# 13 Chungking Express

Dear Rache,

One of the reasons why I love Wong Kar Wai and his movies is that, for many of us, our love stories don’t follow the Hollywood formula of boy-meets-girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Often times our love stories are off-tangent, and messy, and unglamorous. And most of us don’t get to play out our little romance in Paris or Italy or even snazzy New York.

And Wong Kar Wai is a master at romanticizing the small, quirky and unconventional love stories that would normally go by unnoticed in the greater scheme of things.

His setting of choice is always the neon-wonderland that is Hong Kong.  His characters are always quirky, crazy or seedy types that are always either  heartbroken or harboring the heaviness of unrequited love.

Chungking Express was the first movie I saw of his. It’s actually a two part film —  the first involves Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who is left by a girl named May, and now has pledged that he will eat pineapple preserves in cans with an expiry date of  May 1. When May 1 rolls around, he will then muster the courage to move on. Along the way, he meets a woman in a blonde wig (who, throughout the movie is known as the woman in the blonde wig),  whom he is forced to take care of because she seems to be in trouble with the mob.

The next story also involves a cop – Cop 663 (Tony Leung) who has been deserted by his flight attendant girlfriend. Enter, Faye (Faye Wong), a weird, elfin girl who works at a 24-hour snack bar that Cop 663 and his then girlfriend used to frequent. One of the cutest bits in the movie is when Faye – in ultimate stalker fashion – trespasses on Cop 663’s apartment and makes small changes here and there. She replaces his soap, his stuffed animal, even the canned goods in his cupboard.

We see these two love stories unfold in Wong’s very stylized storytelling. Oblique camera angles, slowed-down or speeded-up sequences, hazy, dream like editing, kinetic camera pacing, all laced with heavy, mood music or the occasional pop song (California Dreaming).

I like how – in such a grimy, seedy city, an unconventional love story can unfold, and through Wong Kar Wai’s unique, romantic vision, we can actually think of them as beautiful.

And as with most of the love stories I like – there is no neat resolution or a clear cut happy ending. Chungking Express only hints and flirts at this possibility, and we are left, to chase after that feeling.

Best Line:
I won’t spoil it for you – but the movie’s ending is one of my all-time favorites and it has to do with the last two lines.

Rating:
I think you’ll like it Rachey, it’s cute, crazy, unconventional and very romantic. Watch also Fallen Angels, In The Mood for Love and 2046.

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# 12 Up In The Air

Dear Rache,

There is something very old-school about the look and feel of this movie. From the typography of the opening credits, to the country-sounding music, to the drab, unglamorous backdrops such as Detroit and Omaha.

The story centers on a middle-aged man named Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), who travels the country firing people for a living. He is a perfect fit for his job – not only is he commitment-phobic, he loves flying.

He has become an expert of sorts in the fine art of living from one airport terminal to another. He packs light, knows that the best line to follow is the one behind the efficient Asians, and his one main goal in life is to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles on his American Airlines card.

On his downtime, he is something of a motivational speaker. The main message of his talks is – relationships slow you down. Better to cut ties than to carry around all that extra baggage.

Things are going fine for him until he meets two women that will make him rethink his chosen lifestyle. One is Natalie (played pitch perfectly by Anna Kendrick), the young office hotshot that threatens to make Bingham’s cross-country travels extinct when she introduces what is essentially, Skype. (Why fire people face to face when you can do it over the internet?)

Then there is Alex (Vera Farmiga), the female equivalent of Ryan – smart, sassy, always traveling, and not a bit interested in being tied down.

Through Natalie’s innocence and idealism, Ryan is forced to look at his own cynicism right in the face. Through the lovely Alex, Ryan is compelled to acknowledge the fact that maybe, there is someone that he wants to stick around with, for the first time in his life.

The movie is understated but masterful. Something you could expect from director Jason Reitman (Juno) who specializes in small stories that have a great emotional resonance

The scenes are all underplayed, but with such brilliant dialogue, that it achieves what most movies fail to do — strike a chord within your heart that is true, that hits very close to home.

Because, in the end, Ryan’s life does not follow the path he’s been so keen on following all this time. He decides to take a chance, to take a leap of faith. And he ends up disappointed. Maybe even heartbroken.

Most of us have been a Ryan Bingham at one point in our lives, or have known someone like him. We’ve all had our dreams shattered, our hearts broken, and we find ourselves changed, maybe even stronger or hopeful. Or maybe some of us end up like Ryan – resigned to his fate, and trying to be strong about it.

Favorite Line:

These two – because I think it may be something I would have said, if I were that articulate.

“Sometimes it feels like, no matter how much success I have, it’s not gonna matter until I find the right guy. I could have made it work, he really fit the bill, you know. White collar, 6’1, college grad, loves dogs, likes funny movies, brown hair, kind eyes, works in finance but is outdoorsy. I always imagined he’d have a single syllable name like Matt or John or Dave. In a perfect world, he drives a 4 runner and the only thing he loves more than me is his golden lab. And a nice smile. What about you?” (Natalie to Alex)

and

“You’ve set up a way of life, that basically makes it impossible for you to make any human connections. Now, somehow, this woman runs the gauntlet of your ridiculous “life choice” and comes out the other end with a smile — just so you can call her CASUAL?” (Natalie to Ryan).

Rating:

Watch when you’re in your late 20s and life has tossed you around for quite a bit.

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# 11 Before Sunset

Dear Rache,

This post is inspired by the really gloomy weather we’ve been having lately. I’ve decided to do a series (maybe three or four) on my favorite movies to watch on a rainy day.

The first one is Before Sunset. This movie – which stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and directed by Richard Linklater is actually the sequel of Before Sunrise.

First – a bit about Before Sunrise. It’s quite a romantic movie. A young American man named Jesse (Hawke) is travelling by train in Europe from Budapest to Vienna, when he meets a lovely young French girl named Celine (Delpy). There is an instant connection and chemistry between them, and they decide to capitalize on this by spending the entire day in beautiful, romantic Vienna. It is a movie where nothing really happens – except the slow and steady build-up of Jesse and Celine’s attraction to each other, which we can see with the ease and intimacy by which they have their conversations. But there’s a catch. Jesse has to leave the next morning to catch his flight back home. And because of this, their time together becomes all the more bittersweet and more poignant.

As they are about to part ways, they agree to meet each other at the train station after six months. No numbers, email addresses, no home addresses, because they believe  that if they keep in touch, the humdrum of their daily lives would encroach on the magic of their one night.

Before Sunset then, is the movie that came nine years later, to tell us exactly what happened to these star-crossed lovers.

You know why I like this movie better than its predecessor? Because it is so real.

Before Sunrise was a whirlwind romance, of young lovers — carefree and beautiful, on a star-strewn night.

Before Sunset is the story about the grim morning after. Jesse and Celine meet again, because Jesse is in Paris for a small press event for his book. Celine drops by on him.

When they get to see each other again, we see that Jesse is clearly flabbergasted. We then find out that Jesse was at the train station to keep their promise, but that Celine couldn’t make it because of the death of her grandmother.

And with that one, missed appointment, the two are compelled to lead drastically different lives.

Jesse is married, has a kid and is now a writer. Celine is an activist of sorts, who is dating a photojournalist.

This movie follows the formula of the previous one – where conversations between the two happen in real time and is the mechanism that propels the story forward. This time, they walk around Paris – on a bright afternoon. The glare of the sun a metaphor for the stark reality that they have woken up to, after that dreamy night nine years ago.

Whereas once they were bright-eyed, robust with hope about life’s endless possibilities, now we can see that both carry a lot of emotional baggage. They are more gaunt, with bags under their eyes and the first hint of wrinkles.

They are also more cynical, world weary. They once both held on to a magical possibility, but had their hopes dashed.

It is very painful to watch. Especially the scene in the car where Jesse talks about his unhappy marriage, and as he looks off to the window with tears in his eyes and bitterness in his voice, Celine reaches out to touch him, but stops short.

The movie ends as Celine makes tea for Jesse in her apartment. Once again, Jesse has a plane to catch, that will bring him home to his wife and child. But here he is with the love of his life. Will he go back? Will he stay with Celine? The clock is ticking. And we are left to guess as to what happens next, as Celine dances to an Ella Fitzgerald record, Jesse gazing at her, and the screen fades to black.

Favorite Line:

“Oh honey, you are going to miss that flight.”

Rating:

Watch if you are in need of a good cry. Also to see some of Paris’ nice spots.

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#10 My Last Five Girlfriends

Dear Rache,

The Frech fabulist and poet Jean de la Fontaine once said, C’est un betail servile et sot a mon avis Que les imitateurs. Translation: Imitators are a slavish herd and fools in my opinion. And if de la Fontaine is proven wrong, the movie My Last Five Girlfriends (MLFG) is definitely the exception.

Having seen and enjoyed High Fidelity (HF), I became curious about MLFG. Both movies work around the same idea: a guy looking back at five of his failed relationships. However, while Rob (John Cusack), the lead in HF, looks back at his “Top 5 Most Memorable Breakups” in an attempt to know why things always go wrong for him in relationships, Duncan (Brendan Patricks) tried to kill himself and failed. This character is such a failure, and so is this film. And while John Cusack is adorably adorably adorable, Breandan Patricks is nothing like him. By the way, both HF and MLFG are based on the literary works of Nick Hornby and Alain de Botton, respectively.

The only thing that could have saved this movie from being a total wreck was using “the world’s first theme park devoted to a complete nobody,” where the nobody was Duncan, and the attractions/rides are named after his last five girlfriends. But the film failed even at that.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Imitation is suicide.” And this holds true for this film.

Memorable quote:
NONE.

Memorable scene:
NONE.

Rating:
I have no idea why I bothered watching until the end, but if you love yourself and your life, do not watch this movie. Watch High Fidelity instead.

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#9 Crimes and Misdemeanors

Dear Rache,

Last week, I found out that Woody Allen recently released a new film, You will meet a tall, dark stranger, and is in fact working a new one, Midnight in Paris, and I was promptly sent over the moon. Woody Allen, you see, is bar none my favorite filmmaker in all the world, and it would  do me great honor to get you acquainted with him.

I thought we’d start with Crimes and Misdemeanors, something Allen made in 1989, and which stars himself alongside then partner Mia Farrow, Martin Landau, and Bill Bernstein. The movie’s plot, as with every other Allen film, is very complex but may be summed up as such: It is about a group of philandering intellectuals struggling to coexist with one another.

I am no expert, but I have observed a formula in Woody Allen’s films. The lead is a stuttering, blubbering slob. Almost all characters have a codependent relationship with their therapist. Husbands and wives cheat. Girls barely out of adolescence fall for dirty old men (often played by Woody himself). The idea of a perfect present for a child is a book about speakeasies. Strange men molest poor, unsuspecting women by sitting on them and then going to the bathroom. It sounds crazy, and it is. Very much.

Still, Rache, I have to say, that for all its insanity and for all the psychological dysfunctionality of its characters, sometimes, there is actually nothing that I want more than to live in a Woody Allen movie. Somehow, for me, his movies are terribly romantic; they make me want to fall in love. You see, what I like best about them is that they are a world in their own. A la Tolkien, Woody Allen has so masterfully created a whole new world with a whole new language and a whole new culture. It is a world where people still watch black and white films and discuss literature and philosophy. A world where people talk insanely fast and no one bothers to stop for breath. A world where all homes have shelves and shelves of books (Everyone is a reader!). A world where Emily Dickinson’s poetry is recited at dinners just because, and everyone understands. A world where we have jazz for background music almost all the time. It is a world where people are rarely happy, where marriages and friendships fall apart and dreams are shattered, but it is, nonetheless, a beautiful world. Contemporary critics often say that Woody Allen has a weak grasp on reality, that his characters never sound like real people and that his movies never look real, but sometimes I think I fit right in his little world. His movies are quirky alright, but they tug at something deep inside you. For all their outrageousness, they speak truly about life.

Quotable Quote: “Don’t listen to what your schoolteachers tell you. Don’t pay attention. Just see what they look like and you’ll know what life is gonna be like.” –Clifford (Allen) to his niece

Rating: Watch this movie but do not stop here. Watch Manhattan as well, and Annie Hall! You’ll fall in love!

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#8 Heartbreaker (L’arnacoeur)

Dear Rache,

Immediately after the British film Cemetery Junction, I watched the French film Heartbreaker. This happened on the 9th of Oct. And I could have posted the review on the same night, or maybe the day after it, but I just had to finish Dexter

Now this movie is about a guy, Alex Lippi (Romain Duris), who gets paid to break up relationships. He works with his sister and her husband. They were doing a pretty good job, until they were faced with a seemingly impossible task: break up an engagement that’s set to be a wedding in one week! To make things worse, the girl involved is very headstrong, and her fiance will not be pushed around easily.

The most remarkable thing in this movie, really, is the front tooth gap of Vanessa Paradis. Don’t get me wrong. She is beautiful. But really, when she smiles, the only thing one can think of is how the gap looks like a slot for one peso coins. You are then constantly reminded of vendo machines and drinking soda. Refreshing! As for Romain Duris, I’d say he’s not the best looking leading man I’ve seen. In fact, he won’t be in the top 10. But the movie didn’t suck exactly because of him. He is funny and charming, albeit thin and a bit vertically-challenged, I would say. Romain Duris is your perfect man for this role. And this might be precisely because he didn’t look the part the first place. Or that may just be our standard of beauty talking.

If the teeth of the lead actress and the skeleton-like body of the lead actor are not doing enough to make you want to see this film, try the setting. The film is set in Monaco. Monaco! Monaco just makes everything, including tooth gaps and skeletons, cool enough. And if you haven’t seen the movie Dirty Dancing, you’ll get to see bits and pieces of it here.

There you go, Rache. If you ever miss Euro film fest, remember that I have two dibidis waiting for you to claim them. 🙂

Favorite scene:
Alex learning the Dirty Dancing dance. His dancing is surprisingly very DI-like.

Rating:
Watch during your last few moments on earth, after you’ve done possibly everything you need to do.

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# 7 The Legend of The Guardians: Owls of The Gahoule

Dear Rache,

First let me say, I am normally suspicious about a movie that:

1) No one has recommended to me.
2) I have never heard of.
3) Involves owls.

And under normal circumstances, I would not have given this movie a second look.

And when I did see it on the big screen, I have to say, that I was… right.

I’ll let Rainn Wilson’s tweet sum up the movie for me :
“If u like loud, indecipherable Aussie owls re-enacting scenes from LOTR & Star Wars, you’ll LOVE “Legend of the Guardians””

Rating:
Watch, only if you are with a group of friends and it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and you don’t want to go home yet and the only alternative was Charlie St. Cloud.

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# 6 Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix

Dear Rache,

This movie, I  saw in Eastwood during a weekend back in 2007, and I watched it again last night, because I remember I had such strong feelings about it.

I actually saw some of my students watching the same movie at that time. Come Monday, some students remembered our little Eastwood encounter with the comment “Harry Potter was boring diba?”

I liked it.

It feels like first Harry Potter film that dared to distance itself from the book and be a movie all its own. A real re-imagination of the book, which really utilized cinematic tricks and techniques to service the story’s splendor and magic, and most of all, its movement.
Take the montage scenes as an obvious example. What the book built up in chapters, the movie unfurled in a series of overlapping scenes and dialogue.

Professor Umbridge’s reign of terror  showed her  flicking her wand to attack students’ bums, scrutinizing Professor Trewlaney’s classes, and that very funny bit when she unfurled a tape measure beside Professor Flitwick. These overlapping scenes all the while infused with  uppity, elevator music. And what about the Daily Prophet montage where the camera zoomed in, on still pictures that came to life to show the shift in power in Hogwarts.

Isn’t there a scene just like that in Citizen Kane? A newspaper picture coming to life. Just like Kane, this movie employed cinema’s inherent tools to its full advantage all in the service of the story. Camera angles, music, special effects.

Never mind that Ron’s first stabs at Quidditch was completely scrapped. Or that Tonks got only a few minutes of screen time. What hampered the first two, Chris Columbus-directed movies was that these movies were so scared to do anything, other than be faithful to the book. So the movies  felt like a pop up version of the book – each scene meticulously faithful to the words on the written page. It was also very also very awkward and self-conscious.

This movie, was a real stand-alone. It focused on the book’s essence – Harry’s journey towards the discovery of the prophecy, and  his torment at the disturbing duality within him.

Rating:

Not only is this great movie making, you get to see the best that Britain has to offer cinematically – Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, Imelda Staunton as Professor Umbridge and Emma Thompson as Professor Trewlaney. And Maggie Smith and Allan Rickman, of course.

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# 5 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Dear Rache,

I have no other compelling reason for this very first movie that I watched for you, other than I must catch up. The countdown started last Saturday, and if we are to meet the 500-movies- by-March 31 deadline – that means  5 movies a week, and so I am 5 movies behind.

So I switched on HBO and watched the first movie that came on. That is not entirely a bad idea, you know. I came across two of my now all-time favourite films this way (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz).

It was the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Right off the bat, I’d have to tell you that I am biased towards liking this movie, since it’s by one of my favorite directors (David Fincher) based on a short story by one of my favorite writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald).

Like many of the best stories, this movie is about the redeeming and transforming power of love. From the moment of his birth, Benjamin Button, despite his unusual condition (aging backwards, and therefore being born looking a horrible, decaying old man) was surrounded by an unconditional and accepting sort of love.

From his adoptive mother Queenie, to his childhood playmate Daisy (who would become the love of his life), to his piano mentor, to his first employer,  to the tugboat captain, and many, many others.

It’s also a meditation on how it is to live on borrowed time. One has to love completely and live fully. And, one also has to learn how to wait. Because, the movie says, life has a way of putting everything in its place at the best possible time. “We finally meet in the middle,” Daisy says.

And finally, this movie tells us — despite the ephemeral of nature of life, there are some things that do last.

Like the real kind of love. Love that compels people to teach you how to play music, or share with you a Shakespearean quote, or engage you in an intimate conversation in the middle of the night. The kind of love that sees you, with your wrinkly skin, thinning gray hair, and arthritis — in your worst possible state — and still manage to look at you, like you are the most beautiful person in the world.

My Only Complaint:

Watching the movie, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I’d seen this story before. The Southern setting, the doting mother with the one-liner words of wisdom, the childhood sweetheart, the time served in war, time spent on a boat. Forrest Gump.

Favorite Line:

“Some Things Do Last.”

Favorite Scene:

The juncture where Benjamin and Daisy meet each other and realize that their aging process has shown signs of reverse. Daisy is middle-aged and Benjamin is a smoking-hot young man. The Brad Pitt of the Thelma and Louise days. I distinctly remember how it drew a collective gasp from among the women in the movie theater.

Rating:

It’s thoroughly enjoyable and touching, even if it is a rehash of  Forrest Gump . There are worst things to be.

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#4 Zoolander

Dear Rache,

I’m not going to waste your time with flowery prose. I’m going to let this baby sell itself.

15 reasons why you MUST watch Zoolander:

1. Zoolander’s tiny cellphone

2. Zoolander is not a mermaid. He’s “a merman! A merman!!!”

3. Owen Wilson. Really, any movie with him in it is worth watching.

4. Will Ferell’s Mugatu. It’s one of his most hilarious and inventive roles to date.

5. Orange mocha frappuccino!

6. Zoolander’s signature smoldering look

7. Zoolander’s School for Kids Who Can’t Read and Would Like to Do Other Things Good Too

8. Ben Stiller-Christine Taylor Loveteam– I’m a fan.

9. The music is so corny it’s funny.

10. Hansel-Zoolander walk-off

11. Hansel-Zoolander bromance

12. David Duchovny!

13. The gas station freak fight

14. Hansel’s hippie place is awesome. It has a skateboard plank, wall-climbing facility, and a woodburning oven.

15. Zoolander can’t turn left. He just can’t!

Are you intrigued yet?

Rating: Watch at least once in your lifetime.

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