La haine (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
“La haine” stars Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui as a Jew, an African and an Arab, respectively, who come from the nonglamorous side of Parisian neighborhood. The premise of the film was essentially following the three characters in a span of a day–after a riot in which one of their friends was sent to the hospital–so we could see how they juggled the internal and external violence that faced them. I was impressed with this film because it dealt with the characters in painfully realistic ways without being too heavy-handed or a stereotypical “being in one’s shoes for a day” story. The three friends were so angry to the point where they couldn’t help but stir trouble wherever they ended up. Their personalities were explosive and unpredictable but just when we thought we had them all figured out, the material surprised us. It then begged the question of whether they could rise above the place where they came from; I could see that they wanted to change and that they were tired of having to be (or trying to be) tough all the time. It was the subtle scenes in which the characters expressed their concerns and sadness about where their lives were heading that gripped me until the very intense and memorable final scene. Even though there were a lot of meaningless fights and funny scenes at someone’s expense, I enjoyed the quiet moments when they would just sit on the train and not talk to each other or when they would just visit an empty shopping mall in the middle of the night. As alienated as they were, their frustrations didn’t hinder them from trying to live even if the paths they’ve chosen were roads that we necessarily would not want for them to take. Written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, he really had a knack for playing with the camera and delivering unique shots when something crucial was unfolding before our (and the characters’) eyes. He wasn’t afraid to take some risks and they paid off handsomely; the decision to shoot the film in simple black and white complemented the complex social problems (that we sometimes see in black and white) that the picture tackled head-on. Ultimately a movie about acceptance and corruption, “La haine,” also known as “Hate,” showed that a material does not need to be obvious or touching for it to teach a lesson about urban life. In some ways, the tone and focus somewhat reminded me of the unforgettable “Trainspotting,” only “La haine” was far less manic and more serious in its approach.
From Paris with Love (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
A CIA agent (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who wanted to leave the safe but boring life of working for a U.S. Ambassador was given a promotion to work in a more exciting but dangerous field with a more experienced partner (John Travolta). The assignment was to track down leads that could help the government prevent a bombing mission. I enjoyed this movie even though there wasn’t much story because of the chemistry between Meyers and Travolta. In fact, Travolta and Meyers were very good. Unfortunately, the material that they had to work with was not as good as them. I must say the odd coupling worked because they had completely different personalities (novice vs. expert, cerebral vs. impulsive, both are smart in their own way) which reminded me of one of my favorite films “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” only with more action, less comedy and quirkiness. And the fact that it was essentially a spy picture definitely helped me get into it that much more. I agree with a lot of critiques about the film such as not truly having a clear purpose from the very beginning. I found myself a bit confused regarding what the real assignment was and why the two leads were running around all over Paris shooting all sorts of people. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t help but stay with them because there were nice twists and amusing jokes sprinkled here and there. It was almost cartoonish so it was unpredictable at times. I wished that the film had been a little longer to work on the character development that it seriously lacked. The bantering scenes and eventual agreement between the characters were nice but it felt too shallow and rushed. It made me feel like it sacrificed a lot of depth for the sake of kinetics and running time. However, there were a lot of memorable scenes such as the Chinese restaurant, a revelation involving a double agent and the intense freeway scene involving a bazooka. “From Paris with Love,” directed by Pierre Morel who also directed the superior action-thriller “Taken,” was a slick movie with energy to spare even though it was hollow in its core. But I’m giving this a recommendation because I really had fun watching it; it was obviously tended for people who enjoy action movies that are adrenaline-fueled and not just relying on the story for everything to make sense. I can say that the more one thinks about why things were happening the way they were (in which I found myself doing), the more one will end up getting confused. I say just sit back and enjoy the escapism.
★★★★ / ★★★★
I absolutely loved Greta Garbo in this film. I’ve heard a lot about her serious performances from movies I have not yet seen and I must say that I’m going now to make it a priority to see them. “Ninotchka,” directed by Ernst Lubitsch, was about a communist woman (Garbo) who was sent to Paris because the three other Soviets (Felix Bressart, Alexander Granach, Gregory Gaye) were having trouble selling jewelry that belonged to Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire). At first Garbo was a stern, robotic, stone-faced woman with a very intimidating demeanor but after she met Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas), she eventually learned to open up and, miraculously enough, how to smile and laugh at herself. Even though this was released seventy years ago, I still thought the jokes were really funny because there was a certain sophistication and elegance in its script. The subtleties of the characters really made me really interested in what was going on; it made me want to focus on not just the hilarities that ensue in certain situations but also the drama between the leads. Since the two main characters came from very different worlds, there was always this tension and a question whether they would even have a chance at staying together in the end. I was nothing short of impressed with Garbo’s performance not only because she was able to act out the extremes of her character’s personality but also because she deftly handled the journey from one extreme to another. I fell in love with her character the moment she learned how to genuinely smile, yet I respected her because she did not express her sad emotions to others by outwardly crying or complaining. She internalized her suffering even though she was desperately torn between the country she loved and her personal happiness. I thought the pacing of the picture was spot-on because I didn’t feel like there was any dull moment. The film was always moving forward yet it was still able to surprise with little twists here and there. A lot of film critics and audiences alike consider 1939 as one of the best (if not the best) year for movies with films like “The Wizard of Oz,” “Dark Victory,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” among others. I’m so happy that I read about this film from Entertainment Weekly because I probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. “Ninotchka” is a delightful, astute comedy that shouldn’t be missed especially if one loves powerful performances.
★★★★ / ★★★★
The best thing about this movie was its intensity. From start to finish my heart was racing like crazy because I knew that something bad was always bound to happen. Liam Neeson stars as an ex-CIA agent father who embarks on a mission in Paris to rescue his daughter (Maggie Grace) from the hands of slave traders. I can see why this became a sleeper hit: it had a lot of genuine thrills, exciting action sequences, and a plot that was easy to understand. Aside from the obvious rescue mission, this was a story of revenge in its purest form, supported by the fact that Neeson’s character did not take any prisoner. This was essentially a very “guy” movie because the lead character had a one-track mind and would do anything–even hurt innocents–to get to his daughter. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from audiences that it did not make any sense that a “regular guy” suddenly turned into a Jason Bourne (from the “Bourne” series). I am happy to say that those people simply did not pay attention because in the exposition of the picture, it was discussed that Neeson’s character was once a part of the CIA. I feel that this criticism needs to be addressed because, as a person who waited to see this film on DVD, such comments implanted a seed in my head that the movie was going to be unbelievably atrocious. It was far from ridiculous because active agents who go on assassination missions do exist and, as we very well know (unless one is so deluded or lives in a bubble), slave trade exists as well. Lastly, I have to commend Neeson for essentially carrying this entire movie. Not only was I convinced that he was a dangerous man, but I was convinced that he was a father who really loved his daughter more than anybody in the world, including himself, even if his gestures were not quite appreciated given the amount of thought and effort that was put into them. (He’s very detailed-oriented.) Directed by Pierre Morel, “Taken” is a must-see movie for fans of secret agent films and those who love great suspense mixed with good action sequences.
The Witnesses (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Director André Téchiné’s “Les témoins” tells the story of how four French people (Johan Libéreau, Sami Bouajila, Emmanuelle Béart and Michel Blanc) deal with a newly-discovered unknown virus back in 1984, currently known as AIDS. Libéreau moves to Paris to live with his sister (Julie Depardieu) but eventually becomes Blanc’s younger non-physical lover. Blanc then introduces Libéreau to a married couple Bouajila and Béart, a cop and children’s books writer, respectively. While the couple allow each other to sleep with whoever they want, the wife has no idea that her husband’s new lover is a man and a much younger guy. This could easily have been a stupid movie about homosexuals getting AIDS if it weren’t for Téchiné’s direction. The topic was dealt with such sensitivity to the point where it’s really about people, regardless of sexual orientation, who happen to get infected by the disease. The film also tackles the idea of that initial fear when the scientific community doesn’t have any idea why people are dying except for the fact that it is a virus and there’s no cure for it. I wasn’t yet alive in 1984 so I don’t really know how it was like when AIDS first became an epidemic. So to see news reels about people avoiding certain foods, certain people (homosexuals, drug addicts and Haitians) and even people who work in the morgue actively staying away from dead bodies were interesting to me. I could definitely relate with this picture, especially with the recent scare regarding swine flu. I was so paranoid about getting a cold because of this thought that I won’t be able to live for very long once I get it. There was a certain sensitivity and respect about the issue but it’s not too light or flowery; it’s just enough to tell a story from a specific point of view. Lastly, I liked the fact that the characters’ sexualities weren’t really a big deal. Unlike most American films that touch upon the subject of homosexuality/bisexuality, this picture did not have any I’m-gay-so-I’m-alienated-and-I’m-self-hating moment. I admired this movie’s focus because it never waivers from the message it wanted to get across even though it had to juggle four very different personalities.
2 Days in Paris (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Right off the bat, I knew the two main characters (Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg) are headed for a breakdown. And it’s not because they are complete opposites but because I felt certain lack of respect between the two of them. That lack of respect isn’t always apparent but when it shows its head, I felt hurt for the character being insulted even if the character decides to just laugh off a certain snide remark. Even though this film is more comedic more than anything else, the most interesting aspect of it is how Delpy and Goldberg eventually realize that they’re not meant for each other despite how much they try to look the other way. Adding how an American feels out of place in the French culture is brilliant because it’s true–not just when it comes to Americans but any person experiencing culture-shock. In a way, it’s essential to the story because that’s how Goldberg is finally driven to the edge. I must commend Delpy (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset”) for writing, directing, and starring in this picture. She has a certain talent when it comes to telling an interesting story about relationships. I love the way how she sometimes let the narration take over when the characters are yelling at each other in order to replace chaos with comments and thoughts that are meaningful. She’s so earnest and eager to make the audiences evaluate their own lives and I appreciate that. This movie reminded me of “Paris, je t’aime,” “Last Tango in Paris,” and “Before Sunset” because of all the places the characters visited. And I love it even more when they would outright say a specific reference because it shows that the film is not taking itself too seriously. Overall, I really adored this movie because there’s a lot of talking, the characters are interesting, has a sharp writing, and was actually filmed in Paris.