Category Archives: Thriller

Memento (2001)

Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.

— Leonard Shelby

It has been a while since I have seen the film that put Christopher Nolan’s name out front and center, the #29 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Memento. It was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay and  Film Editing. The strange thing is that the story is based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story, Memento Mori. Personally, I don’t like movies that go backwards through the narrative. There is something tragically simple about this movie that make me forget about my past grievances with this way of storytelling.

I don’t know how to approach this review without spoiling the ending, which is in the beginning of the movie. Hmm… Be forewarned. A man who has short-term memory loss, Leonard (Guy Pearce) had just shot a cop named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) in head. He takes a Polaroid for a little reminder that the person that he thinks raped and murdered his wife (Jorja Fox) and lost him with his memories will be documented.

As you know the narrative is backward to retrace the events that lead to Teddy’s demise. The puzzle is slowly being put together. Leonard has an arm full of Polaroids. All of the clues to find the killer has been either in the Polaroids or have been tattooed on his body as a reminder of his ultimate goal of revenge.

Was Teddy telling the truth? Because a person named “John G.” was the person that was there that night his life changes. Teddy is not his real name. Leonard realizes this from Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), a woman who Leonard befriends while he is investigating. Is she working for him or against him? He cannot trust anybody unless it was written on the back of the Polaroids.

He tries to remember Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky), a former case of his when he was an insurance investigator. He thought that Sammy was faking his condition which it is exactly like his. Everything that Sammy remembers before the accident, he knows. He has trouble building new memories like Leonard. His wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) thinks at she could do something to trigger his memories, but nothing happens.

Leonard has to deal with betrayal, manipulation, murder, drugs, and theft all for the ultimate goal of solving his wife’s murder.

The movie is carefully thought out about what happens next. I thought the flashbacks in black and white broke up the movie in a good way to see how Leonard knows certain things and not others. This is probably the best performance of Guy Pearce’s career. I thought that the ending was different from what I remember. It blows my mind that the movie about memories and not making new ones could make me questions how the ending or beginning was.

But I did have some questions about certain elements of the movies that didn’t make any sense to me. What happened to the drug money? How did Leonard get those items that belonged to his wife? I cannot think of how that happened. I went over the movie again.

Judgment: I know that Nolan is capable of making movies outside of the Batman franchise that could still be good.

Rating: 9/10

The Birds (1963)

Don’t they ever stop migrating?

— Annie Hayworth

You know how much I love Alfred Hitchcock movies. He is the only director that I have reviewed at least five on his movie at the time of the LAMBs in the Director’s Chair series. The Birds is another movie that I crossed off that list. It was nominated for a single Oscar for Best Visual Effects. This movie that did not make me feel the same way about birds as Jaws did with sharks.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) goes into a pet shop in downtown San Francisco to pick up a bird that she had ordered. Her bird had not come in the time it was supposed. She had to wait until a dashing young man comes into the store, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) mistaking her for the a worker there. Mitch asks Melanie about what type of bird is best for his sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). He wanted lovebirds. They begin to chat each other up until he leaves.

Melanie decides to surprise Mitch by buying the lovebirds and leave them out on his apartment. She learns that he is out-of-town for the weekend. He is visiting his family in Bodega Bay. She drives to Bodega Bay to find out where the Brenner house is located. She visits the local schoolteacher, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) to ask her about the family home which across the bay. She charters a small boat to sneak birds into the house.

When she crosses back across the bay, she is attacked by seagull. She and Mitch thinks that it is a fluke until the birds of the town start going crazy and start attacking all the residents of the town. The town becomes under siege with seagulls, crows and blackbirds for neighboring towns.

The movie for the most part is unsettling to watch, but I didn’t completely buy into it. I have to say who the hell get killed by a bunch of birds. What, do they peck you to death? It sounds ludicrous to me.

Did anybody get the feels that there is something more about Melanie and Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy)? Did you get the sense of a man being a attracted to a version of his mother? I got that feeling big time.

Judgment: The movie is unsettling to with, but it won’t make you afraid of birds.

Rating: 7.5/10

Rashômon (1950)

No one tells a lie after he’s said he’s going to tell one.

— Commoner

I do not know that many Kurosawa’s movies. I have only seen Seven Samurai and have reviewed as part of the LAMB in the Director’s Chair spotlight a while ago. I wanted to see more of Kurosawa’s film because I enjoyed Seven Samurai very much. I wanted the #8o Film of All Time on IMDb, Rashomon. It was nominated for Best Art Direction, but it won an Honorary Award for Foreign Language Film, not the competitive Oscar. It was expected to be blown away, but I felt cheated.

The story takes place in the ruined temple of Rashômon where is a torrential rainstorm. A Commoner (Kichijirô Ueda) seeks refuse from the rain. He sees the Priest (Minoru Chiaki) and the Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) look visibly distraught. The Commoner asks the men what is disturbing them. The Woodcutter tells him about a terrible that happened in the middle of woods on top of the mountain.

He recounts finding a woman’s hat in a tree branch, then a samurai’s cap, a piece of rope and finally the samurai’s body. He goes to the police. The Woodcutter tells his account to the trial of the bandit, Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune).

Tajômaru tells his tale when the Policeman (Daisuke Katô) arrested in the woods after the murder. Tajômaru tells why he did what he did, because he wanted to capture the wife, Masako (Machiko Kyô) of her husband, Takehiro Kanazawa (Masayuki Mori), but not kill him. Tajômaru ties up husband to a nearby tree. Masako tries to stab Tajômaru with her pearl inlay. He forces himself upon her. Afterwards, Masako says that he dies or her husband.

The Woodcutter thinks that the story is a lie. The movie gives three other versions of the story. One of them is true, but which one.

The movie’s plot was not what I was expecting. Granted, I went into this completely blind. The premise seemed silly to me. I have to watch an hour and half of people counted stories from different perspectives. That’s it. I felt cheated. I thought it was going to be an epic movie, but it was very quiet and subdued. I didn’t care for it. I started and stopped it at least three times, because I was not invested in the story.

Judgment: The theme is interesting, but the rest is not.

Rating: 5/10

Buried (2010)

I’m buried in a box. I’m buried in a box!

— Paul Conroy

Buried was one of my most anticipated movies of 2010. I never got the chance to see in theaters, because it was so hard to find it. When I saw it on the shelf, I had to picked it up. I thought the concept of one man onscreen for a 90 minutes movie sounded interesting to me especially if its Ryan Reynolds. The movie is enjoyable but it’s not 127 Hours.

Iraq, 2006. A CRT contractor, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up in complete blackness. Paul realizes that he is bound and gagged. He manage to get himself free. He pulls out a Zippo lighter to shed light on that he is in a wooden crate. He tries to break the crate open, but he realizes that it is buried underground in the middle of the desert.

Paul hears a cell phone vibrating near him. He picks it up, but the script is in Arabic. He misses the call. He dials 911 and tries to explain to the operator (Kali Rocha) about what happened to him. He was taking kitchen supplies to a community in Baqubah when his convoy was ambushed by insurgents. The rest of the contractors were killed and he is the lone survivor. The operator cannot help, because 911 is US service. No use for the Middle East.

Paul frantically calls his family, but they don’t pick up. Then, he tries his wife, Linda’s (Samantha Mathis) cell. Straight to voicemail. He gets the number to the FBI from 411 and explains his dire situation, but he is constantly being transferred to different people. He finally gets in touch with Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) that works with the program to help people in Paul’s situation.

There is the problem of him being in the box. Paul calls the missed call and it is from his captor, Jabir (José Luis García Pérez) who thinks that Paul is a soldier. Paul thinks that Jabir is a terrorists. They both have misconceptions of each other. His captor wants to see him suffer and holds another fellow CRT member, Pamela Lutti (Ivana Miño) captive. He has two hours to get 5 million dollars or he will be buried alive. With only a cell phone with half of battery power left, a Zippo, a pencil, a faulty flashlight and a pair of glow sticks, he doesn’t have that much time left.

I thought that it was an interesting concept of all the action happening in a confined space like a makeshift coffin. I felt there was something not right about the way the action went. How could Paul be buried underneath the ground and constantly breathing hard, screaming, yelling? The oxygen would have run out fast by halfway through the movie. There was a moment in the movie where I said, “What the fuck?” The movie lost me for a bit.

Judgment: It was a nice experiment that needs a few tweaks.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Big Easy (1987)

Just relax, darlin’. This is the Big Easy. Folks have a certain way o’ doin’ things down here.

— Remy McSwain

The Big Easy is probably one of my favorite Dennis Quaid movies. It’s not because the movie is great, but this is the sexiest role that he has ever been in. There is something alluring about this gorgeous man having that New Orléans accent that hypnotizes you. Quaid is from my hometown of Houston, Texas so I wanna keep up with my fellow Houstonian.

The Big Easy refers to New Orléans, Louisiana and Det. Remy McSwain (Quaid) is being plucked from his bed, snuggling with a stuffed crocodile to be the first to response to a murder. A man is found facedown in a fountain. McSwain’s boss, Captain Jack Kellom (Ned Beatty) tells him that it might the start of a gang war between the mob guys. They call them wiseguys.

Assistant District attorney Anne Osbourne (Ellen Barkin)  is assigned to the case, but she is also looking into the deep corruption in the police force. There are accusations of bribery, tapering with evidence, extortion and murder. Remy uses his charms to woo the bloodhounds from off their backs. He says that it’s the New Orléans way of doing things. Sometimes you have to bend the law to get the job done.

Anne tries not to fall for his charms, but he slowly lowers her defenses until she is ready to pounce. He pounces hard. She is reluctant to get involved with him, but the passion outweighs any code of ethics. Everything is fine, but Remy gets caught in a hairy situation that he might not get out of.

The movie is eye candy first. There is nothing deep and meaningful about this movie for me. There is a mystery element that was brushed to the side until the end of the movie. It felt like an afterthought. There were some points in the movie that I wanted to slap Anne to say that he is not good for you, girl. You gotta admit that he is sexy as hell.

Judgment: You get the chance to watch Dennis Quaid stripped down. Nuff said.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Constant Gardener (2005)

Do you no good to go poking around under rocks, Justin. Some very nasty things live under rocks, especially in foreign gardens.

— Sir Bernard Pellegrin

2005 was my snobbiest year to date, because I didn’t see that many of the Oscar nominated films of that year. When Brokeback Mountain came out, it was the end-all-be-all for me. The adaptation of John Le Carré’s book, The Constant Gardener was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and won Rachel Weisz Best Supporting Actress. The movie is a solid effort that swept under the rug.

after coming from his Oscar nominated direction of the seminal movie, City of God, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles followed up with this movie. A diplomat from the British High Commission, Justin Quayle (RalphFPiennes) leanrs of the death of his wife, Tessa (Weisz) from his colleague, Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston). They go to a morgue in Loki, Kenya to identify her body. People think that it was an accident, but others think that it was an assassination.

Quayle is reminded to the times that he has had with Tess. He was filling in a lecture for his friend, Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy) when the idealistic Tess challenged him about the actions of the US to go to war with Iraq. They have a mutual attraction with each other and quickly marry. Tess wants to go to Africa with Justin so she could do something about the AIDS crisis on the continent.

After Tess’ death, reports surface that Tess was supposedly having an affair with her African escort, Dr. Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé). Quayle wanted to know why Tess was killed. It could have been from her probing into the pharmaceutical  companies of KDH and Three Bees who are using the African people as lab rats. She wanted to expose the companies for suppressing clinical trails, especially the adverse side effects, for a drug called Dypraxa that would suppose to treat tuberculosis. Justin wants to continue Tess’ crusade and investigate her death when everybody in his life is telling him to leave well enough alone.

I didn’t know what to think of this movie when I was watching the first half of the movie. I have seen movies that are heavy-handed with political messages like Syriana, Rendition or In the Valley of Elah. They will jump a subject down your throat, and you want to turn off the movie. Don’t talk at me. Let me understand what you are saying. When the conspiracy begin to unravel, the movie really started become intriguing where Justin’s life could be in the same peril as Tess’.

It did make me think about how the African people are portrayed as a continent of expendable people. With the rampant AIDS infections, famines, rebel child soldiers, and the ethnic cleansing; it shocks me that almost nothing is being done to help the African people. It makes me sad and angry that they have to fend for themselves.

Judgment: A taut thriller through and through.

Rating: 8/10

The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man is one the those classic movies that is on people’s top ten lists. This movie comes in as the #65 Film of All-Time on IMDb.  I wanted to see this movie, because it was taunted as one of the greatest mysteries ever. The movie won an Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was well deserved. I cannot get the feeling that I was disappointed with this movie.

The setting takes place in post war Vienna where the city is divided into four sections; French, British, Russian and American. An American comes into the city, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) with the promise of a writing job from his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It turns out that Harry recently died from a car accident and he was being buried the day that he arrives.

Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) questions Martins about his relationship with the departed Lime. He clues him in over a couple of drinks that Lime was being investigated for racketeering. He allegedly dabbled in selling black market penicillin to hospitals and having the recipients of the medicine die as a result.

Martins hears that Lime was killed in an accident. An acquaintance of Lime’s, Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White) tells a completely different story that what has been told. He said that Lime was murdered instead. Martins’ Porter (Paul Hörbiger) said that Lime was alive when three men carried his body away from the scene. It was Dr. Winkel (Erich Pronto) and a Romanian, Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) with a mysterious third man.

Martins meets up with the girl that he saw at the funeral, Lime’s main squeeze, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). She is an actress with a play in a local theater. During their time together, Anna warns Martins not to get in too deep with the investigation that he wants to launch into the mysterious circumstances of his friend’s death. He feels that the investigators are not handling the case the way that they should.

Major Calloway and Sargent Paine (Bernard Lee) are thinking that Anna may have something to do with Harry’s death. When one of the people who Martins talked to ends up dead, he becomes public enemy number one.

I heard a couple of a things about the movies. I guess I might have misinterpreted them. The movie started out like a comedy of errors with Holly Martins being a sloppy drunk mess, then it’s supposed to be intriguing with the swirling mystery. I was a bit bored with the movie. I was thinking, “Okay. When is the part that something is supposed to blow me away?” And then it came with Orson Welles as Lime. He was very charismatic as the arrogant bastard of the story. He saved the movie for me.

Judgment: The mystery thriller was bogged down with too much for my taste.

Rating: 6.5/10

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Can you hear me? I don’t want this any more! I want to call it off!

— Joel

Everybody had been talking about how great the #61 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is. I have only seen bits and pieces of the movie through the years of its release back in 2004. My greatest fear was that the movie was not gonna live up to the hype. The movie won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and it should have won a couple of more. I wish I could own this movie and watch it repeatedly.

A social awkward man, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is reeling over the break up with his tangerine-tinted girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). When he is venting his frustration over Clementine seemingly ignoring him to Rob and Carrie (David Cross, Jane Adams) when Rob hands Joel a card from a company called Lacuna. The card says that Clementine has had a procedure to erase Joel from her mind.

Joel is heartbroken and intrigued to see what this procedure is all about. He finds the office of Lacuna where Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wikinson) is performing the procedure of the heartbroken patients. He wants to have the procedure done as a way of getting back at Clementine for being so heartless to erase him from her mind.

The process of mind erasure is to gather all the items that remind you of the person that you are trying to have wiped from your memory so it could build a road map to which sections of the brain to target the memories. Mierzwiak’s associates from the clinic, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Partrick (Elijah Wood) arrive at Joel’s apartment while he sleeps to begin the erasure process.

As the erasure happens, Joel is fine having the end of their relationship cleaned off. When the erasure starts going into the happiest moments of their relationship, Joel want to be able to keep the memories, because she still holds a torch for Clementine. He tries to find clever ways to hide the good Clementine inside the inner workings of his brain.

This movie is visceral and devastating to watch. Everyone knows the feeling of heartbreak and wish that there was a procedure to help erasure the bad memories out. Those bad memories are a life lessons to find out what you don’t want in the next relationship so you won’t repeat the same dating pattern. Those bad times shape you into who you are as a person and what you can give to a relationship.

People call this one of the greatest love stories of all-time. I wouldn’t go that far, but identity to the plight these characters are in. My life was on-screen. The movie was off-kilter, surreal and mind fuck. This is Charlie Kaufman we are talking about. This is his M.O.

There is one thing about this movie that I didn’t get or maybe I am reading too much into it. What happened with the relationship with Patrick? If you know what I mean, then you’ll understand. Was that a dropped plot line?

Judgment: This is a raw, beautiful, self-destructive story about love.

Rating: 9.5/10

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Sebastian said, “Truth is the bottom of a bottomless well.”

— Mrs. Venable

After the untimely passing of Elizabeth Taylor, I’m glad that her filmography will be center stage on the upcoming LAMB Acting School 101. I was surprised at myself that I have never reviewed one of Ms. Taylor’s before now. That changed with the big screen adaptation of Tennessee William’s play, Suddenly, Last Summer. It was nominated for three Oscars including Best Actress nominations for Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. The movie at times was make making it hard to sit still.

The story takes place in 1937 where a young neurosurgeon, Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montogemry Clift) is performing brain surgery on a deranged woman at the Lions Views State Asylum. He is performing an experimental procedure called a lobotomy. He is disappointed with the lack of proper equipment at the place that he threatens to quit.

Dr. Lawrence Hockstader (Albert Dekker) gives John a letter from a would-be patron, Mrs. Violet Venable (Hepburn) who wants him to perform the experimental surgery on her niece, Catherine Holly (Taylor) who is locked away at another asylum, St. Mary’s. They agree to meet at the Venable house to discuss matters. John is caught off guard with the overgrown jungle in the backyard of the estate.

Mrs. Venable talks endlessly about her son, Sebastian that died a year earlier. Apparently, Catherine was there that faithful day when Sebastian died. The incident has driven her to madness. It was described as dementia praecox to her. Catherine is having strange hallucinations about the incident, and she is taking out her frustrations on the staff there. They want Catherine to leave soon. Mrs. Venable thinks that the procedure would cure her of her ramblings.

John goes to St. Mary’s to see if Catherine’s condition in genuine or not. As he hides in a dark corner of the room, he watches Catherine burn a nun’s hand with her lit cigarette. when John tries to questions Catherine about the death of Sebastian, she cannot remember anything. He decides to transfer her to Lion’s View where he could keep a close eye on her and try to chip away at the mind block that she had about the incident.

As John is getting closer to the truth of Sebastian’s death, the more skeletons flying out of the closet.

The movie overall was entertaining to watch, but the grandoise speeches were a bit much for me to take. Mrs. Venable going on infinitum about Sebastian was tiring to watch. I thought Hepburn and Taylor deserved their nominations. I thought that Hepburn was probably placed in the wrong category. It seemed like a supporting role to me.

The final revelation at the end saved this movie for me.

Judgment: This lesser known Williams’ movie should be seen.

Rating: 7/10

Black Book (2007)

Does it never end?

— Ellis de Vries

Cinebanter did a show on Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book back in 2007. I thought they were talking about the Brittany Murphy movie, Little Black Book. I didn’t know that much about the film except that it’s German, has Nazis in it. I thought it was that movie that set off the YouTube meme with Hitler reacting to dumb shit, but that was Downfall. I need to see it. Anyway, back to the movie, I really enjoyed the movie.

A young Jewish woman named Rachel Steinn (Carice van Houten) is hiding out at a family barn in Nazi occupied Holland. A bomber blows up the home when she is swimming at a nearby lake. A young man, Rob (Michiel Huisman) helps her escape from the Germans to a hide out spot.

They think that they are safe when a dark figure tracks them down, Van Gein (Peter Blok) to warn them that the Gestapo will find them if they do not go into hiding. Rachel realizes that the man is part of the Dutch Resistance. They want to be a part of the resistance. Rachel needs money from her family’s attorney, W.B. Smaal (Dolf de Vries) to smuggle into liberated territory with her family.

When the family is reunited, there is an ambush by SS officers who kill every one aboard except Rachel would dives into the lake to safety. Bent on revenge, Rachel going by the name of Ellis de Vries joins the Dutch Resistance lead by Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint) with his son, Tim (Ronald Armbrust), Hans (Thom Hoffman), Kees (Frank Lammers), Joop (Matthias Schoenaerts), Maarten (Xander Straat) and Theo (Johnny de Mol).

After months of working at the soup kitchen the Resistance is based in, she has the chance to infiltrate the Gestapo high command by posing as a former singer wanting to take a secretary job to Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). She has to seduce the secrets out of him. Soon, she realizes that the line between professional and personal blur as she has to make a choice of which side is she on.

This movie is based on true events. I don’t know how much of it actually happened, but it seems like the movie was trying to hard to be compelling with endless amounts of twists and turns. It was like the same way Crash did for me. It had to deal with people who you thought were good turn out to be bad and vice versa. The movie was over two and half hours long. It was too much for me.

I did enjoy the actors especially Carice van Houten as the heroine. She reminded of Christina Aguilera in her “Ain’t No Other Man” phase. It was nice to see Sebastian, Thom and Carice smolder on-screen.

Judgment: A woman scorned story that needed to trim the plot twist fat.

Rating: 7.5/10

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