DVD Catch Up: Offside(1/30/2008)

(Warning: That DVD Cover is REALLY Misleading) 

            Now that 2007 is over and there’s nothing interesting coming out in the next month or so, I can really start to do a lot of catching up with all the things from the last year that I missed out on.  Some of the things I missed out of disinterest or lazyness, while other things were missed out of sheer inopportunity, one such film is this small Iranian drama which was given a miniscule release last march, but eventually found its way onto a handful of top ten lists. 

            The film is set on the day of a big soccer match in Tehran between the Iranian national team and the Bahrain, if Iran wins or ties they will secure a spot in the 2006 world cup.  The film documents a group of young women trying to see the game live in Azadi Stadium.  The problem is that women are legally banned from entering the stadium under Iranian law.  The law does little to deter hardcore female soccer fans from trying to sneak in, as is depicted in the opening scene of the film in which a girl tries to sneak in but is caught at the door.

            This girl, like the rest of the characters, is unnamed throughout the film.  She is brought to a makeshift cage outside the stadium which is guarded by three young soldiers serving their compulsory service in the Iranian army.  The film proceeds to examine and challenge the Iranian gender restriction laws, focusing of course on the restrictions at sporting events.

            What really makes the film work is the general absurdity of the situation at hand.  For those who don’t know, Tehran doesn’t look anything like the rural mess most people think the Middle East is, it more or less looks like a modern urban environment.  Yet in this modern environment (complete with cell phones), bizarre attitudes toward women still persist almost unchallenged. 

The main reason men of power cite for the stadium restriction laws is that “a stadium is no place for women” and “if the team loses the men will begin cursing freely.”  In other words, women aren’t allowed because it would force the male fans to restrain themselves in front of female spectators. Adding to the irony is that most of these female fans are interested in seeing the game out of purely patriotic interest in this big match.  The girls are clad in Iranian flags and face paint and whenever they learn that the Iranian team has done something well they go into a nationalistic chant.  By banning women from the game the nation has prevented a large portion of the population from engaging in a nationalistic celebration, and for no logical reason.

Acclaimed director Jafar Panahi appears to have shot the film on video, and in a vérité style that heightens the realism.  All the characters are played by ordinary people rather than professional actors, but they seem to come across fine.  Interestingly, large parts of the film were actually shot discreetly at the real game between Iran and Bahrain.  There are authentic crowd scenes, and because of this the film’s structure would have had to have been massively reworked on the spot depending on the outcome of the game.

            The plotline here may be a bit thin for most.  The film essentially plays out in real time (90 minute film, 90 minute soccer match), is more of a slice of life than a fully realized story.  The real joy here is in the interesting conversations that take place along the way, as well as the overall political statement the film makes.  I was a bit disappointed in the film’s ending, which fails to examine the final consequences of the situation in order to more fully look at the link between the laws and nationalism.  But overall this is definitely an interesting film worth seeing to spend some time in this foreign culture.

*** out of four

Rambo(1/25/2008)

 

            Sylvester Stallone was once on top of the world; in the mid eighties he had two extremely popular franchises and was second only to Schwarzenegger for the title of “action-star of the decade.”  Unfortunately for Stallone, he was also in some of the crappiest action movies ever made, aside from a few exceptions like Cliffhanger and Demolition Man he wasn’t in very many good movies that weren’t in the Rocky or Rambo series.  As such he was headed for obscurity until two years ago when he tried to revitalize the Rocky series with good box office results.  Now Stallone is trying to do the same with the Rambo series with the creatively titled Rambo.

            Rocky Balboa was, if nothing else, a very nice try.  However, it had one major advantage that Rambo doesn’t have; it was trying to bring back a series that one did have some degree of respectability, something the Rambo series has never had.  Many people will point to the original Rambo film, First Blood, and call it a step above its sequels.  I however may be in the minority in thinking the second and third installments were better than the original, which had the pretention to consider itself a character study.  First Blood had all the poor acting, weak story, lame dialogue, and stupid politics of a standard 80s action film but didn’t actually have any of the action to back it up.  The sequel is even worse on all of the above criteria, but it also had a high body count and some good explosions, so at least there was something to enjoy, and when it was merely trying to be an action movie a lot of its problems went from being real negatives and became campy quirks.   

            Because I enjoyed the high body count installments of the series, I looked forward to the sequel which looked like it would be even more ridiculous than its predecessors.  The violent trailer that found its way to Youtube featured everything I wanted to see in a Rambo trailer: a decapitation, a man getting his stomach slit open, a man getting his throat ripped out, and a man getting his head blown open by a chain gun.  This was a very nice thing to see after the shock of the sellout PG-13 rated Live Free or Die Hard.  I had no expectations of enjoying this as a fine piece of cinema, but I did think it would be a wild “so bad its good” night at the cinema.  Unfortunately the film did not live up to these very low expectations.

            Its been twenty years since John Rambo’s last adventure, and he’s found his way to Thailand where he makes a living running a small boat and capturing snakes for a local freakshow.  His life is suddenly interrupted when a group of missionaries approach him trying to charter his boat for a trip to Burma (which for some reason is never referred to by its modern name, Myanmar, in the film).  Rambo is weary to go because Burma is a warzone and he’s seen enough killing for one lifetime.  However he does eventually cave and give them a ride, as they plan to use an overland route to leave, Rambo decides to return to Thailand.  Soon thereafter the missionaries find themselves kidnapped by the Burmese military.  Rambo is soon given the task of guiding a group of mercenaries back to the drop-off point in Burma.

            Setting the film in Burma was the first mistake Stallone made in Rambo.  Firstly, it fails to bring Rambo into a new environment.  The original Rambo movie was set in an American forest, the second was set in a jungle, and the third is a desert.  Symmetry would suggest that the next Rambo film would take place in a new environment, possibly a cold or urban environment.  Instead Stallone set this new installment back in another Southeast Asian jungle. 

            The other, larger problem with setting the film in Burma is that it put the film in the center of a brutal, real world conflict.  This wouldn’t be a problem if Stallone simply ignored the full extent of the Burmese conflict, but he didn’t, the film is filled with images this action film has no right to show.  The film opens with disturbing news footage of real atrocities occurring in the Burmese civil war, and then proceeds to show a shocking scene of innocent Burmese women being forced to run through a mine field before being killed by the military.  Later we witness a village being massacred in full graphic detail, including not so subtle suggestions of rape and torture. 

This is hardly the kind of fun violence I signed up for in this film; it’s disturbing and wholly unpleasant.  In the context of a serious drama about the Burmese conflict such material could easily be justified, but that’s not what this is, it’s a Rambo movie; we go to these to enjoy mass murder, not be sickened by it.  Any one of these scenes could have been tolerable in isolation, after all they need to establish that the bad guys are sick SOBs, but Stallone goes way to far here.  Stallone claims he was trying to raise awareness of the Burmese Civil War, but couldn’t he have found a more appropriate way to do this than a Rambo movie?  After all, the last time this series tried to endorse a regime it was in support of the Afghan Mujahedeen in their “holy war” against the evil soviets.  This endorsement is absolutely hysterical in hindsight and one wonders why Stallone would risk making the same mistake twice. 

However, the film also fails when it tries to be a proper mindless action film, simply because Sylvester Stallone turns out to be completely unqualified to direct action sequences.  Unlike the Rocky series, Stallone never found himself directing any of the Rambo films, and the reason why is clear here.  During the aforementioned village massacre for example, Stallone tries to pull a Saving Private Ryan and create a sense of chaos and intensity by using handheld camera work and speeding up the action.  These kinds of tactics can work if they’re done by someone like Steven Spielberg, Paul Greengrass, or even Michael Bay who knows what they’re doing, unfortunately Stallone is not on that list.  As a result the scenes are completely disorienting and kind of look like they’re being fast-forwarded.  But really, regardless of how well it’s done, these methods shouldn’t be used in the first place in a film that was all about being an old-school action film.  Also Stallone made the regrettable decision to use CGI blood instead of regular squibs, which would have been acceptable if it looked better but it didn’t, it was poorly done.

So what is there to like in Rambo, well the film is as gory as it promises to be and there are some real moments that will make you say “Daayuum!”  Stallone does maintain a certain rough charisma even when he has to work with his own bad dialogue; it’s nice to see a real tough guy on screen in this day in age.  Also there’s a British mercenary played by Graham McTavish who steals the show midway through with a lot of very amusing dialogue.

The moral of this story is that Rambo movies are at their best when they aren’t trying to be respectable.  I really wanted to enjoy this as a nice fun action film, but Stallone found himself taking this character way too seriously.  Even if he didn’t, his poor ability behind the camera still wouldn’t have made this work.

*1/2 out of four

Cloverfield(1/18/2008)

 

            January is generally a wasteland for movies.  Its traditionally been a dumping ground studios use to release all the movies so bad they need to be put out while everyone with taste is distracted by the late fall Oscar contenders.  Because of this it was a bit of a shock when high profile producer J.J. Abrams announced that his mysterious new project, Cloverfield, would be coming out on January 18th 2008.  This was hardly the most unusual aspect about the project; when the trailer came out in front of Transformers it didn’t even have a title attached to it.  All this insanity really caught me and other film aficionados off guard.  I haven’t even gotten around to doing my 2007 year in review and now I’m already reviewing a 2008 film. 

            It was easy for rumors to fly about this project, after all most film advertising campaigns go out of their way to give away everything there is to know about a movie long before it comes out.  Cloverfield on the other hand took the opposite approach and this lead to massive online buzz and theorizing.  It should first be noted that the film’s initial premise of, a giant monster attack, captured on home video by a small group of survivors, is pretty much what you get here.  There is no surprise ending, no “Lost” style twist.  Instead this should be seen for what it is: an absolutely relentless thriller. 

            There’s a pivotal scene mid-way through M. Night Shymalan’s under-appreciated film Signs in which the audience finally very briefly gets a glimpse of the attacking aliens via a home video being shown on a news report.  In many ways this is an 85 minute version of that scene.  The film is meant to be a recording made on a camera owned by Rob (Michael Stahl-David).  Rob is about to move to Japan where there is a job waiting for him, so his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and friend Hud (T. J. Miller) decide to throw a going away part for him and borrow Rob’s camera to do it. 

            Mid way through the part a loud noise is made, everyone runs out to the balcony to see a massive explosion in the heart of New York.  The party runs out to the street to see the head of the Statue of Liberty fly to the street blow, they then see a very quick glimpse of some sort of giant monster pass through the street.  Rob receives a call from his girlfriend and learns she’s trapped in her apartment in the middle of ground zero.  In spite of everyone else’s advice Rob decides to go back to save her followed by his entourage, most importantly Hud, who’s carrying his camcorder and decides to “document” the situation.

            The entirety of Cloverfield is seemingly photographed with a handheld camcorder, this is in many ways an evolution of the work pioneered in The Blair Witch Project.  Like that work there are certain conceits one must accept to really enjoy this film.  Firstly you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you get too hung up by the technical constraints of a camcorder that the film ignores.  The sound work in the film is clearly vastly superior to anything a camcorder microphone would be able to handle. 

            There are however less conceits here than in Blair, for example the reason the battery/ tape never runs out is that the film is roughly the same length as a commercial camera tape would be, the idea is that the film isn’t “edited” but rather a compression of what was available after Hud turns on and off the camera.  So the film is real time in a sense. 

            The first thing that director Matt Reeves did right here was to maintain a real sense of reality, especially in the beginning.  Reeves wisely decided to use almost all unknown actors for the film, and the film also uses very realistic dialogue.  Early scenes at Rob’s going away party feature awkward conversations by people who don’t have witty retorts available to use.  These people do not talk like movie characters.  Up until the monster shows up one could easily be fooled into thinking this is genuine footage. 

            The camerawork is appropriately amateurish, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the viewer.  If realistically shaky camera work is a problem, this isn’t the movie for you.  This amateurship is not exaggerated at any point, and it probably won’t induce nausea in anyone who isn’t particularly susceptible to motion sickness, but it is there.  What’s important is that this camerawork is not gratuitous, it is in many ways what makes the film special.

            The comparisons between this film and Godzilla are inevitable, and they are also valid comparisons.  It should be noted that the two films have more in common than the fact that both films feature giant monsters destroying a city.  Godzilla has widely been an interpreted as a monster film that reflected the fears of its time and place, which in the case of 1954 Japan was a nuclear crisis.  Cloverfield, is in many ways is trying to reflect the fears of our post 9-11 world, namely a fear of being caught in the middle of a completely unexpected disaster in the middle of an Urban center. 

            The film also reflects how such an attack would be recorded in our current culture of gadgets and Youtube.  The original Godzilla, at least the American version, was told through a series of news reports by Raymond Burr.  This reflected the increase of media technology in the mid-fifties through the new medium of choice, television.  Here however the medium of choice is a personalized gadget, amateurishly shot by someone in a culture where everyone thinks the world cares what they have to film.  With The Bair Witch Project many questioned why the “documentarians” would be holding a heavy camera while running for their lives.  Nearly ten years later this seems like a non-issue, in fact Hud’s continual holding of his camera is a statement about this information age culture.

            The film could also be compared to Jazz in that what makes it special are the notes it doesn’t play.  By the end of the film we never do learn where this monster came from nor are we given an explanation of how the greater world is reacting to the situation.  In fact I doubt the film is going to put an end to all the online theorizing, in many ways it asks more questions than it answers.   But it’s these unanswered questions that make the film work, the chaos and confusion the characters are in the middle of add significantly to the film.  That’s a big part of why it uses the camcorder set-up, it places us directly with this group and it denies viewers the opportunity to demand an expanded explanation. 

            The film holds off on showing the monster, but not in a manipulative way, when the viewer needs to see this thing it is put on screen, and by the end we are given a pretty good idea of what it looks like, although I don’t think I’d be able to draw a picture of it.  The monster looks vaguely Lovecraftian, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Cthulhu Mythos interpretation shows up online.  The CGI here is not top of the line, but it works, largely because we mostly get very brief views of the effects material.  But getting a chance to see the monster is not why you should go to this; that is just not the point.

            The true accomplishment of this film is not the effects, it the suspense.  The ages have been filled with giant monster films, and none of them before now have even tried to be remotely suspenseful.  This decision not to go for suspense in the past was wise, it’s hard to take something like Godzilla very seriously, especially when the effects consisted of a man in a suit plowing through paper buildings. But what Reeves and Abrams have done here is found a way to generate real suspense out of such an insane premise and they’ve done it by amping up the realism and placing the protagonists right in the middle of the crisis.  Other films like Emerich’s Godzilla make the mistake of allowing the main characters into relative safety and then having them walk back into the mess.  Here the characters are stuck in a chaotic situation and are completely defenseless.

            Of course the film isn’t perfect.  The biggest mistake here was to formulate the plot around a rescue “mission,” with Rob and company trying to save Rob’s lover from her apartment.  I was able to take a lot for granted here, but there was a certain point where I stopped believing that anyone in their right mind would keep going along with this suicide mission.  I understand why they went in this direction and some of this love story does pay off in a big way, but it really did stretch believability way past what I was going to accept.  I also would have generally liked a little more character development out of our band of heroes.  Still, one has to accept a certain limit to what can fit into this sort of experimental project.

            At the end of the day, Cloverfield may not be the greatest cinematic achievement we see, but it will be an important time capsule.  I think this film will be a real artifact of its place and time.  It is certainly very different than anything you’d expect from a Hollywood disaster film, and that in itself is an accomplishment of sorts. 

***1/2 out of four

There Will Be Blood(1/4/2008)

 

            There Will Be Blood has been the holy grail of the 2007 holiday season for a number of reasons.  First and foremost among these reasons being that it is the return of Paul Thomas Anderson, a director who often seems like a unique example of a director with no real failures on his record.  It had been five years since his last film, Punch Drunk Love, but even longer since his sprawling epic Magnolia.  Added to this anticipated return, was the inclusion of Daniel Day-Lewis, a great actor who rarely takes parts that aren’t special.  Also intriguing were the themes of oil and religion, two important topics today.  But also intriguing was the fact that no one was really sure exactly what the film’s plot was.  The cherry on top of all this intrigue may have been the film’s title, the film promises blood, but that blood mostly isn’t on screen, rather it flows through the veins of this major, important film.

            The film centers on Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), an oilman in turn of the century California.   As the film begins Plainview has struck oil and established an empire, but his partner is soon killed in a drilling accident.  Plainview chooses to adopt the orphan son of his fellow prospector, and raise him as his own.  About ten years later Plainview is wealthy, but not yet a millionaire.  Plainview soon learns from a man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) of a promising oil prospect in a rural region of California.  Plainview investigates this barren stretch of land and finds it to be more than a little promising.  There is an ocean of oil under that land, and once Plainview begins drilling there, nothing will be the same.

            What probably makes There Will Be Blood work so well is that it is completely unformulaic.  So many movies today are so predictable that the viewers have a good feeling how the movie is going to end after twenty minutes.  This is largely the result of screenwriters who make the mistake of listening to people like Robert McKee that teach people to put common elements into every film like a clear motivation on the part of the main protagonist.  Robert Plainview has no clear motivation other than to make money, and his actions are rarly motivated by this.  I made the pleasant discovery half way through There Will Be Blood that I had no idea where it was going, but that I desperately wanted to. 

            Primarily, the film is a character study.  Plainview is a larger than life figure, a Nietzian great man if ever there was one.  The man is a complete misanthrope; to him other people are like ants scurrying around him.  The people who live in this California desert are an obstacle to him, one gets the sense that he’d happily kill them all and only doesn’t because buying them out is the path of least resistance.  Plainview’s unique world view (which completely contradicts his name) does help him in creating an empire, but it ultimately proves to be a rather dangerous lifestyle.  I would never give away what happens later in the film, but it becomes exceedingly clear that the direction that Plainview takes is not healthy.

            Daniel Plainview is an almost Shakespearian character, it’s not a role that many people would be able to play.  Luckily Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the few people in the world capable of tackling this material, and delivers yet another transcendent Day-Lewis performance.  I thought that Day-Lewis reached his peak when he played Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, but I was mistaken.  Day-Lewis is able to create this larger than life character but also make sure he remains a living breathing human.  The way that Day-Lewis’ delivers almost every line is interesting, and he can deliver a speech like nobody’s business.  Most of the rest of the ensemble is forced to sweat bullets in order to catch up with Day-Lewis, and some of them, like that of Paul Dano can seem a bit weak in comparison.

            The filmmaking here is top notch.  Paul Thomas Anderson has long been accused of stealing other director’s styles (Scorsese in Boogie Nights, Altman in Magnolia), but those days are gone and I’m now fully confident that he is one of the great directors of our time.  Cinematographer Robert Elswit shoots beautifully, especially in the harsh California sunlight.  I did however have a problem with the cinematography during the darker scenes, I felt the film lacked some of the deeper blacks it should have had, although this may have been unique to my screening.  The score, by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, is amazing.  It was not just the type of grandiose music a conventional composer would create, but rather its great exciting music that takes the material onscreen and makes it even more exciting.  This music really stands out, much like the rest of the film.

            The film is being described as a story about oil and religion, in fact its thematically more about American capitalism.  It was capitalism that gave Plainview power, and it was power that made him a god, and being a god drove him mad. 

**** out of four

The Savages(1/2/2008)

 

            Aging has been a major theme in cinema this year, particularly the effect that aging has on those related to the aging party.  Julien Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and Butterfly depicted the entrapment the protagonists father felt as a result oof his advanced age, while Sarah Polley’s Away From Her showed the ravages of Alzheimer’s and the effect it had on the husband of an afflicted woman who stopped remembering him.  Tamara Jenkins’ new film The Savages, focuses on the problems a pair of siblings face as their father reaches the end of his life.

            The film begins in Sun City, Arizona where an old man named Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) is living with his girlfriend, and fellow senior citizen, Doris Metzger (Rosemary Murphy).  Lenny, begins to act out against Metzger’s caretaker (David Zayas), a sign that he has been falling into dementia.  At this point the film cuts to New York, where Lenny’s daughter Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) is contacted and informed of her father’s condition.  Wendy has been working as a temp while writing plays that don’t get produced.  She has been estranged from Lenny, who was not a good father, but her forceful personality makes her want to do something about the situation.  Her brother, Jon Savage (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), is less exited to reunite with Lenny I his condition.  But, when Doris dies and her family decides to sell her house, they are left with no choice but to find a new home for their father.

            The Savages is a dark comedy in the vein of The Squid and the Whale and About Schmidt (whose director, Alexander Payne, executive produces here).  The film is about a dysfunctional family, but in a much more cynical way than last year’s Little Miss Sunshine.  The two lead characters, Jon and Wendy, are neurotic New York intellectuals who have inflated views of their lives.  The film sympathizes with both, but isn’t afraid to show the numerous flaws both characters have.

            Wendy, is a neurotic control freak who feels it is her responsibility make everything perfect, even though she has no real control more often than not.  She is sleeping with a married man 13 years her elder, but seems to ignore her own guilt in the commencement of this affair.  Her key flaw is her inability to see the writing on the wall, she keeps applying for a Guggenheim fellowship even though she’s been rejected eight times, and this inability to face the facts manifests itself in her constant nitpicking about where she can put her father.  Laura Linney’s performance is a definite asset to the film, as she brings some real sympathy to a character that would be easy for an audience to hate.  She makes this possibly over the top character feel real.

            Jon Savage, is almost the opposite, he’s a character that constantly tries to go with the flow.  For a while this makes him seem like the voice of reason, a straight man to Wendy’s neuroticism.  While Wendy is nitpicking over choosing a nursing home for Lenny, he simply tells her “they all kind of look the same inside.”  But it’s soon made clear that he is just as much of a looser as she is and his smug feelings of superiority are generally unfounded, as he brags about only being rejected six times by Guggenheim.  This character is not a stretch for Phillip Seymore Hoffman, and his performance here is nothing special, which is not to say it isn’t good.  It seems that even when Hoffman is on auto-pilot he’s still pretty good.

            The Savages is clearly not a light-hearted film and a simple description of the plot would not lead most people to assume it is a comedy.  What’s interesting is that the film does more with the “dramedy” dichotomy than many other projects would.  One minute the film is taking dark comedic jabs at these characters, and the net minute it really begins making points about the effects of a dying patriarch on his children.  In many ways the film works better as a dark comedy than a sincere drama, but it needs both elements.  It doesn’t fully work as either but works pretty well as both. 

            Tamara Jenkins will never be mistaken for a great visual stylist but that doesn’t really matter for this type of project which, visually speaking, requires only competence; and this film definitely lives up to that modest standard.  The cinematography, editing, and art direction are nothing special, but this never really distracts from the overall effort.  What Jenkins does excel at is directing actors and bringing everything else together effectively, and that is a reasonable focus for this kind of project.

            The Savages is hardly a perfect film, and its biggest flaw is repetition.  There are a lot of redundant scenes here that make points that have already been made previously.  About midway through the film they were still reestablishing character tendencies that had already been established.  While this is a problem, it is not damning if only because these redundant scenes are still very good and usually pretty funny.  I was never bored by The Savages, but I recognize that it could have used a little trimming.

            If for nothing else, I can recommend The Savages for the solid performances from the leads. After that I’d still recommend it for its interesting character interactions and a handful of very funny moments.  Yet still, I can’t say the movie blew me away.  There are a lot of bigger and better things in theaters now that are more worth going to now.  The Savages is a solid piece of work, but you shouldn’t feel guilty about waiting to see it on DVD.

*** out of four

DVD Catch Up: Paris je t’aime(1/1/2008)

 

            Short films have really been pushed under the rug lately.  This once important part of the cinema going experience mostly disappeared from the public eye around the same time as the newsreel.  Since then, short films have mainly lived only in film festivals and film schools; they still give out Oscars for them, but the winners are usually completely unseen by the general public.  Still, there is a soft spot in most people hearts for this little brother to the theatergoing experience.  The internet has been a help for the medium, the BMW shorts were a neat experiment and most festival related shorts will find their way to cyberspace.  Every once in a while, however, an anthology of shorts like Eros, Four Room, and Coffee and Cigarettes will find its way to adventurous theaters. 

            The latest example of the short film anthology is Paris je t’aime (which translates to “Paris I love you”), a film which collects eighteen five-minute shorts all related to the city of Paris and all related to love or romance in some way.  Some of the shorts here are made by important world-class directors like Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Curon, Wes Craven, Tom Tykwer, Alexander Payne, and The Coen brothers.  Other films here are directed by French locals like Bruno Podalydès, Sylvain Chomet, Olivier Assayas, and Gérard Depardieu.  Still others are directed by an eclectic group of world filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha, Walter Salles, Isabel Coixet, and many others.

            Most of these film a very simple and usually depict a nice little slice of life.  All of the films involve love as a theme, but it isn’t completely dogmatic about this.  The film transitions between the films with little shots of Parisian locales.  Each film is also clearly marked with a title and a caption identifying its director. 

            Of course not all of the films here are going to work as well as others.  When I re-examined my notes after viewing the film I found that I had given an “A” to four of the films, a “B” to seven of them, a “C” to four, a “D” to two of them, and I gave an “F” to the Sylvain Chomet which fails by default for prominently featuring mimes.  One would think that major directors like Alfonso Curon would dominate the A-list of shorts, but that wasn’t entirely the case.  Part of this may be because the less known directors had more to prove, good work here could really launch their careers, while the more famous directors can afford to just phone it in while they’re doing a side project between features.

            The best films were the projects from Gurinder Chadha, Isabel Coixet, Oliver Schmitz, and Tom Tykwer.  The Tykwer project is particularly impressive; it depicts the entirety of a relationship between a blind Parisian (Melchior Beslon) and an aspiring American actress (Natalie Portman) in a matter of just three minute, all in a beautiful little framing story.  Tykwer uses the techniques that made his Run Lola Run fun, but has more substance than that entire feature film. 

            Another standout film comes from the unknown to me South African/German filmmaker Oliver Schmitz.  His film begins with a paramedic meeting a dying man on the street and then flashes back on what lead him to his current state.  Isabel Coixet also impresses with a sweet Maupassant, story about a man whose attempts to leave his wife turns out much different than he expected. 

            Most of the B-level films like those from Gus Van Sant, Richard LaGravenese, and Gérard Depardieu depict nice little slices of life, but are generally not very ambitious.  The entry from the Coen brothers, which depicts a confrontation between a mute Steve Buscemi and an arguing Parisian couple, is cute but fails to generate the resonance of many of the other vignettes.  Another disappointment comes from Alfonso Curon, who films his entire segment in one shot, but it is little more than a fairly banal conversation between a man played by Nick Nolte and a woman played by Ludivine Sagnier.  Curon’s decision to make this a single extended shot was a mistake, it leaves the actors faces obscured in the dark, which is a big problem when your film is a single conversation. 

            The only true failures here mainly fail because they are a lot stranger than the films that surround them and thus disrupt the flow of the film as a whole.  The aforementioned mime film is the most guilty of this, but close behind it is an oddity from Vincenzo Natali involving a  romance between a backpacker played by Elijah Wood and a female vampire (Olga Kurylenko)… Yeah, you read that right, a vampire.  The only other real oddity comes from the Christopher Doyle film.

            The films, despite the fact that they’re separate productions, do connect well and there is a real wisdom in the order the producers choose to order the films.  They wisely choose to distribute the quality films evenly with the lesser films so that there weren’t any really long bad stretches.  Bruno Podalydès’ film is hardly the best filmhere but it establishes the mood real well as the first film while Alexander Payne’s film, wistful little love letter to the city by an American tourist, is the perfect segment to close the film on.

 In general Paris je t’aime is a worthwhile project.  There are a lot more hits than misses within the anthology.  Even the films that don’t work are at least interesting, and if they fail… well they’re only five minutes anyway. 

*** out of four