Tag Archives: Strangers on a Train

The New Old: Love & Darkness

October 29, 2012

Little Shop Of Horrors: The Director’s Cut (Frank Oz, 1986) – Little Shop Of Horrors might have its fans, but this little beauty of a Blu-ray still shouldn’t exist. It’s not like we’re talking about a movie like Blade Runner that will instantly cause a legion of folks to rush out to their friendly neighbourhood Blu-ray dealer to pick up a new version of the movie featuring 37 new seconds, and yet somehow Warner Brothers has come through with the cash to provide a director’s cut 26 years after production wrapped. For years it’s been known that Frank Oz planned to end his movie like the musical with evil plants taking over the world and even filmed a city smashing giant monster finale that was one of the most expensive sequences in the entire damn movie, only to have it dropped when test audiences balked at seeing the main characters eaten and the movie’s monster win. The first DVD released featured a black and white work print of the material that was swiftly taken off the market when the producer (David Geffen, who can do pretty much anything he wants) objected to the original ending being included in an incomplete form. That disc still sells for over $150 on ebay because of it’s scarcity, but we’ll see how long that lasts now that the sequence arrives on Blu-ray with completed effects, a proper sound mix, and can even be watched as part of the feature. Now that we can finally see the complete version, it’s clear this is one of the strangest movies to be given a blockbuster Hollywood budget in the 80s and one immeasurably improved by the original dark, monster mash ending.

Based on a Roger Corman movie that was infamously shot over a weekend, the film is about a lowly plant obsessed loser named Seymour (Rick Moranis) working in a failing flower shop on skid row, NYC. Seymour finds a strange plant during a “total eclipse of the sun” that he names Audrey II after the flower-girl co-worker (Ellen Greene) that he obsesses over. The plant proves to be so odd that it brings people to the store from around the city and turns it into a success. To keep the plat alive he starts feeding it his blood and as it grows, the store only gets bigger as well. However, the little loser still can’t get the girl because she’s stuck with an abusive dentist boyfriend (Steve Martin, obviously). However, that changes when the plant gets big enough to talk (and sing, obviously) and convinces Seymour to murder the dentist for plant food. So he does, the plant keeps getting bigger and the kid keeps murdering others to feed his best buddy. Eventually Seymour works out this plant might be evil and decides something has to be done. Originally good conquered evil, but now Audrey II eats everyone and takes over New York with a legion of clones. Oh yeah and it’s a musical with songs all the way through, because if you’re going to make something this weird, you may as well go all the way.

Endings aside, Little Shops of Horrors is a damn entertaining movie that still seems underrated even though it developed a cult following long ago on VHS. As a filmmaker, Frank Oz has a knack for dark comedy (see equally underrated gems like What About Bob?, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bowfinger, and the original Death At A Funeral for more) and this horror-musical is one of his best. He gets the tone just right, embracing the darkness, camp, and self parody to give everything a heightened, even cartoony feel. His use of visuals is fantastic, mixing between horror and musical styles (often within the same sequence) and orchestrating some incredible visual moments and pieces of choreography on some massive sets. Oz also casts perfectly, with Rick Moranis ideally slotted as the geeky hero, Ellen Greene reprising her Broadway role to squeaky voiced perfection, and Steve Martin giving arguably one of his funniest performances as the sadistic dentist (you haven’t lived until you see Martin punch a nurse in the face and break a child’s doll mid-song). The screen is also filled with cameos from the likes of Christopher Guest, John Candy, and most notably Bill Murray as a masochistic dental patient (in a role played by Jack Nicholson in the original). If nothing else, Oz gave us the only big screen sequence that puts Steve Martin and Bill Murray in the same frame, and it’s every bit as eye-wateringly, back-achingly, pants-wettingly funny as you could possibly hope.

Little Shop was also an ideal Frank Oz joint because it allowed him to use the knowledge he built up for decades as a puppeteer. Audrey II is created 1:1 scale in every scene as a puppet, with the final big boy weighing in at over a ton. It is without exaggeration one of the all time great achievements in puppetry, not only moving naturally, but mouthing along to lightening paced songs sung by The Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs (who is somewhat of an underrated hero of the whole movie). Oz knew better than anyone how to give a puppet life and this thing has more personality that it has any right to have. The songs by future Oscar-winners Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are all done in a Motown style and almost unfairly catchy. In theory, they shouldn’t fit into such a strange, dark, violent B-movie narrative. Yet, they feel just right, heightening the absurdity and playing into the campy goofball humor that was inherent even to Corman’s original flick.

Regardless of whether you choose the theatrical or director’s cut version, Little Shop of Horrors is absurdly entertaining, painfully funny, and also somewhat creepy. The theatrical ending closing things out with a smile, but the newly restored ending goes out with a bang. The dark finale feels somehow more appropriate to the material and the scenes of New York being toppled by plants are remarkable achievements from the practical effects team. The sound effects and few f/x shots that were recently completed fit in so well that you’d never guess they slipped in a few decades late. The only bummer is that due to subtle changes, the filmmakers also had to include a rough version of the song “Mean Green Mother” instead of what was used in the final film, which feels a bit jumpy and sadly lacks the polish of the theatrical version. It would have been nice to have that cleaned up as well, but given that we finally get to see the original version of the movie and it’s an improvement, why complain?

In addition to the long awaited director’s cut and an incredible new transfer that allows audiences to find new details in the remarkable puppet and set designs, the disc comes with a nice array of extras. First up is a commentary from Oz from the old DVD that is packed with fascinating behind the scenes tidbits (like the fact that Moranis had to act his scenes with the plant in slow motion because the puppeteers could never get the complex lip syncing right in real time), then there’s a vintage Making-Of feature shot on set (which is far more interesting than those tend to be), an outtake real, and a brief new documentary about the original ending featuring Frank Oz and the special effects supervisor. Would it have been nice for WB to make a new documentary about the production and legacy of the movie? Absolutely, but they didn’t make one and if that money went into restoring the original ending instead, that’s a more than worth the sacrifice. If you’re a fan of the film, the director’s cut might be the new definitive version. If you’ve never seen Little Shop of Horrors before, do yourself a favour and pick this up. Hollywood movies don’t get any odder than this and seeing those puppets in HD is a further reminder that digital f/x wizardry still can’t top a big ol’ rubber monster when that shit is done right.

 

Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951) – Criss-cross. A murder for me, a murder for you. That’s the arrangement central to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 masterpiece of suspense Strangers on a Train. The man with the iconic lip and gut profile and a morbid sense of humour had already made a string of British classics (from The Lodger to The 39 Steps) and some strong Hollywood work (including Best Picture Oscar-winner Rebecca and his personal favorite Shadow of a Doubt), but Strangers on a Train felt like the first definitive Hitchcock tale in La-la land. By then he was a known commodity and had been toying around with his favourite themes, subjects (well, subject: murder), and stories for years. At that point he was making “Hitchcock movies” and Strangers on a Train distills it all to perfection, filled with applause worthy set pieces, morbid humour, and of course a domineering mother. Over the subsequent decade the plump Brit would go on to seemingly crank out classics at will and produce his most famous work. While his familiar elements would combine for all time classics, they very rarely topped the impact of Strangers on a Train and if you were going to introduce anyone to Hitch’s twisted little movie world, you could do a hell of a lot of worse than using this flick as a starting point.

Hitchcock opens his film at a train station, cleverly introducing the audience to his two protagonists by following their shoes as they head to the same train in opposite directions. There’s Guy Haines (Farley Granger), a pro tennis player with a cheating wife and Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) a strange and sad little man with a life run by a difficult mother. Bruno’s a fan and chats up Guy on the train, before slipping into more morbid matters. He knows that Guy wants to leave his wife for a new lover, but fears the impact of that decision. He thinks that Guy would love to have that wife disappear just as much as he’d like his father to go away. So he suggests an arrangement. Bruno will murder Guy’s wife and Guy will murder Bruno’s father. Since they never met before, neither would be a suspect. At that point, Guy realizes Bruno is a little cuckoo. What he doesn’t realize is that Bruno is so cuckoo he assumes the agreement was made and promptly murders Guy’s wife at a county fair. He then expects Guy to fulfil his end of the arrangement and when that doesn’t happen, Bruno starts following the star around, threatening to confess and take them both down.

It’s a creepy premise that Hitchcock milks for all it’s worth, working from a particularly strong screenplay from pulp novelist Raymond Chandler. With the premise established in the opening sequence, Hitch is allowed to toy with the audience from the very beginning and whips up some of his greatest set pieces. From a single unmoving head focused on Guy in the midst of a bobbing tennis crowd to a strangulation reflected in glasses and an out of control merry-go-round, the entire film is filled with visual moments that still have a strong unnerving effect and benefit wildly from the HD upgrade. Yet, while some of those suspense sequences are amongst the masters best, when makes Strangers on a Train on of his greatest achievements are probably the central characters. Guy is a weak and paranoid protagonist who is easily manipulated, which goes against Hollywood formula in a way that’s just right for the tale. Bruno is a fascinating psychotic, undeniably intelligent and articulate, but with hints of something wrong beneath the surface from the beginning. Beyond the psychosis, there’s also the intriguing (and daring for the time) suggestion that Bruno is in love with Guy. Given the era of production, this is never overtly addressed, but Hitchcock hints at it in many intriguing ways (particularly in the British preview version included on this disc) that adds an extra layer to their relationship. It’s possibly the most fascinating game of bloody cat and mouse that Hitch ever whipped up and if you’re not into all that subtext raz-a-ma-taz, it’s also one of his most purely entertaining flicks.

Strangers on a Train arrives on Blu-ray with just as classy of a treatment from Warner Brothers as you’d hope. The black and white photography been carefully remastered, with inky shadows and stark waves of light that vividly shine on Blu-ray and play a crucial role in the visuals. Special features come straight out of the excellent 2-disc set from a few years ago. There’s a 40 minute documentary featuring insights from Peter Bogdanovich and various film historians, a commentary comprised from outtakes from that documentary as well as vintage audio clips from Hitchcock himself that is absolutely fantastic, a SD (boo!) version of the slightly different British preview version of the movie, and four little featurettes on Hitch (including one with some very amusing home movies of the director and his family). Overall, it’s an incredible package that gives the first entry of Hitchcock’s streak of impeccable entertainment the technical presentation it deserves and ports over some stellar special features to provide every conceivable nugget of info about the masterpiece. In other words, you really have no excuse to skip this disc. Unless you just have a blanket hatred for black and white movies of course, in which course I just might have a blanket hatred for you.

 

The Devil’s Advocate (Taylor Hackford, 1997) – Now here’s a movie that walks that special line between being a guilty pleasure and possible cult classic. When originally released, The Devil’s Advocate was dismissed by critics faster than the ownership of a fart in an elevator, yet it brought in a healthy profit. You can’t really say the reviews were wrong. The semi-serious demonic horror romp is certainly overwrought, overacted, boasts dated CGI, and is nowhere near as profound as the filmmakers seem to think it is. However, thanks to possibly Al Pacino’s most rip-roaring performance that’s played so broad and loud that audiences in neighbouring movie theaters would consider it a bit much, there’s a certain charm to be had. You can’t really call it good, but you can’t claim it’s boring either. Writer/director Taylor Hackford (Ray) mixes in enough intriguing ideas and effective scares along with the cheese to keep things interesting and ensures that everything is played completely straight so that when the melodrama explodes to ludicrous heights, there’s no winking. You can just enjoy the ride and shake your head in awe while mumbling, “what were they thinking?” Where else are you going to see Pacino at his most unhinged and Keanu Reeves at his most confused? This is what 90s camp is all about people

So, if you weren’t able to notice the not-so-subtle pun in the title, this movie is a legal drama/morality tale with a Satantic twist. Keanu Reeves plays a hotshot Florida attorney on the rise who struggles with his accent as an actor and his conscience as a character. He’s undefeated despite having to defend a child molester who touches himself while kids are on the stand and gets the call to join a massive law firm in New York headlined by Al Pacino’s John Milton (easily the devil’s weakest pseudonym since DeNiro’s edition dubbed himself Louis Cyphre in Angel Heart). Pacino then tempts Reeves with wealth and success for the price of getting a high profile murderer off scott free, and puts Reeve’s wife (Charlize Theron, also pushing the accent button a little to hard) into a Rosemary’s Baby apartment where she can slowly go insane. A bunch of alternately silly (Pacino’s friendship with a Don King who must not have read the script, and Jeffrey Jones being killed by phantom joggers straight out of Ghostbusters 2) and moderately effective (Theron’s new secret demon face buddies) set pieces follow. It’s all fitfully amusing, but the movie becomes a something special in the climax.

Hackford’s tale all builds to an unforgettable climax where Pacino drops the ruse and lets loose on an epic speech in an attempt to convince Reeve to join the darkside. The scene is a blast on two levels. First, Tony Gilroy’s words actually makes some entertaining arguments that position the devil as a creature who only wants to allow humans to indulge their instincts without shame and god as a prankster and “absentee landlord” who likes to torture humans with temptation for his own amusement. The single monologue creates one of the more charming and amusing Satans in cinematic history, with far more wit and intelligence than normally slips into a Hollywood horror product. Of course it’s also an over-the-top speech designed to court scenery chewing and Pacino doesn’t miss a beat. He’d already hoo-ahed his way to an Oscar at this point and was in the self-parody portion of his career when this script arrived. Not a syllable is wasted as Pacino screams, dances, mugs, and literally bursts into song as the devil. You can’t call it good acting, but good lord is it ever fun to watch. This is a Satan who loves being evil, played by a Pacino who loves cutting loose on screen. That’s a match made in over-acting heaven. To make the sequence even better, while Pacino is acting with a capital A, Reeves acts his side of the scene with a capital “eh.” Pacino acts for two in a scene that should be shown in acting schools as the two extremes of what not to do. Well, maybe that’s too harsh. Pacino practically makes over-acting an art in itself by the end of the scene and the likes of Rod Steiger or Kirk Douglas can only dream of going this far.

The new Blu-ray bills itself as a director’s cut, but unless there were a few extra seconds of boobs n’ blood that I didn’t notice (unlikely), then that’s the version that’s been around since VHS. The transfer is strong for the dated source material, so now you’ll be able to see ever pore in Pacino’s forehead while he bursts a blood vessel screaming and feel extra vertigo on his banister-free terrace. Special features come ported over straight from the DVD, offering 20 minutes of Pacino-free (and therefore useless) deleted scenes and a commentary track from Hackford. You won’t learn much about the production, but you will learn just how seriously the director took the film as he spends the entire track detailing the meaning of every scene. That proves to be indeliberately hilarious as well when the “subtleties” he feels the need to point out include a scene when an evil/important woman is introduced dressed in red holding an apple (temptation?). At 143 minutes, The Devil’s Advocate is a pretty long sit for a movie appreciated primarily for what goes wrong. However, if you’re a fan of Pacino’s personal brand of overacting, this flick is like crack and you’ll wish it would never end…well, his scenes anyways.

 

Fear and Desire (Stanley Kubrick, 1953) – If an award were handed out for the most unlikely Blu-ray of the year, Fear and Desire would be a lock. The film was the first by Stanley Kubrick, a meditation on wartime morality made when he was 25 with a small sum of borrowed cash and the filmmaking prodigy acting almost as the entire crew. Given that Kubrick was and remains arguably the most loved and respected director who ever lived, the film certainly has historical importance and should be available for purchase. However, it’s also a very crude first effort that the infamous perfectionist Kubrick quickly disowned and he allegedly even spent years trying to track down and destroy every copy. The film was never available on any official form of home video, passed around only in bootlegs by particularly dedicated cinephiles. But thanks to The Library Of Congress and the good folks at Kino Lorber, the film is now not only available, but in a fancy HD package. The only question is whether or not the film is in fact a lost classic or if Kubrick was right for trying to erase it from existence?

Unfortunately, there’s no real clear answer to that question. The film is easily Kubrick’s worst, yet by his standards that just means it’s not one of the greatest films ever made. The story is simple: a group of soldiers are trapped 6 miles behind enemy lines and try to work their way back. They find a peasant girl who is abused by a disturbed soldier. They build a raft and try to kill a rival general. That’s about it. Essentially, everything that happens in the movie brings out the worst in the characters to highlight the way war destroys good men’s souls and reverts them to their most basic, animalistic impulses. It’s a very simple message hammered home a little too hard by screenwriter Howard Sackler (who would go on to write The Great White Hope and…er…Jaws 2). The script is rather rough and amateurish, with quotes from Shakespeare and overly verbose voiceovers struggling to be profound. The acting is stagey. The production values are non-existent. Frankly, there’s little doubt that if the film didn’t have Kubrick’s name in the credits, it would have disappeared long ago.

Yet, that’s not to say it’s without interest. Kubrick choreographs a few beautifully shot set pieces, especially a raid on a small cabin that combines the stark lighting of German Expressionism with the editing techniques of Eisenstein. Also, viewed in the context of the time Kubick made the movie , it’s unheard of that a young amateur would even attempt a guerilla filmmaking project like this and nearly impossible for any American film to be so cynical about war. Fear and Desire is best treated as an intriguing artifact rather than a film, more of a curious glimpse into the development of Stanley Kubrick than an interesting flick in it’s own right. It’s clear why Kubrick didn’t want anyone seeing his debut and yet for fans, it’s undeniably fascinating to see where he began. The movie would probably best be suited to be a special feature on a Paths Of Glory disc, much like Killer’s Kiss was included on the Criterion Collection’s edition of The Killing.

Kubrick was a director who never made the same movie twice. Other than Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss, which were each reworked as more complex projects when Kubrick finally got to Hollywood in Paths of Glory and The Killing respectively. By the time he had a crew, Kubrick knew what he was doing and watching his first two hour-long indie features is almost like seeing Kubrick’s student films. Judged on that level, they are certainly more interesting than most student shorts by budding directors and that’s probably the best way to approach watching Fear and Desire for the first time. Of course, you wouldn’t know the film wasn’t a lost masterpiece based on Kino’s loving Blu-ray restoration that provides the film with clarity, depth, and detail that probably wasn’t even possible when the film initially screened in theaters. The lone special feature is an industrial documentary that Kubrick made for The Seafarers Union around the same time and is also only of interest because of his name being in the credits. If you’re a Kubrick completist, it’s definitely worth checking out Fear And Desire just to see where his adventure in obsessive/compulsive filmmaking began. It might be far from the filmmaker’s greatest achievement, but it is an intriguing starting point that shows off Kubrick’s raw undiscovered talent just before he joined the Hollywood system. I’d love to say that it’s a secret masterpiece, but that’s just not the case. This is a Blu-ray for hardcore Kubrick fans only and even then expectations should be realistic. Word would have gotten out long ago if this thing was a lost masterpiece. Aw well, at least it’s not an embarrassment either.

 

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane (Robert Aldrich, 1962) – Remembered mostly for clever stunt casting and camp humor, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane endures because at a certain point it transcends those obvious entry points to become something genuinely disturbing and deeply, deeply bizarre. Like Sunset Boulevard, it’s a tale of Hollywood failure turned into psychosis. However, director Robert Aldrich doesn’t leave things in straight Hollywood satire-land, his film is also an amusingly cracked look at sister sibling rivalry taken to a horrific extreme. Thriller, horror, camp comedy, backstage Hollywood dirty laundry airing, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is all these things and remains a classic because frankly, there’s really nothing else out there like this one. You’d have to head into David Lynch territory to find an American movie with a finale this surreally disturbing/funny and it’s a movie that needs to be seen and loved by more than just the usual students of Hollywood lore.

The film is about two sisters who grew up in show business and were delightfully destroyed by the experience. Jane Hudson (Bettie Davis) was a child star in vaudeville, while her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) became a movie star in her twenties. A mysterious car accident put Blanche in a wheelchair and ended her career, but more importantly put her in the care of her sister (who could possibly think that was a good idea is a worthy question, but not one that bears thinking about). Blanche lives entirely in her house, trapped on the second floor by her wheelchair with a connection to the outside world limited to a single phone and her maid. It’s clear that Jane revels is being able to control her sister’s life and it’s also clear that the woman is insane, still dressing like a child star with a face covered in thick flakey make up. Shortly after the situation is set up, Jane starts to go particularly batty, singing her childhood hit by herself in the dark, removing Blanche’s loan connections outside, and psychologically abusing her endlessly. Blanche frantically attempts to contact neighbors or anyone who might help, but Jane thwarts every effort and mocks her for it (“Butcha are in that chair!”), while also trying to launch a career comeback a few decades too late. As you’ve probably guessed by now, Jane is going to get a whole lot worse before she gets better and things get mighty dark n’ odd in that old creaking mansion.

Back when this film was released, Aldrich courted attention by casting Bettie Davis and Joan Crawford in the lead roles. The hyper-competitive actresses despised each other and that barely concealed hatred bled into their roles perfectly, with legends of Davis kicking Crawford in the face on set and Crawford volunteering to pick up the Oscar for whoever beat Davis just to rub salt into the wound. Those backstage shenanigans are what is most remembered about the flick at this point and while that stuff is undeniably pretty great, it tends to overshadow the strengths of the film itself. The movie opens as camp with Davis’ deliriously over-the-top performance and all the stunt casting providing plenty of laughs. However, Davis quickly overshadows her rival once the psychosis takes over and Crawford can be a little flat (even if that’s the nature of the character). Davis overacts throughout, but gets away with it because it becomes part of the nutso character. Their twisted relationship cuts deeper than mere showbiz rivalry, feeling more like a relationship two mutually loathing sisters taken to the extreme. Aldrich also gradually shifts outside of movie naturalism to create a film far most disturbingly surreal that it initially appears. The final third is straight out of a nightmare as Baby Jane transforms from a drag queen caricature into a tragically empathetic figure, deluded by memories of fame and years of alcohol. It all builds to a conclusion equally haunting and hilarious, an image hard to wipe out of your brain.

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane arrives on Blu-ray in a fancy-pants package suited to the cult classic. The black and white transfer is elegant and clean, perfectly capturing every one of Aldrich’s stark camera angles and revealing further crack’s in Jane’s disgusting make up. When it comes to special features, the disc is packed but sadly limited. There’s a featurette about the Crawford/Davis rivalry, long documentary profiles on both actresses, Davis’ appearance on the Andy Williams show singing a song about the film, a trailer, a very brief vintage behind the scenes doc, and a commentary from two film scholars that focuses on…you guessed it, Crawford and Davis. Now, obviously background information on the actresses should have been included, but it’s a shame that’s absolutely all that was included. Aldrich is one of the most underrated directors in the business (Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen, etc) and the film is one of his best, yet the commentators barely even know who he is. Given the legacy an impact of the film a little something specifically on the production or the director would have been nice. But, what are you going to do? The movie is most famous for the stars, so this sort of thing was inevitable. That keeps this from being a perfect Blu-ray package, but at least it’s still a damn good one. You’ll want to pick this thing up primarily for the movie anyways and if you’ve never watched it before, be prepared for one of the strangest damn Hollywood movies you’ve ever seen. You can’t even say, “they don’t make em like this anymore,” because they never really made em like this.

 

In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000) – After kicking down the door to the international film industry with his one-two punch of vibrant improvised romantic crime movies Chunking Express and Fallen Angels, director Wong Kar Wai released what many consider to be his masterpiece in 2000 with In the Mood for Love. Though the improvisation-centric techniques as well as many members of the cast and crew were the same, the tone of the film couldn’t be more different. While he’s breakout movies had a distinctly modern sensibility, intense pacing, and a joyful spirit, In The Mood For Love was a far more leisurely paced and delicate period piece without a single gun or grandstanding swell of romanticism in sight. Though less fun, the film is certainly a more mature work filled with subtle pleasures that contrast dramatically with his more visceral projects. Personally, it’s hard to say which side of Wong Kar Wai is preferable, but either way there’s no denying he was one of the most interesting directors of his time.

The film takes place in Hong Kong 1962. The city was dense and overcrowded, clinging to the culture of the past while trying to find a new voice of it’s own. Into that evocative world comes two unhappily married people who move into the same small apartment building on the same day. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) is a bored secretary who constantly tells anyone who will listen that her husband is constantly away on work. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) is a chainsmoking news reporter who works long hours and tells stories of meeting a wife for drinks who he actually has lost complete track of. Both of lonely souls have spouses who left them for someone else, but out of shame and cultural taboos, they can’t admit it to themselves or anyone else. They eventually connect with each other, sharing their deep secrets and helping each other cope. Love sparks between them, but a love that neither person can act on for the same reason they can’t admit what happened to their marriages. So, the film is a love story comprised of small glances, touches, and moments of connection that are never acted upon. Though it doesn’t sound like much, they way Kar Wai shoots the tale and the carefully contained performances of the two leads makes the material almost indescribably moving.

Nostalgia flavors the film heavily, with the lost Hong Kong practically a third protagonist in the film. Kar Wai’s camera creeps around the tight corridors and evocative alleys of the city to spy on his hapless lovers and the audience becomes nosey neighbors desperately hoping the two main characters will find a way to connect. Cheung and Leung vividly embody their complex emotions through characters who are never capable of verbally expressing how they feel. It’s a love story done almost as subtext, and one that will creep up on you if you engage with the unconventional methods Kar Wai and co. employ. The visuals from co-cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-Bin are remarkable, constructed in carefully composed frames that linger on each stolen glance and painful moment of reflection through slow motion and sliding camerawork. It all may sound too subtle to have much of an impact, but the techniques are hypnotic and the cumulative impact of the experience is devastating.

In the Mood for Love premieres on Blu-ray from the good folks of Criterion who have lovingly restored every vibrantly coloured frame of the film. It glows in HD and since the story is told more through visuals than words, the movie is immeasurably improved by the visual upgrade. The disc ports over all the special features from the Criterion’s DVD and while there are no new additions, only the greedy would complain. You’ll get an informative 52 minute documentary about the film, an experimental found-footage short film from Kar-Wai, a fascinating 2-part interview from the director (one on the film itself another on his general filmmaking techniques), a press conference from The Toronto Film Festival with Cheung and Leung, video analysis from critic Tony Rayns, deleted scenes, and trailers. It’s a packed set covering almost every aspect of the film and all the features have been upgraded into HD for additional eye-candy. This movie might never be a billion dollar crowd pleaser, but for those interested in small stories with a big impact, it is a masterpiece of sorts. This is the kind of release Criterion is known and loved for and a movie more than worthy of the treatment. Artsy-fartsy types should rejoice.

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