J. Steinbuks

Climate. Electricity. Real Estate.


Reviews of my favorite movies. Sources: Roger Ebert's website, the IMDB, and the Wikipedia.

Many other movies I love but not reviewed here are in Criterion Collection

Director: Wong Kar Wai.

Cast: Tony Leung, Gong Li, Takuya Kimura, Faye Wong, Ziyi Zhang,  Carina Lau, Maggie Cheung, Chang Chen.

Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today. -- Alice in Wonderland

It is always too early or too late for love in a Wong Kar Wai film, and his characters spend their days in yearnings and regrets. "In the Mood for Love" (2001) brought that erotic sadness to a kind of perfection in its story of a man and a woman who live in hotel rooms next to each other, and want to become lovers but never do, because his wife and her husband are lovers, and "for us to do the same thing would mean we are no better than they are." Yes, but no worse, and perhaps happier. Isn't it strange, that most of the truths about love are banal?

The story of "2046" is either briefly summarized, or too complicated to be attempted. Briefly: Chow (Leung) leaves Singapore and Su Li Zhen (Gong Li): "We have no prospects here, so I'll see how things are in Hong Kong." She does not follow. In Hong Kong, he moves into the hotel, and meets a series of women: Lulu (Lau), a prostitute whose murder lingers as a troubling mystery throughout the film; Jing (Wong), daughter of the hotel owner, and Bai Ling (Zhang), a prostitute who becomes Chow's confidante as they drown their sorrows, preferring drink to sex. All of these relationships are seen in carefully composed shots that seem to be remembering the characters more than seeing them. One spectacular shot shows Jing from above and behind, smoking a cigarette and listening to an opera. Its composition is really the subject of the shot.

Since it is by Wong Kar Wai, "2046" is visually stunning. He uses three cinematographers but one style, that tries to evoke mood more than meaning. The movie as a whole, unfortunately, never seems sure of itself. It's like a sketchbook. These are images, tones, dialogue and characters that Wong is sure of, and he practices them, but he does not seem very sure why he is making the movie, or where it should end.


Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall

"Magnolia" is operatic in its ambition, a great, joyous leap into melodrama and coincidence, with ragged emotions, crimes and punishments, deathbed scenes, romantic dreams, generational turmoil and celestial intervention, all scored to insistent music. It is not a timid film. The movie is an interlocking series of episodes that take place during one day in Los Angeles, sometimes even at the same moment. Its characters are linked by blood, coincidence and by the way their lives seem parallel. Themes emerge: the deaths of fathers, the resentments of children, the failure of early promise, the way all plans and ambitions can be undermined by sudden and astonishing events.

The actors here are all swinging for the fences, heedless of image or self-protective restraint. Here are Tom Cruise as a loathsome stud, Jason Robards looking barely alive, William H. Macy as a pathetic loser, Melora Walters as a despairing daughter, Julianne Moore as an unloving wife, Michael Bowen as a browbeating father. Some of these people are melting down because of drugs or other reasons; a few, like a cop played by John C. Reilly and a nurse played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, are caregivers.

"Magnolia" is the kind of film I instinctively respond to. Leave logic at the door. Do not expect subdued taste and restraint, but instead a kind of operatic ecstasy. At three hours it is even operatic in length, as its themes unfold, its characters strive against the dying of the light, and the great wheel of chance rolls on toward them.


Director: Ingmar Bergman

Cast: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, Bengt Ekerot

Much studied, imitated, even parodied, but never outdone, Bergman's stunning allegory of man's search for meaning, The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet), was one of the benchmark foreign imports of America's 1950s art-house heyday, pushing cinema's boundaries and ushering in a new era of moviegoing.

Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a knight, returns from a 10-year crusade with his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand), to find his homeland ravaged by the plague. When the black-cloaked figure of Death (Bengt Ekerot) appears to claim them, Block, whose war experiences have left him cynical about the existence of God and the afterlife, challenges Death to a game of chess to stall for time and gain some insight into the meaning of life before passing on. The game is intermittently paused and resumed during the journey home while Block and Jöns meet several traveling companions, including a mute girl (Gunnel Lindblom) whom they save from a bandit, and a family of poor traveling players--Jof, a gentle visionary (Nils Poppe); his wife, Mia (Bibi Andersson); and their infant daughter.

Block witnesses much suffering and anguish along the way (an encounter with a woman accused of witchcraft who is about to be burned at the stake is especially jarring) but also finds evidence of human kindness and love, prompting him to realize that even a single gesture of goodwill might make the long struggle of his existence worthwhile. The title of Ingmar Bergman's highly acclaimed allegorical film stems from the Book of Revelation.