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Futuristic Film Noir, 26 June 2002

I loved ‘A.I.', Spielberg's last foray into science fiction. It wasn't perfect – but for me, science fiction is about the philosophy of scientific progression; the wrongs, the rights, the gains, and the consequences of making the human being closer to our perception of efficiency. In Spielberg's tribute to the late Stanley Kubrick, he explores the morality and responsibilities in ‘creating' life. Does intelligence dictate life form, and if so, who owns the right to take that away? Would killing an artificially created life form be considered murder? It is not the actual questions that attracted me so, but how these questions are played out in Spielberg's universe – how the movie works with these issues.

This is also why I feel Spielberg's follow-up to A.I. is so wonderfully extravagant in its telling. The year is 2054. Murder has been all but eliminated thanks to a new technique called ‘pre-crime'. This term refers to the ability to see murders before they happen – giving the police (pre-cops) time to find the place, and people involved in the murder, and hopefully prevent it. Even though this system has seen continued success, much of the population still doubted the idea of preventing something before it happens. The scenario is laid out wonderfully by a meeting between John Anderton (Tom Cruise), an accomplished pre-cop, and a representative/cop from the government, Danny Witwer (Collin Farrel).

Witwer's main purpose is to find flaws in the system – somehow prove that although it is possible to predict the future, it is impossible to be certain that it will happen unless it happens. Anderton, who we find early on is one of the best pre-cops in the business, and believes that the system is sound, rolls a ball along a table in which Witwer catches. Anderton asks him why he caught the ball, in which Witwer replies, `Because it was going to fall'. The answer, in every sense of the word, was a prediction – an educated one at that, but still nothing more. From this, we can extrapolate the greater scope of this example: Is it possible to predict – for certain – that something will happen? Is it right to condemn someone for a crime that he/she has not yet committed? From this moment, Anderton and Witwer, because of their opposing beliefs, are immediately split into their own proverbial corners of the ring.

Philosophy aside, this is above all an action movie; something Stephen Spielberg is no stranger to. His experience in working behind the camera shows in almost every aspect of motion picture from the shot to the timing. In the climax to an amazing scene were little spider-like robots are sent in to an apartment complex to find Anderton, one of the spiders creeps under the door to a bathroom where Anderton is hiding under water. We watch as the robot looks around the room and turns to leave after not noticing the submerged subject. We cut to a shot of a tiny air bubble that barely escapes Anderton's nose. The bubble bursts just as the last moving leg of the spider is about to leave under the closed door. Suddenly, the spider stops, and turns around for a closer look. The description of the scene is very mundane. However, with Spielberg's ability to masterfully time the action on screen, he is able to create a huge sense of tension.

Spielberg's eye is as masterful as his timing. One of the most interesting shots in the movie comes near the later stages, where Anderton and Agatha are embracing. It is a two shot (very commonly used in modern Hollywood cinema), but used in a manner in which I've never seen before. The profile of the two characters looking away while talking to each other is wonderful, and lends itself perfectly to the subject matter of the scene; a stroke of genius during a scene that could have been just another scene.

I also have to comment on the special effects of the movie. In many movies, some recent one which come to mind include `Attack of the Clones' and `Spiderman', the special effects, were used in a way such th at it seemed like the filmmakers were building the movie around the special effects. For me, this is a huge distraction – possibly intended to take our eyes off some horrible acting (I'm not naming any names here!). In `Minority Report', the effects are used to help and compliment the movie, never poking its way to the centre of attention, and letting the movie and its characters tell the story. Amongst the huge firecracker explosions and web swinging computer graphics of the modern day action movie, this was a refreshing change for me, and I hope the filmmakers take note and follow suit.

Aside from these scenes, Spielberg's ability to play with the audience is consistent throughout the length of the film. It is so easy for him to startle, play with, and manipulate the viewer – and all the time being so very discrete. Much of the film is shot with a filter that makes whites seem oversaturated. This helps contrast dark shadows and retain a great film noir feel. It also lends itself to the idea of how hard it is to hide in a city illuminated by light and surrounded by tiny cameras.

The casting is solid, and everyone played their roles convincingly. Samantha Morton was surprisingly convincing, and Collin Farrel was great at making us dislike him right from the start. People who are looking for something to calm their appetite for an action movie will surely be satisfied with ‘Minority Report'. The fact that this action movie comes with a brain is a welcomed bonus.

In a summer that has so far been filled with mediocre blockbuster fare, Spielberg unloads what is sure to be one of his most technically challenging and rewarding works.


Memento (2000)
An unforgettable movie about forgetting, 5 April 2001

"I thought the whole purpose of reading a book is to see what happens next."

In conclusion, this is probably the best movie, both from a technical perspective and an entertainment perspective, that I have seen in months - maybe years. I'd highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys not being spoon-fed while they watch a movie!

Because of the way the story unfolds, the audience is consistantly left partially in the dark about everything that is going on. Why is Lenny here? How did he get here? Who exactly is Lenny? We find out, but not until the end. Don't even try guessing...okay, you can try.

The last thing Lenny remembers is his wife getting raped and murdered. He can't remember anything else, and he knows it. So, he uses tatoos (which is a very significant metaphoric device, since memories are often described as tatoos of the mind) and polaroids to help him seek his revenge. Lenny writes notes on the back of his polaroids so he knows what to do the next time he reads them - almost training himself.

By playing the chronological order of the film, the director accomplishes 2 things: First, it lets the audience partially experience anterograde amnesia by not allowing us to know what happened before. Secondly, it totally disorients the audience, because we soon realize through our own experience through cause and effect, that for any particular effect, the cause can be a myriad of different possibilities. The viewer realizes that it is practically impossible to guess what happened before, yet we still try. Interactive, and keeps everyone at the edge of their seats.

Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano round off the key characters, and their performances are amazing, both actors had to act out the script while keeping a certain sense of ambiguity to their character, which is no easy task. Think Olivia Willams in "The Sixth Sense", acting almost interactively with Willis during the dinner table scene, and you'll know what that's about.

The movie puts Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) in the lead role as Leonard (Lenny), a person with anterograde amnesia - a condition that prevents him from creating new, or short-term memories, while his long-term memories seem to be intact. He can remember things that happened years ago, but things that happened 5 minutes ago are lost almost immediately.

The gimmick is simple, actually. The film plays out in reverse. The final scene is shown at the beginning of the movie, and each scene after that is what happened before the current scene you are watching. This even sounds pretty gimmicky, but trust me, it works better than anyone could have imagined.

Going into Memento, I was not sure exactly what to expect from the movie. I've heard a lot of good press, but no details. I all really knew about the film was the gimmick.

280 out of 320 people found the following review useful:
Absolutely Heartbreaking, 8 November 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had been looking forward to Aronofsky's follow-up to his critically acclaimed art-house film, Pi, of a few years back and when it did finally open in 1 theatre in Toronto, I gathered a bunch of friends to go down and see it. Some have never even heard of Pi before. For others, this would be their first Independent film experience. However, coming out of the movie, we all agreed that it was one of most powerful piece of contemporary cinema that anyone has seen.

"Requiem for a Dream" tells the story of 4 people, connected either through blood or some kind of personal relationship, whether it be family, girlfriend, or business partner. Although the characters lived far from what you and I would consider to be normal lifestyles, they shared something in common with each and every member of the audience; hopes, aspirations, dreams. Sara Goldfarb (played so wonderfully by Ellen Burstyn) dreams of one day being on a TV show, and one day, gets her chance. She fantasizes about how she could wear her favourite red dress, that she wore to her sun's graduation, on television. However, upon trying to wear the red dress, Sara discovers that she has gained some weight over the years and tries desperately to lose her weight, eventually resorting to medication. All of the characters have drugs (the bad kind) affect their lives, which eventually take over their lives. The movie documents how for each of the 4 people are effected and eroded by drugs.

The look of the film is extremely stylized, but justifiably so. Aronofsky uses surreal imagery as a vehicle for realism, something that really works when done well, and done well it was. By using a combination of slow and fast motion shots, extreme close-ups and more edits than you can shake a stick at, Aronofsky successfully brings the audience into the world and mind of someone with a drug problem. The audience visually experiences first-hand what it is like to be 'scared' or 'high' - all this in 3rd person; all this in the comfort of the theatre chair.

Of course, all of this effort would be in vain if it didn't mean anything at the end. The film leads the audience down a spiral of addiction until the grand finale, which features a montage of graphically intense scenes and images with more edits per second than any film. The pacing at the end, when compared to earlier parts of the movie, was so fast I started to find it hard to keep up, and literally took my breath away as the credits came up. All in all, the effect was amazing, and something that I have not personally experienced when watching any film before.

As the title indicates, "Requiem for a Dream" does not contain a happy ending. It is in no way optimistic, and only gives the audience faint pieces of hope and happiness. However, It does show what desperate people are willing to do, and how desperation will change someone's life to its entirety. It is in the recognition of desperation where hope lies.

48 out of 78 people found the following review useful:
Breathtakingly Beautiful..., 10 September 2000

As a film student living in Toronto, I look forward to the Toronto International Film Festival every year. Last year, the highlight of the festival for me was American Beauty. This year, it would have to be (so far) Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

Being of Asian descent, I've seen my share of wu xia genre movies to last me a life time. However, most of them are so centred on the fighting, that they forget the rest of the elements that are involed. The movie turns into one long scripted fighting scene with maybe a slight hint of story. Crouching Tiger, on the other hand realizes these issues, and builds these oh-so entertaining action sequences into an epic with typical asian themes such as true love and honour.

Being an epic, one would expect the usual long takes and establishing shots, and boy does it ever look beautiful. Traversing through a myriad of regions spanning the lengh of China (from the deserts to bamboo forests, to mountains high in the clouds), the film soley based on its asthetic properties is nothing short of stunning. The lighting of different landscapes and the exquisitly designed costumes all radiate with stunning colour. And then there's the cinemetography. Wow! The backdrops, establishing shots look absolutely marvelous. If your jaw dropped when you saw Rome and its coliseum in Gladiator, wait until you see ancient Beijing recreated on the screen!

Okay, so it's a good looking movie. What about the story? The complexity of the plot is rather sparse, probably reminiscent of epics such as Braveheart or Gladiator, which is by no means a bad thing. Although both Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeo did have major parts, this movie belongs mostly to Zhang Ziyi who IMHO did an amazing job playing a very complex role (one which required her to represent nobily as a princess, naivness, as well as show inner strength). Mainly concentrating on her unwillingness to give in to the ideals of an arranged marriage, the decently written script adds a story of an old warrior trying to retire and a 300+ year old sword.

All in all, this film blends story, well choreographed action, and a stylistic eye to create a mythilogical piece that not only represents the wu xia genre justly by doing it well, but also contributes to raising the quality of filmmaking usually applied in the making of a similar type of film.