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Jan 8, 2008

5 Great Things About...Memento

The Intro: The concept is pretty straightforward. Aside from going to the theater way too much, I also watch way too many movies on TV (or DVD). Since they're not new releases, I don't typically write a review for them, but there are often some things I'd like to say about them. Since I have a tendency to always find the negatives in things (I'm a champion pessimist), I've decided to pick five things from a movie that I've recently viewed that catch my eye or crack me up or inspire me or whatever. They could be anything from a whole performance, a single line (or even a single word), a sight gag, plotline, anything. So...

5 Great Things About...Memento

1. One of the most f*cked up relationships...in any movie...ever.
Suppose for an instant that you are Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). You've got a house, a bartending gig, and a boyfriend, Jimmy, who loves you (nevermind the fact that he's a drug dealer). One day, Jimmy goes off to work (a deal) - you kiss him goodbye, confident that your pooka will be stopping by the bar afterwards to spread the good news/money/whatever.

But when his Jag pulls up to the bar, Jimmy's not the one driving. Instead, it's some guy with frosted hair wearing Jimmy's clothes. He acts as though nothing is up - he's just come by the bar because he found a coaster in his (Jimmy's) jacket pocket that told him to "come by after." You're stunned and somewhat speechless, so you dig a bit. Come to find out the guy has a medical issue that affects his short-term memory. You don't actually tell him that he's wearing your boyfriend's clothes or driving his car, but you try to find out what you can. He knows nothing - not where he came from, why he's there, or where he's going. So, what do you do?

If you're Natalie, you, a geezer and Leonard himself spit in a cup, and then you serve it to the man to test his "condition." Sure enough, he drinks it. Now your wheels are spinning.

From there, Natalie goes on to: befriend Leonard, manipulate him into hitting her, manipulate him into chasing down a guy that would have been after Jimmy (and would later be after her), sleep with him, then help him find "his wife's killer," who just so happens to be the guy that put Leonard on Jimmy in the first place. And all this in the span of a couple days. Outstanding!

2. The "Who Am I chasing...wait...he's chasing me" scene.
In a movie where both the protagonist and the viewer are almost equally bewildered and confused, this has to be considered the best example of Leonard's condition. There's Leonard, all of a sudden cognizant of the fact that he's chasing someone or something (with no idea why that would be), only to learn within milliseconds that that isn't the case - as it turns out, he's the one being chased. At least that feeling didn't come during a sexual encounter ("Who am I f*cking...wait...who's f*cking me?").

3. Stephen Tobolowsky
Stephen Tobolowsky is probably best known for his role as Ned Ryerson ("Bing!") in Groundhog Day, but that's far from all he's done. With an acting career that stretches back to 1974, the man has been everywhere on TV and in the movies, from one-episode stints on everything from Seinfeld to The West Wing, to his current multi-episode stint on Heroes (appropriately playing the commonly named "Bob"). In film, he's been in kids movies (Garfield) and adult thrillers (Basic Instinct) - heck, he's even had a documentary made just about him (Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party, which I have not seen but wouldn't mind seeing). He is an Grade A character actor, and a sure bet to steal parts from John Carroll Lynch (he too is a middle-aged, follically challenged white guy).

In Memento, he gets one of his meatier roles, playing the vital Sammy Jenkis, one of the only people/things that Leonard Shelby can consistently remember (or can he?). Tobolowsky's great at Sammy's blank stare and genial smile, but my favorite moment has to be the "psychological test" given to him (by Reno 911 star Thomas Lennon, no less) where he gets zapped again and again, only to give the same finger/"screw you quacks" (edited) response. It's sad and hilarious all at once.

4. The DVD
I've never been one to get all that "into" the features/presentation of DVDs. I own it to watch the movie, and it's rare for me to delve too far into the bonuses (much less hunt for easter eggs). I think I've only completely listened to one commentary track ever, and that was for Fight Club. I'd love to listen to more, but I'd rather spend that time watching another movie than watching one I already know with the volume turned down and people cracking in-jokes for two hours. However, the presentation/concept for the Memento DVD is quite superb, giving the viewer some psych tests of their own if they want to dig deeper. Sure, it can get frustrating (especially if you're trying to access the hidden "play the movie chronologically" feature), but the reward is there. They even cap it all off by giving you a full medical chart that houses the DVDs.

5. Burt, the lobby clerk at the Discount Inn
This exchange probably sums it up the best:

"Burt: Oh sh*t. This is the wrong room. You're in 304 now. I'm sorry. I f*cked up.
Leonard: This is not my room?
Burt: No, come on, let's go.
Leonard: Why is this my handwriting?
Burt: ...This was your room, but now you're in 304.
Leonard: When was I in here?
Burt: Last week. But then I rented you another room on top of it.
Leonard: Why?
Burt: Business is slow. I mean, I told my boss about the - your condition and stuff, and he said try and rent him another room.
Leonard: So how many rooms am I checked into in this sh*t-hole?
Burt: Just two, so far.
Leonard: Well, at least you're being honest about ripping me off.
Burt: Well, you're not gonna remember anyway.
Leonard: You don't have to be
that honest, Burt.
Burt: Leonard, always get a receipt.
Leonard: That's good advice. I'll have to write that down.


Just a great piece of writing there. Burt is played by Mark Boone Junior, who could pass for Tom Waits' heavier brother. Not all that well-known of a character actor, he did have a sizable role in Batman Begins as a corrupt cop (which I guess makes him the heir-apparent to Lt. Eckhardt from the 1989 Batman). Here, he's just a guy trying to make a few bucks, but his dry, slacker wit is what really endears him.


11 people have chosen wisely: on "5 Great Things About...Memento"

Nick said...

Memento is an awesome movie, I agree. To comment on what you've mentioned, in order...

1. On top of that fucked up relationship, there's also the one with whatsisname... the dude from The Matrix. He's goin around helping Leonard kill all these other people when he's already killed the actual killer a long time ago.

2. The 'no, wait, he's chasing me.' line is my favorite in the movie. Whenever I think of Memento, that's actually the first thing that pops into my head. I love it.

3. Stephen Tobolowsky is cool, and he's great on Heroes. Bob was like Mr. Bennett for a while, where you were unsure whether or not he was a good guy or a bad guy... but then it's like 'oh, no, he's bad.'

4. I love DVD commentaries. I listen to them all the time, but I *love* behind-the-scenes kind of things, so that's why. It's interesting to hear about how different things were shot or edited, and it's hilarious when they just get all down and relax and chat it up. I try to stay away from commentaries with just one person, though, because they can be insanely boring... though, there's some commentaries with more than one person that can be boring. You gotta be careful with HUGE ensemble commentaries, too... I tried with the first Pirates movie and Shaun of the Dead, and I couldn't get through it. Pirates' was just hideously boring, and Shaun's was so muddled you couldn't tell what was being said. The only huge ensemble commentaries that I've seen work well are Kevin Smith's.

5. lol, the dude who plays Burt... his hair bugs me. And I always see him in the most random roles. He'll just appear, and I'm like 'oh, it's that guy!'

soundtrackgeek said...

Memento is one of my all time favorite movies. Man, it's been a while since I've seen that. Have to check it out again.

mikemachacon said...

Memento is quite unique. it stands out among so many movies in this genre because it is so unusual and very effective in telling its story in reverse chronology. one of my all time favorites.

Sheamus the... said...

Great movie... Guy Perice is one of my favorites as well as Nolan.

Tony Tanti said...

This list is awesome, I love the dialogue you've reprinted here. I also love the who's chasing who scene.

Great stuff.

Matt said...

I just laughed rememberng that "who's chasing whom scene." Do you also remember the scene where he's waiting for the dude in the hotel room and he's going to smash the wine bottle over the guy's head but his memory lapses and he wonders "Mmmm, I don't... feel... drunk." Then he takes a shower and tackles the guy naked.

That was a good scene too.

Fletch said...

Yeah, the reading of that line is hilarious. Good call.

* (asterisk) said...

As time goes by, I sometimes look at my list of favourite movies on my blog profile and wonder, "Huh, Memento. Yeah, it was good, but was it that good?" And then I read something like this and some of the comments and I remember (ironically enough): "Yeah, it IS that good."

Thanks Fletch.

I rarely listen to commentaries anymore, but when DVDs first started coming out I did so all the time. Good ones from those early days include 8MM, Natural Born Killers, El Mariachi, and Out of Sight, in case you're interested.

Fletch said...

I might be interested in watching/listening to the Out of Sight commentary. Love the movie, and though I'm not sure who's on the track, it's bound to be a pretty good combination of people.

Anders said...

Memento being my favourite film, I just HAD to have the Special Edition DVD.

However, I live in Australia where it's not available in that edition. Also, the online stores that actually sold it at the time were not to keen on shipping it here.

Solution:
Go to America and fucking buy it myself.
So I did.
And I love it.

Fletch said...

Ha! Yeah, it's worth it just to watch it chrono. But the overall design of it is spectacular.