The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006


In The Constant Gardener, I said there was hardly a single camera shot I didn’t consciously hate. In this movie, I don’t think there is a single camera shot I don’t consciously love. The film is constructed as a piece of fine art, with some of the most visually distinctive work you will ever see. You honestly haven’t seen anything that looks like this. And not because of special effects jiggery-pokery. There are computer graphics scenes of a science fiction future, but those are very limited and not the focus (despite an overemphasis on them by the advertising and marketing departments).

Most of the movie takes place in the 1960’s. Much of the film is shot in dark shadows and the director thinks nothing of shooting from behind a doorpost and shading half the screen in black, letting you see a character’s face on one side of the frame only. The costuming, makeup, and set decoration are superbly detailed. The editing is intricate and unusual, but never jarring.

The music is spectacular. They use a mix of original instrumentals, classical and operatic pieces, “club jazz”, and big band standards. It all fits the mood perfectly. I spent all this time talking about the technical aspects because those are what blew me away. The story line is very dense and somewhat difficult to follow as it tracks a man and his romantic interests over several years, interspersed with fictional interludes.

While the story is all about emotional impacts of failed relationships, it takes a rather cerebral approach to the whole thing. I had a hard time being drawn into the emotional aspects because I was concentrating so hard on figuring out what was happening and who was who as it progressed. I believe this would be somewhat easier if I had seen either of the director’s two other movies referenced by the action (“Days of Being Wild” and “In The Mood For Love”).

The main character is driven by events that happened in the earlier films (particularly In The Mood For Love). I know this from one of the several excellent Special Features included on the disc. In addition to interviews and deleted scenes, there is extensive coverage given to the music, with descriptions of the pieces and direct indexes to where they are used in the picture. There is also a special music-only montage from the film.

Now I want to go back and watch the earlier films as prequels to figure out what happened before. I haven’t mentioned the acting. The film brings together many Chinese and Japanese major name actors and they are all tremendous. Ziyi Zhang is transcendent as one of the love interests and Tony Leung carries the movie in his central role.

If you get this movie, make sure to watch in a dark room with a well-calibrated set because of the extensive use of shadows and black levels in the photography. Sound run through a good stereo (or preferably surround system) will reward you with the beautiful music and some nice subtle effects work such as rain and street noises.

Trust me... For the first half hour you won’t have any clue what is going on. By the one hour point you’ll begin to understand the storyline, and by the end of the movie, you’ll have enough to satisfy you and give you something juicy to think about. It’s not a Hollywood tie-up-the-loose-strings pat ending, but it’s not just a David Lynch collection of experiences that is left as a mysterious experiential piece.

Parents note: There are scenes of sexual activity, but no nudity or graphic imagery. Kids will find this too confusing and boring to stick with anyway.


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