Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Synopsis: There is panic throughout the nation as the dead suddenly come back to life. The film follows a group of characters who barricade themselves in an old farmhouse in an attempt to remain safe from these flesh eating monsters.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Our culture is obsessed with zombies; I wanted to watch the film that started it all.

Leah’s Review:

I’ll start with two confessions. The first is that I don’t like horror movies. The second is that I really wasn’t interested in seeing “Night of the Living Dead”. This has to do with my first confession and because this particular film looked lame and campy. However, I watched it because I knew it was a classic and very instrumental in revolutionizing the horror film genre. The most surprising thing about this movie was how much I enjoyed it.

Part of what is brilliant about “Night” is how it’s able to subtly change the story’s tone. Roger Ebert puts it perfectly in his review:

“The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying.”

I found myself going from kind of enjoying the campy/scary feel of the film to being genuinely on the edge of my seat with fear.

“Night” was a very low-budget film. This is clear from the moment the movie begins. But honestly, I think it’s one of the things that makes this film great. Director George Romero was able to do so much with so little and use his limited resources to do some truly creative things. The way the film was shot was brilliant. The use of 35mm black-and-white film gives the film a very “documentary” vibe and therefore a more realistic feel. I think that’s another aspect I appreciated about the film- it felt real. The characters in “Night” react and behave the way you’d expect real people to act in that situation.

While watching this film, I kept thinking about how audiences in 1968 would have reacted to it. People had never seen a horror movie quite like this before. Watching it now, I recognize many tropes and “cliches” of the horror genre (which are used really well in this film, I might add) that were not commonplace in 1968. And then- there’s the zombies. Our current culture is so overly-saturated with zombies with seemingly every horror movie, tv show, and video game involving the undead. As such, most people now have an understanding of how zombies function. But those watching “Night” in 1968 didn’t have this common knowledge. There hadn’t been too many zombie movies before this. There are scenes that were frightening to me, but must have been so much more-so for the original audiences. Without giving too much away, there’s a scene where a character is bitten by a zombie. Because of my zombie knowledge, I instantly assumed they would definitely turn into one at some point. So when this does inevitably happen, it was a scary moment- but I wasn’t shocked. I can’t imagine watching this scene in 1968 or how terrifying it must have been.

There’s so much more I could say about this film. I recommend reading Roger Ebert’s full review as it completely captures the feeling of the movie. And I would also recommend watching “Night”. Because it’s truly fantastic. (But maybe wait to eat your supper until afterwards)

Brent’s Review:

When selecting films for this list, I knew I wanted to have horror movies included on it. However, both Leah and I scare easily, so I had to choose wisely. I settled on “Night of the Living Dead” as a pseudo- research project: our culture is obsessed with zombies, so I wanted to see the primary text that inspired it.

“I wasn’t disappointed, but it took some time to get there. The film’s beginning has a very campy feel. I’m sure the first half of “Night” would’ve fit right in with a double feature of other B-horror flicks like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. The characters are bland; the dialogue is serviceable, but the acting is poor; the horror isn’t gruesome at all. In fact, the first zombie attack isn’t remotely scary. However, the film makes a hard-right turn into horror about halfway through. The acting improves and several plot-threads unite in the climax to provoke genuine horror. “Night” contains one of the best climaxes in any horror film I’ve seen, including images that were genuinely scary for me in 2017; I cannot imagine the horror it provoked in 1968.

My favorite aspect of this film is that it is grounded in “reality”, if that’s possible for a zombie film. My favorite scene involves the survivors watching a television news broadcast in which a scientist confirms that radiation from Uranus is causing strange mutations to reanimate unburied dead, who have turned into cannibals. This exposition is followed with a beautiful exchange between the characters about getting a nearby truck to a gas tank. These characters don’t care about how they got where they are, they just care about how to survive.

I have one more comment to make, but it will require spoilers. Feel free to stop reading now if you’re intrigued; I highly recommend this film.

I turn now to describe one feature of the film that Romero claims was accidental, but cannot be ignored: “Night” becomes an allegory for racial tensions in America in the late 1960s. Released months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Night” holds the distinction of being the first film to cast a black actor (Duane Jones) in the lead role regardless of his race (that is, his race is not a plot device). Furthermore, Jones is cast against an all-white cast and an all-white zombie horde. The film ends as he is the lone survivor throughout the night, only to be killed and burned in a pyre by an all-white mob tasked with cleansing the countryside… a mob that looks and acts an awful lot like a lynch mob.

Romero claims these tones were accidental, but they make the final moments of the film work. Without this allegory, the film is sad. With it, the film is shocking.

Horror is a vehicle to explore anxieties and tensions on a macro level just as much as it is on a micro level — “Night” works on both levels.

Up Next: We’re watching “Casino” which is both a Martin Scorsese film and mob-movie…I wonder who chose this one???

Peace out, kids.

Magnolia (1999)

Synopsis: An epic mosaic of interrelated characters in search of love, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: This has long been one of my favorite films, but it’s really hard to talk about or convince someone else to see because of the long run-time and huge cast of characters/plotlines… a perfect candidate for the project.

Brent’s Review:

“Magnolia” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s third feature film and, in his own words, is “…for better or worse, the best movie [he’ll] ever make.”

“Magnolia” is a monstrously epic drama set in San Fernando valley with an unbelievable amount of plot coincidences and conveniences, which would cause any other film to sink under the weight of incredulity. However, the film begins with a seven-to-eight minute mini-movie recounting three short urban legends that are surely pure acts of coincidence… but could they possibly be just coincidence? Once the film lures you into a suspension of disbelief, suddenly it seems plausible that 10+ strangers in the San Fernando Valley might actually, maybe have some connection.

Each character’s story is unique, ranging from an angry son reconciling with his dying father to a police officer falling for a drug addict and many others in between. The strength of this film is in the way each character’s struggles are manifested in different and unique scenarios; “Magnolia” is not a reflection on how love is impacted by external forces, but instead on how love impacts – and in some ways defines – one’s scope of reality. Every player in this story acts out of character as they all seek to give, receive, or find love in their lives.

I’ve seen every Paul Thomas Anderson film with the exceptions of “Hard Eight” and “Inherent Vice.” I disagree with his sentiment that this is the best movie he’ll ever make (my personal favorite is “There Will Be Blood”), but “Magnolia” showcases his virtuosic talents in directing and, in particular, getting phenomenal performances out of every single actor. There is only one other film I can think of that has an ensemble performance as good as “Magnolia” and that’s “The Departed”, which features a cast filled with Oscar winners and nominees. The amazing feat PTA accomplishes with this cast is that it is primarily comprised of career supporting actors and, in some cases, actors whose only credited role is “Magnolia.”

Typically, I’m not a fan of movies with 3-hr runtimes – that’s a huge time commitment, I think. However, “Magnolia” is one of the few 3-hr movies that I could watch any time because it features so many magnificent tracking and dolly shots – and long takes! – that no scene is ever boring. PTA’s energy and passion is very apparent throughout the film. The film’s soundtrack consistently complements his direction as well, including a long take featuring Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” that inspired me to attempt writing screenplays in high school.

All in all, “Magnolia” is an incredibly hard film to talk about. Even if I were to highlight Tom Cruise’s amazing performance as “Frank T.J. Mackey” (disclaimer: I’m not a Cruise fan, but he nails this role), I feel like I’m doing a disservice to John C. Reilly’s excellent “Jim Kurrig”. And even if I highlight a performance, I’m neglecting the ending, which comes out of nowhere and… yeah, it’s memorable.

In short, see “Magnolia.” It is very much worth your time.

Leah’s Review:

When a film has a runtime of over three hours- I get a little nervous. Taking three hours to watch a movie is quite a commitment and there is always the fear that it not be worth my time. But when you become so absorbed in a movie’s storyline that you completely forget about time or how long you’ve been watching, that’s usually a sign of a well-made film. This was certainly the case for “Magnolia”. From the moment I started watching it, I was instantly engrossed in the lives of the characters and their varied stories- the movie never once feels “long”.

“Magnolia” shows the lives of a handful of very different individuals (who are also strangers at the start of the film) over a 24-hour period. Close in proximity- but seemingly not connected, we see these characters going through a variety of struggles- some of which are similar to other characters’ struggles or share common themes. Their stories are “brought together” (although not always through in-person interactions) through the commonalities of their lives and the events that affect them all in some way. One event that brings these characters together (which I will not spoil) requires some suspension of belief. This film is not of the fantasy genre, but it does- as Roger Ebert says of the film- require us to “leave logic at the door”.

“Magnolia’s” strengths lie in two areas: the way the storylines are woven together (as I mentioned above) and the performances of its actors. Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and John C. Reilly are just some of the actors on the billing and there isn’t one bad performance in the whole movie. I particularly enjoyed Hoffman’s performance as a dedicated and sensitive hospice nurse, Reilly- who plays a sincere and compassionate cop (a role that is both endearing and a change of pace from his usual comedic characters), and Cruise- who I am usually unimpressed with, but gives a commanding and emotional performance (which got him a well-deserved oscar nomination).

So what is Magnolia about? That’s hard to say. Themes of coincidence, connectedness, family, loneliness, and forgiveness are all at the forefront of this film. But I’m not sure there is a concrete “takeaway” from this film. Rather, I believe “Magnolia” is a tool to show us the complexities of the human experience and human relationships.

All that being said, I enjoyed “Magnolia” immensely and would gladly take another three hours out of my day to watch it again.

Up next: We’ll be watching a classic of horror cinema: George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”.

Peace out, kids.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Synopsis: An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of politicians and generals frantically try to stop.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I’d seen it twice and my reactions were as follows: didn’t love it, didn’t hate it; thought it was hilarious. I wanted Leah to see it so she could say she could and I wanted to see if it got better with each passing viewing (spoilers: it did).

Brent’s Review:

“Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is an audacious satire poking fun at the Cold War and the men who “fight” it. The deranged Col. Jack D. Ripper makes use of a military loophole to launch a preemptive nuclear strike without presidential clearance, accompanied by radio silence and full defensive counter measures to protect the base from which the code was launched. In short, he pulls a fast one over the soldiers in his command while hoping to force the presidents’ hand into launching a full-scale attack on the U.S.S.R.

The film has three set pieces. The first is my favorite: Col. Jack D. Ripper’s office, in which he tells the distressed Capt. Lionel Mandrake his theory about the Communist plot to overthrow democracy through fluoridation and stressing the importance of maintaining the purity of one’s bodily fluids. The second is perhaps the most iconic: the War Room, which features 20-or-so men sitting around a table while the board of military targets looms in the background. The last: a B-52 bomber en route to a target in Russia. This set piece ends with one of the greatest single shots in film history: Major ‘King’ Kong (played wonderfully by Slim Pickens) riding a nuclear bomb as it plummets to Earth, swinging his cowboy hat as though he were riding a bronco.

“Dr. Strangelove” is full of great comedic turns. All are worth merit, but the film simply would not work without Peter Sellers. Consider: Director Stanley Kubrick was notorious both for forbidding improvisation and his solemn demeanor during filming. Given this, it’s notable that not only was Sellers given permission to improvise most of his lines, but Kubrick was often laughing audibly during his takes. The final scene of the film – easily a top-5 all-time comedy scene – features the titular doctor fighting with his bionic arm, which has malfunctioned and begins heiling Hitler and fighting with the doctor for control of his entire body. Sellers’ co-stars were laughing so much at his performance that it necessitated numerous edits to hide their laughter.

The world is on the brink of annihilation and its fate is left to the hands of idiots who are so concerned with their self-image, personal affairs, or their power plays that they allow a major global catastrophe. The characters react as though they had just committed a social faux pas. Satire is beautiful. Dr. Strangelove didn’t do it first, but it probably did it best.

Satire tells jokes that reveal truths about sad or scary things, hoping that the jokes won’t always be funny. More than 50 years later, “Dr. Strangelove” loses some punch. The fear of nuclear war and Communism are lost on my generation; I am more scared of homegrown terrorism than invasion. But I’m not too far removed from the Cold War to enjoy this film. If you haven’t seen “Dr. Strangelove,” I recommend you do it before the jokes aren’t funny anymore.

Leah’s Review:

Ever since I first watched the original “Pink Panther” movies when I was a kid, I’ve been hooked on Peter Sellers. His comedic timing is some of the best the film industry will ever see and his ability to take what “should” be a serious role and turn it into something of pure hilarity is perfection. So when I found out that “Dr. Strangelove” starred Sellers in not one role, but three- I was eager to watch the film.

I must confess, however, that I did not love this film. It has its moments, to be sure. Comedic scenes that stood out for me are when Captain Mandrake (Sellers) tries to call the President of the United States on a pay phone (but first he has to break into a Coca-Cola vending machine to get the change) or President Muffley’s (Sellers again) hilariously awkward phone conversations with the Soviet Premier.

The film fell flat for me because I personally didn’t think the “payoff” was worth the buildup to the punchlines. I kind of expected “Dr. Strangelove” to have more of a constant humor to it, much like “Airplane!” or “The Naked Gun” series. And while there are some genuinely funny sequences, there are also some long (and dare I say), boring scenes with no gags/jokes that make the film lag. From my perspective, there was just no balance to the sporadic comedy and I couldn’t tell what the movie was trying to accomplish.

Now, I know that “Dr. Strangelove” is a critically acclaimed comedy and is considered one of the best of its genre. From what I’ve heard, this is also a movie that needs multiple viewings for optimal appreciation. So perhaps, some day in the future, I will sit down and give “Dr. Strangelove” another watch and discover that I was grievously mistaken.

But for now, I will simply say: Strike two, Stanley Kubrick.

Up next: A star-studded cast and a multi-layered story-line take center-stage in Paul Anderson’s “Magnolia”. Let’s hope the three-hour run time is worth it.

Peace out, kids.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Synopsis: Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: This is one of my all-time favorite movies and I’ve been bugging Brent to see it for years.

Leah’s Review:

My parents showed me “Chariots of Fire” when I was about nine. Afterwards, I remember taking some chalk outside and drawing a racetrack on our driveway so I could practice running. And while this didn’t last long- I remember how inspired this movie made me feel. Nearly 20 years later- this film remains a profound one for me.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched “Chariots of Fire” throughout my life- but I think I gleaned more from this last viewing from an adult perspective. As a child, my takeaway was always how Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams’ faith affected their motivation for running and because Liddell ran for God and Harold ran for himself, Liddell was the one who really won at the Olympics.

But it’s important to consider the social/historical context while watching this film. When we meet Liddell and Abrahams, World War I has just ended. Loyalty to one’s country has now become especially important- outranking any other loyalty including religion. The chance to do one’s country proud was of utmost importance- shedding light on both Liddell and Abrahams’ struggles. Harold feels the need to prove himself because of his Jewish ethnicity while Eric’s reason for running is glorifying God. Though both have a fierce loyalty to their country, Abrahams experiences anti-Semitism from the head of his college while Liddell is strongly judged for refusing to run a race on the Sabbath- both choose to be true to themselves in order to succeed.

I can’t talk about “Chariots of Fire” without mentioning its majestic score by Vangelis. His style is so unmistakable and the score sets the tone for the film. I’ve always loved the contrast between the very 1980’s/futuristic-sounding music paired with the backdrop of 1920’s England. Each piece of Vangelis’s score perfectly captures the emotions of what is taking place in each scene. One that has always particularly stood out to me is “Abrahams’ Theme”.

We first hear this theme when Harold Abrahams experiences his first-ever loss in a race. We see the look of defeat and despair on Harold’s face as he watches Liddell cross the finish line before him. After the race, we watch as Harold re-lives the loss over and over in his head. The way the shots of this scene are cut together combined with the powerful score displays some of the best editing I’ve ever seen.The music conveys all of the anguish that Harold feels in a way that makes us feel every bit of his heartbreak and failure. I’m always taken aback by how much emotion this piece makes me feel no matter how many times I’ve watched this scene.

There’s so much more I could say about this film, but it would go beyond my word-limit, so I digress. “Chariots of Fire” is a fantastic movie that features incredible performances and an inspiring story that otherwise might have been left untold. Add this to your watch list if you haven’t seen it already.

Brent’s Review:

“Chariots of Fire” is a film that revolves around a world that is not only foreign to me, but also frankly quite boring. That world, of course, is foot racing. The film itself tells the story about the competitive relationship between Harold Abrahams – a Jewish man at Cambridge whose arrogance about his racing talent makes waves with the faculty – and Eric Liddell – a Scottish missionary who delays his mission work to compete in the Olympic games.

I will admit that I found difficulty following the narrative in the first twenty or so minutes. The characters – many of whom are British, with a handful of Scots – speak very quickly and with heavy accents. Further that, the story moves in and out of a couple time periods and between countries in the first act in order to establish the two leads.

The film picks up as the two men begin to race. In particular, Liddell’s first open 400 race shows him being shoved down at the beginning and then miraculously catching up to win. Abrahams first taste of triumph is edging the courtyard dash, which a freshman hadn’t done in centuries. In my opinion, the film’s best moment is the first head-to-head meeting between Abrahams and Liddell – a tight contest in which Liddell edges Abrahams, sending him into a tailspin of disappointment and driving him to hire a personal trainer.

Would a film that is just about foot racing win Best Picture? Of course not. Racing becomes an outlet for different things. Liddell and Abrahams run for different reasons – Liddell to glorify God and Abrahams to escape his Jewish ethnicity. Both men face various obstacles in attempting to accomplishing these goals via their racing excellence – and bettering one another. The third act of the film does waver from these two themes just a bit as the two Europeans are tasked with overcoming the two famed runners from the United States, the film’s two villains if there ever were any.

On a technical level, the direction is serviceable (Hugh Hudson was nominated for Best Director, which seems a bit much to me). The film does win an Oscar for an unquestionably deserving category, which is Vangelis’ amazing original score, which is impeccable. And the Oscar win for Best Writing is probably deserved, especially given the film’s ability to tie together a biographical recounting of two men who hail from different nationalities, religious backgrounds, but still find commonality through their passion for foot racing.

So what can be said now that I’ve seen a film that Leah has wanted me to see for so long? Did I enjoy it? Sure. I’ve only seen one of the other five films it went up against in 1981 for Best Picture, the other being “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Should it have beaten “Raiders”? Probably not, no. “Chariots of Fire” stands the test of time. It’s a good movie. I didn’t think it was great, but I enjoyed it.

Up next: We’ve got another Kubrick film on the queue- this time, a satire. “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Atomic Bomb” stars Peter Sellers in not one- but three roles!

Peace out, kids.

City Lights (1931)

Synopsis: With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Why: I’d never seen a Charlie Chaplin film and this was the one that interested me the most to start with. I only chose one for this movie calendar because I was nervous about including so many silent films — what if I didn’t like one? There’s always next year, of course…

Leah’s Review:

I laughed. I cried. And then I laughed some more.

Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” was one of the most enjoyable movie experiences this year thus far. Previously the only other silent movie I had even seen was parts of “Modern Times”. As that was also a Chaplin classic, I knew what I was getting myself into: general hilarity.

“City Lights” is a story about a tramp meets a blind flower girl, falls in love with her, and works to help her financially with the assistance of an eccentric millionaire who he prevents from committing suicide. The simplicity of the plot allows for plenty of zany moments and shenanigans to ensue. This is definitely a movie you can turn your brain off for- and that is in no way a bad thing.

As this was my first viewing of a silent film in its entirety, I was caught off guard by how little “intertitles” or subtitles there were. We don’t get to read every line that is “spoken” on camera- which allows us to use our reasoning and imagination to fill in the blanks when needed. However, the acting is so well-done, that this doesn’t take much doing. It’s amazing how little we need the dialogue because of how the film so clearly shows us everything we need to know. Being an actor must have been very different in the silent film era and likely required a very different set of skills than those of today’s films.

Having previously seen some of Chaplin’s work, I knew this film was going to be entertaining as well as comical. But I don’t know if I expected it to be as funny as it was. The comedy in “City Lights” is so simple- but it gets you every time. Since it’s a silent film, most of the laughs come from physical comedy, which Chaplain is a creative master of. Something I appreciated about this film is that it knows not only how to time its comedic moments but also knows how to not let jokes become redundant.

As funny as the film is, there is a truly genuine emotional side to it as well. The love story between Chaplin’s tramp and Virginia Cherrill’s blind flower girl is sincere and heartfelt even though all of the humor. The movie ends (SPOILERS) with the tramp and the (no-longer blind) flower girl re-uniting after being separated for some time. Having never actually seen the tramp with whom she fell in love with, the flower girl does not know who he is right away. But as he stares at her, we see the recognition slowly appear on her face as she asks “You?”. Pure joy appears on Chaplin’s face as he nods his head. It is moving and beautiful.

If you watch this film- you might find yourself, as I did, crying from happiness as well as laughter. This is a must-see classic movie and I would recommend it to anyone.

Brent’s Review:

“City Lights” is a Charlie Chaplin film, but more than that it is a “comedy romance in pantomime…” The key here is pantomime, which is another way of saying this is a silent film. Four years after Al Jolson changed the landscape of cinema in “The Jazz Singer” – the first “talkie” – Chaplin continued to make films featuring heavy use of pantomime and title cards. That the film is engaging and heartwarming is revelatory of the nature of cinema: films are moving pictures.

Chaplin plays a tramp, or a beggar or vagrant. He wanders the city getting into mischief, but he comes upon two major supporting characters: a blind woman who sells flowers (the love interest) and a suicidal, drunk aristocrat. He befriends the aristocrat, who only remembers him when he’s drunk, but he longs for the blind woman. The Tramp discovers that the blind woman and her mother will be evicted if they do not make their rent, so he sets out to get the money for her. Through happenstance, he not only makes the rent but also gives her enough money to get cured of her blindness.

The details of the plot are inconsequential – often times they serve to move Chaplin from set-piece to set-piece, not unlike most comedies we find in cinemas today. The formula is tried and true: write your best jokes and figure out a setup to tell them. However, Chaplin’s humor is always in service of the plot itself. He never strays from the overarching narrative, even if the detours are long and wide.

Chaplin is a master of physical comedy – in the sense that he’s using his body to tell jokes, not that he’s merely taking pratfalls and hurting himself (although he does this as well). One scene in particular illustrates his brief time as a street sweeper. We see him react with disgust as a horse rides by and he scoops its droppings. To his dismay, an entire horse-led parade turns down his street. Frustrated, he turns around to find something worse: an elephant stomps by. The timing and his facial expressions are perfection – I was in stitches the entire scene.

But this isn’t just a comedy; “City Lights” is very much a romance. I mentioned in my review for “In The Mood For Love” that I invest myself into screen romances only so much as I care for the individual characters. Chaplin understands that the best way to do this is through comedy – and genuine comedy that doesn’t degrade the character you’re supposed to be invested in. Consider, for instance, that the first scene of the film runs nearly five minutes in length and does nothing except vaguely introduce you to the idea of Chaplin’s Tramp character and also to make you laugh. If the Tramp can make you laugh, he will surely make you cry.

“City Lights” is a lesson on the importance of timing and blocking in both comedy and romance. Its status as a film classic is unquestionably deserved.

Next up: We’ll be watching one of Leah’s all-time favorite movies “Chariots of Fire” which won four Oscars at the 1981 Academy Awards including Best Picture and (unsurprisingly) Best Original Music Score. To say that Leah is excited to finally introduce this film to Brent would be an understatement.

Peace out, kids.

In The Mood For Love (2000)

Synopsis: Two neighbors, a woman and a man, form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Both of us

Why we chose it: We can only assume because we saw it on CineFix videos… like thirty of them.

Leah’s Review:

Being the cinema buffs that we are, Brent and I watch a lot of videos from various YouTube channels that discuss film. “In The Mood For Love” has been featured more than once on several of these videos. This definitely peaked my interest in the movie I had previously never heard of before and I was instantly struck with how beautiful the featured shots from the film were. It doesn’t hurt that the movie has an interesting plot either.

What “In The Mood For Love” does particularly well is capturing the feelings of loneliness and isolation that the main characters, Su Li-zhen Chan and Chow Mo-wan, feel throughout the film. It’s able to do this in obvious ways through simple exposition: we quickly find out that both characters’ spouses spend most of their time at work and later learn (along with the characters) that their spouses are also having an affair. But the film also shows the emotions that the characters experience without saying anything at all. Use of slow-motion, for instance, displays the long, agonizing heartbreak and the wait for some kind of resolution to occur. A device used throughout the film shows Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow each walking from their apartment to the noodle shop night after night. Something about this solitary trek coupled with the beautiful score of the film perfectly encapsulates the feeling of utter aloneness.

Added to this, “In The Mood For Love” also chooses to never reveal the faces of Mr. Chan and Mrs. Chow (the spouses having an affair) to the audience. We often see them from the back or hear them speak, but we never once see their faces. This creates even more distance and isolation and helps us sympathize even more with the spouses left to deal with the aftermath.

One of the best elements of this film is undoubtedly its cinematography. The way that the scenes are shot have an almost “floating” element to them, as though we’re watching a carefully choreographed dance. We also become intimately familiar with the few set pieces used within the film (the apartment, the street where the characters often meet to talk, the noodle shop, etc.), which allows the audience to focus more on the relationship of the characters. I also really loved the use of color in this film with the contrast of bright vibrant colors against the dim, dark cityscape.

“In The Mood For Love” is a beautiful and tragic story told within a brilliant film. The relationship between Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow- which grows from a companionship. to a friendship, to something much more- keeps us rooting for their happiness despite their having become the very thing they despised about their spouses. By the end of the film, there is still much unspoken and unresolved- it’s not quite a satisfying conclusion. But overall, I enjoyed the storytelling and style of this film and would definitely say it’s worth a watch.

Brent’s Review:

In 1962, Hong Kong was overcrowded. Families would be stuffed into cramped apartments, often two or three families in a single flat. Enter Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan – two neighbors in a crowded apartment complex who otherwise could afford their own private living space (Mr. Chow is a reporter; Mrs. Chan is an executive assistant). Their roommates are eccentric in their own ways, one in particular who is a drunk and another who is obsessed with getting Mrs. Chan to “socialize.”

Chow & Chan begin to suspect something they struggle to admit to themselves, let alone speak aloud: their spouses are having an affair with one another. Meanwhile, Mrs. Chan & Mr. Chow settle for exchanging glances in the grimy stairwell that leads to-and-from the noodle stand while their spouses are conveniently out of town in the same location.

They are both quiet and their social situation is strained and abrasive. Given the circumstances, they are both drawn to the only other person who can sympathize: each other. They form a bond with one another. Both of them long for romance, but never at the same time. Ah love, how you are so interesting when unrequited!

Upon reflection, it is here that the film fell flat for me. In this story, the two lovers are victims of personal tragedy and thrust together out of circumstance. Another circumstance – the time period and their claustrophobic living quarters – forces them to remain secretive, consigning their love to shadowy alleys and cramped corridors. Yet, the setup and punchline of this film seem to exist in different worlds. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if they longed for each other before they learned of their spouses infidelities, but then chose not to act on it anyway? What if one of them confronted their spouse and left them while the other confronted their spouse and forgave them? Both of these sound like far more interesting films to me… alas.

Enough of my complaining about the narrative; the real reason I wanted to see this movie was Kar Wai Wong’s direction. It did not disappoint. I was dazzled by his ability to find a beautiful shot in the midst of drab, cramped corridors. His leitmotif of the heavy orchestral music over a seemingly innocuous act (in slow motion) was magnificent. And Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung’s turns in the lead roles were impeccable.

So what gives? In romance dramas, I will be moved only so far as I care about the characters. I’ll end with a brief comparison. Earlier this year, we saw the film “Hero”, in which Cheung & Leung play romantic partners – this time, with swords! Anyway, their love in that film is also unrequited. For what it’s worth, I was moved by “Hero”. Take it or leave it.

As a brief side note, we watched this film with a free trial to the streaming service Filmstruck, which specializes in hard-to-find films. Check it out if you want to find some hidden gems.

Up next: With the oldest release date on our list, “City Lights” features the comical stylings of Charlie Chaplin in a classic, black-and-white, silent film setting. 

Peace out, kids.

M (1931)

Synopsis: When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: The plot was explained to me like this — “A child murderer is on the loose and the police cannot capture him. It gets so bad that even criminals begin to hunt him.” How do you not want to see that? Seriously?

Brent’s Review:

DISCLAIMER: I cannot offer an adequate reflection of “M” without spoilers. I will begin with my final takeaway: “M” is poignant in its social commentary and awe-inspiring as a cinematic achievement. It is a masterpiece; see this film.

I apologize for all subsequent spoilers.

A young girl – maybe eight or nine – walks home from school alone, bouncing a ball and humming. She bounces the ball off a poster placed on a lamppost. “Who,” it reads, “is the murderer?” A murderer is preying on young girls. Her song is interrupted by a shadowy figure who remarks, “That is a nice ball you have.”

Heart. Stopped.

The first ten minutes of “M” could be transplanted into any contemporary crime thriller and be equally excellent, so superb are they in conjuring feelings of dread and horror.

Another victim, paranoia erupts. The police attempt to catch the murderer by raiding typical criminal gathering spots. They aren’t optimistic, however: they admit that a child murderer is likely a psychopath and may act like a sane person for every moment of their life except when killing.

Business slows for “common criminals” – thieves, drug peddlers, and so on. The heads of the city’s syndicates gather to form a plot to catch the child murderer. They enlist the organization of beggars (which, I’ve read, actually existed in 1931) to catch him. The beggars chase him into an abandoned warehouse.

We arrive at the third act. A typical crime thriller – even a hard-boiled crime thriller – might seek for a spectacular finish, even a convoluted one at that. However, “M” isn’t a film about the audacity of a child murderer; it’s a film about mob mentality.

Peter Lorre’s portrayal of child murderer Hans Beckert is captivating. He is both insidious and pathetic; he is terrifying and pitiful. The director – Fritz Lang – only shows him at the beginning of his hunt, but meticulously portrays his entire time being hunted. Lorre’s – ahem, unique –face is accentuated repeatedly, often with shadows illuminating only his enormous eyes and forehead. We see a frightened man, not a monster.

What follows is a lengthy “trial” sequence, in which Beckert is confronted by the city’s criminals and the parents of the murdered children. Lang permits him to speak. Beckert squeals, “I can’t help what I do!” The film ends with a crying woman speaking directly to the camera – to us! She pleads, “This won’t bring back our children. One needs to keep closer watch over our children. All of you!”

Fritz Lang staunchly opposed the Nazi Party. It’s not hard to connect the dots here. Seemingly right-minded people (say, regular Germans) fall into the paranoia plaguing their society (serial child murder). Fearful, they turn to anyone who can give direction. Enter the criminals (Nazis), who push to scapegoat the child murderer. Does the mob accept their culpability or do they scapegoat?

In the end, it won’t make things how they were before.

“M” was banned by the Nazi party years later; I’m stunned it was even released.

Leah’s Review:

After watching Fritz Lang’s 1931 crime-drama “M”, I was impressed. Not that I was expecting it to be bad, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so brilliant. It’s a great film to watch if you’re studying film and cinema and how the movies of the past have shaped modern film-making. It also features a masterfully-told story and some stellar performances.

For this review, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite aspects of the film:

  • The opening scene in “M” is on par with any modern suspense film: A little girl plays with her ball. A man’s shadow appears. He speaks to the girl and they leave together. He buys her a balloon- whistling a familiar tune. Cut to the girl’s mother. She is making lunch for her daughter who should be coming home soon. The minutes tick by. No sign of the girl. The mother calls down the stairs. No answer. Cut to a shot of the girl’s ball rolling away and a balloon tangled in electrical lines…
  • Something interesting about “M” is that there are several scenes which are silent- no music, no sound at all. I later found out that this was because the filmmaker’s couldn’t afford to add sound (in the 1930’s, sound in movies was fairly new) to the entirety of the film. Lang went with it- adding suspense to scenes by cutting out the sound in some of the most intense scenes.

  • Another brilliant directing decision was showing the murderer’s face early on. Lang could have easily chosen to keep the killer’s appearance hidden to add more suspense- but instead, we see Hans Beckert’s face within the first half hour of the film. But here’s the thing- we don’t actually know if the man on the screen is the murderer. We just assume he is because of the context. So now we’re on our guard. Among the crowds on the street, we constantly search for Peter Lorre’s unmistakable face- but he alludes us. When we finally do see him again, he is attempting to lure another small child- whistling that same eerie tune.

  • For most of “M”, we don’t have much reason to sympathize with the murderer. But near the climax, the story takes an interesting turn. Hans is finally apprehended by a criminal mob and put on a kind of “trial”. It’s here that he reveals that he has no control for his compulsion to kill. There’s something evil inside him that he can’t escape from. A lawyer defending Hans refutes the mob’s demands to have him killed for his crimes. “A sick man should be handed over, not to the executioner, but to the doctor.”

    By the end, we no longer see a heartless criminal- but a troubled man who struggles with what he is. “Who knows what it’s like to be me?” Making a statement on the complexities of justice and mental health is pretty bold- even by today’s standards, let alone a movie from the 1930’s.

Up next: In addition to it being the third and final Asian film on our list, we’ve heard a lot of good things about “In The Mood for Love”. Frequently listed as one of the greatest films of the 2000s, this is one of the movies we’re most excited to see this year.

Peace out, Kids.