In the summer of 1977 disgraced former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) sat down with British TV talk show host and interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen) for a series of interviews that Nixon hoped would resuscitate his Watergate-tarnished image and Frost hoped would lift his own career to another level. While it made for good TV at the time it certainly didn’t seem likely fodder for a hit Broadway play and now a major motion picture. Peter Morgan (The Queen) wrote the play and adapted it for the screen turning it into a riveting cat-and-mouse game between these two made-for-television adversaries. Director Ron Howard emphasizes the behind the scenes machinations and all the negotiations between both camps. The off-camera material is priceless based in large part on speculative research. Whatever the final truth of the story the film gains its real power from it’s the telling. Ron Howard turns to the two original stage stars of Frost/Nixon -- a wise casting decision that almost never happens in Hollywood. It’s true everyone including Warren Beatty reportedly wanted to play Nixon but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Langella in recreating his Tony-winning interpretation of the infamous Tricky Dick. He has all of Nixon’s mannerisms vulnerabilities and caginess down pat. Sheen certainly captures the confident nature of Frost but also his insecurities and the realization that this whole enterprise is one big roll of the dice. And two actors work in perfect concert with one another. Supporting roles are well played including standouts Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s trusted Chief of Staff Jack Brennan and a hilarious Toby Jones aping the inimitable book agent Swifty Lazar. As key Frost aides and researchers Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell do a nice job as kind of the Greek chorus to the situation. On the surface Ron Howard -- better known for his large scale Hollywood productions like The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13 -- doesn’t seem the right fit for this smaller scale drama but his approach transfers what could have been a flat Broadway screen into a highly cinematic and stimulating two hours. He captures the rhythms of this chess match perfectly and chooses camera angles that catch the sweat behind the cool facades of his two principals. Special mention should go to the beautiful nuanced work of his cinematographer Salvatore Totino. Howard is such a gifted filmmaker he makes it all seem effortless easily coaxing two equally superb performances from Langella and Sheen. Frost/Nixon is a first class achievement.
Gorgeous Irène (the extraordinary Audrey Tautou) loves her life as the girlfriend of an ultra-wealthy much-older man (Vernon Dobtcheff). The clothes the shoes the food the five-star hotels! But he gets drunk and passes out on the night of her birthday and so late that night she heads to the hotel bar for some company. What she finds is an empty bar--no barman on duty--and an oddly handsome young man (Gad Elmaleh) in a tuxedo asleep on one of the lounge’s couches. We know from earlier sequences that he is the barman but one look at Irène and Jean decides for that night at least to pretend that he is a multimillionaire. That deception leads to a romantic one-night stand and Irène leaves the next morning. Cut to one year later she returns to the hotel now the fiancée of the old man dripping in diamonds and living the life she has always believed is her destiny (despite her humble beginnings). When she and Jean rekindle for another fling all is lost when her fiancé discovers her infidelity. And so the comedy really begins as Jean tries to take his place only to find that her style of living drains his bank account almost immediately. The resulting lengths he goes to in order to win her love creates a series of comedic (and sometimes poignant) moments that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear by the time the credits roll. How can you not adore Audrey Tautou? Forget her foray into Hollywood in The Da Vinci Code where she simply played the sidekick to Tom Hanks’ leading man; think instead of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement in which her full talents have already been showcased. In Priceless writer-director Pierre Salvadori admits he wrote the role of Irène with her in mind and it is a perfect fit. As Irène she is so sexy so adorable so filled with life and yet riddled with the fear of not having money that she will do just about anything to have it that she almost instantly grabs hold of your heart. No matter what she does how badly she treats Jean when she discovers that he is poor you cannot help but be on her side hoping she is able to attain the wealth she so desperately desires. Her ability to show the inner depths of her emotions through just her eyes is extraordinary; this is a performance that deserves numerous accolades. Equal to the task of playing opposite her is Gad Elmaleh an actor whose face is not exactly handsome yet is so appealing that we quickly fall for him as well. He struggles to find a way to keep Irène close despite not having the millions he needs to afford her. The duo creates a winning combination that will make you believe that love can actually win out even in the most seemingly impossible situations. Director Pierre Salvadori readily admits that his deft touch with screwball comedy comes from his love of the films of Hollywood great Ernst Lubitsch the master of the genre (think Ninotchka To Be or Not to Be The Shop Around the Corner Heaven Can Wait). Happily Salvadori has succeeded admirably in creating a film worthy of the comparison. With no sentimentality but plenty of romance he creates a world where his characters change evolve and eventually allow their hearts to lead the way. It is the rare filmmaker who is able to create classics of this genre for often the stories are either too predictable--we always know from the start for example that the leads in any romantic comedy will end up together but it is the journey to get there that makes or breaks a film. Or perhaps the romantic comedy is too sappy and corny for our hearts to really believe in the story. Priceless is neither. Instead it is a rollicking funny and even poignant (for just a moment) comedy that will make you remember the fun you had while watching it. In other words Priceless is a quintessentially great romantic comedy and not to be missed.
Creating a scent on screen has long been thought to be impossible—but Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is an above-average effort triggering the raw emotions from smell without the gimmicks of 1950's Smell-O-Vision. Based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Suskind Perfume focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) a weird dude who was born into filth and poverty amid the guts and vomit of an open-air French fish market. Although he has no human scent of his own Grenouille’s world-class sense of smell is able to penetrate people's skin—and he’s attracted to the female scent. Not in a sexual way mind you; he wants only to bottle it. When Grenouille meets fallen (but still legendary) perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) the younger sets out to titrate the most elusive perfume known to man: A woman's pheromones. Problem is women won't stay long enough so Grenoiulle can capture their scent and the young man ends up killing them. When Grenoiulle kills a powerful merchant's (Alan Rickman) daughter his execution is planned for a public square. Whishaw is the real star here but playing Grenouille may have proven a challenge for the young British actor since the character is beloved by fans of the best-selling novel. Whishaw is forced to go mute and inert as Grenoiulle his intensity focused inward with quiet gazes and mysterious intensity arousing doubt and fear. Grenouille is a man handsome in his youth but ultimately one we despise--or at least someone we wouldn’t want to hang out with. And for a change of pace a powdered rosy-cheeked Hoffman comes up smelling roses in this period thriller. As Baldini in costume flair the two-time Oscar winner does something quite different no longer just the colorful supporting player he’s been playing in light dramas such as Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction. Baldini isn't one of Hoffman's best roles as Whishaw owns this film but it's a fun performance which pays attention to the actor’s pronounced proboscis. Rickman of Harry Potter fame is an enraged vengeful father. Natch. Perfume is director Tom Tykwer's first major commercial film since his 1998's go-go thriller Run Lola Run--and as a thriller Perfume is built around solid dialogue-driven scenes notably between Grenouille and Baldini. Apparently 57-year-old German writer Patrick Suskind refused for years to give up the rights to his book but producer Bernd Eichinger—the guy behind The Neverending Story's precocious 1980's futurism—finally won out. Nuggets of Suskind’s literary wisdom only enhance the movie's continuity and realism scattered incrementally to remind us we're watching an intelligently conceived film. Perfume is unwieldy at 147 minutes however a bit fatty and unnecessary at the film's cost. Sometimes that happens with novel adaptations especially one as popular as Perfume. In fact the film ends with an unusually bizarre orgy with hundreds of naked people writhing in hormone-driven ecstasy. What smells so lovely Mr. Tykwer?