DVD of the Week – ‘Chungking Express’ – November 25, 2008

Faye Wong
Faye Wong

Wong Kar-wai first burst onto the international scene with this jazzy little cinematic improvisation on a themes of love, loss, connection, and the craziness of emotion. The two stories revolve around cops, but any resemblance to the usual Hong Kong action fare ends there. In the first story, rookie Takeshi Kaneshiro falls for femme fatale in a blond wig Brigitte Lin, and in the second ladies man Tony Leung Chia-wai finds himself the object of the affections of big-eyed pixie Faye Wong (a popular Cantopop chanteuse who make her film debut here and sings a Cantonese version of The Cranberries’ song “Dreams”). A unique peek into the urban flavor of one working class suburb in the crowded island nation of Hong Kong, this a film that sways to its own beat, and those unusual rhythms are infectious, as are the smeary/stuttery visuals of cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Previously released on DVD, Criterion puts their stamp on the disc with a new edition and will follow it up in December with a Blu-ray edition.

Read the DVD review on my MSN column here.

Also new this week is the underrated superhero drama Hancock, starring Will Smith as a superhero by way of an unnatural disaster, a caustic street drunk faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and more impetuous and self-absorbed than a three-year-old on a sugar jag.

But for all the dark humor of Hancock, this film puts a more serious spin on the superhero genre by shifting into myth and archetype. I’m a sucker for the eternal hero and for the tragic ironies of the ancient heroes. Both are here in a strange, sometimes awkward but always intriguing spin on the modern comic book hero movie, an adult drama with fierce conflicts and fatal consequences, which director Peter Berg delivers with an unnerving intensity. Even by the standards of a maturing superhero genre, this is not a film for kids.

Read the complete DVD review here. My earlier film review can be found on my blog here.

Here’s a digest of the other notable DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: Vince Vaughn as Santa’s bitter big brother in Fred Claus:

… the season’s answer to a big holiday comedy, a mix of sentimental fantasy and smart-aleck humor carried more by personality than story. Really, there’s nothing in this tale you can’t predict, right down to the obligatory triumphant, happy ending. But if you like Vaughn’s glib charm and flinty sweetness, you’ll enjoy seeing him con the elves into doing his work and pressure his pushover brother (played by Paul Giamatti as a pussycat of a Santa Claus) for a loan.

TV: This arrived late, but The Flintstones: The Complete Series Limited Edition is easily the most impressive TV collection I received this week.

Yabba-daba-do! All six seasons of the sixties animated sitcom about the modern stone-age family. Think of them as middle class “The Honeymooners” in a prehistoric suburbia full of crazy sight gags. Fred is a Ralph Kramden by way of Sgt. Bilko and Barney a happy-go-lucky, somewhat sharper Ed Norton, and the two are always scheming to pull one over on wives Wilma and Betty and, invariably, getting caught. Hoagy Carmichael is the first of the show’s celebrity guest voices in the second season opener, Ann-Margret is in fourth season opener, and Tony Curtis, Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York guest star in the sixth season, when Harvey Korman joins the cast as The Great Gazoo.

Special Releases: 300: Limited Collector’s Edition, National Lampoon’s Animal House – 30th Anniversary Edition and Criterion’s edition of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold:

Richard Burton is Alec Leamas in Martin Ritt‘s film of John Le Carré’s novel, an anti-Bond, cat-and-mouse spy conspiracy set in East Berlin during the heart of the cold war. Ritt presents it with the same bitter cynicism that seeps into Burton’s disillusioned spy. It’s the first Le Carré screen adaptation, and one of the best, and Burton earned an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Blu-ray: Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in Becket:

It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards (it won one: Best Adapted Screenplay for Edward Anhalt), but what seemed majestic and theatrically impressive back then feels plodding and stodgy today, like a film obliged to show off every angle of its grand sets while losing the characters in the drafty castle and hearty speechifying. Burton is dutifully intense and morally unmovable as Becket, but O’Toole has all the fun as the flamboyantly arrogant and passionately impulsive Henry, who takes Becket’s challenge to authority as a betrayal of his love. John Gielgud is glorious in his single scene appearance as King Louis VII, and the excellent cast features Donald Wolfit, Martita Hunt, Pamela Brown and O’Toole’s then-wife Sian Phillips.

The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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