Memento

  • Title: Memento
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2000
  • Studio:  Newmarket Capital Group, Summit Entertainment, Columbia-Tristar (distributor)
  • Genre:  Suspense
  • Cast:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Callum Keith Rennie
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“That must suck. It’s all backwards. I mean, like, maybe you’ve got an idea about what you want to do next, but you can’t remember what you just did.” – Hotel Clerk

“I’m disciplined and organized. I use habit and routine to make my life possible.” – Leonard

Memento is a remarkable movie, because it uses a structure that I don’t think any other film has used. The film is told backwards. It’s also unusual in that there are two films in one. The main story, in color, has each scene taking place immediately before the scene that precedes it. The backing story, in black and white, does move forward in time and is almost a commentary on the other scenes. It also serves to orient the viewer some in any areas that might be really confusing.

The first time I saw Memento, I knew going in that the film would be told backwards – it is what it’s famous for. And even though the film is a little confusing at first, one quickly becomes used to the idea – and it really isn’t as confusing as you might think. The structure forces the viewer to pay close attention to what is happening in the film. The structure also really, really puts an emphasis on editing. And as you watch the film, you end up mentally re-ordering the scenes to put them in context.

However, the structure also emphasizes the character and his point of view. The main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), is suffering from retrograde amnesia. That is, due to a trauma (we’re told) he can remember his life before the trauma, but he can’t make new memories. Leonard’s life exists in the brief span of a scene, the minute he loses focus, or falls asleep, he forgets everything that’s happened to him. The highly unusual structure, of telling the story backwards, emphasizes this – if you haven’t seen the movie before, you don’t know what happened before either. Therefore when Leonard finds himself chasing a guy – or as he quickly realizes – being chased by a guy with a gun, the audience also has no idea why.

Upon viewing the film a second time, the structure still works. Because the film is told in reverse order, it’s hard to remember individual scenes – so one is, for example, still confused as to why Leonard’s being chased. I was surprised when I watched the film a second time, that the structure still worked and the film isn’t a one hit wonder. I knew the big secret from the end of the film, of course, which I’m not going to reveal in this review. Memento still works as a film even on a second viewing.

Memento is also a film that has a timeless look to it. It’s a story told in cheap hotels, dive bars, and abandoned buildings. Even the one home we see (Natalie’s), although nice, is incredibly nondescript. The anonymous places accentuate Leonard’s situation.

However, Memento is, at it’s center a disturbing film – not because of it’s unique structure, which the viewer quickly gets used to, but because of the Big Secret at the end of the film, The end, which is really the beginning when you think about it. I don’t want to spoil that for movie viewers who haven’t seen it, but once you know, it changes how you view the film. And probably not in the way you think.

Recommendation:  See it! I would especially recommend this movie to film students.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Iron Man 3

  • Title:  Iron Man 3
  • Director:  Shane Black
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Paramount, Marvel
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, Paul Bettany
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1

When I saw Iron Man 3 in the theater last summer I was somewhat disappointed.  I bought the DVD anyway, and having watched it a couple of times, I still think it wasn’t as good as it could have been.  But I bought the film because I like Robert Downey Jr. and he does seem to be born to play the part of Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

The interesting part of the story is that Tony, after the events in New York, in The Avengers, is suffering from PTSD and panic attacks – not that he seems willing to deal with his trauma.  He and Pepper are living together, but arguing as ever.

The film uses a voice-over by Tony to try to connect and explain events.  In a tag during the credits, we’ll learn he’s talking to Dr. Bruce Banner.  However, even with the voice-over, this film is confusing and hard to follow.  And even after multiple viewings – that doesn’t improve matters, at all.  And that remains one of the prime problems with the film – without a good story, a story that grabs you with it’s characters – or an unique and meaningful plot, the best action sequences in the world can still seem boring.  So, the film doesn’t really work because it’s confusing, and the action sequences don’t really work because they have little meaning.

The plot involves a series of “terrorist” bombings – bombings which eventually turn out not to be the result of terrorist bombs at all, but a new, experimental military technology called Extremis.  Extremis was invented by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) a man Tony had met at a party before he became Iron Man.  Tony blew the guy off, causing him to obtain military contracts to develop Extremis – rather than using it as a genetic treatment for physical disabilities and medical illnesses.  Though, given the little we see of Killian’s character, it’s doubtful he would have used Extremis for purely “peaceful” means even if Stark Industries had backed his research.

The terrorist bombings, by a man called, The Mandarin, turn out to be a charade – The Mandarin is Trevor Slattery, a British actor, hired by Killian to put a false face on the bombings – which are actually a side effect of Extremis going wrong.  S.H.I.E.L.D., meanwhile, had tried to get Tony to work with them to stop The Mandarin – but he refuses as he thinks it’s none of his business.  When Happy is injured in an random Mandarin attack, however, Tony takes it personally – and not only threatens the Mandarin but gives out his home address in a public press conference.

Tony’s actions prove to be as dumb as that sounds – as the Mandarin attacks and destroys his Malibu home.  Tony, in escaping, ends-up in Tennessee, where he is given help by a young, geeky, know-it-all kid.  And yes, that part of the plot was extremely annoying. Pepper disappears for the vast majority of the plot – and Tony’s running around with a kid.

Tony is in Tennessee for a reason, though – before the public threats of the Mandarin started, there was another explosion with the same heat signature.  Tony figures there’s a connection, and in Tennessee – he finds it, thus leading him to Trevor, and then to Killian. But Killian meanwhile has taken Pepper and exposed her to Extremis.  Thus, Tony ‘s final battle is more about saving the woman he loves than about stopping Killian and Extremis. This should have made the film work better – however, not only is Tony helped by Rhody, now the “Iron Patriot” but about 30 remotely activated Iron Man suits join in the final battle. Therefore, in the final battle – it’s very difficult to figure out who’s who and what’s going on (both Tony and Rhody get in and out of various suits throughout the battle).

Still, at the end, Pepper almost dies, but Extremis saves her.  Tony realises how much he loves Pepper, and even has the shrapnel and electromagnet removed from his chest, and one is left with the idea that he might, finally, become a better person without relying on his suit of iron.  Well, until the next Avengers film.

The problem with Iron Man 3 is twofold – it doesn’t expand the universe at all, it simply introduces yet another villain, and this villain isn’t even real – the Mandarin is a sham.  An Killian, though nasty, is somewhat finite as a villain – Extremis doesn’t work.  It, temporarily, does as promised – even regrowing limbs, but eventually the patient blows-up.  Not exactly a medical miracle.  And secondly, it becomes just another chapter in an on-going story that never ends.  There’s no beginning, middle, end structure to the Iron Man films – so there’s no growth.  In the second film, I felt Tony had slid backwards to his original party self; in this one – Party Tony is in a flashback, but there’s still no real growth or change.  And the end scenes, which do hint at change — Tony realising his feelings for Pepper, Tony having the shrapnel and magnet removed, etc., all seem fake and short-lived.  We know Iron Man will be back, so what’s the point?

I did like the scenes between Pepper and Tony at the beginning and end of the film, but overall, Gwyneth Paltrow is almost criminally under-used in this film.  She needed either, her own storyline, or to be with Tony in Tennessee doing research – not simply arguing with Tony at the beginning, and being a victim at the end, until Tony tries to rescue her and she ends up rescuing herself instead.

Recommendation:  For die-hard Marvel fans Only
Rating:  3 Stars
Next Film:  Justice League:  Flashpoint Paradox

L.A. Confidential

  • Title: L.A. Confidential
  • Director: Curtis Hanson
  • Date: 1997
  • Studio: Warner Brothers, Regency Entertainment
  • Genre: Drama, Mystery, Film Noir
  • Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Straithairn, Simon Baker (Credited as Simon Baker Denny)
  • Format: Widescreen, color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Come to Los Angeles… there are jobs a plenty and land is cheap…”— Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito)

“I admire you as a policeman, particularly your adherance to violence as an adjunct to the job.” — Police Captain Dudley Smith to Lt. Bud White

“How’s it going to look in your report?” — Det. Lt. Exley
“It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got, justice.”— Lt. Bud White

LA Confidential is a brilliant modern film noir. The film weaves deep layered characters into a complex plot of police corruption, graft, drugs, and murder. All the actors give brilliant performances. Russell Crowe, in an very early role, is Lt. Bud White, police captain Smith’s “enforcer” with a soft spot for abused women. Watching his journey from tough guy and bruiser to someone who actually starts to figure out what’s going on and who stops just following orders and starts to think — even when solving the case leads right back to the police department — is a joy in this film. Guy Pearce is the college-educated “new cop” who isn’t afraid to testify against other dirty cops, as long as it allows him to get ahead. But he too has to make decisions — does he “do what he’s told, and reap his reward” or does he follow a more difficult path and expose the corruption he and Bud have uncovered? And brilliant as always Kevin Spacey as “Hollywood Jack” Vincennes, who’s a technical advisor on the TV cop drama “Badge of Honor” (think “Dragnet”) and partners with tabloid reporter Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito) accepting payments to pass along info about upcoming busts so the reporter can photograph them. Sid, a pioneer in bottom-feeding tabloid journalism, and publisher of the tabloid “Hush-Hush” regularly gives Vincennes gifts and bribes, as well as passing along information. In other words, their partnership is two-way.

The film weaves a complicated plot, starting with the beating, in the LA lock-up, of several Mexican-Americans, resulting in the expulsion of several bad cops and the meeting of our characters and seeing how they react. Vincennes is transferred between departments and temporarily taken off “Badge of Honor” as Technical Advisor. White refuses to roll on his partner, or become a snitch. Exley not only offers up info as a snitch, but gives advice on how to get to other cops, though this gets him a promotion – it doesn’t endear him to the other cops. After “Bloody Christmas” but before the trial even starts, there’s a mass shooting at the Nite Owl coffee shop, one of the victims is White’s disgraced partner. The hunt for the killers leads to three young black men, who are brought in, questioned, escape, and then are caught again and killed.

However, all three of our main characters soon realize that the three men, though guilty of kidnapping and raping a young Mexican girl, aren’t guilty of the Nite Owl killings. And, again, the investigation, though it also involves a millionaire who’s running a high-class call girl outfit of girls “cut to look like movie stars” and heroin, ultimately leads right back to the police department. I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you reading this who haven’t seen this brilliant Noir film.

This film starts with a sarcastic voice-over, by Danny Devito, describing the bright, sunny, perfect California that’s being sold as an image — only to expose a dark, dirty, and very corrupt underbelly.  Irony underlies a lot of the picture (such as showing the ground-breaking ceremony for the Santa Monica freeway “LA to the beach in 20 minutes”). But the characters also present an opening image that changes throughout the film — Bud White starts as a tough, an enforcer, a brutal cop, albeit with a soft spot for battered women and kids, but he develops, putting together a lot of the clues leading to an explanation of what really is going on. Exley seems like the college-educated “new cop” who won’t be able to hack it in the field – yet, he also manages to prove his smarts and his investigative chops, as well as his ability to handle violence when needed. Vincennes, “Hollywood Jack” has somehow lost his way. Asked, “Why’d you become a cop?” He answers, “I can’t remember”. Jack is like the tough, hard-boiled, cynical protagonists of a lot of Classic Noir. Yet, like those protagonists, his journey in the film is to discover that he can’t turn a blind eye to the corruption around him any more, especially when he inadvertently causes a young male actor/hooker to get murdered. There’s more to Jack than the smoothness one first sees.

The film is set in the 1950s, but the historical detail, though there, is not at the forefront of the film. The score is fantastic from Jerry Goldsmith’s original instrument themes, to the use of period music by Johnny Mercer and Dean Martin. The film also gets physically darker, as the characters discover the true darkness around them.

I highly, highly recommend this film. It has brilliant acting, brilliant writing, a dense, complex plot, and the feel of a true Noir film, but made in a modern style. The film is very intelligent — both the writing and dialogue and the plot. And, though violent and bloody at times, it’s still quite, quite worth seeing.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars