love: Zhang in 2046.
by Wong Kar Wai
is an exquisitely roman- tic film about the impossibility
of most romantic love. You’d think that it would be depressing,
but it’s not. The film’s view of humanity is luminous and
nuanced; the one character who doesn’t pretend to be anything
but a dreamy romantic is the only character granted a happy
ending. Combined with the stunning visuals, 2046 makes
the perverse notion of sexual futility almost delicious.
is also a sequel, but you don’t need to have seen In the
Mood for Love (2000) as a prerequisite—though seeing it
will make the sequel even more of a tragedy than it
The storyline begins where the previous film left it, in Hong
Kong circa 1966. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) is a newspaperman living
in a cheap motel. There are riots in the streets—riots are
one of the signature motifs of the 1960s—but Chow lives apart
from the rest of society. Having just lost his great love
(Maggie Cheung, seen in brief flashbacks), Chow drifts from
woman to woman, a cool ladies’ man with a smooth manner and
a really sleazy mustache.
He may be a slick seducer, but we’re on to him early: His
approach to relationships is so obviously self-destructive,
and he is so clearly unaware of his own feelings, that he’s
a sympathetic figure. And this is true especially when he’s
being a total bastard.
Most of the women he meets are as lost as he is, though for
very different reasons. The gambler nicknamed Black Spider
(Gong Li) seems to be a victim of the period’s Southeast Asian
wars; Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), a mercurial young hooker, seems
never to have had a chance; Wang Jin Wen (Faye Wong), who
is in love with a Japanese man, seems unwilling to challenge
her father’s xenophobia. “Seems” is emphasized because the
film, as per director Wong Kar Wai’s style, is often sketchy
If you read film reviews on a regular basis, you probably
take critical hyperbole with a grain—or a sack—of salt. This
is a good thing.
Now that we have that established, believe this: 2046
is among the most visually sumptuous movies ever made. The
gorgeous images of faces, bodies, cheap hotels, grubby gambling
dens, bullet trains and sci-fi cityscapes are dreamy, hallucinatory
and filled with an almost unbearable sense of isolation. Which
is, in itself, evidence of Kar Wai’s half-rueful, half-damning
view of love and lust, both cinematic and “real.”
Kar Wai has never worked in this wider ’scope ratio (2.35:1)
before, but he uses the horizontal space with incredible sensitivity.
Sometimes he uses the whole frame to capture a panorama of
action, but it’s the way he uses only portions of the letter-shaped
box that really register. Really, there are probably no more
than a dozen commercial filmmakers alive who even have an
inkling of what to do with the wider screen; a full-screen
DVD version of 2046 would be incomprehensible.
The film is told in flashbacks and flashforwards. Some of
this seems designed to keep the audience off- balance. Mostly,
however, it’s to allow a fuller understanding of these doomed
souls. And, as with In the Mood for Love, the ending
is breathtakingly heartless—and perfect.
by Andrew Niccols
A mass-murdering African dic-tator calls him the Lord of War,
but Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) is more commonly known as a
merchant of death. Yuri is an illegal arms dealer whose smooth
talking and quick thinking put him at the top of a global
industry. Andrew Niccol’s savagely satirical Lord of War
is Yuri’s story, from his youth as a Ukrainian immigrant in
Brooklyn to his nightmarish downfall in Sierra Leone, where
his guns are used to slaughter a camp of innocent refugees.
After a snazzy intro in which a single bullet is tracked from
manufacture to its human target, Yuri narrates his life story,
beginning with a brief history of murder that displays his
genius for self-serving rationales and a sense of humor as
black as scorched earth. His character is shaped by the Russian
mobsters who turn his 1970s Brooklyn neighborhood into a war
zone, giving him the career inspiration that will eventually
make him rich enough to afford his own fleet of cargo planes:
Like the food his parents serve, he explains, weapons fulfill
a basic human need. He recruits his vulnerable younger brother,
Vitaly (Jared Leto), as a business partner, but what he really
wants Vitaly around for is reinforcement of his own turpitude.
There isn’t an ethical argument that Yuri can’t turn into
a witty justification, while his personal charm disguises
his moral oblivion. His nerves of steel, gift for languages,
and relish for creative paperwork not only allow him to outmaneuver
business rivals and manipulate bloodthirsty tyrants, they
also earn our admiration. The hyperarticulate Cage, at once
easygoing and wound too tight, is a perfect fit with a character
who remains a cipher even as he lets us into his deepest thoughts.
Though the film makes a convincing case that Yuri is selling
his soul for the American Dream, it seems that his soul was
vaporized long before we meet him. His motto of “Never to
go to war with yourself” is meant to highlight his inner conflict,
but there’s little indication that his conscience is a problem;
it seems he’s too consumed by the art of the deal to notice
the destruction occurring all around him. And that’s about
the only failing Lord of War has (aside from Ian Holm’s
deadweight rogue operative).
Yuri’s engaging narration and his flashpoint successes brilliantly
incorporate 30 years’ worth of censored stories on the illegal
arms trade, while his wily evasion of a by-the-book Interpol
agent (Ethan Hawke) illustrates the woeful inadequacies of
law enforcement in the global economy. The incorruptible agent
also serves a counterpoint to his persuasive quarry, as when
he explains to Yuri’s trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan) that
more war victims are killed by small arms than all the weapons
of mass destruction.
Though it has the tight focus of the best documentaries, the
film is never preachy. Due to the sharp writing and the escalating
intrigues of Yuri’s business entanglements, it’s immensely
entertaining—except when it’s harrowing. Enmeshed in the for-profit
civil wars of Western Africa, Yuri finds out what hell must
be like, with the lunatic dictator of Liberia (Eamonn Walker)
being as close to Satan as a mortal man can get. We’ve seen
movies this up close and personal on the drug trade (Goodfellas
and Blow come to mind), but the largely unacknowledged,
wholesale carnage caused by Yuri’s trade puts his story
in another league. What Casablanca is to romance,
Lord of War is to cynicism.
Call the Whole Thing Off
by Phil Morrison
At once oddly mesmerizing and deeply annoying, Junebug
is one of those movies in which the filmmaker’s unease with
his characters and setting, no matter how familiar, is palpable.
In this case, screenwriter Angus MacLachlan and director Phil
Morrison revisit their roots, so to speak, in a movie about
the return home—in this case, the Carolinas—of successful
Chicago businessman George (Alessandro Nivola) and his new
wife Madeline (Embeth Davidtz). As is made evident in the
film’s first moments, this couple are simply mad about each
other and themselves—and why shouldn’t they be? They’re bright
young things, living in a sophisticated world populated by
intellectual, witty and beautiful people. However, once back
home, the reality of George’s Bible Belt roots, his spiritual
underpinnings, and the taciturnity of his family nearly prove
OK, so once Morrison and MacLachlan have established their
“You can’t go home again” theme, what do they do with it?
In a word, bluff. While Madeline is met with open arms by
George’s very pregnant sister-in-law Ashley (Amy Adams), the
rest of the family, including dad Eugene (Scott Wilson), mom
Peg (Celia Weston) and brother Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie)
seem tentative. Indeed, if not making complaints about Johnny’s
messiness, Peg doesn’t have much to offer, and the house itself
is tomblike in its silent perfection. Eugene, who appears
to be the kind of soothing influence on roiling temperaments
that many a good dad before him have had to be, retreats to
his basement woodshop, and George, following in these footsteps,
basically abandons his bride to her own devices while he does
God knows what. Only Ashley, with her effervescent and nonstop
prattle, seems lifelike, able to convey concomitant emotions
such as loneliness in the wake of her husband’s long-dormant
love, nervous joy at impending motherhood, and near rapture
over finding, in Madeline, the type of glamour and sophistication
that she never believed existed.
The filmmakers’ inability to flesh out most of the characters
reflects an underlying unease with what they’re trying to
do. Clearly, they feel that the ultra- religious atmosphere
of George’s hometown is, at worst, weird, at best, a tad confining.
And yet they don’t want to be too strong in skewering the
town’s inhabitants, with whom they seem to want to share traits
such as common decency and humbleness. Without making some
sort of stand on the issue, the movie is nothing but a series
of ambivalent gestures.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the writing of George.
While Nivola imbues him with a courtly sensuality, we never
get any evidence of how George’s background and present merged
to create the man who so intrigued Madeline. Similarly, Madeline’s
character, who seeks to cultivate folk artist and religious
fanatic David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor) for a show at her gallery,
is at once ruthless and naïve. A scene in which Wark agrees
to go with her gallery, because he recognizes in her piety
and a will to share the will of Jesus, unwittingly hits home
the fact that Madeline is not wholly scrupulous; unfortunately,
it’s a moment that lacks import because of the filmmakers’
unwillingness to show us a character who is anything but likeable.
Similarly, when Madeline refuses to join George at a critical
moment for one of the characters, in order to take another
crack at the folk artist, Junebug is completely neutral
as to whether we’re supposed to side with George (family first)
or the gallery owner. In the resulting vacuum, we have blankness.
Despite its faux artiness—scenes of empty rooms meant to convey
the emptiness of the family’s existence—and inability to find
a track and stick to it, Junebug succeeds on the strength
of its luminous performances. Davidtz seems happy to have
escaped a string of Lifetime movies and bit parts in big pictures
like Schindler’s List, and be the full-fledged star
of the show. Even more compelling is Adams the only cast member
to emerge from this jumble with a fully fleshed-out character.
Her foibles and loneliness create sorrow for us, but we rely
upon, indeed cheer for, her character’s ultimate goodness