not a beautiful or unique snowflake (nothings) wrote,
not a beautiful or unique snowflake
nothings

movie reviews

On wednesday I subscribed to a DVD-by-mail montly-fee-only subscription service, and yesterday my first three movies arrived. I'm going to be catching up on all the gazillions of movies I've missed during the last 16 years. This time around: Ghost World, The Crying Game, Memento -- plus some comments about The Lord of the Rings, the first movie of which I finally saw a few weeks ago.

Ghost World

I haven't read any of Daniel Clowes' work, but I've been meaning to--I'm just not a big comics fanatic, but he's on my short list. (I've only really gotten interested in comics at all after reading Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and its "sequel".)

So, my take, knowing nothing about the comic: a pretty darn great movie. It didn't feel like it got crushed under the Hollywood wheel the way basically every non-independent movie does these days (I'll come back to this in a moment). It wasn't afraid to leave a lot of the things unsaid, or undersaid, or off-screen: we see the photographer taking pictures of the painting being taken down, and can guess what that means, and then it's referenced in a later conversation--I guess the newspaper headline gets flashed at us at the end, when Seymour talks to his boss. Enid and Seymour get drunk and sleep together, and Enid never spells out what she thinks about the event: there's no big fight or big speech about it, and although her actions make it clear what her overall take on the situation was, we can't be totally sure of where her unhappiness with it lies. And the ending strikes a nice balance between being a downer and being hopefuly, although I'm not totally thrilled with things that step into the fantastic that way.

That said, I was a little disappointed that what seems like the crux of the story: Rebecca's assimilation into "normalcy" while Enid stays in the old way doesn't really get much attention: Rebecca adapts to her work, then accepts living in a "normal" place, and finally finds the fold-down ironing board "cool". That felt like too vague a sketch for me--it wasn't a believable moment for her, to me; I didn't believe in her having progressed there. Perhaps she's really supposed to have started that progression at the start of the movie, but I didn't see it.

But overall, I really appreciated that it wasn't a pumped-up Hollywood thing. The one thing I found dissatisfying about The Lord of the Rings was the way it had extra conflict added to it to make it a more "traditional" movie. At first I felt pretty understanding about it--I've studied screenwriting and instantly recognized some of those moments as 'pumping up the conflict'--and accepted that, to do Tolkien with a big budget meant expanding the audience, which meant making some sacrifices like this.

But on further reflection, even if that's the nature of Hollywood, I'm a bit disappointed. I'd really rather have had the same movie without the extra added conflict of Gandalf grabbing Frodo from the dark or Aragorn fighting off hordes of Black Riders. Remember the movie 2001? There were long, conflict-free stretches there. It's really too bad that it's apparently not possible to make a movie like that.

I'd really rather we'd have just waited another 20 years until the movies could be made on a small enough budget that we could have the more lyrical version, more world-centric and less character-centric, like the book. But then again who knows what the landscape of filmmaking will be like then. And somebody can always just make it again.

The Crying Game

I had had the "secret" of this spoilered a long time ago, and decided I better finally just see it so I'd know what the heck the context was. I wasn't too thrilled with it: the "first act" was so long that when the movie shifted gears it didn't really make sense to me. Fergus was clearly the protagonist through the rest of the movie, but until then, it wasn't clear that it wasn't Jody. Well, it's clear in hindsight--the movie pretty carefully stuck to Fergus' point of view, since he was following them at the carnvial. But this wasn't that obvious at the time. Then Jody's attempted escape felt a bit forced, the outcome of that was really forced, and the attack that follows is never explained coherently. (Why attack the place and not mop up?) As well, the POV here slips to Jude and the other guy whose name I don't remember, and late in the movie it similarly moves away from Fergus to reveal what his antagonists are up to: which is a curious inconsistency given how carefully it sticks to only things Fergus knows about the rest of the time.

Anyway, the rest of the movie basically hangs its entire dramatic weight on the emotional neediness of Dil, and it just didn't work for me--it just felt like a big cliche.

Memento

Wow, wow wow wow. I'd heard lots of good things about this, and gone ahead and spoilered the whole thing by reading a detailed commentary on Salon because I wasn't sure I'd ever get to viewing it.

I've been toying every so often with writing a low-budget sci-fi screenplay centered around time travel, because the medium of film has at its essence the ability to chop up, disassemble, and reassemble time in arbitrary ways: time travel as a special effect is free. (Not if you jump out of the modern era, obviously.)

There are other ways to take advantage of that narrative-time disconnect ability of film. Of course you can tell a story out of order with flashbacks. But the three notable films that play with this in a more interesting way are all on my to-watch list: Memento, Run Lola Run, and Groundhog Day.

Memento is just amazingly sophisticated: interlinking theme and form, using the idea of telling the story backwards for a valuable narrative purpose (creating the same effect of 'not knowing the past' in the audience as in the protagonist). So much good has been written about it that I really can't find anything new to say. Poor Christopher Nolan: I have a feeling ideas this brilliant in the interplay of structure and content are once-in-a-lifetime.

I agree with the comments in Salon that it doesn't all seem to fit together perfectly: there are a few too many unanswered questions. That would be fine if that was the director's intent, but since he's apparently published comments that all the info is there if only you can put it together, I'm a bit annoyed. I'm reminded of "Who killed Asmodean?" in the Wheel of Time SF series--Robert Jordan has claimed that all the data is there and it can be solved. But the reality is that all the data is there, along with an equal amount of red herrings and tons of irrelevant information. All sorts of arbitrary solutions can be constructed that fit the available data equally well--there is clearly no solution which results in no red herrings.

Spoilers for Memento follow

I'm also not clear on Natalie (the Carrie-Anne Moss character) and her motivations. I plan to rewatch and maybe it will become clear, but the thing is, what difference do her interventions make? At the "end" we see that Leonard carefully aims himself at Teddy, and at the "beginning" Leonard takes out Teddy, freeing himself from the machinations at last. Natalie's interaction seems to have resulted in driving Dodd out of town (intending to kill him), although who knows if he'll stay out. I seem to recall her mentioning Teddy at one point almost as if she had her eyes on targetting him, but it's pretty clearly and unambiguously Lenoard who targets himself at Teddy, in reaction to Teddy's speech, which Natalie couldn't have motivated. One would think that if Natalie suspects James' death, she might go after Leonard, or realizing that Leonard is Teddy's tool, she might aim him for Teddy. But she's too late to aim him for Teddy. I almost feel like that whole bit was thrown in just to demonstrate to us how easy Leonard is to manipulate, thus making it easier for us to believe Teddy has been manipulating Leonard all along.

Also, that Teddy just happens to be a John G is one coincidence too many, I think.
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