20 June 2006

100. memento

memento is a good one for this list because its not a great movie, but the clever, precise writing is what makes it stand out. that's not to say the movie isn't good, because it is: the actors do well and are clearly having fun (and there's some cute casting with a switcheroo of the matrix: in this case, carrie anne moss is "bad" and joey pants is "good"), the editing is fantastic, chris nolan knows how to direct and give us a sense of atmosphere. when you stick all those elements together, you're gonna get something fine, but the point is this: this movie wouldn't be what it is if it wasn't written well.

the movie is an inversion of film noir. i was always told in creative writing classes to write in a genre. nolan did this, but he turned everything on its head. lenny is a detective of sorts, but instead of sam spade's competence and ability to get stuff done, leonard flails around knowing nothing, his only aids being his tattoos and natalie's help. natalie, of course, plays the femme fatale role, but as opposed to most of those thankless roles of harpies stuck to their man, natalie loses her man and goes for revenge -- and gets it. joey pants plays the classic nebbish sidekick, but the difference is that he gets killed. finally, as a fun little play on this inversion of noir, nolan shoots the movie (mostly) in color, with ultra-bright california exteriors and overexposed sunlight.

for such an inversion, the structure is appropriate. the movie is played out backwards and in short bursts, closely emulating leonard's condition. the opening is fantastic: we fade in, again emulating leonard's condition, and as the polaroid comes into focus we go into a backwards scene. this is great because it excites the audience as well as gives them something to try to figure out. the rest of the movie is centered around giving the audience pieces of the puzzle and letting us put it together.

and for those of you who have watched this movie and haven't figured it out, here's a key to the movie: everything joey pants says is true. save for when he tells leonard they don't know each other right after leonard kills jimmy, everything he says is true. the basic story line is this: teddy is a cop who is using leonard to help him sting a drug deal. dodd is jimmy's supplier, and jimmy is supposed to sell to teddy, who is undercover. leonard ends up killing jimmy, and dodd finds leonard with all of jimmy's stuff. meanwhile, natalie finds out about leonard, who is dressed like jimmy, so she uses leonard to kill teddy, who she thinks is really responsible for jimmy's death. leonard sort of lets himself be used into killing teddy, because teddy tells him the truth about himself: that he actually is sammy jenkis, and his wife survived the attack but that because of his condition he accidentally tried to kill her and was put in a psyche ward, and probably broke out.

ever since then, since he's an amnesiac, he thinks his wife is gone, and so he is out for revenge. teddy has helped him, and he's killed several people. the ones he kills in the actual movie are just a few of the several he has killed, but he'll never remember, because he burned the pictures.

leonard, then, is the ultimate villan of the movie, a final delicious twist of noir -- the hero is a cold-blooded and willing murderer.

the search for animal chin

this one takes me right back. i started skateboarding in my driveway when i was about 8. my older brother matt was a skate rat and used to ride one of the several backyard half-pipes, so of course i started to ride too. i put my back wheels in a crack in the driveway and learned to ollie that way. and i used to watch "savannah slamma" and this movie over and over and over -- so much so that our vhs copy is fucked now as a result -- all you get is static.

that was formative for me, and i realize as a result that skate videos informed part of my notion of what looks good on film. when i shoot -- and you can see this if you've seen "10 months" -- i like big open frames with one or two lines of clean action, i like long tracking shots similar to fisheye follow filming, i like montages. these are all hallmarks of skate videos and are used extensively, and i'd be remiss to not admit that its part of what i look for when i watch stuff, and part of what i try to emulate.

i feel good about being a part of skate culture, however admittedly minor it is -- i can ollie a curb, and that's about all i got. but i am working on the effort boards video, slowly but surely. and its fun to do, and i admire skate culture. its a force, influencing shoes, fashion, teenage behavior ("jackass" started as the "big brother" and "cky" videos). and look at all the crossover stars: stacy peralta, spike jonze (oscar nominated!), jason lee, bam, tony hawk.

ok, onto "animal chin". the movie itself is no great shakes. but its charming in a throwback way, in that it is a low-budget ape of some classical hollywood conventions -- the road movie, using exotic spots and globetrotting and silly comedy. its also notable for probably being the first skate footy cut using match-on-action. in addition, there's all kinds of other filmic techniques that you usually don't see in skate videos: establishing shots, cross-cutting or reaction shots in a scene, even POV shots! its no surprise that stacy peralta ended up making "real movies", because his interest was clear from the get-go.

this movie probably isn't for anyone not into skating, unless you happen to want to see a 17-year old tony hawk, but for me its a piece of nostaglia, one of those movies -- like "goonies" or "smokey and the bandit" -- that i can watch and be instantly trasported back to being a kid.

09 June 2006

101. notorious

well, i can see why this is on the list. its weird, because i remember watching this one a few years back and not liking it for some reason. i think i probably just wasn't paying attention, because its really good, and its good in all the ways that we extol classical hollywood films for: it has movie stars acting well and acting cool and looking great, it is visually inventive, and it is written cleverly and well.

here one of the things that's genuinely missing from modern movies: glamour. these old movies had lots of soft-lit close-ups, and the black and white had some texture that you don't get with color. as a result, you fall in love with faces of movie stars long dead. and why not, when they act like this? everyone smokes, because no one knew what lung cancer was yet. everyone drinks and drinks, and ingrid bergman drinks drunk, and no one says a word. they wear beautiful edith head costumes, they get great reveals (like the reveal of cary grant in the beginning), they get one-liners like "want my coat?" "you'll do?". and they get a three minute kiss in a long take that involves discussing dinner and a telephone call.

and we wonder why people are nostaglic for classical hollywood?

hitchcock deserves his reputation, i think. some of the things he did with the camera in this movie are amazing. using canted framing to show a drunk person's pov, the aforementioned reveal of cary grant, the use of steps as a symbol (particularly at the end, with grant and bergman walking down steps to freedom and claude rains walking up steps to certain death), the rigging that must have been done for the long shot at the party that ends in bergman's reveal of the key in her hand, and all those close-ups! you need close-ups!

that leaves us with the real meat: the writing. this movie is written extraordinarily well, and on several different levels. the first is that the structure is almost flawless. in the beginning moments we understand what the context is and the setting, and we are introduced to the two main characters in the second scene, with an emphasis on bergman's "notorious" nature and grant's always-in-control personality. she is given her assignment and off we go somewhere exotic: rio. 1st act sets up bergman and grant's relationship and the conflict: that they have to abandon what they feel for each other so that she can use her "reputation" for spying. 2nd act is her hooking up with claude rains and furthering the conflict between her and grant, with the 2nd half of the second act being the brilliant party scene, with the great tension device of champagne bottle in lieu of a ticking clock. rains finds out something fishy, which sets up the 3rd act of he and his mother slowly poisoning bergman and grant coming in to save the day.

bare bones, i know, but watch closely and you'll see how this plot structure allows for all kinds of commentary on human nature (immaturity of men, mostly) and commentary on war. in addition, so much of the movie runs on clever subtext. this is not a minor point: this movie is better because of the hays code. it allows the movie to hint at the fact that bergman is a floozy without ever saying it outright. "add sebastian to my playmates" is a good example, although there are many others. this movie, based on the censorship code and ben hecht using it as a placebo for high-society at that time, gives everyone so much subtext in all their dialogue, most of it centering on bergman. and in a way what i think hecht was really getting at -- either consciously or subconsciously -- was that age old dilemma about woman: that men want them to be whores when we meet, but virgins at heart.

probably that's why hitchcock decided to do the movie.