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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 King’s Speech (2010)

Because I bloody well stammer!

— King George VI

Colin Firth is coming into his own as an actor with his nuisanced performance in last year’s A Single Man. He is getting more notice for his latest movie, The King’s Speech. Personally, I thought the movie was going to be a boring movie about British people talking for two hours. It’s a lot more than that. Will it win Best Picture of the year? No. That doesn’t mean that the movie was horrible. It’s a solid movie.

Halfway through this movie, I did not realize that the story was about Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI (Firth). It deals with his struggle with a speech impediment that he has dealt with since he was a little boy. The movie starts in 1924 when he had to give a speech to his fellow countrymen. It does not go very well. He is embarrassed about his stuttering.

During the years afterward, Albert, Duke of York, before he was would be king, tried everything under the sun to get rid of his stutter, including smoking and stuffing his mouth with marbles. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) goes out to search for the perfect speech therapist to help out her frustrated husband. She thinks that she has found him in Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an over-the-hill Australian theater actor. She has to go under the pseudonym of Johnson to not distract their royalty status.

The Duke is skeptical about the unorthodox methods of Mr. Logue. Their first session together is a disaster when Lionel tried to be on a level playing field with The Duke. They wanted to be on a first name basis with the Duke calling him, “Lionel” and Lionel calling The Duke his family nickname, “Bertie.” Bertie reluctantly agree to one session with him and is surprised about what he could do. As their sessions go on, Lionel tries to pinpoint the exact cause of his stuttering.

I don’t know what it is, but I think I have a bias of British movies. Is it because it deals with the monarchy that I have no knowledge of? Is is the accents? The stuffy attire? Who knows? There were some bring points with the movie. Colin Firth is brining his A game here. I have never seen a photo of King George VI and I have no idea what he sounded like during his speech, but I felt fine that he exposed a flaw in the perfect monarchy. Geoffrey Rush’s quirky performance was the standout for me. I thought Helena Bonham Carter was nice, but her character didn’t have much gravitas. She was the doting wife and that’s it. Lastly, it was hilarious to me that Guy Pearce would be playing Firth’s older brother, David.

Judgment: It’s a solid movie about a part of history that we never knew. It tells the story of the unsung hero, Lionel Logue.

Rating: ****

L.A. Confidential (1997)

I see Bud because I want to. I see Bud because he can’t hide the good inside of him. I see Bud because he treats me like Lynn Bracken and not some Veronica Lake look-alike who fucks for money.

— Lynn Bracken

It has been years since I have seen Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential. Too long, I should say. This is currently #61 on the Top 250 of All-Time on IMDb. It deserves to be there. I thought it was overshadowed by a certain movie about a doomed boat that dominated the 1997 Oscars. It managed to win Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay for Hanson and fellow screenwriter Brian Helgeland and Best Supporting Actress honors for Kim Basinger. This movie is a masterpiece. There I said it.

Based on the first book from author James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet trilogy, it starts with the murder of known drug dealer, Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle). This triggers a systematic takedown of his men. Three 1950s LA cops have to deal with the case from different angles. Officer Bud White, played by at the time unknown to American audiences Russell Crowe. White was the brute of the force that has a short fuse. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) that thinks that he is the star of the precinct because he is the technical advisor on the hit TV cop show, “Badge of Honor.” He is in cahoots with sleazy gossip columnist, Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) trading criminals and drugs for money and headlines in Hush-Hush magazine. Sgt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the straight-laced officer that wants to a detective, but doesn’t have the stomach for the job.

Exley witnesses the extent of the corruption in the station when a group of Mexicans are beaten by most of the officers, because they were suspects of beating up a couple of cops. The fallout of this incident trickled down when White is suspended for not testifying against his boozy partner, Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel). Exley is the complete opposite; he would be labeled ‘the snitch’ to get a new promotion, a deputy lieutenant. Vincennes is reassigned from narcotics to vice. Fellow officers would backstab each other to save their own asses. White would be the muscle working under Capt. Dudley (James Cromwell).

At one of the drug-related murder scenes, Vincennes finds a card for “Fleur-de-lis” that could be connected to a murder at the Nite Owl Café where Stensland gets killed. The station thinks that a trio of Negro shooters was responsible for it. They hunt them down. Meanwhile, White recognizes of one of the victims as a girl he has seen in the back of Pierce Patchett’s (David Strathairn) car with Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) in tow. White learns that Patchett is running a prostitution ring to make the call girl look like Hollywood movie stars.

As the investigation intensifies, loyalties are tested, friendships are broken, and people show their true colors.

I may not have written how brilliant this movie is. All I say is that Curtis Hanson has a created a movie that had fantastic, crisp dialogue delivered perfectly from the main stars to the supporting players. The tension was there. I was on the edge of my seat. I know what was coming, but I still felt something about the characters. What is going to happen to them? The costumes, the art direction, it felt like I was in the 1950s. It didn’t feel like a fake movie set. It was organic. It had a life of its own. I appreciate that. Brava, Mr. Hanson.

Judgment: A fantastic film noir that makes you could to revisit more of them after watching this.

Rating: *****

The Road (2009)

I told the boy when you dream about bad things happening, it means you’re still fighting and you’re still alive. It’s when you start to dream about good things that you should start to worry.

— The Man

Finally, I saw The Road. It has had a difficult journey to its opening. It was supposed to be released in November of 2008, but The Weinstein Company decide to push it back a year so they could focus on The Reader. It was supposed to come out October 2009 then it was bumped back to Thanksgiving. When Thanksgiving came, it was nowhere to be found, because it was in limited release. I had to search to find a theater that was showing it. This movie was lost in the shuffle. I don’t know why.

An unexplained catastrophe has happened to the Earth where plants and animals have been wiped out years before. Days blur into one another as a handful of people are struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where there is limited food, and acts of cannibalism running rampant throughout the land. The Man (Viggo Mortensen) and the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travel around the desolate landscape to find some semblance of life.

Sometimes the action flashes back to after the catastrophe happen when the Wife (Charlize Theron) urges the family to commit mass suicide like the other families in the area. The Man does not want to do that. She doesn’t share his optimism for humanity running amok outside that could come into their house kill the wife, rape the son and eat them. She decides to leave her family to walk into the wintry night.

The Man and Boy come upon a farmhouse to find a shred of food, but they find a family hanging by nooses. The Man makes an impulse to use their last remaining bullets on their pistols to end their lives. Somehow, this plan is scraped the Man decided to conserve their last two bullets. It might have been a good thing, because when they rest in an abandoned car they hear a gang bus coming in the distance. They hide in the woods for the gang to pass looking for fuel and food.

When one of the gang members (Garret Dillahunt) is taking a piss out in the woods, he discovers the duo cowering down a ridge. The Man asks the Gang Member to leave them alone to go on their way. The Gang Member tests the Man. He shoots the Gang Member in the head when the man threatens the Boy with a knife. They escape deep into the words when the gang scours the woods to the people that killed their fellow member.

The duo are continuing to head South for the shoreline for some signs a civilized life to counteracts the savagery they see everyday fighting hunger, going to days without taking a bath. When they do get a bright light in the form of a mansion of the road, they are able to have the basic necessaries like food, hot water, clean clothes or toothpaste.

Their joy is short lived when the Man hears a strange noise in the house, thinking that it is another looter is coming to kill them. They decide to leave, but happen upon a legally blind man, Ely (Robert Duvall). The Boy wants to help the Blind Man, but the Man is hesitant to give him their last remaining food to him. The men talk about the how the world collapses as foretold by the Blind Man and humanity is lost. The blind man leaves.

The father and son decide to keep going south. They have to get to the coast before they starve, are captured by refugees or worse.

Some movies work better in books, because the subject is too much for the typical moviegoers. Damn, this movie is depressing. It is bleak and dark. No hope. Nothing. I wish for those flashbacks more often. If the apocalypse happened tomorrow, I want to be the ones mercifully killed. If I had to endure the endless sorrow, I couldn’t take it.

The world is gray, dirty, bleak, and vile. The only color you will see in this film is fire, flares and patches of spilled blood. The movie constantly punishes the viewer with it’s stark imagery, the terrain blackened by fires, the trash, the abandoned cars, etc.

Judgment: This movie shows you that the bond between father and son will be tested.

Rating: ****1/2

The Hurt Locker (2009)

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You’ll know when you’re in it.

Currently out of town for the moment, there was a chance to see a special advance screening of Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film, The Hurt Locker. Not being familiar with her filmography, this was a solid character piece about broken soldiers trying to survive in war torn Iraq.

This is not just another anti-Iraqi war propaganda movie. This is a movie about Bravo company, a crew dealing the de-arment of roadside bombs.

When the movie starts, Bravo company deals with the loss of their leader, Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) from one of the roadside bombs. A hard-headed maverick, Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) joins Bravo company at the tail end of their year long tour.

He immediately butt heads with Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie). William doesn’t follow protocol and does things his way, not the Army Way.

This film follows the lives of William, JT and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) as they try to survive active combat.

The filmmaking was superb. Even though this film was shot in the desert, it was very alive, not monochromatic.

Judgment: Go see this film when it opens later this month and wider in July.

Rating: ****1/2

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