#404- Chungking Express

Quick recap: The first part of the film follows a policeman who wants to fall in love before his cans of pineapple expire. The second half involves a fast food worker in love with a policeman (not the same one). When he doesn’t seem interested, she breaks into his apartment and spruces up the place.

But now I can’t stop thinking about pineapple

Fun (?) fact: The movie is filmed in sequence, with director Wong Kar-Wai writing the next portion of the script the night or morning of shooting.

Thoughts and observations:

There were parts of Chungking Express that were so confusing to me, like trying to figure out what kind of food Faye was making when she worked with her cousin. But then other parts were intimately familiar, like Officer 223 setting an arbitrary expiration on his single life. As most people know, jumping back into a relationship to get over a previous one doesn’t usually end well, but it’s what keeps you going sometimes. The same could be said about vowing to hit on the next woman to walk in the bar, yet Officer 223 does it anyway and ultimately feels better. I loved the ambiguous ending of the first story, as he goes out for a run to expel all wetness from his body. The woman he ‘fell in love’ with never really seemed into him (maybe something to do with her actually being a drug mule and looking for a lost shipment), but the night he spent with her seemed to be what needed to happen.

In the second half of the film, the audience comes across another lovelorn officer- this one goes by 663, who was just dumped by a flight attendant. He is so deeply in denial that it’s over, that he barely notices Faye, the fast food worker who instantly falls in love. And here again, I found myself relating so much to her character. I’ve never broken into my crush’s house and redecorated but I have created a dream world in my mind imagining what life could be like together. The ending of this story is also ambiguous, but maybe less enjoyable for me because I so wanted the two of them to fall in love together. And maybe they did, but it also reminds me how love can feel so consuming in the moment yet not be the end of the world when it fails to happen.

The director’s use of color and staging intimate shots made me realize there is a third love story- this one about Hong Kong. I could’ve just watched scenes of people walking and eating and chatting for hours. It’s a city so alive with possibility. No wonder this people felt it so important to be in love. I also enjoyed the soundtrack, although I admit to tiring of ‘California Dreamin” after the 4th go round. Still, much of Chungking Express reminded me of Manhattan, in that it follows Woody Allen’s weirdo relationship but the setting overpowers the plot in the most powerful way.

Watchability score: 4/5

Up next: A Place in the Sun

#395- Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song

Quick recap: I’m just going to use the description from IMDb because it is perfectly stated: ‘After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from “the man” with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.’

Yeah. That’s what I watched.

Fun (?) fact: The band Earth, Wind, and Fire contributed to this film but have still not been properly compensated.

from season 5- Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badassss Song

Thoughts and Observations:

Still hungover after my encounter with Shaft, I had nothing but good vibes going into this movie. Finally, my film education can truly begin!

…..And the first scene of the movie is of an early teenage boy having his first sexual encounter. The audience learns that this is the origin of Sweetback, who is apparently really good at sex. My expectations of watching another revolutionary film began to tank. It’s hard to find anything I enjoyed about Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song but just like Pink Flamingos, this is not a movie meant for me. This a community, a group of people, that I did not grow up with and so can not really comment on. From the viewpoint of someone who just enjoys movies, this was incredibly hard to sit through. The acting is very stiff and amateur and the film quality leaves a lot to be desired. Yet, it also fascinated to me to feel like I was watching something ‘real’. The plot wasn’t real but the encounters with the community felt more like someone had just turned on a camcorder and started recording than it did a filmmaker orchestrating the whole thing.

Watchability score: 1/5. There’s only so much I can take of watching a guy run.

Up next: Babette’s Feast

#393- Shaft

Quick recap: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man? Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?

I’m talking about SHAFT

Fun (?) fact: Isaac Hayes originally auditioned for the role of Shaft but lost out to Richard Roundtree. He stayed on  to write the theme song, eventually winning an Oscar. I can dig it.

Thoughts and observations:

Alright, baby, let’s get to it! I L-O-V-E-D every single thing about this movie. Now it could be that I haven’t been around humans in months or maybe it’s the weird nostalgia I get when 1970s New York City is featured in film, but everything Shaft did was exciting. The action scenes were wonderful but I enjoyed myself just as much watching Shaft do such things as: get his shoes shined, sit in a coffee shop and my favorite-sit on the edge of the desk. How can someone be so cool so effortlessly? I never really understood what his job was or his connection to all the bad guys but it didn’t matter. As long as you were cool, he was cool, baby.

Race is of course a huge part of the film and one that I feel so uncomfortable talking about. All I can write about is my own experience and my own opinions so that’s what I will try and do. It was so frustrating to hear Shaft echo the sentiments about not trusting the police when we are having the same exact conversations 50 years later. Maybe the N-word isn’t used as regularly as it was in 1971…….but that’s about it. The concept of a Black hero is one that still resonates today. It’s so much easier to imagine one guy kicking everyone’s ass rather than expect a community to agree to tear down the effects of systematic racism. Shaft is the perfect escape movie for times like this. He helps Bumpy Jones find his daughter despite knowing how bad the guy is because that’s what you should do. It doesn’t matter the criminal record or past decisions, when someone needs help, you do it. Even if it is the police causing the problem in the first place. Even if you have no concept how the other person lives, that’s what you do. It might not look as cool as Shaft made it look but helping your community is something he totally digs.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Au Revior Les Enfants

 

#388- M

Quick recap: A child murderer is on the loose and everyone wants to see him caught: parents, the police and especially the criminals, whose good name is being ruined.

Fun (?) fact: Several groundbreaking techniques debuted in M, like voice-over narration and a musical theme to signify a character.

Bonus fact: Director Fritz Lang hired real criminals for the criminal court scene and several were later arrested.

Thoughts and Observations:

So, M was not the movie I expected at all. Not that I expected much because all I knew before watching it was that it was German and made in the early 30s. I pictured a mix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Jazz Singer. Boy, was my face red when the very first scene was of a group of children singing a song about a murderer butchering them to bits! I still wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into until a few scenes later when the little girl’s body has been dumped in a clearing and the camera focuses on her balloon, no longer tethered, drifting into wires above.

like most things made for children back then, this balloon is a whole other level of creepy

I would be simplifying things too much by calling M a ‘murder mystery’. Yes, murder takes place but Fritz Lang not only wanted to show how different sides were impacted but to get the audience to empathize with each one:

The parents: the first scene of a mother lovingly making lunch while waiting for her child to arrive home from school (which never happened) was especially heartbreaking to watch.

The citizens: The entire town was in a frenzy and willing to suspect literally anyone talking to a child but at the same time, they were dealing with a serial killer who left zero clues.

The police: It’s always fascinating to learn how police solved crimes before DNA matching. In this case, they had one fingerprint and……that’s about it. And the longer it took to catch the murderer, the greater change the city would lose their collective mind and more children would be killed.

The criminal underworld: Did NOT see this one coming but it makes sense. The police began raiding bars every night and rounding up anyone without papers because they had nothing else to go on. As a result, the criminals weren’t able to do their various illegal activities- plus, they are pickpockets not child killers.

and finally, the murderer himself, a former asylum patient released as cured but very much still sick. Played perfectly by Peter Lorre ( a little too perfectly because he had trouble shaking the role even years later), the murderer is so very creepy as he whistles ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. But I couldn’t help but have sympathy for him as he tried to outrun the mob. His most powerful scene comes during the ‘trial’ with the criminal underworld as he begs for mercy because he couldn’t help himself. And as disgusted as I was by his actions, I believed him. In the final few minutes of the film, the police arrive and arrest him before mob justice is carried out. He gets the treatment he needs but the parents are left asking if justice was really served. It’s a question we still ask to this day without any clear answer.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Gabbeh