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Bungion Boy And BoboVision Review Wong Kar Wai’s MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Even after the openly hostile response by many of the critics who saw this at Cannes, this hovers very near the top of my list of films I want to see this year. Wong Kar Wai is a fascinating film artist, and on his worst day, I would imagine he’s still capable of something worth seeing. I’m not really sure why they’re test-screening this unless it’s just to help figure out the marketing. I certainly hope they’re not going to manhandle the movie. There’s no way you’re going to turn one of his films into a commercial juggernaut, so it seems like madness to try. We’ve got two of our regular spies weighing in on this one, and we’ll start with Bungion Boy’s take on things:

Hey Harry, Mori, and company. Bungion Boy reporting from New York where tonight I found myself part of “the first American audience” to see Wong Kar Wai’s first American film, “My Blueberry Nights.” To preface his review, let me just say that I’ve always considered myself a big Wong Kar Wai fan. “In the Mood For Love,” “2046,” “Happy Together,” “Fallen Angels.” I’ve really loved them. However this film made me question Wong’s entire film catalogue. “Have all of his films been this bad?” I thought. “I just didn’t notice because I didn’t have to listen to the dialogue in English?” Afterwards my friend and I decided that his other films were still good, but that didn’t make “My Blueberry Nights” any better. In case you don’t know, the film stars Norah Jones in her first acting role. She plays Elizabeth and the film, according to the flyer I got, follows her on “a journey across America in an attempt to discover herself.” Well, if you end up seeing this movie, you can’t accuse them of false advertising. The film begins with Jones’ Elizabeth going to Jeremy’s (Jude Law’s) diner, looking for her boyfriend. When Jeremy (who appears to be the only employee and cook at this busy New York diner) confirms that her man has been going there with another woman, she freaks out and throws Jude a set of keys and tells him to give them to her boyfriend if he ever returns. He throws the keys into a fishbowl on the counter filled with other mysterious keys. The next night she comes back to see if the keys have been picked up, and is upset when she discovers they haven’t. But Jeremy is a kind, worldly, understanding guy, so he cheers her up with a slice of (drum roll please) blueberry pie. She comes back every night to have blueberry pie and share trite, cliché dialogue, the worst of which being a scene in which Jeremy tells her the detailed story behind every set of lost keys, which he recounts in a creepy degree of detail, which makes him sound like a serial killer. One night Elizabeth eats a whole pie, drinks some beers and falls asleep with ice cream all over her lips. To wipe it off, Jeremy leans over and gives her a long, upside down, sideways kiss worthy of Spiderman, which lasted for nearly a minute in complete silence and got a lot of uncomfortable laughter from the audience. The fact that Wong kept cutting to close ups of ice cream melting on blueberry pie didn’t help things. I hesitate to think what it represents, but it just looked disgusting and got cringes from the audience every time it made another appearance. Anyway, that’s the last night Elizabeth comes to the diner and the rest of the film is her going across country on her journey of self discovery. Well not really a journey. Though she goes across the country and back, her epic of pondering is reduced to two events before the climax in New York. The film is broken down into three parts, though the first one with Jude Law really takes place before she leaves so it doesn’t feel like she experiences that much. First she starts working in a bar in Memphis where she consoles a depressed alcoholic cop every night, played by David Strathairn. He is depressed because his sexy, sassy wife (Rachel Weisz, channeling a Tennessee Williams heroine) has left him, though frequently comes into the bar to torment him. Later, Elizabeth works in a Casino in Reno where she befriends a compulsive gambler (Natalie Portman) who ends up taking her on a road trip to Las Vegas. Those are the only two stories that Elizabeth experiences in the film. Tim Roth is credited as being in this film on imdb but never appeared so it might be possible that the film was once three hours long and there was more but it was cut out. So my big question is why do we have Norah Jones at the center of this movie, surrounded by better, more capable and compelling actors in supporting roles? My initial thought when I heard she would be starring in this last year was that they were building a film around a musician and their music, which has been done more effectively in films like “8 Mile” and “Once,” but Jones does not play a musician. The soundtrack only features about two Jones songs, which are always in the background and not acknowledged as her own, which I kind of found distracting. The rest of the score comes from songs that are repeated over and over, serving as a kind of leitmotif for each story. For example, during the Strathairn scenes, Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” was played four times. When I asked someone afterwards if the soundtrack was temporary, they told me it wasn’t. So Jones isn’t playing a version of herself, so why not cast someone like Natalie Portman or Rachel Weisz in that role? Jones isn’t terrible. Her voice isn’t nails on a blackboard. But she’s just not very interesting. In the first segment with Jude Law she comes off as crazy, and in the other two, she barely speaks. Just is there to listen and nod for the other characters. I assume the other actors were all attracted to the notion of working with Wong Kar Wai, and settled for whatever part they could take. Most the supporting cast gives decent performances, though it’s hard to tell because they’re playing over the top characters and are forced to say some truly awful dialogue. Law and Weisz have it the worst, Portman and Strathairn come off a little better. One scene with Jude Law seemed to be based around a Tom Stoppardesque game in which he and his scene partner were trying to take their clichéd metaphor about keys one step farther than the other. Literally, one person says “even if you have the right key, the door won’t always open,” then the other says something about a door in response to that. Worse than the dialogue even, is the narration. Here are a few paraphrased examples: “I’m not sure if that night really happened, or if it had just been another dream, but it didn’t really matter.” “Goodbye isn’t always an ending. Sometimes it’s a new beginning.” And the worst, last line of the film: “…and I would always remember… my blueberry nights.” That line alone is a good reason to change the title. Wong Kar Wai’s direction is the best thing about the film. The color palate is at times breathtaking. He has a true visual flair that would make this film essential viewing if you could mute the bad dialogue. It’s full of his trademark colored and soft florescent lights that seep over into the faces of the actors. Imdb’s page of this film has some great stills that give you a sense of how beautiful the film looks. But this doesn’t exonerate Wong, because he did after all co-write the script. I still wonder if I’m just a big hypocrite and might have loved this film if it had all been shot in Hong Kong and had English subtitles, but I honestly don’t think it would help. The rest of the audience seemed to feel the same way I did. Before the film I was asked to participate in the focus group at the end, but when the woman leading it saw the rating I gave the film, she quickly dismissed me and franticly started looking for people with something more positive to say. According to imdb, Wong Kar Wai is developing a remake of “The Lady From Shanghai” starring Rachel Weisz. Remaking Welles is risky, though Weisz’ beauty and acting skills could certainly match Rita Hayworth. I just hope next time he focuses on his own visual splendor and let someone else handle the dialogue. That’s all for now. -Bungion Boy

Ummm... ouch. Still, this seems to echo a lot of the reactions we were hearing out of Cannes. It makes me crazy when you put a great cast together and then waste them, but this wouldn’t be the first time a great Asian filmmaker hit a wall when working in English for the first time. Still, let’s see what BoboVision has to say:

Hey Moriarty, Bobo_Vision here. I caught a screening of "My Blueberry Nights" in Manhattan tonight. I know that all the AICN readers and talkbackers are fed up with all the news about comic book movies and blockbuster sequels, and they are constantly asking, "When are you going to review a movie I can take my girlfriend to?" (Bwahahaha!) Well, Bobo_Vision to the rescue. The movie stars Norah Jones, the famous musician (and Ravi Shankar's daughter), as a woman who just comes out of a bad relationship and leaves the keys to the her and her boyfriends apartment at a cafe owned by Jude Law. He has a jar full of keys left there in the aftermath of other broken relationships, and the two of them end up talking about it over a piece of pie. It turns out that out of all the pies in the restaurant, be it chocolate mousse, peach cobbler and such, for some reason, blueberry pie always goes uneaten by the customers. When asked why, Jude replies, something like, "They just want something else." So, Norah Jones decides to eat the pie nightly, and the pie symbolizes her in these nights where she remains single. Meaning, guys are eating someone else's pie....but she doesn't actually eat herself....anyhoo... She abruptly goes on the road, and takes waitressing jobs in different cities while assuming different names (psychiatrists call this dissociative fugue), and she meets different characters like an alcoholic played by David Strathairn, and his whoring Southern Belle wife whom he's separated from played by Rachel Weisz, who is totally hot in this movie. She's not naked or anything, but she just looks good. Norah Jones is cute and all, but Weisz smoulders onscreen. Eventually Jones meets up with Natalie Portman who plays an addicted gambler in Reno, and seems like an accomplished, weathered actress when juxtaposed against Jones. After the Star Wars prequels, I forgot that Portman can act. All in all, the movie is alright, but superficial, and you don't really give a shit about any of the characters she stumbles upon on her road trip because there isn't any time to invest any emotions in them. Norah's acting is mediocre, and she seems really green and awkward onscreen sometimes, but thats consistent with her character so I guess it works on some level. As for the romance between Jude Law and Jones, its pretty corny. They keep in touch through postcards when she's on the road, and meet back up towards the end. There's a scene at the beginning where Jones falls asleep at the cafe after everyone leaves, and Jude cleans the ice cream off her mouth by kissing it off. The got big laughs in the theatre, but I think it was supposed to be romantic. Note to the Hollywood producers...fondling someone while they're sleeping may be romance in Hollywood, but to the rest of us...its creepy. Basically, if you have to be dragged to a chick flick by your girlfriend, this one is tolerable and not tooooo schmaltzy, and there's some eye candy in the form of Weisz, Portman, and Jones. But if you decide to go to this with your buddies, its means you're gay. But if you're a female, you're not reading this review because there are no female readers at this nevermind. Bobo_Vision
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