Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best and Worst Movies of 2007

“The Best and Worst Movies of 2007”

Best Movies of 2007

Though the tiny overlap between cinematic greatness and box office success has remained more or less the same, 2007 has been a year filled with surprising cinematic riches. While the big studios often produced sequels that merely mooched off the glory of past franchises with many disappointing results, those who sought more originality in their films found a wide variety of daring subject matter to pick from, particularly in the fall season. It was such a good year that I have also listed more than a dozen runner-ups that I grappled with before finally deciding on my top 10. The best films of the year are:

  1. Lars and the Real Girl – It must be said: to make a movie this sweet, innocent and moving about a man who carries on a “real” relationship with a life-size love doll in order to connect with the world is some kind of a daring wonder. No other movie, not even the more unanimously praised Juno, successfully utilized the tools of eccentric comedy to get at a pure and sincere heart and much of it is thanks to the tightly controlled performance by the consistently impressive Ryan Gosling. Most other great films this year treated the everyday world with admirable austerity but this movie stayed with me because this vision of unconditionally accepting those who are different challenged me to believe in another level beyond it. And if you think that sounds too gooey, howl like a true cynic.
  2. Ratatouille – In a distant way, this film goes hand in hand with my number one pick because it is about a rat who wants to rise above others’ perception as a kitchen pest to a kitchen chef. Pixar has created fishes and insects into lovable characters and the genius here is in tapping on the sense of taste to make Remy the rat even more lovable. As with all of their films, their delightful innovation is all around, from their animation to this most mature storytelling that backs it up.
  3. No Country for Old Men – The Coen brothers have built an impressive career of creating patently, absurdly creative worlds and characters but they really hit one out of the park every 11 or 12 years with a transcendent crime movie. They did it in 1984 with their debut, Blood Simple and in 1996 with Fargo and with the source of Cormac McCarthy’s novel they have made the most purely cinematic film of the year. This is the kind of movie that whets one’s appetite for the meticulous detail in pure filmmaking and vivid characters invisibly enhancing each other while leaving us with the philosophical implications of how ordinary men grapple with the concept of implacable evil.
  4. La Vie en Rose – I knew I would not see a better performance than the one given by Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in this movie and I didn’t. Director Oliver Dahan relies on it as the central emotional core to create a character portrait unlike any other, adhering to an overarching thematic fluidity over chronology. Some may look at Piaf with admiration and others with revulsion but there is no denying that few biopics have so lucidly captured the essence of their subjects as this one.
  5. Eastern Promises – Some people missed the bigger picture when they saw the big revelation as just another concluding plot explanation but it is really its transcendence. It also shows the leanness of David Cronenberg’s direction that he can compactly pack a cold but sensitive character study about a dedicated doctor and a conflicted mobster who seek to protect a baby born by a sin of the Mafia and cause us to reevaluate in another human dimension in the last frame.
  6. Away From Her – Featuring a great autumnal performance from Julie Christie and an equally powerful and underrated one from Gordon Pinsent, Sarah Polley's directorial debut is the rare kind of tearjerker that leaves not just one emotional note but a complex set of feelings. Within its tale of how a marriage is reflected upon in the face of the woman’s mental decline, the movie leaves an emotional puzzle where the pieces of unspoken truths and implications from the past and present are left for us to determine.
  7. Atonement – An old-fashioned romance epic flourished with fresh artistic dimensions, this tale of a blossoming romance destroyed by callous deception, along with No Country for Old Men, is a master class in translating literary poetry to sweeping images. The actors are so immersed in the material that it is easy to overlook how good they really are and the story builds to a conclusion that questions the very nature of art.
  8. Once – The most effortless charmer of the year, this Irish musical is as old-fashioned as David Lean’s Brief Encounter and as realistically modern as musicals get. Free of the contrived constraints of showstoppers that break the fabric of reality, the music and the characters flow so naturally because it is straight out of unadorned, real life.
  9. 3:10 to Yuma – A Western updated with elegant complexity, James Mangold's modern retelling of a story of a family man who tries to prove his worth by delivering an outlaw to justice shows how the genre is a durable one to analyze the dichotomous mechanisms of violence. At the center are great actors like Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster, who deliver dialogue so crisply that they implicitly make the point that a man can be saved more by words than by guns.
  10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – A staggering real-life portrait of a paralyzed man whose only window to the outside world is his one blinking eye, this French movie by American painter Julian Schnabel is inspiring precisely because its flawed hero doesn’t want to be singled out as noble. He remains the same man who relies on his own imaginations to set him free in his own mind and that his condition does not render him any different plays as a tribute to the indomitable human spirit.
The close runners-up (in alphabetical order): Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, The Bourne Ultimatum, Enchanted, The Great Debaters, Hot Fuzz, I’m Not There, Juno, The Lookout, Michael Clayton, A Mighty Heart, No End in Sight, Paris, Je t'aime, Sicko, There Will Be Blood and Zodiac.

Special mention also goes to Killer of Sheep, a previously lost gem by Charles Burnett from 1977 that was finally released in March this year after the rights of the eclectic soundtrack were finally paid for.

Worst Movies of 2007

I prefer to measure the strength of a year in movies by the number of great movies that are released and thankfully there were a lot of them in 2007. But as much as we would not like to do, it is important to sniff out the underachieving garbage that stunk up the theaters in between so that we can avoid it or learn to be grateful for the jewels we see. Here are some unambitious stinkers I have seen from 2007:

  1. Hostel: Part II – I would like to make a personal plea for Eli Roth to have his DGA and WGA licenses revoked for polluting our minds with putrid depravity like these Hostel movies offer. Other effective horror films have used gore but without scares, all we are left with is a sick, vomit fest for the morally and sensibly handicapped. (Of special note, I did not see Saw IV, which would also likely deserve to be on this list.)
  2. Norbit – Eddie Murphy had made a lot of disasters in past years but this one shamed them all. There is nothing wrong with playing off of fat jokes, as Murphy did so successfully in The Nutty Professor. The gaping problem is that it is done here with zero heart and all wretched excess.
  3. Black Sheep – A mildly amusing joke stretched out to a maddeningly boring feature length (even at 90 minutes), this is a horror spoof done with a lobotomy of creativity. It is like a comedian who does not know when to stop repeating the same old joke over and over again and the best thing to do is to walk away.
  4. The Hitcher – Another horror remake with none of the scares and all of the gore. The original film from 1986 (only 21 years have to pass for a remake?) about a pathological relationship between victim and killer was a sick movie to begin with and this remake is another sign of the decay of ingenuity in Hollywood.
  5. Because I Said So – Here is a romantic comedy that does not know anything about romantic or maternal love. I would like to think that sitcom producers, no less feature producers, would reject this stinker but one can only dream that they and actresses like Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore can be prudent enough to trash scripts like this.

Biggest disappointments of 2007

Lastly, there are the movies that I had higher hopes for and ended up being painfully mediocre. None of these would certainly qualify as the worst movies ever made but seeing them flop is all too disheartening to watch. Here were some disappointments:

  1. Sunshine – Danny Boyle is always an ambitious director so even his failures are somewhat interesting. Unfortunately, Boyle aimed lower than usual this time with this movie that seemed to start with grandeur but descended into a retread of familiar sci-fi elements. The worst part is that he and writer Alex Garland also aped from one of the most uninspired genres, too – the slasher genre.
  2. Shrek the Third – I was starting to think that the Shrek franchise was getting a little old in the tooth but I expected it to do more than ape the franchise with lame, knock-off jokes. Even Donkey and Puss in Boots seem bored and uninspired in this movie. That’s a sure sign that this franchise should be put to rest now.
  3. Spider-Man 3 – This is perhaps one of the biggest dips from sequel to sequel. I thought Sam Raimi and crew could do no wrong with the Spider-Man series but they got a little overzealous here to cram in as much as they could. The result is a movie with no sure identity or heart, despite the story’s attempt to explore both.
  4. El Cantante – It is crushing to see the originator of salsa be the subject of this biopic that merely checks off the old singer cliches of broken marriages and drug overdose. The concert scenes are decently choreographed but there is a reason that biopics need to be more than mere impersonation and in a year that had innovative biopics like La Vie en Rose and I’m Not There, this one was a dud.
  5. Lady Chatterley – I know this movie won numerous awards in France and other festival circuits but even admirers of this film have to admit that this one is really dull in parts, if not in whole. I know that the film is trying to tread the theme of unbridled lust and infatuation but that does not provide enough deeper meaning or purpose to warrant being three hours.

Overall, however, I think 2007 was one of the best years in movies in quite some time. We had to wait for most of them to come in the autumn but they were well worth the wait.

Friday, December 28, 2007



USA. 2007. Directed by Joe Wright. Screenplay by Christopher Hampton. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan. Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Blethyn, Juno Temple, Felix von Simson, Charlie von Simson and Alfie Allen.

Rating: ★★★★

Atonement tells the story of two lovers whose potential for luxurious bliss in 1930s Great Britain will be destroyed by a horrendous lie. The premise may sound like just another throwback to the historical epics of the 1940s but it is to the great and unique credit of the movie based on the rich novel by Ian McEwan that it places equal gravity to that third person who tells the lie that separates the two lovers. By the end, we will see all three of their lives left mired in despair and longing for missed opportunities caused by an act of spoiled immaturity.

The movie opens in a posh, rich mansion in London where we see the Tallis family daughters, Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and 13-year old, Briony (Saoirse Ronan) who bask under the shining sun in the summer of 1935. Cecilia tries to deny it but the attraction between her and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the housekeeper, Grace (Brenda Blethyn), is strong and irresistible. Briony, who is already gazed upon by her parents as a blossoming writer, has a crush on him, too, as she glimpses in jealousy and miscomprehension a romantic flirtation that builds between Cecilia and Robbie.

Then, one day, Briony walks in on Cecilia and Robbie in the throes of carnal passion in the library and misconstrues it as him attacking Cecilia after earlier intercepting a lewd letter that he mistakenly sent out as a love letter to her sister. Thus, later when she comes across the seeming rape of one of her cousins, Lola (Juno Temple), her seething envy and misperception of Robbie combine to compel her to falsely accuse Robbie of the crime despite that she never clearly saw the real perpetrator. This false testimony’s repercussions spill over into World War II after Robbie decides to serve in the military after four years in prison and is assigned as one of the British soldiers to fight in France.

The film directed by Joe Wright and adapted by Christopher Hampton makes the shrewd choice to stay faithful to the distinctive three-act storytelling structure of the original novel while enhancing it with some modern touches of filmmaking in a few scenes. Briony’s clear remove from the true grasp of the situation, for example, is magnified from the first act’s omniscient point of view in the novel by showing the two key moments – the flirtation at the fountain and the library tryst – first in her perspective and then at ground level with Cecilia and Robbie. The second act, set four years later, flips through different time points among Robbie’s struggle to stay alive and sane in the midst of the war, Cecilia’s efforts to keep her love alive with him by exchanging letters and the nurse training of Briony (now played by Romola Garai) who is guilt-ridden for her grave, childish mistake.

Some have criticized the film for not really exploiting the true scope of the war and not feeling as epic-scaled as it should but this tale is not about battle but about tangled destinies tilted toward inexorable tragedy. Thus, Wright presents how the hopelessness and bleakness of war affect Robbie’s psyche on a more intimate scale with an unbroken five-minute take that spans across the dreary preparation of the French infantrymen at the beach in Dunkirk. This virtuoso shot and other horrific aftermaths of carnage that Robbie and Briony witness are interspersed with a fleeting, heartbreaking meeting between the two lovers and a later crucial moment with the three characters together that contemplates the sumptuous joy that they have lost and whether there is room for familial atonement and forgiveness.

All of the actors are well-suited to the material but McAvoy stands out displaying the full arc of a young idealist whose hope for romance and a college education is crushed by forces beyond his control. Knightley’s usual staccato, clipped speech works well against his quiet, genteel nature that is reduced to sullen longing. It is also a good choice to have two different gifted actresses like Saoirse Roran and Romola Garai play the young tragic catalyst to respectively give a visual transition from the girl’s act of foolish resentment through the years that pass by before she finally feels remorse from knowing how callous and devastating it was.

The biggest question lingering in most people who have read the bestseller is how well the power of the final act would translate to the movie. This is where the performance by the veteran actress, Vanessa Redgrave is so crucial to illuminating all of the story’s ironies that lie between fiction and anecdote, imagination and reality. Within the irony, both the book and the movie explore the questions regarding the range and rationale for which art can truly imitate life when it is so tragic.

Such paradoxical intricacies are at the heart of Atonement and (though I thought his Pride and Prejudice was a little disappointing in translating Jane Austen) with this film, Wright shows himself as a master of faithful translation from lyrical words to poetic images. He knows he has a story with all the personal depth and empathy to reshape an old-fashioned tale and proves he has the cinematic language to reflect them on the screen. His mastery here lends itself to period filmmaking at its finest and most modern.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Great Debaters

“The Great Debaters”

USA. 2007. Directed by Denzel Washington. Story by Robert Eisele and Jeffrey Porro. Screenplay by Robert Eisele. Based on the article by Tony Scherman. Starring: Denzel Washington, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, Denzel Whitaker, Jermaine Williams, Forest Whitaker, Gina Ravera, John Heard, Kimberly Elise, Devyn A. Tyler and Trenton McClain Boyd.

Rating: ★★★½

It is not often that a movie is such a crowd-pleaser that the audience responds with tumultuous applause not once but numerous times. That is the kind of reaction Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters inspired when I saw it in a crowded theater. Yes, the movie follows some tried and true underdog movie conventions but rarely is it done so skillfully that it does not wait until the final deciding match to provide small moral triumphs along the way to have people stand up and cheer.

Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters is, in many ways, the “sports movie” I have been waiting to see. Based on a true story about an all-African American debate team that hopes to win the national debate championship in the Great Depression after facing off against other African-American as well as Caucasian debate teams across the country, it is a movie that has the heroes fighting their personal and ethical struggles with words, not physicality. Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington), the professor who forms that debate team in an all-African American college, Wiley College, sets the grounds and says, “Debate is like blood sport. Blood sport is combat and the weapons are words.”

His standards are unbending and his expectations demanding and after a night of tryouts, he picks four members. The mainline debaters are Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), an astute, intellectual student who is also a bit of a womanizer and a hard-drinker, and Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams), and the two alternates, Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), who is reportedly the first female college debater in history, and 14-year old James Farmer Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), the researcher for the team. The latter in particular, despite being the youngest, also carries a certain amount of reputation because he is the son of James Farmer Sr. (Forest Whitaker), a preacher who is one of the few African-Americans so far to graduate from Harvard University.

The debate team’s singular struggle to win the championship title would be enough to fuel a worthy, inspirational story but Washington’s film paints a richer canvas that does not escape the harsh issues of racism in the Jim Crow South of the 1930s. There are some harsh emotional moments that drive the prejudice home such as a significant one when the team is driving home one night and sees a black man strung up on a cross after being burned to death by a lynching mob. Tolson, as many people know today, is also one of American’s most renowned poets (a fact that is only slightly hinted at) and it turns out that he has a secret life as an organizer for a national sharecropper’s union between blacks and whites, which anger the racist local sheriff, Dozier (John Heard) and may set yet another obstacle for the team.

The relationships between the members of the debate team are not simplistic either as a seemingly clichéd plot of a young James looking jealously at the potential blossoming romance between Henry and Samantha does not resolve itself in necessarily predictable ways. Tolson also carries the flaw of insisting on writing the arguments himself for the debate team instead of letting the team have their own voice, which Henry’s equally headstrong personality often collides with. There is also James’ relationship with his parents, which becomes more strained after he witnesses Tolson’s secret life.

Washington as director and writers Robert Eisele and Jeffrey Porro pull all of these strands together into a story that teaches that the journey to win should really be the means to the end of educating oneself and others to think morally and without racial prejudice or discrimination. The dialogue, which needs to be eloquent in a movie about debates, is contributive to many of the film’s well-timed and paced triumphant emotional moments within the Wiley team’s arguments that challenge for the resolutions of issues we now take for granted such as racial integration in colleges (though there could have been a more unpredictable, dimensional challenge if they had to argue for something they don’t believe in, as real debaters sometimes have to do). The debating atmosphere is also enriched in the conversations within the team as everyone seems to be talking in the cultural code of argument and rhetoric throughout (as when Tolson explains the origin of the word, lynching to the team).

Washington is one of the most magnetic and likable actors on the screen, which is why we always welcome him playing another flawed but decent, authoritative figure, no matter how many times he has played other such roles from Courage Under Fire to Remember the Titans. He also shows more definitive proof after Antwone Fisher to be a true actor’s director, as he gives every one of his actors to define who they are and not single his own character to necessarily be the natural “hero” of the story. The familial issues that result within Denzel Whitaker’s character find their own uneasy complexity, which culminate in a long-awaited square off between Washington and Forest Whitaker who conflict in the social issues around them despite both having the best interests for the young teenager (the fact that the child actor’s name happens to be Denzel Whitaker is not intentional, as he is neither related to Forest Whitaker nor named after Washington).

By the end of the film, I found myself caring so much about these vivid characters in this time and place that I actually would have found the story equally satisfying and uplifting whether the team won or not. Of course, most stories about underdogs are told because they satiate our natural desires for the longshots to triumph but the great ones make you feel that you care for them as individuals more than the outcome. Seeing these people have the will to challenge the harsh times they lived in was enough to make me cheer for their moral victory, before their historically important, visible one.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007



USA. 2007. Directed by Jason Reitman. Written by Diablo Cody. Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Olivia Thirlby, Eileen Pedde, Rainn Wilson, Daniel Clark, Darla Vandebossche, Aman Johal and Valerie Tian.

Rating: ★★★½

The key to embracing Juno is to harbor the anticipation of seeing real growth throughout. The titular character played by the brilliant Ellen Page is a whip-smart teenager who gets pregnant who grows up by realizing how she is not as mature or as intelligent as she thinks she is and that her precocious assumptions about the adults around her does not translate into reality. The same can be said for this film that starts off with a sputter but gradually picks up steam to close in thunderous, moving finish.

I have to admit that the rocky opening had me worried, as all of the film’s dialogue for the first 20 minutes sounds like it is trying too hard to be quirky in that now somewhat clichéd indie-film fashion. A notable example is the exchange between Juno and the store clerk, Rollo (Rainn Wilson), who sees a plus sign on her pregnancy tester and says, “What’s the prognosis, fertile-myrtle? That ain’t no etch-o-sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undead.” Even her discussions with her best friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby) about what to do with the baby seem awfully glib for a teenager and it looked like Diablo Cody’s first-time screenplay was inserting every cutesy phrase it could think of without finding a steady rhythm.

Soon enough, however, the film turns warm and truthful and the characters very particular when she decides to tell her dad and stepmother, Mac (J.K. Simmons) and Bren (Allison Janney), who has to be the most understanding, benevolent set of parents in movie history. Her parents react in shock of course; even with the consolation that she has decided not to have an abortion and that she has already found a willing couple of potential adoptive parents, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman) from a classified ad. Neither of the parents panic or get angry, however, and when Mac flatly but not coldly says, “I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when,” Juno’s reply is the most honest line in the film: “I don’t know what kind of girl I am.”

That forms the bedrock for the rest of the story and on which the full strength of Ellen Page’s much-praised performance builds. She may continue to talk like a smart aleck at times in front of the couple of potential yuppie parents and generate some big laughs with her timing of delivery but her eyes often simultaneously hint at a sense of insecurity underneath. And her facial expressions that widely range from younger to older are crucial in keeping her engaging and lovable rather than arrogantly callow as in lesser teen comedies.

Cody’s screenplay also finds its direction and purpose once she allows her characters to become believable and thus allow the quirks to be genuine and humorous. Under the direction of Jason Reitman, the film effortlessly paints perhaps the kindest and most supportive world for a pregnant teen like Juno to have her nine-month term, which the film closely follows. The environment is so supportive that one scene between Juno and Mac is able to share the rare but true insight that parents can give useful advice even when a child asks for it without telling the real context. It is no coincidence that Mac calls out to Juno in this scene, “Hello, little puffy version of Junebug” referencing another wonderful film where Amy Adams played the most cheerfully upbeat pregnant woman around amidst a dysfunctional suburban family.

There is also the complicated story between Juno and Paulie (Michael Cera), the unlikely high school jock that got her pregnant (though it was her idea to sexually experiment with her best friend) and it is here the film finds the most emotional truth in. Cody never makes the mistake of highlighting Paulie’s aloof demeanor as what many will see as too geeky or jock-like and remains true to how Juno feels about him including a scene where she, as played by Page is all too adorable when she says that she thinks he is the coolest person she has ever met. Also, the series of dramatic character shifts that cause the two to ask about the concept of true love builds opportunities for every supporting actor to shine in unexpectedly emotional moments (all of which I will leave you to see for yourself).

Unexpected, too, are some real zingers interlaced throughout such as what Allison Janney says about doctors when Juno needs a painkiller. It is no wonder director Jason Reitman, who previously wrote and directed the shockingly witty Thank You for Smoking, decided to direct this screenplay for his second effort. And he and Cody wisely make them sparse and pace them well in between the quieter comic pauses as when Mark mistakes Juno’s name to be “like the city in Alaska.”

No doubt some, like me, may feel the urge to ask the characters to talk more normal, until we see these oddball characters made so fresh, individual and lovable. And people will find the movie growing inside their minds and hearts as much as Juno and her baby do in this movie. It is only later we appreciate that Juno has pulled off no small feat in tackling the subject of teenage pregnancy in every life-affirming way possible.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

“Charlie Wilson’s War”

USA. 2007. Directed by Mike Nichols. Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. Based on the novel by George Crile. Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Terry Bozeman, Brian Markinson, Jud Tylor, Hilary Angelo, Cyia Batten, Kirby Mitchell, Emily Blunt and Peter Gerety.

Rating: ★★★

At a time when average citizens find it progressively hopeless to discuss the cause and effect of current American foreign policy, perhaps the approach of Mike Nichols’ Charlie Wilson’s War is the only way to keep people talking. Telling the true story of a behaviorally questionable Texan congressman with enough idealism and smarts to affect political change in the Cold War, the film thoughtfully convinces us of its seemingly unbelievable tale while gliding as lightly as its hero does through an unknown slice of political history. It is shocking that it remained unknown for so long because the direct and crucial effect was no less than the retreat of the Soviets from Afghanistan.

The movie stars Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson, a Texas congressman who is hardly a role model as he hangs out with strippers, snorts coke and drinks too much in his spare time. He is far from ignorant of world affairs, however, as we see him in the beginning intently listening to Dan Rather reporting on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, much to the chagrin of the strippers in the bathtub with him. And as the story progresses, we gradually see that his interest is not without idealism.

He first meets a rich, devout, right-wing socialite and former TV-show hostess, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), who is not shy to share her hatred of the communists and how she is repelled by the atrocities of the Soviets towards Afghanistan. She has her plan carved out for him: to provide the Afghans with the arms to defend themselves by shooting down Soviet helicopters. It is not just any way, but, knowing the American government could not fathom the possibility of lending their own weapons to the Afghan citizens, her suggestion is to negotiate a deal between the Israelis who secretly have numerous Soviet RPGs and Pakistan, where many Afghan refugees flood over to across the border to escape.

Charlie is certainly at a good position to do this being on the Defense Appropriations Committee, but is completely floored by this idea. His mind soon sways, however, after an arranged meeting with President Zia of Pakistan and a tour through a camp of displaced refugees including many children with arms and limbs missing. He, along with his assistant, Bonnie Bach (Amy Adams), looks for a CIA operative to give him the mechanical details of the situation.

Enter the scene-stealer of the movie, the almost unrecognizable Phillip Seymour Hoffman as disgruntled CIA operative, Gust Avrakotos. His first entrance into the story is pure dynamite as he erupts in front of a superior about an assignment he believes he deserved and did not get presumably due to his chubby, mousy appearance, and he breaks the window of his office to spite him. Later, when Charlie finally taps on him as his CIA man and brings him into his office, there is a great moment when Charlie’s attempt to conceal a scandal is to no avail when it turns out the sneaky Gust has hidden a bug on his specially delivered scotch.

From then on, we see Charlie using his diplomatic shrewdness to negotiate the deal to have an Israeli arms dealer sell the weapons through the back-door of Pakistan to the Afghans. That even includes the perplexing tactic of recruiting a Texas belly-dancer to perform in front of a diplomatic exchange in Cairo. Sounds highly unlikely but Aaron Sorkin’s trademark smooth and savvy dialogue adapted from George Crile's source novel makes it all entirely believable.

There is inescapably a darker implication in all this for us knowing more than what the characters in this movie do. At the time, Wilson could not have known that the supply of weapons would not only give them the means to defend themselves but that the newly armed resistance fighters would no doubt become a part of the Taliban. It is doubly ironic that a seemingly noble act at the time would bite the country in the butt in unexpectedly tragic ways and that the very same weapons were later likely fired at American helicopters. The saddening realization we gather is how war is a continuous cycle for which there is no start or end point that any government in the present can plan for and avoid inadvertent repercussions.

Fans of The West Wing series and The American President already know Sorkin’s unique gift for creating gentle, palatable launching points for serious political discussions and director Mike Nichols maintains clarity in sorting through the bewildering maze of political negotiations and tactics while keeping a sly undercurrent of humor flickering beneath. He does hurt Hanks’ chance to play a truly different, slimier kind of role because he glosses over his more serious flaws like drunk-driving and plays his womanizing behavior including his staff all being buxom young women purely for laughs. But he has the crisp ear for dialogue all the way back from his stage directing days and to make it fluid and invisibly flowing through.

And the actors all play well with the dialogue’s rhythm. Sorkin’s screenplays are always filled with two-hander verbal sparring and Hoffman’s volatile delivery provides a great foil for Hanks’ smooth, conman-like qualities. Adams and Roberts are also strong as the innocent and sassy counterpoints, respectively, to the genial antihero.

Charlie Wilson’s War belongs in the category of films like Catch Me If You Can (where Hanks played the hero’s pursuer) telling stories that would only be worth sharing because they’re actually true. Sure, there could have been a tougher film to be made about the subject but it is probably a wiser method in this current political climate to deliver its insights more lightheartedly. It is also emblematic of the very carefree and intelligent nature with which Wilson somehow won this important shadow war all by himself.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Movie Marathon

“Christmas Movie Marathon

In this season of peace and rejoice, I thought I would take a look at some perennial Christmas classics that band us together in the holiday spirit, the recent hits with the potential to become one of the classics and the clunkers that cause us to depressingly retreat to our corners.

The Classics:

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – How can this movie not grow more timeless with its story about a man who realizes that the world would have been a much worse place without him? Realizing that gives us all something to aspire to in our lives.

A Christmas Story (1983) – There is no funnier or more accurate film that captures the inner child that fixates on a particular gift and nothing else. It is even better because the gift he wants – a BB rifle – has every adult around him fearing it will destroy their peace if he shoots his eye out. And the movie stands above similar counterparts because it actually brings out the importance of family amidst the whirlwind of materialism.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – His friends may call him a “blockhead” and say he can’t decorate a Christmas tree right but actually Charlie Brown is one of the smartest in the Peanuts bunch for going through the pain of asking what Christmas is really all about. Perhaps my personal favorite holiday film, if only for the climactic moment where Linus drops his security blanket and steps forward to tell whose birthday Christmas really is.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – In a way, this movie plays as an inside-out contrast to It’s a Wonderful Life because it is about an old man who is thought to be insane because he is willing to be the real Santa Claus and bring unusual and uncommon generosity to children. It also exposes the materialistic culture for all its bah-hum-bug worth while reminding us that we all need our childhood fantasies from time to time to carry through the stresses of life.

An Affair to Remember (1957) – This movie covers the romance field of Christmas and how frustrating it is not to spend it with the one you’re destined to be with. It is also the most emotional time (or entertaining fun) you will have in seeing what difficult contortions fate puts through these two lovers that we know should be together from the beginning.

A Christmas Carol (1951) – This one still stands as the best adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic with Alastair Sim giving an Ebenezer Scrooge with no cinematic equal. Being about how a cynic transforms into a better person, the story stands as one of the best kind of realist feel-good movies despite the fantastical elements that aid the hero.

The Recent Hits:

Catch Me If You Can (2002) – This is more of a caper but underneath is a story of a runaway whose closest encounters at Christmas time are his close-calls with his pursuer. It is a nice boot that the pursuer becomes like a parental figure for his young suspect and that builds to a movie that celebrates the hero’s brazenness over his criminal behavior.

Elf (2003) – Who thought the crazy comedian Will Ferrell could mold himself into an elf-like character? I certainly didn’t until I saw this movie that redirects Ferrell’s relentless antics into unassuming cheerfulness. It's a nice contrast that his father played by James Caan turns out to be the most bah-hum-bug guy around the corner.

Love Actually (2003) – A movie that takes the feeling of being with the one you love for Christmas and multiplies it by eight. That builds to a joyous medley of heartfelt confessions of romantic feelings, unrequited or not, with a few disappointments along the way from seeing a few of them misguided or misdirected. This one looks the closest to building a reputation as a perennial favorite.

The Polar Express (2004) – Despite the unintentionally haunting look of motion-capture in general, Robert Zemeckis’ expanded cinematic telling of the children’s book survives the trappings and reinforces the need for children to behave well. It also perhaps presents Santa and his elves in a more organized fashion than any other film.

Love Affair (1994) – This movie is actually a remake of An Affair to Remember and, though not quite as good as the original, it stands on its own for the distinct ways it plays with destiny not only bringing these two lovers together but heartily approving of them. One is the lush cinematography that seems like a sneaky angel to unite these two lovers and the other is the late incomparable Katharine Hepburn, who plays the wise aunt through which Annette Bening sees the true gentlemanly qualities of Warren Beatty and truly loves rather than just likes him (and the implicit celebrity parallels are unavoidable).

The Clunkers:

Jingle All the Way (1996) – Here is a movie that shows how being relentlessly materialistic is nothing more than plain idiotic. It looks like Schwarzenegger is trying to make his action hero persona more accessible to kids by turning himself into a flying-toy action figure. Get the joke? I didn’t either.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) – In the world of movies that get you in the bah-hum-bug spirit, this one would reign supreme. Why? Because it makes the hideous creature effects of the Grinch outshine Dr. Seuss’ veiled social commentary, which proves that technical wizardry, when not needed, can detract from real insight. The other take-home message here is to never bury a talented comedian with makeup to make him look uglier.

All I Want for Christmas (1991) – How sad that a movie that tries to embrace family values is also so insipidly inane. We already know that the divorced parents should have never split. The children know it, the grandmother knows it, and the parents can’t deny it. So there is no conflict to worry about and there is no need for a movie about them.

Surviving Christmas (2004) – Wow, get the irony of this situation: a man who wants to literally buy back the childhood he missed. This one sounds like something out of Class 101 of self-destructing story premises. No wonder they released this sucker back in October so that people would forget about it by Christmas time.

Christmas with the Kranks (2004) – Talk about forcing the Christmas décor down people’s throats. I don’t know who got the idea that neighbors would gang up on you when you decided to pass on putting up Christmas decorations but if the world ever became as tyrannically bankrupt as this neighborhood, I would pack up my bags and choose to live in Mars.

So feel free to heed the recommendations and have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

August Rush

“August Rush”

USA. 2007. Directed by Kirsten Sheridan. Story by Paul Castro and Nick Castle. Screenplay by Nick Castle and James V. Hart. Starring: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams, William Sadler, Marian Seldes, Leon G. Thomas III, Mykelti Williamson, Aaron Staton, Alex O’Loughlin and Jamia Simone Nash.

Rating: ★★★

August Rush is the kind of movie that so wholeheartedly believes in its characters and its story that it asks that any kind of disbelief not only be merely suspended, but expelled into oblivion. There exists such a thing as good sentimentality and bad sentimentality and if it is said that good sentimentality depends on having its heart in the right place, the movie boldly takes that idea literally and sets itself to the very thing our heartbeat constantly, naturally dictates: music. “I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales,” the hero says in the opening and this story is a real fairy tale for music lovers.

Obviously, not all music lovers may have the musical prodigy’s talent of orphan Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore) but they will relate to his fundamental conviction that music will always be heard by someone. In Evan’s case, it is that his biological parents who were also musicians will hear him if he plays and he will be reunited with them through the power of music. That is also just how his parents, Lyla (Keri Russell) and Louis (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) met and fell in love at first sight (namely by the song, “Moondance,” which is one of my favorite tunes).

Things fell apart after they were together for only one night, however, as we see Lyla’s father, Thomas (William Sadler) forcing his will upon her to go to Juilliard and concentrate on becoming a professional cellist. Then, of course, she is pregnant after that brief encounter with Louis, who is a lead rock guitarist and singer for a small band, and Thomas says that she must give the baby up. After an ensuing fight with her father, she gets hit by a car and is told that the baby died, though in reality, Thomas gave Evan up for adoption in order to keep her focused on her career.

The movie’s first act cuts back between Evan as an 11-year old boy ostracized by his peers for his belief in music and Lyla and Louis’ bittersweet encounter until Evan decides to run away to New York City and really find his parents. Following wherever he hears any kind of a beat, he soon runs into a young street musician, Arthur (Leon G. Thomas III) in Central Park. It turns out that Arthur is one of a group of runaways recruited by Max Wallace aka Wizard (Robin Williams) to perform in various street corners to earn him money. After seeing that Evan is a natural music prodigy, Wizard gives him a new name, August Rush.

If that story outline sounds familiar, that is because you’ve read the Charles Dickens classic, Oliver Twist, which this story liberally follows with the central, coveted skill being making music instead of pick-pocketing. That extends all the way to how Evan occasionally depends on the kindness of strangers such as Reverend James (Mykelti Williamson) who uses his connections to send him to Juilliard at his young age. The director, Kirsten Sheridan and her writers, Nick Castle, James V. Hart and Paul Castro add an extra wrinkle to their story to show how musical talent is too often abused just as a natural resource is exploited unnaturally and convey how something innate should be nurtured, not subjugated. And all of this is mightily helped by Mark Mancina’s delicately orchestrated score that sweeps without being overbearing.

Of course, I am aware of all the small and large coincidences and happenstances that unite all these characters together and the all too apparent implication of the fact that Evan can play a guitar as someone would a cello. But it is hard to criticize a movie that has the courage to have its characters say sincere lines like “Music is the harmonic connection that connects all human beings.” The actors deserve much of the credit for playing their roles with such open warmth, particularly Freddie Highmore, who, at 15, still looks incredibly baby-faced and creates an effortlessly engaging center in the story.

Meanwhile, Keri Russell’s doe-eyed sadness works to express what typical melodramatic dialogue given to seeking mothers cannot and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers injects much gravitas of regret and longing while doing his own singing (no doubt both males and females will each have a character to swoon over). Another key presence is a social worker played by the always reliable Terrence Howard and, for once, it is nice to see such a character portrayed in a positive light and seen as actually caring for the child. I especially liked the exchange in the beginning between him and Highmore who asks if he can learn how to whistle.

It goes without saying that any small dose of cynicism should be checked at the door. But the movie would come off as merely hokey if it shied away from really declaring its own expression of love for music. The filmmakers treat August Rush as they would a grand symphony with broad conducting strokes and those who know that music quintessentially plays to the heart and not to the mind will be swept up by it.

The Brave One

“The Brave One”

USA. 2007. Directed by Neil Jordan. Story by Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Taylor. Screenplay by Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort. Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen, Ene Oloja, Luis Da Silva, Jr., Blaze Foster, Rafael Sardina, Jane Adams, Gordon McDonald, Zoe Kravitz, John Magaro and Victor Colicchio.

Rating: ★★½

Following in the footsteps of the Death Wish movies and this year’s earlier Death Sentence, Neil Jordan’s The Brave One tries with every skill and talent it's got to bring more complexity to the themes of vigilance and revenge. Instead of merely attempting to make the viewers complicit in the enjoyment of watching the wronged protagonists stepping outside the legal system and taking matters into their hands, it uses a great actress like Jodie Foster to see the conflicted emotions such actions can yield. Ultimately, however, even this story loses its worth as it cowers from examining the real social consequences involved.

Like the first Death Wish, the movie sets itself in New York City where we meet radio personality Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) who happily lives with her fiancé, David (Naveen Andrews). One night, however, on a casual stroll through Central Park, they are savagely beaten by a group of random thugs, one of whom even videos the several-minute-long bloody, brutal attack on their cell phone. She survives the vicious assault after being in a coma for several months and when she wakes up, she is informed by David's mother that she missed his funeral.

The immediately subsequent moments of showing Bain’s post-traumatic stress syndrome are when the film works best. There are few who can compellingly play characters rattled to the core better than Jodie Foster and her visible transition from love for the city to alienation and apprehension is tangible and will certainly be relatable for those who have been in urban crime situations. She trembles even at the slight bumping of a shoulder from a passerby and, in fear for herself, she decides to illegally buy a gun.

A tipping point arrives one night when she is at a convenience store and encounters a violent thug who shoots and murders the clerk. She tries to hide in a corner of the store but when a cell phone gives away her location and he goes looking for her, she is forced to shoot the man dead to save her own life. She goes home relieved to be alive but shudders at the thought of her first killing.

From that moment on, however, her number of violent run-ins only implausibly increases (the first ones are accidental but soon she goes prowling the night looking for them) and she is soon cited in tabloids as the nameless vigilante, signs that disappointingly alert us that this film will fall into the same old predictable pattern of the genre. To be sure, she narrates to herself that she is afraid that she is growing addicted to killing and she does not know the person she is becoming (the inherent duality from the fact that she is a public radio DJ is an added nice touch). But when her conflicted thoughts never translate into action and she transforms herself so instantly into a confident gunwoman (she never seems to tremble when she is pulling the trigger after that convenience store encounter), the alternating between her cold dispatch of the criminals on the street and her reflective narration grows rather repetitive.

That problem would not stand out so much if the movie really sought out to fully explore the moral questions about vigilance outside of Erica’s own self. There is one particular scene that moves in that direction when Erica’s boss, Carol (Mary Steenburgen) asks her to get people’s reactions on the radio about this nameless vigilante and we hear a wide range of reactions from vicarious enjoyment and encouragement to outrage and repellence. A later scene, however, solidifies the story’s timidity to fully present the potential side-effects of Erica's actions when a teenage victim she rescues is also inadvertently injured. Yes, the young girl may have been saved from the violent pederast that was keeping her in his car but I’m not sure that she would be so grateful enough to protect Erica’s identity after the latter shooting the man dead caused his car to swerve off the road and hit and perhaps nearly kill the girl.

It goes with the genre that every vigilante will have his or her pursuer and that character here is Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard). He is certainly a more interesting character than any of his counterparts like Vincent Gardenia in Death Wish and Aisha Tyler in Death Sentence and is able to move a little beyond the cliché of a cop who is fed up with the legal justice system. He and Erica also have a closer relationship here that builds to friendship and borders on slight romance and there is some real spark when Foster and Howard exchange dialogue, as his calm, smooth delivery contrasts well with her bottled weariness. By the film's ending though, which adds up to another example of a studio picture having audiences eschew their own sensibilities, we see that neither character can really live up to his or her own words.

It would seem that a director like Neil Jordan could bring something more substantial to the material but even his progressive shooting of Erica's vigilante encounters eventually becomes participatory in the violence. The first few encounters are shot in colder, harsher hues and seem less encouraging of Erica’s actions. But when the climactic scene is composed of a series of tracking shots where the bad guys are hunted down one by one, all the moral and emotional issues Jordan had purported to raise get thrown out the window. Some may likely cheer, I imagine, for the actions of the heroine but I personally am tired of simplistic revenge stories that choose to solely tap on base human responses.

It’s all too bad because the performances of Foster and Howard deserve a better, more uncompromising movie. I guess, as far as these kinds of films go, one can say The Brave One is about as well done as it can be within the genre parameters and lends itself some more psychological conflict than any of its predecessors. From an objective and realistic standpoint though, that is not a much of an advance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Paris, je t'aime

Paris, je t’aime”

France. 2006. Idea by Tristan Carné. Feature film concept and transitions by Emmanuel Benbihy. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan and Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Martin Combes, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Willem Dafoe, Gérard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGrevenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant. Starring: Fanny Ardant, Melchior Beslon, Seydou Boro, Steve Buscemi, Juliette Binoche, Javier Cámara, Sergio Castellito, Willem Dafoe, Gerard Depardieu, Ben Gazzara, Hippolyte Girardot, Dylan Gomong, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bob Hoskins, Olga Kurylenko, Aissa Maiga, Margo Martindale, Yolande Moreau, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Emily Mortimer, Nick Nolte, Natalie Portman, Paul Putner, Miranda Richardson, Gena Rowlands, Ludivine Sagnier, Barbet Schroeder, Rufus Sewell, Leonor Watling, Elijah Wood and Li Xin.

Rating: ★★★½

Paris, je t’aime is a cinematic buffet of love and its bittersweet permutations set within a dreamy travelogue of its most representative city, Paris. Like walking through a museum with numerous artworks to selectively admire, this omnibus film collates 18 different vignettes that delineate the city of love through the distinct visions of an assortment of accomplished directors. That also means that this review of the work may read a little like a friendly travel guide and that individual tastes will vary as to which segments are worth writing home about.

The movie does sometimes feel like an overstuffed experimental film and inevitably some segments feel more self-contained than others. But that uneven quality enhances the filmic universe the work creates. Because it deliberately does not make a point to tie the various short films together (though a few characters do connect in the end), the film is devoid of the disjointed quality inherent in some works by singular directors that contain multiple stories interlocked together by pure coincidence. As such, it comes as close as any film to convincing us that all these diverse characters are really occupying the same city and space.

It does take a little while to get used to the rhythm of the disparate short stories because just when we are about to get used to a few characters and really care about them, the film moves on to another district of the city for the next short. That quality particularly hurts a few vignettes such as “Loin du 16ème” by Walter Salles and Daniella Thomas, about an immigrant (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who must leave her own baby to baby-sit another from a rich family in order to make a proper living, and Nobuhiro Suwa’s “Place des Victoires,” about a grieving mother played by Juliette Binoche who sees a spiritual vision to help her cope with the loss of her son. We are so absorbed to want to see a whole movie about each of them and we are sad to leave after seeing their respective stories last only about 7-8 minutes.

What is consistent throughout is that every segment has a uniquely beautiful visual look to capture the different facets of Paris, though I think most people will agree that the one directed by Christopher Doyle, a regular cinematographer for many of Wong Kar-Wai’s films, is an embarrassment that trades too much on Asian vs. European fashion stereotypes. That also holds true for Gurinder Chadha’s piece, “Quais de Seines,” which may have worked in feature-length if the clash between European and Arabic cultures had been dug deeper but really feels superficial as a short. Other segments are far more satisfying such as the Coen brothers’ “Tuileries,” which is a wonderful social comedy of errors about an American tourist (Steve Buscemi) who confirms his social paranoia towards the peculiar behavior of two very oddball French lovers. Another memorable one is Tom Tykwer’s “Faubourg Saint-Denis,” about a blind man (Melchior Beslon) who falls in love with an aspiring actress (Natalie Portman) and realizes how selfishness and narrow mindedness can perhaps lead to inadvertent pain in relationships.

Other resonating ones include “Bastille” by Isabel Coixet, who, compared to her earlier selfishly cloying feature film, My Life Without Me, writes a more sympathetic story about a man (Sergio Castellito) trying to figure out how to tell his wife (Miranda Richardson) that he is leaving her for his mistress (Leonor Watling), until a gloomy fate strikes. Coixet is certainly able to use her third-person narration far more effectively than in Alexander Payne’s disappointing last segment, “14th arrondissement” about a Denver housewife (Margo Martindale) narrating to herself how she finds solace and peace in Paris. The differences between the two (and several others that do use first-person narration much more effectively) are remarkable in proving that it is better to present the characters actually showing the feelings apart from the narration rather than merely spelling it out in blunt dialogue and thus feeling like an unnecessary coda at the end.

Incidentally, one of the best segments is “Tour Eiffel,” a love story between two misunderstood mimes (Paul Putner and Yolande Moreau) who obviously don’t speak a line of dialogue. The director of this piece, Sylvain Chomet certainly knew how to make endearing the bizarre and the eccentric in The Triplets of Belleville and here, he brings the added bonus of silent comedy seen through unassuming idiosyncrasy. If it is often said that comedians or mimes are crying on the inside while smiling on the outside, this sweet story seems to show that sharing that very same trait can be a source to fall in love, too.

The one that stays with me most, however, is “Place de Fetes” by Oliver Schmitz, which brings the idea of unrequited love to painful extremes while exposing more of the underbellies of Paris. It is interesting that this tale is the most touching despite that it is the one that depends the most on coincidence in bringing its principal characters played by Seydou Boro and Aissa Maiga together. But when the story goes on to show that a coincidental meeting may be the happiest kind of relief one can find within a despairing fate, it reminds us how much we want to believe that there are no such things as coincidences.

The remaining segments are all solid including Alfonso Cuaron’s unbroken, handheld single-take, “Parc Monceau,” starring Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier as two people whose loving relationship does not reveal its true nature until the very end, and Gus Van Sant’s “Le Marais,” about a French man who reveals to someone that he has found his soul-mate in a language the other does not understand. The most fluidly dialogue-driven one is “Quartier Latin” by Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Aubertin starring Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands as a couple who perhaps waited too long to finalize their divorce because they love each other too much through their pitfalls. Richard LaGrevenese’s “Pigalle” also similarly presents Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant as an estranged couple who wonder if their love is too theatrical to be real, albeit this one paradoxically feels more written than acted. There is also one from Olivier Assayas called Quartier des Enfants Rouges” with Maggie Gyllenhaal as a drug-addicted American actress who looks for a comforting serendipitous encounter akin to the one in the opening segment, “Montmartre” by Bruno Podalydes, though the two part ways in finding their respective hopeful or hopeless paths.

Meanwhile, Vincenzo Natali's "Quartier de la Madeleine" creates an eerily fantastical departure from all the other more or less down-to-earth segments, with Elijah Wood as a young man roaming the night and falling in love with a vampire played by Olga Kurylenko. One ironic part in the transition is that Natali’s piece is followed directly by the one from Wes Craven, who just as easily could have directed the vampire piece. Craven instead goes for the sublime in a lightly supernatural romantic comedy with Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer as an engaged couple that gets some timely advice from the ghost of Oscar Wilde.

What makes the feature, conceived by Tristan Came and Emmanuel Benbihy, a particular must-see for all film-lovers is the opportunity to observe how each director is able to project his or her own themes onto the city of lights. Constructing a short film sets another kind of challenge for a director who normally directs features and having that limited amount of time, I think, forces most of the directors to resort to the issues and styles closest to their hearts. To then see their trademarks grafted onto the genre of romance and see the artists test its conventions is consistently fascinating to watch.

By the time the film is over, we realize that perhaps even the imperfections of the movie and its characters are part of the artistic design. Life is imperfect and the joy and the heartache resulting from love equally serve as truthful indications that we truly care about someone. All we can wish for is to hold on to the things we find memorable, whether bitter or sweet, and Paris, je t’aime likewise offers much to treasure.