In the Mood for Love (Kar-Wai Wong – 2000) A+

It’s the 1960’s Hong Kong. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and her husband, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and his wife rent adjacent apartments in a building. We never meet the spouses of Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow. They are always off camera, we hear them talk. They are at once at the core of the movie, the catalysts, but also not important. Both of these off-camera spouses take long business trips abroad. Soon it becomes apparent that they are on trips together, having an affair. Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow become aware of this and develop a friendship. I expected them to start having their own affair, but they have other plans. They obviously develop feelings for each other as they share meals in restaurants, walk home together and play-act how they will confront their spouses. However, to sleep together, in their opinion would make them no better than their cheating spouses….

It’s a really beautiful film with deep reds and long shots of narrow hallways. Mrs. Chan is ever so elegant in her dresses even if she is going down to the store to get noodles. Their conversations in the rain as they are avoiding the nosy neighbors and their gossip are wonderful. Every shot is so beautifully composed (I’ve never seen cigarette smoke look so pretty before) that I can just watch this film again with no dialogue as long as I can have the awesome score playing in the background.

Did they make the right decision not to pursue their relationship? I don’t think so. Still that was their choice and the film does reflect on it in several “post script” scenes. Kar-Wai made a unique great movie that is at once familiar but so different.

Parasite (Bong Joon Ho – 2019) A

There is a sequence in this excellent film where the Kim family is having to make a run to their home. They have to make it there after leaving the gorgeous home they were working at (sort of working). That one is the Parks’ residence. It’s pouring rain and the Kim’s keep going down, and down and down. They keep walking past nice homes and the more they walk the worse the neighborhoods look. It’s still pouring rain and now flooding as they get to the bottom and then to their home, literally under the street level. Their little below street apartment and the whole neighborhood is filling with sewer water, the toilet starts spewing and the daughter, Ki-Jung, sits on the lid and starts smoking a cigarette. The next morning, Mrs. Park in her beautifully tailored clothing, remarks to Mr. Kim about how wonderful the rain was that “cleaned” the city up! This was a brilliantly shot and executed metaphor for the whole film. The insane economic disparity between the rich and poor. They really live in different worlds.

Bong Joon Ho’s film is about that disparity and the lengths people can go to bridge the gap, but it is not an “eat the rich” film. I do not think it is saying one is bad and the other is good. Although a case can be made that the Kim’s are unscrupulous, perhaps criminal and the worst that the Parks can be accused of is being oblivious or sheltered. They seem like decent people who worked hard and got to a certain status in life. What Ho’s primary point, in a very intricate and entertaining film that I have not even scratched the surface of its plot, is that the system we are living in is to blame. It’s unfair and intended to keep people where they are regardless of anyone’s good intentions.

The Comfort of Strangers ( Paul Schrader – 1990) C+

Christopher Walken is great as always, the setting is excellent for this type of movie yet I cannot say this was a movie I really enjoyed. It’s all style but little soul or substance. I did like the overarching feeling of it, of a pair of spiders (Walken and Helen Mirren) weaving their web to capture the pretty British couple played by Rupert Everette and Natasha Richardson. They are vacationing in Venice and on a fateful night, they get lost and they “accidentally” run into Robert (Walken). Where it goes is both predictable and stylishly shocking.

1917 (Sam Mendes – 2019) A

Every so often we get to see something really spectacular at the movies. The film opens on Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield in a field, one resting on a tree, the other lying on his back in the grass. It’s a beautiful day. It’s 1917 and they are in the field during World War I. When the film wraps up they are in the same positions, more or less, but several miles away across German front lines. We stay with them as they go on their assignment, to alert another regiment that they are going to be walking into a trap. The film is made to seem like the whole adventure is one continuous shot. This style is both an amazing trick, a beautifully choreographed technical marvel. It is more than an exercise though, it adds so much pressure and intensity to the movie. It never lets up. When one of our two corporals is mortally injured we have to stay with him, we know we will have to be there until the last breath because, well, the other one has to be by his side. There really is no false steps in Mendes’ movie. I loved every minute of it and especially the final 10 minutes or so as we get hope, futility, heroism and friendship all up there on the screen back to back.

Free Solo (Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi – 2018) A-

This is a documentary about a guy who wants to free solo climb El Capitan, a sheer rock wall that stands 3000 feet or so in Yosemite park. Free solo means he is going to climb the thing with no ropes. Just upper body strength, chalk, grip and a whole lot of practice. It’s a stunning, terrifying and nerve-wrecking experience. At any moment, as his crew/friends are filming, Alex can fall from the frame to his death. If a bird flies out from the mountain it could cost him his life. One wrong step, one blast of wind…I am not ever going to understand the psychology of what drives someone like Alex. Whether he succeeds or fails at this is only half the experience, the intense drive and practice to excel is the other half.

Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer – 2019) B+

I had never heard of Mr. Dolemite aka Rudy, the person who might or might not have invented rap. I’m not even sure how accurate this movie is or how true to life it is. Least of all did I expect it to be a movie about the making of a movie! Then I was so pleasantly surprised with how good Murphy is playing the role of Dolemite. This is a delightful vulgar romp that is both funny and sweet and is so much fun.

Cronos (Guillermo del Toro – 1993) B

His monsters, he loves his monsters. I got around to seeing Del Toro’s debut movie finally. It involves a man called Jesus Gris (interesting name…) who stumbles on a device that can extend his life indefinitely. He’s a good guy, living with his granddaughter and wife in Mexico City. Of course the device comes with a bloody price tag and it is being pursued by a dying rich guy and his violent nephew, played so well by Ron Perlman. We expect that Jesus Gris will become slowly more evil, his granddaughter freaked out by him after he “returns” and so on. Del Toro is much more interested in the humanity of the monster that Jesus turns to though. Even the little girl is not horrified and still sees her beloved grandpa under the skin.