Sunday, March 15, 2009

Catching Up on Films

I made a New Year's Resolution that I was going to comment on every movie I saw this year, and here it is not even spring and I've fallen behind. This isn't going to be the detailed kind of commentary that you'd find elsewhere, but it will allow me to proceed with a clear conscience.

The Times of Harvey Milk. The first movie I've watched all the way through on A very solid documentary, with narration by Harvey Fierstein and commentary by a number of people who worked closely with Milk during his career, including Tom Ammiano, Henry Der and Bill Kraus (who would become on the major players in Randy Shilts' "And the Band Played On" just a few years after Milk's assassination). Anyone who lived in California in 1978 will remember the awful day when Milk and George Moscone were assassinated, but until "Milk," there were probably few who knew the complete story about Milk's rise to prominence in San Francisco. Even with the awful ending it is a great story, and it leaves the viewer with an unmistakable sense of "what might have been?" Seeing Bill Kraus and going back to read portions from the Randy Shilts book, you can't help but wonder what role Milk would have played as the AIDS crisis began to unfold in the early 1980s.

Johnny Guitar. I'm not quite sure what to say about this one - a very odd movie, albeit an interesting one. A stylized Western that feels nothing like the great John Ford and Howard Hawks Westerns of the same period, with performances that grab one's attention but often seem teetering on the brink of pure lunacy. Joan Crawford is always on the edge, but the out-and-out insane performance of Mercedes McCambridge makes her seem downright subtle. Great to see veterans like Sterling Hayden, Royal Dano, Scott Brady and Ernest Borgnine, though you have to wonder what they were thinking while this one was being made.

Memento. Proof positive that we are nothing if not slow. This one was all the rage - oh, about 6-7 years ago? - but somehow we managed to miss it, even though director Christopher Nolan has gone on to become all the rage (Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight). As probably everyone in the world knows by now, the movie tells its story in reverse, which is perfectly effective at invoking in the viewer the same sense of loss that Leonard, the main character who can no longer form short-term memories, feels. Guy Pearce is terrific in the primary role, and both Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss are excellent in supporting roles as characters whose paths cross that of Leonard's, in his quest to find and avenge himself upon his wife's killer. The gimmick (for lack of a better word) may leave a lot of people wondering what the hell is going on, but it certainly makes you stand up and take notice.

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