Dreaming of John Woo
Director Wong Kar-Wai is worried about forgetting, and he makes movies that are fuzzy and luminous so he can remember exactly how he remembers things. Themes of memory, love and obsession move recurrently through his work like weather patterns.
The Wong Kar-Wai Collection is almost entirely devoid of extras but generously includes Happy Together, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Days of Being Wild and his debut feature As Tears Go By. Killers and cops and cashiers fall in love but mostly out of it. His characters spend a lot of time alone in crowded places. The actors who regularly appear in his films—Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, the Jean Sebergian Faye Wong or the late Leslie Cheung—aren’t just dolls to be played with, or special effects. Despite working most of the time without a script or even a coherent story line, these ridiculously too-gifted actors still manage to be human beings. Like car-sick kids staring steadily at that point on the horizon, we find ourselves trying to keep focused on their faces amid the dense, dizzying thicket of camera tricks. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle is the mad scientist who gives all these films their dreamy efflorescent colors, their strange, screwy camera movements.
Fallen Angels, a sort-of sequel to the lovely, nutty Chungking Express, is what you would dream after a long night of John Woo and NyQuil. A conscience-riddled hitman brandishes pistols in both hands, and sends messages via jukebox to his smitten partner. She, in turn, cleans his apartment, scopes out the scenes of his next crimes, and jerks off in his bed while he’s out shooting and getting shot. Meanwhile, an ex-con, mute since childhood after eating an expired can of pineapples, breaks into closed shops at night and reopens them for business. Some hints about his sales techniques can be gleaned from the cast list, which includes Man Forced to Eat Ice Cream, Man Forced to Have His Clothes Washed and Woman Pressed to Buy Vegetables.
The real masterpiece here is Happy Together. Radiant, nasty and very, very sad, it’s all about the abusive love affair between two gay expats barely scraping by in Buenos Aires. When we first meet the two men, Lai (Tony Leung) and Ho (Leslie Cheung), they’re busy fucking, which is about the only time we see them together and happy. The rest of the time they chafe. Lai and Ho break up and start over and break up. Their heartbreak is worse and weirder because it happens so far from home, like drinking booze at very high altitudes. But after many fights and multiple tangos; after Ho breaks both his hands; after they get lost looking for the waterfalls on their souvneir lamp; after Lai finally finds the falls, all alone, and then flies to Taipei, and boards the train at night; after all that, somebody on the soundtrack starts singing, “Happy Together.” You’ve been waiting the whole movie to hear it. Ba-ba-ba-ba. So happy together. This is maybe the happiest ending in movies: Lai’s train pulls into the station.
[The Wong Kar-Wai Collection ( As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, Chungking Express) $99.95.]
From Angora to ‘The Animal’
Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a meticulously crafted masterpiece of dark comedy and Mr. Burton’s best work, tells the story of arguably the worst film director who ever lived. Ed Wood, played with typical verve by Johnny Depp, exclaims in the film, “Movies are not about the little details; it’s about the big picture.” Considering Mr. Burton’s obsessive attention to detail and Mr. Wood’s utter lack thereof (unless the details involved Mr. Wood’s curious angora fetish), the directors are two sides of the same cinematic coin, a dynamic of extremes that makes the film remarkably personal. The odd yet brilliantly funny screenplay was written by none other than Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the same team behind the Jon Ritter bomb The Problem Child. Martin Landau also gives an Academy Award–winning performance as the cantankerous Bela Lugosi, and Bill Murray’s comedic genius is on full display as Mr. Wood’s close friend Bunny Breckenridge.
This DVD is the special-edition release, and it’s chock full of extras. The special features are as pleasing as the film, particularly behind-the-scenes footage aptly titled Let’s Shoot This F#*%@r, in which Mr. Burton explains how to grimace properly to wrestling behemoth George “The Animal” Steele (who plays Tor Johnson in the movie). The audio commentary boasts more than the haphazard musings typical of most DVD’s; instead, it’s constructed as a cohesive narrative of the film’s inception.
But the most entertaining “featurette” is entitled The Theremin. The theremin, apparently the oldest electronic instrument, was used by the film’s composer Howard Shore to achieve an eerie, evocative sound most closely associated with 50’s-era flying-saucer landings. The gentleman who plays the theremin on the DVD is odder than anyone Mr. Burton could have cooked up.
The only thing lacking in this tribute to Mr. Wood are snippets of his own “masterpiece,” Plan Nine from Outer Space, and, perhaps, a jewel case covered with angora.
[ Ed Wood (1994), 127 min., R, $29.99.]
Turn Off That Reality Show!
The Fox TV show Arrested Development finally got its due this fall when it took home five Emmys—if only people would start watching it, too.
The DVD release of the show’s first season is valuable as a catch-up tool. In the pilot, George Bluth (played by Jeffrey Tambor), the C.E.O. of the Bluth Development Corporation, orders his secretary to shred company documents by cell phone as the Security and Exchange Commission comes to take him away, all while his cockeyed family flails around in a panic. From there it only gets better: His son, Michael Bluth (played by the deliciously uptight Jason Bateman), tries to keep the disintegrating company going while his flaky, nightmare dilettante mother, sister and brothers make his life hell.
Mr. Bateman has been grossly underemployed since starring in It’s Your Move, a great, wacky sitcom that ended prematurely in 1985. Both David Cross, playing the sexually ambidextrous brother-in-law and recurring guest star Liza Minelli as a post-menopausal loon, are hilarious and repulsive. Michael Bluth’s preteen son, George-Michael, played by Michael Cera, is so dorky and neurotic one aches when he appears on screen.
In one of the bonus segments on the DVD, someone asks whether the cast and writers of Arrested Development are “frustrated” by the show’s lack of recognition. The question pretty much sums up the tragedy of television. One needs a lobotomy to sit through nearly everything on TV these days; Arrested Development, with its smart writing and pure absurdity, represents a small ray of hope. Predictably, it was nearly too “smart” for its medium, and was hanging by a thread last spring under threat of cancellation.
Through interviews with the show’s creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, we learn that Arrested Development was modeled after reality television—the production team used both handheld cameras and natural light. The producers didn’t allow video monitors on the set—to prevent the skittish network suits from seeing the “ugly” footage and running screaming back to the cancellation committee.
But Fox recently announced that it was picking up the show for a second season. New episodes are to air starting on Nov. 7, so there will be no excuse for watching Wife Swap.
[ Arrested Development: Season One, (2003), $39.90.]