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A Single Man is a tour-de-force; the City of Lights in film

by Mark Burger

Noted fashion designer Tom Ford makes an auspicious film debut with his adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel A Single Man, which offers a spectacular showcase for leading man Colin Firth, who deservedly received an Oscar nomination as Best Actor for his deeply moving performance.

Firth’s George Falconer is the proverbial Englishman abroad. He teaches English literature at a tony Los Angeles university, where he is liked and respected by his colleagues, but he’s been nursing a broken heart since the death of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode), who perished in an automobile accent while visiting his family on the East Coast.

Calmly and methodically, George begins making plans to kill himself, and the film depicts what George expects to be his last day alive. Although it may sound like an unmitigated downer, A Single Man is brimming with hope and life, and has its warmly humorous moments as well.

Like a number of directors who scored big the first time out — Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) comes readily to mind, but you can also include Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves (1990) and George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) — Ford approaches the new medium with a terrific combination of indulgence and control. He remains true to the source material, which he and David Scearce adapted, but also adds some cosmetic flair to the proceedings. The actors are photographed in loving fashion, but Ford also gives them good words to speak and emotions to play.

Julianne Moore delivers yet another excellent turn as George’s friend and confidante Charley, a woman so caught up in her own insecurities that she fails the recognize the depths of his depression. There’s also nice work from Jon Kortajarena as a hunky hustler whom George encounters and shares a few minutes with.

The film’s third act, in which George encounters a sympathetic and perhaps romantically-inclined student (Nicholas Hoult), tends toward the melodramatic, but never diminishes what has already transpired. A Single Man is a singular achievement, and one of the best movies of 2009.

The City of Lights figures prominently in two vastly disparate films. In director Pierre Morel’s From Paris with Love, the popular French city becomes the stomping ground for government operatives John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Travolta (as Charlie Wax) and Rhys Meyers (as James Reece) are paired together to investigate an Asian cocaine ring that has ties to a Muslim terrorist cell operating in Paris. Their brand of investigation usually results in gunplay, although the bad guys tend never to hit what they’re shooting at, whereas the good guys — especially Wax — are dead shots. Little does

Reece realize, however, just how close to home the case will hit.

The action is plentiful, but oddly enough no one in Paris seems to notice. When an American delegation is warned to change its route to an important summit meeting, the suggestion is immediately and summarily dismissed — despite the vast destruction and body count that has already accumulated.

With a shaved head and a black beard, Travolta delivers a succession of puns and putdowns when he’s not shooting, fighting or running, and at age 55 appears quite capable of handling the physical action. Sporting an amusingly bland American accent, Rhys Meyers provides the requisite counterpoint to Travolta’s loose cannon. Through and through, From Paris with Love is that constant staple of action cinema: The buddy movie.

The first half of the film is almost giddy in its execution, reveling in every gunshot, body shot and car crash, then becomes more serious (so to speak) in the later stages. Then again, the intended audience for this film probably won’t even care. At its best, From Paris with Love is a splashy diversion for action junkies. At its worst, it’s merely silly and noisy.

The city of Paris also figures prominently in Frederick Wiseman’s documentary La Danse (opening this week at the a/ perture cinema in Winston- Salem). Subtitled Le Ballet de l’Opera de Paris, the film offers a behind-thescenes glimpse into the famous Paris Opera Ballet as it embarks on its latest performance season.

Like the proverbial fly on the wall, Wiseman’s cameras have access to every facet of the Ballet: rehearsals, set-up, business meetings and even, at the end, cleanup. La Danse is a loving tribute to the hard work and determination that goes into each aspect of the ballet performance. Those who don’t care for ballet need not apply, but ballet buffs will undoubtedly revel in every moment and movement. (In French with English subtitles)

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