Chungking Express. Directed by Kar Wai Wong. “If my memory has an expiration date, let it be 10,000 years…” That’s the brilliant tagline for this sublimely romantic dramedy that seems to transcend the limits of time and space. The exceptional ensemble includes Tony Leung Chiu Wai (an extremely adept actor), Faye Wong, Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Valerie Chow. Faye Wong is especially lovely in her role as a worker at the Midnight Express snack bar, the meeting place for multiple characters. KWW (it’s easier for me to refer to him that way so as not to confuse him with Faye) utilizes Western music incredibly, giving Wong the theme of The Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin'” and a wonderful scene in which she listens to it while pouring fast food sauces in the kitchen. The film also boasts a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams” sung by Wong herself (even though I can’t really sing along, I’ve got it on my iPod), used during a scene in which her character is redecorating her crush’s apartment. Unlike KWW’s later film In the Mood for Love, which I found so relentlessly sad that it’ll probably be years before I watch it again, Chungking Express has an air of hope: not just for the characters who pass through its scenarios but also for the possibility of true love finding its way in the world. It is pure cinematic joy.
Four Weddings and a Funeral. Directed by Mike Newell. Hugh Grant is at his best in this smartly-written British romantic comedy. I simply adore his character’s awkwardness and the glasses he wears. (This scene shows off those aforementioned charms.) Although Andie MacDowell is not the world’s greatest actress, she is likeable enough in her role that I don’t mind her too much. The supporting actors are exquisite: Kristin Scott Thomas, John Hannah, Simon Callow, Rowan Atkinson (!), Charlotte Coleman and, in a particularly hilarious sex scene, David Haig. The funeral scene made such a deep impression on me that in my senior year of high school, when everyone in my AP English class had to pick one poet and two works by said person to write a paper on, I chose W.H. Auden – one of the poems being “Funeral Blues,” now well-known for its inclusion in the film’s funeral scene. (If I recall correctly, the other poem I wrote about was “As I Walked Out One Evening.”) Against all odds, Four Weddings was the little movie that could: it managed to secure an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Grant deservedly won a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe, among other accolades. Don’t be deterred by the pale-imitation rom-coms Grant has made; I implore you to check this movie out.
Only You. Directed by Norman Jewison. A little on the cheeseball side, but I’m not complaining too much. Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey, Jr. are a perfect match in this romance by legendary director Norman Jewison. Both leads give warm and funny performances, with RDJ emphatically witty and wonderful in his youthful, bright-eyed days. Bonnie Hunt is her usual dependable self as Tomei’s sister who is starved for attention and romance thanks to her workaholic husband (Fisher Stevens) and Billy Zane also makes a good (if somewhat slimy) appearance in the film. The attraction of the film lies in its foreign locale: divine Italy, including Rome, Venice and Tuscany. The film is predictable, as most romantic comedies are wont to be, but its fine actors and beautiful cinematography lend themselves well to the genre. Only You is an admirable addition to the “chick flick” category, rising above the material to attain the status of Good Film.
The Professional. Directed by Luc Besson. French film icon Jean Reno and 12-year-old Natalie Portman (in her feature film debut) are fantastic in this surprisingly tender action-drama. Reno and Portman have an undeniable rapport, along with unique fashion and hairstyles. Besides those two great stars, Gary Oldman (one of my all-time favorite actors, soon to be seen in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) gives what is perhaps his most chilling performance as the psychotic killer Stansfield. Oldman breathes life into Besson’s twisted dialogue, making even the most innocuous turn of phrase a sinister cast. (Just watch this scene and tell me you’re not glued to your chair.) In smaller roles are Danny Aiello as one of Reno’s criminal acquaintances, Willi One Blood as one of Stansfield’s henchmen and Michael Badalucco and Ellen Greene as Portman’s trashy, neglectful parents. I suppose some people might be turned off by the hints of romance between Reno and Portman, but I don’t think the movie is meant to portray pedophilia. Their characters’ love is a mutual one created out of years of loneliness. The Professional is not only a modern classic New York movie but also a riveting and highly emotional tale.
Speed. Directed by Jan de Bont. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a fan of Keanu Reeves. Not the obviously bad stuff like Chain Reaction (or his wooden performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula) but rather the great movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Point Break and River’s Edge. Reeves is in top form in this non-stop thrill ride about a bus with a bomb strapped underneath it by psycho ex-cop Dennis Hopper (always compelling when playing crazy). Naturally, Reeves is the young cop who must board the moving bus and find a way to discard the bomb while keeping the passengers alive and intact. Sandra Bullock glows in one of her first big movie roles, playing Annie, the passenger who is forced into driving the bus. Speed benefits not only from fine performances (including a healthy dash of romance) but also from excellent, Academy Award-winning sound and sound effects editing. Take my word for it, you’ll have tons of fun with this flick! (Word to the wise: Don’t watch the sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control, unless you’re really bored. And I mean really bored.) P.S. The title song by Billy Idol, which plays over the end credits, is AWESOME.