I’ve posted a few film reviews from my Sunday Age reviewer days, but they’ve all been me in nasty mode. So I thought I should include a couple of films that I loved, and still think are pretty amazing. Go is a kind of forgotten film, in a lot of ways, but I loved it and thought the script was really clever. Plus it introduced us to Sarah Polley, even if the presence of a young Dawson’s-Creek-hot Katie Holmes (pre TomKat) got all the headlines at the time.

GO (1999)

DIRECTOR: Doug Liman

WRITER: John August

CAST: Sarah Polley, Desmond Askew, Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant

(102 mins, R)

Five stars!

By Nick Place

Forget Eyes Wide Shut. This was the film I had to see twice to follow all the strands. For mine, it’s the best film of the year so far, although it will probably have as many enemies as friends. Don’t take your mum.

Go. A cracking film, even now.
Go. A cracking film, even now.

At first viewing, I couldn’t believe that director Doug Liman – the man who brought us the brilliant, super-cool, low-budget Swingers – had ripped off Pulp Fiction. Of all people!

Just like Tarantino’s classic, Go is a series of interconnecting stories. A bunch of occasionally likeable, scary, cool and bizarre characters collide or run parallel. There’s violence, drugs, a gun being brandished recklessly in a fast car and even the song Magic Carpet Ride, which was also used in Tarantino’s other blood-soaked epic, Reservoir Dogs.

But there’s a difference. In fact, Liman and the writer, John August, are playing with us; pretending to be Pulp Fiction, but taking us a generation beyond (and no, that doesn’t necessarily make them the kings of Generation Y).

Go sets up celluloid situations you’ve seen a thousand times before and then repeatedly turns them on their head. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on something, the plot darts 90 degrees, if not 270 degrees. It’s a wild ride. A couple of times you are even surprised by who the lead characters turn out to be, let alone where they might go.

John August is practically uncredited as a screenwriter, but is one to keep an eye on. His dialogue is relaxed and laced with killer lines, while he’s not afraid to charge headlong into left field. Liman, who recently told a Melbourne Film Festival audience that he toyed with making a big budget Hollywood film before being attracted to this script, has found a serious partner in crime.

Go is set in and around the Los Angeles rave scene, following a bunch of supermarket workers who get into all manner of strife over the course of a single night. We’re treading the same physical geography as Swingers – a group of boys even head for Vegas – but the two films are poles apart. In fact, the younger, cynical characters in Go would take one look at Swingers’ Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and co., strutting in their fifties retro gear, calling each other “The Money”, and heap enough scorn to bury the Hollywood hills.

The casting is perfect. You’ve got Desmond Askew as the classic English twit, all front and cheek and as annoying as a mosquito in the night. Sarah Polley, she of the long, level gaze and the serious eyes, is perfect as Ronna, a girl slightly out of her depth but nonetheless playing the dangerous angles. Katie Holmes is there to drag in the Dawson’s Creek crowd, while Timothy Olyphant is a magnificent bastard as the drug dealer, Todd.

That seems like enough major characters to get things moving, but then Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf and William Fichtner come out of the clouds to all but steal the movie.

The editing is edgy and fast, the soundtrack kicks and the laughs roll from start to finish. Watch for Mannie and the cat. Classic!

And, holy crap, Memento. Maybe Guy Pearce’s finest moment. Plus Carrie-Anne Moss, not playing Trinity in the Matrix …

MEMENTO

(four and a half stars, MA, 113 mins)

By Nick Place

Memento. Chills.
Memento. Chills.

Confusion. Confusion and despair. Confusion and despair and violence. Confusion and despair and violence and a dead body. Memento unfolds one clue at a time, so that you start at the end of the story but with no idea what has gone on. Don’t arrive late for this one, and pay attention from the opening frame. It’s well worth the investment.

Memento might be unlike any film you’ve seen before. It works backwards, from the opening shot of a Polaroid photo undeveloping itself. From there, we meet Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, who holds a gun in his hand but, unsettlingly, has even less idea of events than we do.

Shelby has to be one of the most compelling and fascinating screen creations in some time. A former insurance investigator, a head injury has left him so that he has no short term memory. None. Zero. Have a conversation with him, confess that you’re actually his natural father, walk out of the room to make a cup of tea, come back in and he won’t remember that he’s even met you, let alone call you Dad.

What makes Shelby so interesting is how he copes with his condition. He writes notes during the moments where he thinks he understands things, before it all slips away. He takes Polaroids of his possessions and of people so that he can literally put names to faces or walk to the right vehicle in a car park. He has tattoos on his body of “The Facts”, the only things he knows to be true. Well, that he thinks he knows to be true.

Every scene throws up possibilities over whether others are taking advantage of his condition or are genuinely there to help. It’s draining and exhausting and confusing – and that’s for us. Think how he must feel. Spending time with this character is totally engrossing. Within two minutes of the opening credits, I was snuggled in, content to ride shotgun with this guy for as long as they’d let me, to observe how he lived his painstaking life.

Pearce is simply brilliant. This is a complex, unlikely character but Pearce milks it for all that it is worth. He ranges from tough to likeable to annoying to dark. Most of all, he brings an underlying vulnerability. Shelby is frustrated, philosophical, naïve and knowing, all at the same time. The looks of confusion and pain that cross his face stay with you. Yet Pearce almost underplays the role. It’s quite a performance.

Supporting roles are ably filled by Carrie-Anne Moss, a long way away from the upright French peasant she played in Chocolat, and veteran Joe Pantoliano, as a breezy associate of Shelby.

This is only English writer/director Christopher Nolan’s second film but the confidence and pace shows plenty of maturity. The device of reverse plotting to put the audience in the same unknowing headspace as Shelby is inspired. Each scene is either an extended version of the scene before, providing snippets of new, crucial information, or a scene that leads to a scene we have already witnessed, out of context. All those how-to-write-a-screenplay books go out the window. Amen.

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