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The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw
The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All This And Moore: A Masterful Piece of True-Crime Adventure, May 25, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Rarely has the confluence of tale and teller been so exquisitely well-matched as it is here between the author and his subject matter. In "The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw", the marriage between subject and author is practically kismet-kissed, as the self-taught pilot-thief protagonist/antagonist (you decide!) Colton Harris-Moore both began and ended his life of crime in author Bob Friel's current and former stomping grounds - from the San Juan Islands in the Northwest to Harbor Island in the Southeast (Bahamas). In addition to the author's familiarity of the afflicted areas, Friel is one of the very best travel writers going. Add water (landings) and stir, and you truly have all the ingredients for a true-crime masterpiece, as Friel tracks down every lead, talks to every player, and gleans every insight from Harris-Moore's upbringing to his astonishing multi-state, multi-year adrenaline-fueled B&E (& F) binge.

In epic fiction, many authors juggling a cast of hundreds have trouble adding a third dimension to all of their characters, rendering some of them quite flat on the page. It is to this author's great credit, therefore, that he brings every last one of his portraits to three-dimensional life. Yes, yes, I know he's writing about real-life human beings here. The point is, he does them great justice, mining the most interesting essence from even the most tertiary of players and making them pop off the page.

Beyond being a skillful spinner of prose, Friel is a master organizer of information as well, culling reams of research into a seamless and compelling narrative that reads like a suspenseful action thriller in places. Alas, these are real people whose lives are recounted here, and this only makes the tragic elements of the tale all the more heartbreaking. But Friel never degrades the material or his subjects by getting too maudlin or tawdry or sensationalistic or condemnatory. His is an impressively non-judgmental account that is pitch-perfect no matter the tone of the material at hand.

Check out this splendid scene-setting description of an Orcas Island bonfire, around which talk of The Barefoot Bandit's exploits blazed: "Summers may see a lot of second-homers hosting garden soirees, but fall and winter are when the rough-hewn and hunkered cut loose. Enormous homemade barbecues held big slabs of beef and pork plus an entire side-hill salmon - the wink-wink nickname for local deer shot out of season... This wasn't an outlaw gathering, though, just regular island folks, if not pillars then at least upstanding 2 x 4s of the community... The reason no one was concerned about the illicit bonfire was because about half the fire department - including the guy at the controls of the excavator - was crowded around it, drinks in hand." Perfect. Such an expertly etched word sketch, it really feels as if you're there with the residents, cradling a bottle of brew.

Friel keeps up his "you are there" prose through the entire length of his 433-page work. Chock full of humor-laden, descriptive goodness. In some ways it has the "you are on vacation in a foreign land" (at least to this mainlander) feel that many of the best ethnographies and travel writings capture.

But wait, there's mo(o)re! In addition to a book that's by-itself a five-star piece of work, Friel has further assembled a website full of extras - pictures and links, deleted scenes, maps, even a Google Earth tour that follows Harris-Moore from one great escape to the next. I highly encourage you to visit and see all the value he's added to the reading experience, free of charge. So, for me, the book and the additional extras add up to a six-star affair. Alas I can only give it five.

p.s. the book is slated to be adapted into a big-time Hollywood motion picture, with award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk, J. Edgar) helming the screenplay.

DVD ~ Sigourney Weaver
Price: $5.97
82 used & new from $0.01

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Capote-Related Film I've Seen This Week!, May 14, 2007
This review is from: Infamous (DVD)
Which is really saying something, seeing as the other Capote-related film I saw this week (I forget the title) won a bunch of those Golden Award Statuette Thingies (including Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his slick portrayal of the Tru-man himself). But seriously, how ticked off must writer/director Douglas McGrath have been when he found out That Other Film was going to hit theaters first, relegating his outstanding piece of moviemaking - which chronicles the exact same period of Capote's life - to the status of sloppy cinematic seconds? I listened to the entire commentary track hoping to get some info on this, but Mr. McGrath was all class, never mentioning a thing about it (could it be no one has had the heart or the nerve to tell him yet?). Regardless, I find "Infamous" to be the more emotionally satisfying and flat out better biopic for many reasons.

First, McGrath and lead actor Toby Jones had better source material from which to mine this particular mix of truth and speculation; for instance, McGrath's friend (and sometimes creative conspirator) Woody Allen introduced him to Dick Cavett, who let Doug and Toby have total access to the decades of tapes of Cavett's talk show, upon which Capote himself was a frequent guest. Also, Toby's godmother works at a New York City library and through her got to see all of Capote's "papers" - actual notebooks written by the man himself, including the one he took to killers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith's final hearing. To me, these materials, along with the George Plympton book from which the screenplay is adapted (along with Capote's own In Cold Blood, of course), made for more sturdy script construction materials than the Richard Avedon photos, anecdotes and bios that were use to make That Other Film.

In addition, McGrath grew up in Midland, TX but has lived in New York City for twenty-six years, so he was/is very comfortable and skilled when it comes to writing about both the small-town Midwest setting in which the "Cold Blood" killings occurred as well as that of the bigtime socialite scene of the Manhattan elite.

Add to all that the fact that McGrath is no stranger to adapting great novels for the screen (he previously wrote screenplays adapted from Jane Austen's Emma and Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby), and you can see why this was the more charmed and charming Capote project from conception to completion (except for that pesky release date, that is).

Oh, and have I mentioned the acting? Well, funny thing about that. You would think That Other Film's acting duo of Chris Cooper and Catherine Keener would blow away this movie's more tepid-seeming tandem of Jeff Daniels and Sandra Bullock in any movie, but the latter pair actually make it a close contest by turning in strong performances as the "foxy" Alvin Dewey and voice-of-reason (and Pulitzer Prize-winning author) Nelle Harper Lee. Dazzling luminaries from Gwyneth Paltrow to Sigourney Weaver and Isabella Rossellini add cinematic sparkle to smaller roles as the Manhattan social stars who populate Capote's New York universe. But the real star of the show is "New Bond" Daniel Craig, all but completely transformed behind dark hair and contact lenses, in a powerful and chameleonic command performance as the doomed killer/artist Perry Smith. Such a potent mix of ferocity and sensitivity, his raw and revealing portrayal is the best (and most surprising) thing about the film.

But the screenplay, as I may have mentioned, is also something really quite special - McGrath exhibits tremendous affection for both source material and subject but certainly doesn't pull and punches about the book or the man. In his director's commentary, he describes the adaptation of any book to the screen: "you take an engine apart and then you have to put it together inside a smaller car" "and when you take it apart - boy, you see how really good they (the authors) are, and how carefully they construct, and how artfully they put their story together."

McGrath displays an almost equally skillful craft in the words he chooses and uses. The movie itself is structured like the book In Cold Blood (for example, we learn about the crime early in the novel, but don't actually "see" the crime until much later). And the movie's tonal arc mirrors the true-life arc of Truman Capote - it starts out full of boisterous bombast and uproarious joie de vivre (p.s. I have no idea how factually accurate the dialog is or isn't - and frankly I could give a rat's rump, because it's so well written and I was enormously entertained), but then slowly there is more and more sadness until the gloomy and bitter end. The film's score does an exceptional job in, er, underscoring this tonal transition, as it too moves from a delightful jauntiness, through spare and spacious emotional (and cinematographic) moments, to the more mournful moments at the closing stages - a fantastic job by Rachel Portman, here.

Toward the end of the film, Harper Lee offers one of her many "testimonials" to Truman: "One must remember that at the center of any bright flame there's always that little touch of blue." Such is an apt description for the movie itself - it burns brilliantly before flickering and fading to its sad finale. But its warmth and beauty will linger in your memory long after the credits roll. So if you can only see one Capote-related film this week (or this year or this lifetime), I strongly recommend this one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2007 1:17 AM PDT

No Title Available

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are You Lookin' At Me?, May 1, 2007
After losing his father in a tragic (and surprisingly graphic) car accident and subsequently slugging his Spanish teacher (in what I felt to be an understandable assault), high school senior Kale (Shia LaBeouf) finds himself under house arrest for the summer with one of those Martha Stewart-style ankle bracelets. And if that's not bad enough, his mother (who, according to Kale, has become "like the warden from Shawshank") has cancelled his Xbox live and iTunes accounts in order to offset his $12/day incarceration fee, forcing him to endure what he calls "reality without the TV" - also known as spying on his local neighbors through his prison/mansion's multitude of windows. Eventually, this through-the-window entertainment proves more interesting than, say, the last five seasons of Big Brother, as one of his neighbors (Sarah Roemer) turns out to be quite sexy and another (David Morse) turns out to be quite serial killer-y. And though this voyeurism is initially a more enticing activity, it should be noted that at least the houseguests in Big Bother don't ever try to kidnap your mom or preserve you in a formaldehyde vat. So Kale's is a risky (albeit exciting) choice of amusement, at best.

Ya know, you'll read a lot of comparisons (here and elsewhere) of this movie to the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Rear Window", but I think this is more "Side Window" than "Rear Window" (there are a lot more windows, in any case), and Shia - though under house arrest - is decidedly more mobile than Jimmy Stewart was in the original (and either way I'll pick Grace Kelly over Sarah Roemer any day). Ultimately, while the idea isn't necessarily new, the execution is fresh and innovative enough to make it a worthwhile retelling of a once-told tale - especially with the nifty usage of the latest technology and electro-gadgetry.

I now must pause here, mid-review, to issue this public service acting announcement: dangerous serious killers aside, the biggest transgression of this film is how criminally underused Carrie-Anne Moss is in her role as Kale's mom. Nevertheless, she - as always - elevates every scene she graces. We now return to our regularly scheduled review:

And speaking of danger and technology, it's probably dangerous to the shelf life of a film to fill it so chock full of gadget-y gimmickry at a time when such things become quickly outmoded and new inventions emerge at an increasingly rapid rate. It'll be neat to see how much of its tech comes off as archaic in, say, five years. Because, at the currently (heh) exponentially increasing rate of technological advancement (especially where handheld gizmos are concerned), I'm guessing that a lot of this stuff will seem as obsolete in 2012 as Matthew Broderick's 80's battles with the Joshua computer in Wargames does today (and thus the requisite YouTube shoutout at the end of the movie might be greeted with a collective feeling of nostalgia). But for now, there's a nifty kind of "gee whiz" electronics element that fans of current consumer electronics will be sure to enjoy and which might be a bit off-putting for fans who were teens when the original Rear Window came out in theaters (and I suspect that, if investigated, there would be a strong correlation between one's enjoyment of current technology and one's enjoyment of this movie).

No Title Available

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lookin' For Some Hot Fuzz, Baby, This Evenin', April 29, 2007
I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, because - quite frankly - hot is my favorite temperature fuzz. Plus, I had quite enjoyed "Shaun of the Dead", whose creative contributors mostly return for this high-powered send-up of action flick conventions. And "Hot Fuzz" delivers, for the most part, on its promise (before the fur starts flying a little too much at the end).

"Shaun" hero Simon Pegg plays Nick Angel, the too-competent cop whose curve-busting efficacy gets him dispatched (or is that demoted?) to rural enclave Sandford, who take their Village of the Year status VERY seriously. Once there, things get a little, er, hairy for the fuzz when people start turning up dead under what appear to be accidental circumstances (to everyone but Angel). Some of these deaths are fairly gruesome, like when the local Romeo turns up decaffeinated (or is that decapitated?) and the Fridge Magnate (heh) gets a little fried after his overindulgence at a local pub.

The ensemble cast seems to be really enjoying themselves on this film, and from the biggest to the smallest of roles, the performances are all fantastic. Timothy Dalton has a great time hamming it up as the super-smarmy supermarket owner who drops weirdly suspicious and too-overt-to-be-true clues ("my discounts are criminal") with every other utterance. And while some of the one-liners fall flat ("we're up to our balls in jugglers" - groan) and some of the action sequences go on a bit too long, Hot Fuzz is still a satisfyingly satiric romp before it ultimately devolves into the silliness of its three-endings-too-many (which, granted, is yet another send up of an action movie cliche, but I still feel the movie could have been made better by being just a little bit shorter).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2009 2:17 PM PDT

Street Trash (Special Two-Disc Meltdown Edition)
Street Trash (Special Two-Disc Meltdown Edition)
DVD ~ Mike Lackey
Price: $19.99
19 used & new from $10.97

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "What's The Matter? Can't Hold Yer Liquor?", April 25, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
In just the first two minutes of the awesomely awful Street Trash, we are treated to instances of bad acting, shaky editing, implausible plot, garish title credits, and horribly hokey, electronic music. And none of it matters, because Street Trash is the most unapologetically glorious and ghoulish film the good folks at Troma never made (but probably wish they did).

With a diabolical sense of humor and hilariously hard-boiled (and highly quotable) dialog, Street Trash is also quite possibly the dirtiest movie ever made - and I'm talking about dirt in the "dug out of the earth" sense, not dirty in a sexual sense (although there is a bunch of nudity, a dash of necrophilia, and a touch of wiener-tossing for good (or bad) measure (the last of which brings a more literal meaning to the word "dismemberment")).

Featuring fantastic sets (including quite possibly the greatest junkyard hideout in cinematic history) and authentic Skid Row New York locations, the grime is so gratuitously applied and supplied to places and faces that some of the actors' lips seem glow-in-the-dark bright by comparison. The grossout effects are also surprisingly good for such a low budget filth fest (they were realistic enough to make me cringe, anyway). For sure, a lot of this film's fun comes from watching each person having their, shall we say, colorful meltdowns...

Street Trash features the first work of such eventual cinematic luminaries as Jim Muro, the cinematographer of Crash (as well as The Last Mimzy!) and X-Men and Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer. Equally notable is James Lorinz' hysterical first acting outing as the outrageously disrespectful doorman. Plus one of the greatest end credits songs of all time, performed by Sopranos' stalwart Tony Darrow.

Stay away from this film if you're weak of stomach, but definitely feel free to use this delightful piece of cinematic grotesquery as a dieting aid, as this movie will do such a good job of making you lose your appetite that you'll be looking for it for days! Ultimately, I think the best indication of the raunchy, sleazy ride you're in for with this flick is expressed by one of the last acknowledgements in the end credits, which reads: "Thanks, Anita, for taking me to see 'I Drink Your Blood' when I was six."

Yup, that about sums it up. Thanks, Anita!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 11, 2008 4:37 AM PST

Blood Diamond (Widescreen Edition)
Blood Diamond (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Price: $7.89
233 used & new from $0.01

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shine On You Bloody Diamond, April 23, 2007
To be perfectly honest, I had steered clear of this film in theaters because - Oscar-nomination notwithstanding - I dreaded the notion of potentially spending 143 minutes with Leonardo DiCaprio doing a bad South African accent in Dolby Mondo Super StereoSurround. I mean, I have already in my lifetime endured Kevin Costner's Robin Hood and Brad Pitt's Troy on the big screen (who could forget Brad screaming "Take it - it's YAWWWWS!" in his British-by-way-of-Brooklyn accent? And don't even ask me to describe Costner's...). So, even though others assured me that Leo nailed the accent, I hope you can understand why I wouldn't want to risk another American Movie Star Mangling of an overseas accent in a heightened sensory environment.

But now that I've viewed this film in the safety of my own home with my crappy TV speakers (and my pause button at the ready), I must say that not only did DiCaprio nail the accent, but he concurrently crafted his best character and performance to date in Daniel Archer, the jaded, seen-it-all diamond smuggler who - just as the main character Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) hides and buries a valuable diamond - has hidden and buried his humanity deep within himself. And though he sets off to find Solomon's diamond, we also see whether he can unearth his humanity along the way. Leo adds an amazing muscular menace and aged world-weariness that I honestly didn't think he was capable of (and this is from someone who already appreciated him as an actor) (if not a dialectician).

The performance by Djimon Hounsou as stoic fisherman Solomon Vandy is almost equally stellar. We invest in the quest completely as the wise and quiet Solomon (whose wife calls him "Solo") sets off alone and separated from his family, trying to find his son, who is (to him) infinitely more valuable than the diamond he has buried. Jennifer Connelly (who, unbeknownst to the director, had already done a lot of work with UNICEF when she was cast) also adds depth in what could have been a throwaway and/or cliched role as the brash American photojournalist Maddy Bowen.

Finally, enough cannot be said about director Ed Zwick, who has already spent a good deal of his career perfecting the balance of the action movie and the more contemplative, message-driven drama (Glory, Courage Under Fire, The Last Samurai to name a few). With "Blood Diamond," he most successfully negotiates the territory between conventional action movie entertainment and more political, emotional, and darker material.

For the action scenes, the constant camera movement creates not only a documentary feel to the incessant and chaotic scenes of combat, but a sense of urgency to the events (eventually) found in the frame. The violence is almost too real, and the acts perpetrated (in many cases by children) are almost too disturbing - such a gorgeous land frames such unspeakably evil acts, which ultimately adds greater weight to the messages of the film.

As to the message, I've heard complaints that this movie tries to bludgeon you with its politics, but I found it to actually be quite subtle, the speechifying kept to a minimum and, when employed, use to enhance and advance the arc/understanding of the character as much as the overarching ideology.

And, for me, the "would you put a diamond on your finger if you knew it cost someone their hand" motif - while tremendously important - is just one theme among many in this nuanced and layered work. The film also manages to effortlessly examine other issues, such as: what is truly more valuable, material possessions or human empathy? Where is the line between journalism and exploitation, and when is it appropriate (if ever) to cross that line? Finally, can speaking up help change the world, and furthermore can a nation's problems be helped through the advocacy of foreign visitors, who may actually know little about the culture they are trying to change?

While Zwick and his cast may or may not be changing the world with this (mostly) American movie about an African problem, at the very least he has made an exceptionally moving film - whether you're in the mood to be educated or entertained.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2007 2:26 PM PDT

After the Wedding
After the Wedding
DVD ~ Mads Mikkelsen
Price: $8.87
27 used & new from $3.07

53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Do I Have to Live on the Other Side of the World to Get Your Help?", April 15, 2007
This review is from: After the Wedding (DVD)
Early on in Susanne Bier's Oscar Nominated (Best Foreign Film 2006) film "After The Wedding", Danish expat-in-India Jacob (the solid Mads Mikkelsen) is faced with the prospect of reluctantly returning to his homeland after twenty years to meet with a mysterious man who is offering the necessary funding to keep his school/orphanage open. When explaining to Pramod (his adopted son-of-sorts) that he must leave, the precocious eight year old asks about the wealth of people in Denmark and finally concludes, "If I was rich, I'd be happy."

Soon after, when we delve deeply into the lives of the proposed benefactor and his family, we see that this proclamation certainly does not apply to all people. Or, at the very least, it definitely does not apply to billionaire Jorgen (the authoritative Rolf Lassgard) or his family.

Although it seems like it might at first. The jump from the teeming Indian squalor to the lush green Danish countryside almost jarringly illustrates the contrast of cultures (and that contrast is definitely underscored by patriarch Jorgen blasting "It's Raining Men" in his SUV); the disparity between the Third World and the First World is indeed extreme (the difference is Two Worlds, by the way - I did the math). It's quite comical to see Jacob, upon arrival, trying to adjust to the cushy confines of the hotel where Jorgen houses him, as he can't figure out how to work the electronic amenities.

When Jacob finally meets with Jorgen, his pitch is given short shrift by the busy billionaire: "We're through," Jorgen says impatiently, leaving Jacob's presentation video mostly unseen. But he still leaves the donational door a bit ajar as he invites him to his daughter's wedding, where Jacob could get some more face time. This seems like a good plan at first, as Jacob has nothing else to do while in town, but revelations at the ensuing reception reveal that all is not as it seems. Indeed, when newly-betrothed bride Anna (played by perky Stine Fischer Christensen) rises to make an unconventional speech and says, "Mom's waiting for something to go horribly wrong," well it turns out that Mom (aka Helene) (Sidse Babett Knudsen, in a deeply-layered performance) doesn't have to wait long, and all of their lives are soon turned upside-down.

As an unabashed fan of Scandinavian cinema, I had high expectations for this film, and it didn't disappoint in most respects. The crisp, naturalistic cinematography and unapologetic (although occasionally a bit melodramatic) exploration of emotions is all to be expected. Also always welcome are the sardonic, dry lines of humor and the quirky characters (such as online gambler Grandma, who - according to Helene - is senile "only when she wants to be" and is mostly seen complaining about her laptop's wireless internet reception).

A couple of aspects of this film didn't quite work for me, however. First, I found the multitude (maybe between 20-30 close-ups) of shots of single eyes was a bit overdone and took me out of the narrative flow, without having enough of a symbolic upside. Also, some of the scenes teetered just at the edge of being a bit too maudlin and soap-operatic, but I guess life sometimes does get that way, and the actors are never unconvincing.

Finally, some of the tonal shifts were a bit too uneven in places, as the film careens from joy to sorrow in split-seconds that can be unnerving in such an otherwise slowly-paced film. But about that pacing: others may complain that this film could have been a bit cut to a more streamlined length, but I personally love the lingering and the loitering that takes place in movies like this - I feel we get to know as much about the characters during their "down time" as we would when there's "something happening."

Ultimately, I feel this film ends up being an evocative exploration of whether or not to to tell the truth, of when to tell the truth, and of how to tell the truth even when it's difficult. And telling the truth when it's difficult is something this movie is very good at doing. Four stars.

(p.s. I'm purposely not telling you who says this review's title quote because I don't want to spoil it for you.)
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 16, 2007 4:39 PM PDT

DVD ~ Christian Bale
Offered by emilyb
Price: $11.90
176 used & new from $0.01

13 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars And Now, A Review of This Film From The Director Himself!, April 15, 2007
This review is from: Equilibrium (DVD)
OK - in the best interests of all concerned, for this review I've decided to take a different approach. I mean, sure - I could easily rip this movie to shreds with my own words (and have a lot of fun doing so), but in the end you might not really trust my perspective and then you might end up actually seeing this film.

Since I don't want that fate to befall you (or anyone else on this planet), I thought it might be more persuasive to instead use the words of this movie's director, taken directly from his commentary track. After all, who would know better about the merits (or lack thereof) of this particular cinematic offering? So, without further adieu, allow me to present Kurt Wimmer's very own remarks to describe this thing he has made:

"Do I actually have the b@!!s to hang the movie on this concept, which may fail? And it did fail. The movie itself failed."

"Critics laughed at this scene, and for the life of me I don't know why."

"I failed to a large degree in this scene; it doesn't have the power or resonance that it could have or it should have."

"I have no idea how I could have made it better - I just think I sort of reached the limits of my filmmaking ability."

"In this scene, I had an idea that actually worked for once."

"I basically ran out of time, as usual..."

The second editor on this film (who had never cut a film before) was "one of the few people who was actually an advocate of this film while we were shooting and was optimistic about what this film could be" (the first editor asked if he could leave, by the way)

"Here's an example of creative bankruptcy at its best: I just couldn't decide what he should be I put this decision off...until basically the day of and ended up sticking him in a plaid shirt, which looks kind of silly I think."

"It's interesting how sterile these split dioptre shots were. I really, really don't like them. I was just dying to do one of my own, and I doubt I will ever do them again."

"The composition has clearly fallen apart - that's what happened to me here."

"When I watch these fight scenes, I kind of cringe a bit because I know we could have done them so much better"

This scene is "a moment of slightly flawed comedy which doesn't really work. I've concluded I'm not good at it and I'll just stick with the action."

"In the final analysis, this film was eviscerated by the critics. It was really vilified, and I don't fully understand it."

Um. Kurt. So as to aid in your understanding of the critics' vilification, might I refer you to your own commentary? (see quotes, above)
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 15, 2008 6:28 AM PDT

DVD ~ Guy Pearce
178 used & new from $0.25

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memento: The Freshmaker!, April 14, 2007
This review is from: Memento (DVD)
Having recently seen and enjoyed "The Lookout", another film which features a character trying to piece together his life after a traumatic head injury leaves him memory-challenged, I was inspired to go back and see its cinematic sire of sorts - the now-classic mindwarp that is Memento. And though I bought this DVD when it was released and had watched it twice (which is the minimum number of recommended viewings for this film), it's just collected dust for five years and I hadn't returned to it since.

Aptly enough, I had forgotten much of it, making much of Memento seem newly fresh yet oddly familiar, much like most of its main character Leonard's daily doings. Leonard, as we pretty much all know by now, is trying to get revenge for the killing of his wife, which is made somewhat more challenging (to say the least) by the fact that he suffers from extreme short-term memory loss and can't remember any more than ten minutes at a time. As Leonard himself will tell almost anyone he meets: "I can't make new memories - everything fades."

All of which would in itself make for an interesting movie. But what makes this film truly ingenious is the way it is constructed and edited. You know, one of my dearly-departed favorite author Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules for Writing Fiction is: "start as close to the end as possible." Well, Memento takes this rule - written by one of the ultimate storytellers - and pushes it to its extreme, actually starting AT the end and then working backwards - which makes for one of the all-time greatest stories.

Now, a lot of movies that are assembled in this kind of non-linear time-jumpy kind of way are gimmicky to a fault, and confusing for no good reason. But in Memento, this style of editing actually serves the story and makes it better, because - by showing us Leonard's perpetually-perplexing world out of sequence - it forces us to experience the movie in the same disoriented way that Leonard experiences the world. So as Leonard puzzles his way through his life, so do we. This makes us empathize and connect with the film's central character in a way few other movies have ever been able to achieve before or since (whichever way you happen to travel through time in your search). Of course, the fact the Guy Pearce's performance is so riveting helps us enormously with our empathy as well.

Anyway, there are about a thousand (or so) other reviews here that will tell you more about what happens in the movie, but I think that this story - more than most - relies on the surprise that each new/past detail reveals, so I don't want to ruin any of this film's revelations if you are lucky enough to be contemplating seeing this movie for the first time.

And if you are considering watching this picture for the first time (or even if you've already seen it), I would definitely encourage you to buy this DVD. Because the great thing about owning a movie like Memento, as my experience will attest, is that it rewards multiple viewings. And the depth and the detail (in addition to the design) of the film ensure that each viewing is made fresh with new insight and understanding.

In the end, Memento is so much more than just a non-linear, well-crafted crime thriller. It's also an exploration of what makes up a person's identity, and an examination of the malleability of experience. Ultimately, Memento shows us how all our memories are fallible, and - to some degree - we all have to use devices like Leonard uses to remember things: whether it's jotting down phone numbers, taking pictures on our vacations, or (in my case just now) watching a DVD to remind you of all the things you loved about a movie in the first place.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hoax-man For A New Generation, April 8, 2007
Despite the fact that I'm not exactly a Richard Gere fan, I went into "The Hoax" with high expectations. After all, I consider director Lasse Hallstrom - feelgood/schmaltzy though he may sometimes be ("Once Around", "The Cider House Rules") - to be one of the more consistently reliable filmmakers of the last twenty years (he's directed several of my all-time favorite films, including "My Life As A Dog", "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "Chocolat"). And from what little I knew of the intriguing real-life story upon which this movie is based, I figured it would be a good to very good film as long as the filmmakers didn't mess it up (and Richard Gere didn't ham it up).

Thankfully, I was wrong. It actually turned out to be a great film, and not only did the filmmakers not mess it up, they elevated the material beyond what my already-high expectations were going in. From the taut and smart script (which in my opinion is worthy of an Adapted Screenplay Oscar Nomination) to the inventive cinematography, from the (as always) imaginative direction to a surprisingly non-showboaty performance from Richard Gere (not to mention scene-stealing performances by actors in supporting roles), "The Hoax" is right up there with the best films I've seen all year.

For those of you not in the know, the story centers around (and is based on a book by) Clifford Irving, who - as we meet him in the movie - had already (quite aptly, it turns out) written the book Fake, with forgery as its subject (and you can see the real Clifford Irving in Orson Welles' classic 1974 film "F for Fake"). Now he's received verbal agreement that his publishing house, McGraw Hill, will be putting out his second book, the unfortunately named Rudnick's Problem. So he spends his advance in advance (of actually having one), even as people are repossessing his couch from previous debts owed. Then, in an ill-timed turn of events, Life Magazine - who was set to serialize the book - reads the manuscript and calls it a "third-rate Phillip Roth knock-off." Oops! Deal's off, Cliffy!

Desperate to not be ignored by his publisher, and desperate for cash and other non-perishables with which to feed his ego, Irving tells the people at McGraw-Hill that he's been commissioned to write the autobiography of infamous billionaire recluse, Howard Hughes (even though he hasn't - hoax alert!). He starts by forging letters whose handwriting is copied from a Howard Hughes profile in Life Magazine (which, if still around, would have had to pay a hell of a product placement fee for this movie).

Irving figures it's a perfect plan: "he'll never come out of hiding to denounce me because he's a lunatic hermit, and I'm the spokesman for the lunatic hermit!" This sets into motion a series of cat and mouse games as various factions try to smoke out Irving as a con artist and Irving (actually more of a rat than a mouse) ratchets up the stakes at every turn, figuring the bolder the lie, the more likely it is to be believed.

As played by Gere, Irving is a pompous, adulterous liar who's also a bit of a drama king. His wife (played with quirky delight by Marcia Gay Harden) seems to be aware of all this, dismissively telling him early in the film, "My gallery show is in 3 weeks - I don't have time for the drama now, darling." And later, she warns him to not spend time with any "special friends" as he's planning to go on a trip. That Gere plays this jerky gasbag in such a way that we not only care about him but root for him is no mean feat.

A scene-stealing Alfred Molina plays Dick Susskind, Irving's nervous nebbish reluctant co-conspirator, whom we meet as a 38 years old, unpublished author (whose wife has left him for a lesbian), trying to write a children's book featuring the dual kid-friendly themes of war and sodomy. (yes, this film has a sense of humor - there are many lines that are patently absurd and laugh out loud funny)

The picture keeps Nixon and 'Nam hovering in the background as an effective backdrop, with paranoia being the paradigm of the time and Irving himself getting so caught up in his web of deceit that he himself can barely distinguish fact from fantasy, reality from paranoid delusion. There is also a very interesting subplot involving a mysterious box that shows up on Irving's doorstep that may or may not tie Nixon and Watergate into the whole biography mess.

Not knowing too much about what really happened, to me this is the only part of the film that felt like its grasping for a bit more than it can truly hold. Intriguing, yes. Plausible? Not really. But I fully concede in advance that things might have actually played out that way in real life and that truth is indeed stranger than fiction (and that I'm an ignorant buffoon). And regardless of whether it's the way events actually happened or not, the screenplay is pure genius, with lots of quotable lines and crisp dialog.

In some early reviews, I've seen a lot of comparisons made to the journalistic con artist Stephen Glass played by Hayden Christensen in the film "Shattered Glass". But I feel this movie owes more in its tone of well-layered psychological suspense and intrigue to the great "Quiz Show" - with Ralph Fiennes' Charles Van Doren being caught up in a scam while the truth squad closes in. Both "Quiz Show" and "The Hoax" are so artfully told, so skillfully and stylishly shot, that each film transcends its subject matter without detracting from or diluting its substantial suspense.

As "The Hoax" has some (very) minor flaws, I'd like to give it 4.5 stars. But of course, the 'Zon won't let me... so five stars it is!

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