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Memento Movie Explained: The Lies We Tell Ourselves to Live

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Memento Movie Explained: The Lies We Tell Ourselves to Live

One of my cinema pet peeves is when people refer to the structure of Christopher Nolan‘s Memento as “a gimmick.” A gimmick is a hook that serves no point. It gets your attention, but by its very nature has no payoff. If Nolan dressed Guy Pearce in a chicken costume for the entirety of the movie and never explained it, that would be a gimmick. The reverse-chronology of Memento is essential to its power because it’s the only way to put the audience in the mindset of its brain-damaged detective, Leonard Shelby (Pearce, not wearing a chicken costume). “It’s all backwards,” Burt (Mark Boone Junior) says in one of the film’s more meta moments, but the reverse chronology does pull you into Leonard’s world, one where we see effect without cause, and can only see the power of causation as we move further back in time. This unique structure gives Memento a hook and its power as Nolan is able to brilliantly intersect time, identity, and memory into his finest feature.

RELATED: Josh Hartnett Joins Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ in Secret Role

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The story follows Shelby, who has a short-term memory loss following a break-in at his house that gave him his “condition” and also his wife was raped and murdered. Leonard has been chasing the guy who did it, but his search is complicated by the fact that he can’t make new memories since the accident. So Leonard convinces himself that through conditioning, he can be disciplined enough to find vengeance. But as the story unfolds, the reveal isn’t the true culprit but to show that Leonard is chasing his own ghost. He has purposefully been creating a mystery he can never solve because he’s already solved it, but forgotten that he already achieved his vengeance. Instead, everyone he meets uses him including corrupt cop Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), vindictive bartender Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), and even Burt, the hotel desk clerk. Leonard clings to this shred of control he believes he has, but that control is an illusion. He thinks that his Polaroids and tattoos are hard evidence, but they’re just as fallible as memory. In the end, he learns (before he forgets again) that his wife survived the attack and that she committed suicide by having Leonard give her too much insulin.


The figure of Leonard Shelby—a man who believes he’s in control only to learn that his control was an illusion—recurs in Nolan’s filmography, but it works particularly well in Memento because of how Nolan is able to upend expectations of the noir genre. Leonard is our detective, and while he suffers from a crippling ailment, he should still be able to solve the case, but the film slowly reveals that what Leonard’s working towards isn’t justice or even vengeance, but clinging to the scraps of an identity. He’s conditioned himself not to solve the case, but rather to create a simulacrum of his old life as an insurance investigator (another reason he can’t stop talking about Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky)). Leonard has constructed an elaborate lie that allows him to live out the same fantasy and hold onto the identity that he can solve a mystery. Everyone lies to Leonard, most of all Leonard.


What gives the story its potency is that Memento recognizes we all lie to ourselves. Nolan simply found a vehicle to make the lie one of the stars of the film. Leonard’s not lying to himself about his success or his ego. He’s lying to himself about his very identity, and his brain damage allows him to perpetuate this mythology endlessly. It’s only when we recall the very first scene that we remember that Leonard has a new opportunity to break the cycle. Without Teddy around to use Leonard as a weapon and a new photo marking Teddy’s demise, maybe Leonard will tell himself the truth. Maybe that can break the cycle, but until we reach that resolution (that comes at the very beginning), we have to get to the thematic truth of the film, which doesn’t come until we understand why Leonard killed Teddy in the first place.


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Like all of us, Leonard is looking to feel like his actions have meaning. “The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes,” Leonard says, but with causality broken in Leonard’s mind, he has become somewhat divorced from the world. Memento is a powerful story about the hold that identity has on us and how it even can transcend the loss of short-term memory. Leonard is convinced that he knows who he is, but it’s not until the climax that Teddy tells him, “That’s who you were.” Leonard doesn’t want to face the fact that without his vengeance and without a mystery to solve, he’s just a guy with brain damage and probably has no place in the world. His own wife chose suicide, and rather than remember what happened to her, he made up a comforting narrative about Sammy Jankis.


Constructing all this together within a neo-noir framework is brilliant, and watching Memento is like looking at a house of cards you’re sure is going to topple over any moment. But Nolan and editor Dody Dorn know exactly where to cut in the action, and how to immaculately structure the narrative so that the audience is never lost. Like Following, Inception, Dunkirk, or any other Nolan film that plays with time, Nolan isn’t trying to lose his audience. This isn’t Primer where you throw up your hands and just have to go along for the ride. Nolan goes to the point of making sure that his prologue is in black-and-white so that you’re aware you’re looking at Leonard in a narrative that’s separate from the reverse-narrative that continues until both narratives meet up at the climax of the movie.

Nolan movies are obsessed with notions of control, and the control over time contrasts nicely with Leonard’s illusion of control over his own story. Where Nolan and his protagonist sync up is how much control they exert over the power of narrative. Nolan is fascinated by the concept of narratives and how the power of creation is inextricably linked to destruction. Leonard has created an entirely new identity built on a lie, and because his creation is based on a lie, it ultimately leads to a destructive conclusion, which is that he becomes nothing more than Teddy’s hitman. Like The Young Man from Following or Robert Angier from The Prestige or Mal from Inception, Leonard has provided himself a comforting lie, and that lie has proven to be his downfall until he finally decides to pursue something that’s true—Teddy is using him and so Teddy must be stopped.


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The cautionary tale in Memento is that Leonard Shelby, despite his unique condition, is universal in how he lies to himself. Nolan isn’t opposed to the concept of a lie—he’s a storyteller after all. But he’s fascinated by how lies are implemented. For Nolan, lies are tools, and sometimes they can be used for benevolent purposes like a magic show in The Prestige or the mind heist in Inception. In Memento, Leonard finds a new lie—that Teddy is responsible for the rape and murder of Leonard’s wife—but like all good art, it’s a lie that tells the truth. Teddy may not be responsible for Leonard’s condition, but his desire to use Leonard as a weapon makes him at least partially responsible for Leonard’s predicament. “You don’t want the truth,” Teddy tells Leonard. “You make up your own truth.” And so the truth Leonard decides to follow is that Teddy must be eliminated, and the reason why doesn’t matter because Leonard’s never going to remember the reasons anyway. Leonard lies to himself on a tapestry of good intentions; he tells himself he’s not a killer. But it’s his actions that have meaning even if he can’t remember them.


Through its ingenious plotting and characterization, Christopher Nolan made a movie where the lie itself became the protagonist. The central irony of Leonard Shelby is that his motives are based on the search for truth, but he consumes nothing but lies. He even conditions himself to believe more lies because the truth can be too painful. “You lie to yourself to be happy…We all do it!” Teddy exclaims. But to quote a later Nolan film, “Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people need something more. Sometimes they need their faith rewarded.” Leonard Shelby eventually learns that he needs to believe his actions still have meaning. That conditioning himself into a vengeful detective isn’t the truth he needs. Whether his lie leads him to a better truth is a question for before the opening credits roll.


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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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