a heated uproar about the rating system (it was eventually given an NC-17 though an R-rated version was also released on DVD) and sex in motion pictures. So, when I rented it, it was just to see if Bertolucci was once again living up to the reputation I had given him as an over-hyped director. I half expected to fast forward through most of it. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. The film is a good one and deserved to get more praise than it did when it was released, rather than just notoriety over its high sexual content. Yes, the film is sexual. It has graphic erotic scenes (I’m basing this review from the R-rated version), even some incestuous sexuality, which Bertolucci has used before in his films (Luna, in particular). Aside from the sexuality, the story and characters are interesting and captivating. It is a solid, vibrant coming-of-age piece with young people searching for a life like the ones they see in their favorite classic movies. The sexuality is a side note…a distraction that does pertain to the plot but does not actually move any of the action forward. Did this film need to be as sexual as it was? No, but Bertolucci so enjoys stepping over that line and inciting controversy that I’m not sure he could make a movie without sex. And, sadly, that controversy kept some people from seeing a film that is a good story about love and friendship and should be seen.

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The Day of the Jackal was a surprise to me. I have tried other 1960s/1970s-era spy films and had not liked them…The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Odessa File, etc. When this Fred Zimmemann film came on cable one night, I begrudgingly thought I would give it a go, but expected I’d be turning it off quickly. I didn’t. I was totally engrossed in the story and captivated by the inner workings of the main characters. The story begins in the 1960s with a failed assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle and leads us into a web of intrigue about a secret French organization that is determined to succeed in killing then President de Gaulle. This film plays like a documentary, which makes it slower-paced and more intense. Mostly filled with unknown actors (or at least actors who are not known to me) with the exception of Derek Jacobi…playing a Frenchman, no less…The Day of the Jackal demands all of your attention. If you take your eyes away from the screen for a second, an important detail might be missed. I’ve watched this one several times since I first saw it and each viewing, I catch something new…something that makes me like the film even more. From start to finish, this one captivates…it is truly one of the best, most taut spy thrillers ever made.

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This film is unlike most of the thrillers I have seen…and I have seen a lot of them. It is smart and clever and unexpected. A little bit of horror mixes with some science, some drama and a lot of strange characters to achieve an edge-of-your-seat film. I guess I should take time here to tell you that some of the plot (especially toward the ending) is a little confused…OK, a lot confused. It involves science and genetics and anything to do with science is pretty much Greek to me (or any other language). At first, I thought I was alone in my confusion but I watched some of the special features on the DVD and the cast and crew were talking about how they didn’t even understand it completely. It’s kind of like the Macguffin in Hitchcock’s films…it doesn’t matter WHAT the thing is, it just matters how exciting it is to find it. What kept me most intrigued with the story were the characters and the quick pacing of the action. It is hard to take a breath during this one…things just keep happening. Sometimes, you don’t know why or how they are happening, but by the time you figure it out, something else is happening. Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play excellently off each other…Reno is brooding and Cassel is inexperienced and impetuous. The way Cassel involves himself with Reno’s case is clever and not the usual “action” movie cliché of “pairing up” the old master with the young guy that has a lot to learn. If you like action thrillers, this is one you will not want to miss!

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First off, I’m not a big fan of “historical” or “costume” pics, but this one for me worked. It is a love story, a thriller, a drama and a heartwarming tale of both friendship and a saga of life-long betrayed all rolled into one. Based on the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas, this story has been told before in movies, and probably will be told again…I mean there is so much hatred and passion in this one that it’s hard for filmmakers to resist using it for subject matter. What makes this version captivating for me was the look and feel of the film, and also the performances by both main players…Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce. Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a man dastardly wronged by a man he assumed was his close friend…Fernand Mondego. Pierce is so malicious and cruel in this film that it’s still hard for me to see him in anything else and not see him as a villain. And Caviezel is convincing as a man who will stop at nothing to get revenge. The film is visually stunning, set mostly in France which has never looks better. The visuals themselves are so vivid that they tell their own story…so even if you’ve read the book or seen another version before, check this one out…for the look alone!

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Cara Black starts off her series with lead character Aimee Leduc in the book Murder in the Marais. What starts out as a simple and overpaid job of hunting down a encripted website, ends up becoming a case of murder. Aimee finds the body and sets in motion an investigation that goes all the way up to the top level of French politics.

The Marais is the traditionally Jewish section of Paris. And this is where the French Jews were rounded up during the occupation. Memories are long for injustices, and Aimee finds she is sifting through the history of the occupation in order to find out who would want an elderly Jewish woman murdered and who wants her to stop investigating.

This is a fast paced story but Black gives the reader enough time to get to know Aimee and her unusal background. Black hints at the fact that Aimee has secrets of her own that will be revealed in later books. Aimee is a tough character who has been trained by her recently deceased father in the art of detection. And it does not take the reader long to admire her tenacity and skill at going undercover to figure out the case. I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series. A good mystery and a very good read.

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Murder On the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner is a wonderful book that combines history and mystery to produce a fun work of fiction. We are immersed from the beginning in the 1889 World Exposition in Paris. The entire city is focused on the new Eiffel Tower and the exposition. The joy and the excitement of going up to the viewing platforms has visitors in a frenzy. And when someone is murdered on the platform, the case makes front page news. But who would murder a maiden aunt taking her niece and nephews on an outing? Victor Legris, a young bookseller, is on the platform with newspaper friends when this happens and wants to find the culprit. And when more people start dying after visiting the viewing platforms and the exposition, he is determined to solve the case – even as his friends are turning into suspects.

The author (really a pen name for two lady booksellers in modern France) brings to life the Paris of the time, and Victor’s occupations as bookseller and book critic. Victor is a compelling character who is trying to be modern but finds he is more conservative than he thinks he is. With a cast of interesting secondary characters, the story allows us a brief glimpse into their world. And we had a wonderful time. A very fun read.

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