Reviews

8 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Memento (2000)
10/10
All Night and into the Day
17 May 2001
All night, I kept waking. Bits of the film kept crawling out of the dark. A monster movie where the demons are ideas: What the hell is reality? Who am I? What do I want? No, no: What do I really want?

Reality is facts. Yes. Facts tied together by memory--by context. But memory lies...every cop knows eyewitnesses are highly unreliable...the "Rashomon effect." You can't build a solid case on the shifting sands of memories. Facts can lie too, facts can be manipulated. Facts require context to structure reality.

Pieces of this film kept resonating with me on the walk home, later at night... I warn you: if you see it, you'll want to go back. If you like it, that is. You may hate it. You may find it too much trouble. It isn't a ride, it's a forced march through some pretty rocky topography. Or you may just hate it because you do! But if you are as drawn into it as I am, you'll want to go back to nail it down. I know there are things I missed, facts that are left slippery, details that are kept vague, details that pass by so quickly and which alter the terrain completely...

Imagine: you wake up. You don't know where you are. You know you don't have amnesia. This is ongoing reality, you know that. It is that your brain cannot build new memories. You remember your life perfectly, you think, up to a point. The rest...? Your present--where you are, who you're talking to, where you're going--is based on the notes you've jotted down on the Polaroids you've take. Pictures of places, of people, of signal events in your recent life... You know you took them, that you wrote the notes. You recognize your handwriting. You build each scene of your life on that construct and from it, you measure out your actions. You know that because you've conditioned yourself to know it.

Your life is a quest, your body has been conditioned to know that too: you have to find the person who did this to you, who killed someone close to you. Your life is about revenge. What is revenge for a man who has no memory? Whose reality is an eternal ‘now' without a firm context. What meaning has any relationship? Any fact?

While the technique of telling a tale from backwards is not new, this is without a doubt the most compelling film I've seen in a long time. Telling it backwards, in this case, is the only way to tell this tale. Like any good thriller, the plot is a labyrinth. At first it seems simple: You enter here. You work your way through. You arrive at the end. Done. Nope. It is much more complex than that. On top of the twists and turns are questions. Why am I doing this? What do I want? Who is with me and who is against me? Each answer seems firm, yet not.

Complex. At the heart of it, though, it is elegantly simple.

It holds your attention throughout and, after it ends, it resonates. It's filled with ideas...ideas about life, the nature of perception and...did I say it already?...of reality. This isn't about murderers and vengeance. It's about you. It keeps you thinking, keeps you frightened. Into the night.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Magical Romance...
16 January 2001
There's a telling moment near the beginning of Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

In closeup, we see the rough-hewn, heavy wooden wheels of a peasant cart. They nestle in deep ruts worn into the stone paving blocks of a roadway entering a gated city. The cart rumbles on, its wheels fitting perfectly into the grooves worn by unspoken centuries of just such passing wagons...in one image we see how tradition creates its own paths, how contemporary reality is fabricated to fit such traditions... The camera rises, we see an almost impossible panorama of Peking, the Forbidden City spreading out before us like an Oz extending to the horizon.

What a film this is: a superb action adventure romance with terrific acting and a much-welcome heart underlying the technical superiority.

"Crouching Tiger...", I am told, is representative of a specific literary/cinematic genre in China: Wu Xia...the wizard/warrior piece...magic and martial arts blended. I'm not familiar with the form, but the world portrayed here is a breathtakingly fantastical one. The story is putatively set in 19th century China, but it could be anywhere, anywhen. It is a place of high honor and deep feelings, a place where people are bound by traditions and held captive by their forms. It is also a place of wild and mythic landscapes...from stark desert (thought nowhere do we get that featureless, wide-screen linear horizon seen in David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia!") to magic misty green mountains with deep dark lakes and steeply cascading streams that come braiding, tumbling down the rockslide heights. High, reedy bamboo forests wave, wondrous, in sighing winds.

In this world people may do amazing things. The flying in this movie -- properly called "wire work" in film terms -- is fantastic. This technique, of course, was not invented by the Wachowski's, but the choreographer of "Crouching Tiger...", Woo-ping Yuen, also staged the wire-fights of "Matrix." Here, the ability of our warrior heros and villains to climb walls, to leap to the rooftops and soar from building to building -- not to mention engaging each other in aerial combat that soars from the peak of a mountain top to the rocks of a mountain stream in a single take -- or to duel on the very tips of dipping, waving bamboo trees -- looks almost plausible, just over the border of the possible, at least. The whole packed-in audience at the big theater at the advanced screening at Pipers Alley in Chicago burst into spontaneous applause several times throughout...

At other moments, I found myself in weepy transport. As I think of the fight in the treetops, right now, I become drippy -- tingly of eye and sinus.

Apart from all else, this is grand storytelling! It has passion, love, revenge...it expresses deep need and longing.

And, yes, the woman are the action hearts of the film! Michelle Yeoh is wonderful...but I've been in love with her for years. Here, she is more mature, quieter, wiser than in any role I've seen her in. Her performance is strong and moving, her face registering, magically, a range of conflicting emotions, hidden secrets, crouching angers, all at once. In acting training we were always told you can't do that. She does it.

Chow Yun Fat, too...I've been a fan of his since I first discovered John Woo's Hong Kong crime thrillers...is the best I've ever seen, as well...magnificent in his silences. Strength without cruelty.

The center of the film is a girl who looks to be about 15! Ziyi Zhang whose date of birth is given as 1979. Zhang is from Beijing, China, and has only one other film credit. She is remarkable. Her story is the film's binding element. And this newcomer holds it together! Holding her own with Yeoh and Chow in both dramatic material and in the balletic martial pas des dieux's that frame the conflicts between characters. She is the "Luke Skywalker" of the piece, if you will...though "Crouching Tiger..." has everything the "Star Wars" saga aspires to: excitement, thrills and magic. Here however, technical fireworks are wrapped heart and deeply resonant spirit. Elements Lukasfilm wanted to have, but which it succeeded in providing only in the most self-conscious way.

By the way: this is an action film, almost uniquely without violence...or, rather, the violence is so stylized, so removed into some mystical realm, that it almost disappears into dance. There is, I believe, only one small splash of blood on-screen. Typically, I don't like that -- figuring that if you're going to do a film where violence is part of it all, where action advances plot, let's have it full-bore, the "Full Peckinpaw," if you will. Here, however, this stylization works beautifully with action sequences that take the breath away and inspire a sense of awe, rather than simply leave you white-knuckled and sweaty.

There are those who will grumble that Jackie Chan (another favorite of mine) does it all for real, without wires and tricks. True enough... But here that exuberance of motion is in service of a grand story and strong characters who carry worthwhile emotional burdens!

I won't be able to wait for the DVD, and will probably see it again, perhaps see it twice before it hits the home-market.

My recommendation: Just go see it.
182 out of 227 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but... Wondrous!
20 December 2000
There's a telling moment near the beginning of Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

In closeup, we see the rough-hewn, heavy wooden wheels of a peasant cart. They nestle in deep ruts worn into the stone paving blocks of a roadway entering a gated city. The cart rumbles on, its wheels fitting perfectly into the grooves worn by unspoken centuries of just such passing wagons...in one image we see how tradition creates its own paths, how contemporary reality is fabricated to fit such traditions... The camera rises, we see an almost impossible panorama of Peking, the Forbidden City spreading out before us like an Oz extending to the horizon.

What a film this is. Everything you've heard is right. It may not be the most wondrous thing ever...but it is a superb action adventure romance with terrific acting and a much-welcome heart...that also has some absolutely breath-taking action scenes. "Crouching Tiger...", I am told, is representative of a specific literary/cinematic genre in China: Wu Xia...the wizard/warrior piece...magic and martial arts blended.

I'm not familiar with the form, but the world portrayed here is a breathtakingly fantastical one. The story is putatively set in 19th century China, but it could be anywhere, anywhen. It is a place of high honor and deep feelings, a place where people are bound by traditions and held captive by their forms. It is also a place of wild and mythic landscapes...from stark desert (thought nowhere do we get that featureless, wide-screen linear horizon seen in David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia!") to magic misty green mountains with deep dark lakes and steeply cascading streams that come braiding, tumbling down the rockslide heights. High, reedy bamboo forests wave, wondrous, in the winds.

In this world people may do amazing things. The flying in this movie -- properly called "wire work" in film terms -- is fantastic. This technique, of course, was not invented by the Washowski's but the choreographer of "Crouching Tiger..." also staged the wire-fights of "Matrix." Here, the ability of our warrior heros and villains to climb walls, to leap to the rooftops and soar from building to building -- not to mention engaging each other in aerial combat that soars from the peak of a mountain top to the rocks of a mountain stream in a single take -- or to duel on the very tips of dipping, waving bamboo trees -- looks almost plausible, just over the border of the possible, at least. The guy with whom I saw the advance screening and I...the whole packed-in audience at the big theater at Pipers Alley...burst into spontaneous applause several times throughout... At other moments, I found myself in absolute weepy transport. As I think of the fight in the treetops, right now, I become all drippy -- tingly of eye and sinus.

Apart from anything, this is a grand story! It has passion...love, revenge...it expresses deep need and longing.

And, yes, the woman are the action hearts of the film! Michelle Yeoh is wonderful...but I've been in semi-love with her for a long time. Here, she is more mature, quieter, wiser than anything I've seen her in (she was a recent "Bond Girl"). Her performance is strong and moving, her face registering, magically, a range of conflicting emotions, hidden secrets, crouching angers, all at once.

Chow Yun Fat, too...I've been a fan of his since I first discovered John Woo's Hong Kong crime thrillers...is the best I've ever seen, as well...magnificent in his silences. Strength without cruelty.

The center of the film...remarkably...is a girl who looks to be about 15! Ziyi Zhang whose date of birth is given as 1979. Zhang is from Beijing, China, and has only one other film credit. I say that she is remarkable because her story is the binding element of the film. And she holds the film together! Holding her own with Yeoh and Chow in both the dramatic material and in the balletic martial pas de deus (okay...did I spell that right?) that frame the conflicts between them. She is the "Luke Skywalker" of the piece, if you will...though "Crouching Tiger..." has everything the "Star Wars" saga had: excitement, thrills and magic, but here, it is wrapped in those things Lukas film wanted to give, but succeeded in delivering in only the most self-conscious way: heart and deep-placed spirit.

By the way: this is an action film, almost uniquely without violence...or, rather, the violence is so stylized, so removed into some mystical realm, that it almost disappears into dance. There is, I believe, only one small splash of blood onscreen. Typically, I don't like that -- figuring that if you're going to do a film where violence is part of it all, where action advances plot, let's have it full-bore, the "Full Peckinpaw," if you will. Here, however, this stylization works beautifully!

While there are those who might grumble that Jackie Chan (another favorite of mine) does it all for real, without wires and trick photography...okay...true enough... But here that exuberance of motion is put in service of a grand story and strong characters who carry worthwhile burdens of emotions!

So there. Enough? Just go see it.

I can't wait for the DVD! I'll probably see it again, maybe see it twice again, before it hits the home-market.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
One of the earliest movies to "move" me...
12 September 1999
I saw this film by accident. It was a second, unbilled, feature at a Saturday matinee I attended when I was 9. I have no idea, now, what that first feature was, but this movie took me in and moved me in a way that had never happened before. Laughed before, yes. Been scared of course! Hid my eyes and left the theater peering ahead at dark corners and the spaces between streetlights.

With this film, however, for the first time (and not the last), I found myself crying in a theater. I am certain, now, I wasn't in tears for the people in the film, but for my own life and at the way I had always responded to my grandfather. The movie -- dare I say this -- held a mirror to the reality I knew as a well cared-for middle-class kid in a small eastern town at mid-century and let me know that I, too, would some day grow up, grow old, come to know sorrow and, one day, die.

Soon, very soon after this, I encountered Citizen Cane on late night television and all things changed again. But this little film opened me up to the power and potential that movies can have toward making people see, understand and feel.
10 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Excellent, Memorable Little Film
12 September 1999
This is one I've carried in my memory for years.

Without the Technicolor budget of George Pal and Robert Heinlein's "Destination Moon," "Rocketship X-M" succeeds in becoming a far more meaningful and memorable pre-"2001" science fiction film.

"Destination Moon" attempts a "scientific" preview of man's first lunar visit. Of course, this effort seriously dates the movie (I also smile at the rather whimsical, seat-of-the-pants, "outsider" endeavors of our heros as they manfully put forth, launching their rocket one-step ahead of the narrow-minded "authorities." Okay, so much for that!).

Rocketship X-M had to vie with "D.M." for entertainment bucks at the box office. X-M's b&w budget (with special effects courtesy of White Sands V-2 stock footage and model-making of the string and cardboard variety) didn't allow the producers to throw a lot of "science" at us, however. What they did have going for them, however, were a few excellent character actors doing star-turns for a change of career-pace, a script by Dalton Trumbo, music by Ferde Grofe, and excellent -- and evocative -- sound and camera work...etc.

Granted: The film's overall messages are a bit simplistic -- nuclear war is bad and should be avoided and the human spirit for exploration and discovery cannot be put down by failure and difficulty (I guess they never considered budget shortfalls as a "failure of spirit"). These ideas are, at least, given voice here during what was, after all, a dangerous era in American politics. Remember, Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted!

The science? Okay, it sucks. Who cares!? Science fiction, to my liking, is less about science and numbers than it is about people and life. This has all of that and carries it forward with distinction and class.

When I first saw this movie as a kid, I remember being truly frightened by the bleak view of a post-apocalyptic Mars and shivered in disbelief then terror at the onrushing tragedy of the about-to-crash rocket bearing the two doomed lovers and their sole-surviving crew-mate (a young Hugh O'Brien) to a fiery demise over the Ural Mountains. The producers did a terrific job with what they had and they deserve a great deal of credit.
37 out of 47 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A very good film that might have been better...
4 August 1999
Before anything else, let me say that I liked the film. Nice concept. Well executed. In particular, I appreciate that the film makers leave the central enigma of the movie intact. Peter Weir's in "Picnic at Hanging Rock" makes a similar choice. It takes strength of character and confidence to make this kind of choice. It speaks reams about their potential.

Already a thing of talk among independent filmfolk long before it hit theaters, BWP had poked itself into my consciousness a year or so ago. The buzz. The buzz! A website before it was a film. The website, itself, less a billboard than a computer game. The lore: Really cheaply made -- 60 grand, 25 grand, 10 grand! for crineoutloud -- the whole thing improved in the woods in eight wet and stinky days; they gave a trio of actors a couple of cameras and a DAT, led them on a scavenger hunt for clues, left sketchy notes and mind-screwed the cast into near-real fear and panic and late night woodland snipe-hunts. It was all so hip, so coolly generated, so clever. Forget that it had been done before. Forget "Cannibal Holocaust," and others...this one had integrity and a kind of kick-ass honesty about it. Just following all the material about the film before it opened, you just knew that -- if successful -- it was going to be one of those demiurge filmevents that redefined the business and would spawn a thousand mini-urges flailing for a ride.

The buzz and hype! And it's all true. There it is: kind of lovely and clever. It HAS integrity. You like those three people. You buy their weaknesses and still you like them because they're weak like you are weak. They're jerks, but still you like them because they're jerks like all of us.

The actors are good, the self-revelatory stuff is honest -- forget how they did it. (John Ford gave Victor McLaglen the next day off and got him drunk as a skunk the night before the big trial scene in "The Informer." Crack of day the next day, Ford dragged McLaglen out of bed and shoved him in front of the camera. Sleep-stupid and whisky-blubbering, fuzz-gargling his lines, shaking all outside and in, McLaglen acted his way through the day and earned an Oscar™ for his hangover.)

So there! Who cares how they got there, they got there!

And there it was. The personal hype machine worked well for these guys, the short booking worked for them boosting their per screen opening to stratospheric levels. Great.

I still went in thinking the movie was going to be just okay. It was better. It was very good. They might have done a little more with the sound. They might have built the tension a little more. They might have paced it better. They might have... They could have-should have...

Well. It worked.

I will say: I came out of the theater not frightened but moved. I left the theater more impressed with the film makers than their film. Ah, phooey! It was a good night out.

It is, finally, a very good film that could have been better.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Saying it's so doesn't make it so...
21 February 1999
God. I wanted to like this film. I think Jim Carrey is a good actor. An excellent physical comic, he's also capable of giving a heartfelt truthful performance. He does it here.

Confound it, I want to like everything Peter Weir does. I frequently don't, but I'm always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Anyone who can do a "Picnic at Hanging Rock" can't be all bad. He obviously has the capacity to make us see, feel, understand without overstating the obvious; while skirting the obvious, for heaven's sake!

"The Truman Show," therefore, SHOULD have been one of my year's high points cinematically. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I saw the advanced screening. I returned and actually paid to see it. Maybe the first-view dyspepsia carried over, maybe I hadn't given it enough time.

I rented it.

Okay: I liked it less the second time I saw it. I almost hated it on the third viewing. (I know, I KNOW...A film -- play, painting, joke...whatever -- is meant to be grabbed on a first view, a single exposure. Repeated looks are bound to let us explore the flaws...but, dammit, I was trying to give the thing a break. Really. It IS the kind of thing I should love...)

What's wrong with Truman? It's one of those things that SAYS it's going to do something. It tells us what it intends to show, then proceeds to NOT show us, but to restate the thesis! And the audience is expected to buy into the notion that the film has actually explored the issues... whatever they are.

Truman, for me, is all statement and no delivery. It gives us a wonderfully correct theme...a charming, easy to root-for hero...a potentially exciting and interestingly equivocal villain...then blows it all away because it hasn't got the courage of it's own set-up.

What WOULD make Truman, despite a lifetime of conditioning, get on that boat? NOTHING!! He so easily accepts the unacceptable, he so easily overcomes every problem the film gives him, that there is no dramatic tension, no questions, no...no film!

Of course, it presents us with a user-friendly, feel-good ending. The sit-com man takes charge of his life. Victory. Vindication. And we don't even have a clue what Truman's life -- or Life in general -- is about...nor, alas, does he.

Sorry. Too facile...like Jim Carrey's talking butt...an easy laugh, a go-for-the-guaranteed-result. This film, for me, is a smug, simplistic, self-congratulatory exercise in Hollywood telling us what's wrong with Hollywood - and us.

Go write your own screenplay on this theme. Anyone could do it better.
7 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Snake Eyes (1998)
3/10
Stunning opening...flat middle...depressed ending
7 August 1998
For the first third of Snake Eyes, I thought, at last, De Palma has made a clever, stylish AND an interestingly engaging film! Great!

The feeling endured even BEYOND the spectacular no-cut steadycam dance that takes us everywhere -- up stairs, through crowds, into rooms, on a stairway chase and take-down, onto the arena floor...action and ACTING! all done without a break, without a flaw! It is the energizer that shows us everything we need to see and activates our engagement with plot, character and situation for fully a third of the film!

I was, of course, wrong. De Palma blows it out of the water.

Beyond the bravura opening sequence and follow, the film deteriorates into a morass of predictable, cliche-ridden characters working through less that compelling plot shifts, carrying a vague and, ultimately, stupid set of motivations to a dreary conclusion. Finally, the film crashes to a mind -numbingly ineffectual non-climax. A coda and credit-roll grabber keeps you hanging in there for a shaggy dog gag that makes you want to give De Palma the finger...literally!

But about that opening: The mass of detail that we're given in the opening 20-minutes keeps us guessing as the plot unfurls. We see a plethora of details, facts, faces, events, moves and incidents...all the little human element leading up to the assassination of the Secretary of Defense. Later , we see these elements replayed, repeated, re-referenced through different points of view. Which are accurate? Which are true? Which are wrong -headed and which are down-right lies....we don't know. Paranoia-a-go -go...

So far so good. As we begin to understand more and more, however, the plot, the conspiracy, the conspirators, in fact, become less and less interesting. Sorry. I wanted to like this one...especially as my name, like Nicholas Cage's character, is Santoro.

This is also the first film I recall in which a central character, Kevin Dunne (played by Gary Sinise), has the same name as a key actor (Kevin Dunn , who plays pool t.v.-reporter, Lou Login). Interesting? Yes, but not significant.

Larry Santoro
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink

Recently Viewed