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SUNDANCE 2004! Memento Man

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Man, reading these reports makes me itch to go back to Park City. Maybe next year. In the meantime, I’m always glad we’ve got our faithful reporters like Memento Man...

Hi Harry!

The crowds have thinned out a bit in Park City and it seems to be a little easier to get around. Saturday was maddening; there were so many people and cars on Main Street in that many Festival busses were just trapped and couldn't get through for long periods of time.

Here's what I saw today:


STAND BY ME meets HEART OF DARKNESS with a dash of LORD OF THE FLIES. After Rory Culkin's character gets beat up by a larger kid at school, his big brother (Trevor Morgan) comes up with a plan for revenge. A group of kids will take the bully out on a small boat where they will dump him in the water and make him walk home naked. The best part of this film are the performances from the ensemble of kids (particularly remarkable are Rory Culkin and Carly Schraeder, the one girl in the group); this reflects well on newcomer director Jacob Aaron Estes who was able to bring such good work out of them. Another interesting facet of the film is how Estes' screenplay is able to get the audience to transfer allegiances back and forth from one character to another at different points in the story. Weighed down slightly by predictability in the first half and slight sluggishness in the second, MEAN CREEK still provides a interesting mythic/archetypal reflection of how a certain group kids will ethically respond when placed together in a moral vacuum, far from the guidance of adults.


Absolutely stunning performances by its triumvirate of consummate actors, Robert Redford, Willem Defoe, and Helen Mirren, lift this film from being just an ordinary thriller. In some ways it's faintly reminiscent of MYSTIC RIVER in just that way.


Wayne (Robert Redford) is kidnapped from his beautiful home by Willem Defoe who marches him deep through the woods at gunpoint. Yet, in the midst of this horrifying scenario, the two men soon begin to enter into a friendly banter about their lives and their families. The film crosscuts between that storyline and the other where Wayne's wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) works with the F.B.I. to try to find Wayne. The great trick, though, is that the crosscutting occurs with two very different timelines.


Although this film is called "a work in progress" in the Sundance program, it seemed like a very strong final cut to me. Director Pieter Jan Brugge has a strong, assured film on his hands.

TRAUMA (**½)

A dark journey into insanity with all of the uncertainty of reality that accompanies it. Colin Firth plays Ben, a man who wakes up from a coma to discover that his wife was killed in a car accident. Or was she? He thinks he might have also killed a young singer. Or did he? He explains everything to his psychologist. Or does he? He finds solace in the reality of his neighbor (Mena Suvari). Or can he? He's perfectly sane. Or is he? Just as Ben is unable to answer any of these questions with certainty, so is the audience.

Screenwriter Richard Smith has constructed a work with so many unanswered questions, it demands that the audience fill in many of the gaps afterward. His challenging and very dark script is aided by gorgeously troubling cinematography and a production design that is almost ominous enough to drive somebody mad.

In the screening I attended, as the closing credits began, the audience was just silent; they felt almost like they needed somebody to come out afterward and explain the film to them. Success! This is a mark of true insanity.

Until tomorrow, this is your Festival bus-rider extraordinaire,

Memento Man

Thanks, buddy. Keep ‘em coming.

"Moriarty" out.

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