Film of the Day: Bad Lieutenant: Port of call – New Orleans (2009)

BY ROGER EBERT / November 18, 2009

Werner Herzog ‘s ” Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans ” creates a dire portrait of a rapist, murderer, drug addict, corrupt cop and degenerate paranoid who’s very apprehensive about iguanas. It places him in a devastated New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina. It makes no attempt to show that city of legends in a flattering light.And it gradually reveals itself as a sly comedy about a snaky but courageous man.

No one is better at this kind of performance than Nicolas Cage . He’s a fearless actor. He doesn’t care if you think he goes over the top. If a film calls for it, he will crawl to the top hand over hand with bleeding fingernails.Regard him in films so various as ” Wild at Heart ” and ” Leaving Las Vegas .”He and Herzog were born to work together. They are both made restless by caution.

In the gallery of bad cops, Terence McDonagh belongs in the first room.Everyone will think of Harvey Keitel ‘s lieutenant in Abel Ferrara ‘s masterpiece ” Bad Lieutenant ” (1993) for the obvious reason. I hope this film inspires you to seek out that one. It deserves to be sought.Ferrara is Shakespearean in his tragedy, Herzog more like Cormac McCarthy. Sometimes on the road to hell you can’t help but laugh.

In a city deserted by many of its citizens and much of its good fortune, McDonagh roams the midnight streets without supervision.He Serves and Protects himself. He is the Law, and the Law exists for his personal benefit. Lurking in his prowler outside a nightclub, he sees a young couple emerge and follows them to an empty parking lot. He stops them, searches them, finds negligible drugs on the man, begins the process of arrest. The man pleads. He’s afraid his father will find out. He offers a bribe. McDonagh isn’t interested in money. He wants the drugs and the girl, whom he rapes, excited that her boyfriend is watching.

The film’s only similarities with the Ferrara film are in the title and the presentation of a wholly immoral drug addict. It’s not what a movie is about but how it’s about it. Ferrara regards his lieutenant without mercy. Herzog can be as forgiving as God. An addict in need can be capable of about anything. He will betray family, loved ones, duty, himself. He’s driven. Because addiction is an illness (although there is debate), we mustn’t be too quick to judge. Drugs and alcohol are both terrible, but drugs can drive a victim more urgently to ruin.

Herzog shows McDonagh lopsided from back pain. He begins with prescription Vicodin and moves quickly to cocaine. As a cop, he develops sources. He steals from other addicts and from dealers.In the confusion after Katrina, he steals from a police evidence room. George Carlin said, “What does cocaine feel like? It makes you feel like some more cocaine.”

McDonagh has a girlfriend named Frankie ( Eva Mendes ). She’s a hooker. He’s OK with this. He gives her drugs, she sometimes has them for him. They share something an addict craves: sympathy and understanding. They stand together against the horrors. He’s also close to his 60-ish father, Pat ( Tom Bower ), not close to Pat’s 40-ish partner Genevieve ( Jennifer Coolidge ). His father has a history with AA. Genevieve is a bosomy all-day beer drinker. They live in a slowly decaying rural manse somewhere in the parish. Pat knows what to look for in his son and sees it.

Colorful characters enrich McDonagh’s tunnel-visioned life. There’s hip-hop star Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner as Big Fate, a kingpin who holds the key to the execution of five Nigerian drug dealers. Fairuza Balkas a cop and McDonagh’s sometime lover. Brad Dourif as his bookie (he gambles, too). Val Kilmer as his partner, in an uncharacteristically laid-back performance. Maybe we couldn’t take Cage and Kilmer both cranked up to 11. Bower plays McDonagh’s father as a troubled man but one with good instincts. Coolidge, with great screen presence as always, changes gears and plays a MI-wouldn’t-LF.

The details of the crime need not concern us. Just admire the feel of the film. Peter Zeitlinger’s cinematography creates a New Orleans unleavened by the picturesque. Herzog as always pokes around for the odd detail. Everyone is talking about the shots of the iguanas and the alligator, staring with cold reptilian eyes. Who else but Herzog would hold on their gaze? Who else would foreground them, placing the action in the background? Who but Cage could regard an iguana sideways in a look of suspicion and disquiet? You need to keep an eye on an iguana. The bastards are always up to something.

” Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans ” is not about plot, but about seasoning. Like New Orleans cuisine, it finds that you can put almost anything in a pot if you add the right spices and peppers and simmer it long enough.

Yet surely ” Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans ” is an odd title? Let me give you my fantasy about that. Herzog agrees with Ed Pressman to do a remake of the 1993 film, which Pressman also produced. Pressman is no fool and knows a Werner Herzog remake will be nothing like the original. Abel Ferrara is outraged, as well he might be; Martin Scorsese picked ” Bad Lieutenant ” as one of the 10 best films of the 1990s.

“Gee, I dunno,” Pressman says. “Maybe we should change the title. How about talking a line from the screenplay? How about calling it ‘Port of Call, New Orleans’ “?

“We will compromise,” Herzog says with that Germanic precision he uses when explaining something he needs to make clear. “We will call it ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans.’ ” He’s not going to back down from Ferrara. These are proud men.

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Film of the Day: Chocolate (2008)

Listen up, folks, cause here comes some truth:  if watching a 90-pound girl kick the almighty shit out of hundreds of dudes for an hour and a half is your thing, Chocolate is YOUR flick.  I mean, seriously – this is some awesomeness right here.  Ong-Bak do it for ya?  Born to Fight make your heart rate skyrocket?  Then pop ol’ Chocolate into your player and let it pound you into a daze of happiness.

Chocolate – directed by the new Thai master of martial-arts madness, Prachya Pinkaew (responsible for the other 2 flicks I mentioned above) – tells the story of a young girl, Zen (JeeJa Yanin), who was born out of a forbidden love.  See, her parents had this Romeo and Juliet kinda thing goin’ on, where Mom was part of a Thai gang and Dad was a Yakuza (or maybe a Triad, it doesn’t really matter – they weren’t supposed to get it on is the point); Mom got pregnant with Zen and Dad split back home.  Zen, who is autistic, grew up loving certain things, like her Mom, chocolate candy, and martial-arts flicks.  Turns out Zen is kinda gifted in that she’s got what could be called photographic muscle memory. She sees it done and she can do it.  I don’t know, I think it’d be pretty rad if after watching Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan that I could then whip ass they way they do.  Then again, I think I actually thought that as a kid – I have specific memories of watching Bloodsport at 12 and promptly launching myself off our living room coffee table with some serious flying kicks.  But I digress.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell, then:  Zen’s mom gets sick with cancer and is dying. They’re broke and are struggling to pay the medical bills.  Mom’s old collection notebook – with information on who owes her what – is found and Zen goes out, again and again, to collect Mom’s money.  The assholes who owe it don’t want to pay, Zen beats the holy living Christ out of all of them, repeat until end credits.

That is all.  But lemme tell you:  there’s a lot of “all” there.  As in, it’s all bad for those who owe, and eighty-seven different kinds of all good for any action fans who happen to be watching.

Truth be told, the flick IS a tad slow in the early going.  The filmmakers take a little bit of time to set up the story (thin as it is) and Zen’s condition (Yanin ain’t Dustin Hoffman, but she does a fine job of playing our autistic heroine) before getting to the good stuff.  And roughly 20 to 30 minutes in, the good stuff arrives, and it’s just as sweet as the titular treat.  You can obviously see some Bruce and Jackie, as well as some Tony Jaa-style Muay Thai (if it’s not clear enough, one scene has Zen watching Ong-Bak on TV, so no excuses).  Yanin is not the type of girl who exudes toughness, but it’s made up for in her tenacity.  All she knows is “go here, get money, whip ass if they say no” and she does just that.  One nice touch I liked was that – specifically due to her being a tiny slip of a girl – she fights the same guys over and over again in every scene.  She kicks them in the head or whatnot, they go down, but don’t stay down.  They get up and come after her once more, she punches or boots ‘em again. . .then they get back up for more, until she’s finally worn them out.  It’s a clever addition, and should go a ways toward shutting up random meatheads who’d say “there’s no way that little chick would kick MY ass – I could take anything she threw at me.”  Yeah, but after the fifteenth time getting walloped in the dome, you might lose consciousness, ya think?

The stuntwork (and not just by Yamin) is, as to be expected from these guys, nothing short of amazing and it never fails to blow my mind just how far they’ll go to get the shot.  I mean, this shit can be BRUTAL – but it’s so much better to watch all of this and know it’s actually in-camera stunts and real guys getting really hurt (I refrain from feeling bad about deriving such pleasure from it by telling myself that they‘re professionals). There’s a montage over the end credits of all the mistakes and injuries, Jackie-Chan style; proof positive that you’re getting your money’s worth as a viewer.  There’s acrobatics that Tony Jaa would smile at, epic beatdowns a-plenty, and it never gets old.  Matter of fact,  the final 40 minutes is simply one sustained action sequence, broken up by a minute or two here and there so the craziness can move to a new location.  Not to mention the final fight scene, which takes place outside a four-story hotel. . .wait.  I meant it takes place on THE SIDE of a four-story hotel, going up and down, through windows and on top of signposts coming out of the walls and across to the overpass directly across the street and back to the sides of the hotel again.  This seems to go on for ten straight minutes and is brilliantly choreographed, shot, and executed in every single conceivable way.  It’s without a doubt one of the top ten fight scenes or action sequences I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness.

As far as the DVD features go, I have no idea as I checked this out on Netflix instant streaming, but a glance online tells me that the only extra is a EPK featurette from Thai TV.  So I suppose that could be cooler but we aren’t in this for the bells and whistles, people – we showed up to see some badass action and that’s what they smacked us in the face with.

Basically if you get off on a good kung-fu flick you’ll love this.  I talked to a friend of mine immediately after seeing it, and while he enjoyed it, he did bitch a little about “the video-game nature of it all.”  You know, that every action sequence is topped by the one after it, they get more and more elaborate as it goes on, not unlike levels in a game, complete with a big-boss type at the end.  I gotta say, it’s not that I disagree with him – it’s that I DON’T CARE.  When I’m having this much fun watching a movie that kicks this much ass for so much of the running time, little nitpicks about bullshit like “plot” and “character” and “good writing” seem beside the point.  Not with every movie, mind you.  But certainly with this movie, and that ain‘t a bad thing.

From Horrorview

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Film of the Day: The Straight Story (1999)

BY ROGER EBERTOctober 15, 1999

The first time I saw “The Straight Story,” I focused on the foreground and liked it. The second time I focused on the background, too, and loved it. The movie isn’t just about the old Alvin Straight’s odyssey through the sleepy towns and rural districts of the Midwest, but about the people he finds to listen and care for him. You’d think it was a fantasy, this kindness of strangers, if the movie weren’t based on a true story.

Straight (Richard Farnsworth) is a 73-year-old man from in Laurens, Iowa, who learns that his brother is dying and wants to see him one last time. His eyes are too bad to allow him to drive. He lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who is somewhat retarded and no good behind the wheel. Nor do they have a car. But they have a tractor-style lawn mower, and the moment Alvin’s eyes light on it, he knows how he can drive the 300 miles to Mt. Zion, Wis. The first mower konks out, but he gets another one, a John Deere, hitches a little trailer to it, and stubbornly sets off down the road.

Along the way we will learn a lot about Alvin, including a painful secret he has kept ever since the war. He is not a sophisticated man, but when he speaks, the words come out like the bricks of a wall built to last. Like Hemingway’s dialogue, the screenplay by John Roach and Mary Sweeney finds poetry and truth in the exact choice of the right everyday words. Richard Farnsworth, who was 79 when he made the film, speaks the lines with perfect repose and conviction.

Because the film was directed by David Lynch, who usually deals in the bizarre (“Wild at Heart,” “Twin Peaks”), we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop–for Alvin’s odyssey to intersect with the Twilight Zone. But it never does. Even when he encounters a potential weirdo, like the distraught woman whose car has killed 14 deer in one week on the same stretch of highway (“. . . and I HAVE to take this road!”), she’s not a sideshow exhibit and we think, yeah, you can hit a lot of deer on those country roads.

Alvin’s journey to his brother is a journey into his past. He remembers when they were young and filled with wonder. He tells a stranger, “I want to sit with him and look up at the stars, like we used to, so long ago.” He remembers his courtship and marriage. His Army service as a sniper whose aim, one day, was too good. And about years lost to drinking and nastiness. He has emerged from the forge of his imperfections as a better man, purified, simple, and people along the way seem to sense that.

My favorite, of all of his stops, comes in a town where he’s almost killed when he loses a drive belt and speeds out of control down a hill. He comes to rest where some people in lawn chairs are watching the local firefighters practicing putting out a fire.

In the town are twin brothers who squabble all the time, even while charging him by the hour to repair the mower. And a retired John Deere employee named Danny Riordan (James Cada), who lets Alvin camp for a while in his backyard (Alvin won’t enter the house, even to use the phone).

Danny is a rare man of instinctive sweetness and tact, who sees what the situation requires and supplies it without display. He embodies all of our own feelings about this lovable old–yes, fool. He gently offers advice, but Alvin is firm: “You’re a kind man talking to a stubborn man.” If Riordan and the deer lady and the dueling twins (and a forlorn young girl) are the background I was talking about, so are the locations themselves. The cinematographer,Freddie Francis, who once made the vastness of Utah a backdrop for “The Executioner’s Song,” knows how to evoke a landscape without making it too comforting. There are fields of waving corn and grain here, and rivers and woods and little bed barns, but on the soundtrack the wind whispering in the trees plays a sad and lonely song, and we are reminded not of the fields we drive past on our way to picnics, but on our way to funerals, on autumn days when the roads are empty.

The faces in this movie are among its treasures. Farnsworth himself has a face like an old wrinkled billfold that he paid good money for and expects to see him out. There is another old man who sits next to him on a barstool near the end of the movie, whose face is like the witness to time. And look and listen to the actor who plays the bartender in that same late scene, the one who serves Alvin the Miller Lite. I can’t find his name in the credits, but he finds the right note: He knows how all good bartenders can seem like a friend bringing a present to a sickroom.

The last notes are also just right. Who will this dying brother be, and what will he say? Will the screenplay say too much or reach for easy sentimentality? Not at all. Just because you have to see someone doesn’t mean you have a lot to gab about. No matter how far you’ve come.

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Film of the Day: Let Me In (2010)

Let Me In
BY ROGER EBERTSeptember 29, 2010
“Let Me In,” like the Swedish film that inspired it, deals brutally with the tragic life of the vampire. It’s not all fun, games and Team Edward. No lifestyle depending on fresh human blood can be anything but desperate. A vampire, like a drug addict, is driven by need. After a certain point, all else is irrelevant, and the focus is on the craving.

The film is remarkably similar in tone and approach to “Let the Right One In,” and it is clear that the American writer-director, Matt Reeves, has admiration for the Swedish writer-director, John Ajvide Lindqvist, who made the original. Reeves understands what made the first film so eerie and effective, and here the same things work again. Most U.S. audiences will be experiencing the story for the first time. Those who know the 2008 version will notice some differences, but may appreciate them.

The core story remains similar. Owen, a boy on the brink of adolescence, lives a lonely life in a snowbound apartment complex with an alcoholic mother, hardly seen. He is bullied at school by a sadistic boy, much larger. A girl named Abby and her father move into the next apartment. She announces “I can never be your friend,” but some latent kindness causes her to feel protective toward the lonely and abused child. Abby is a vampire, but vampires have their reality forced upon them, and having lived for a long time, may have seen much to make them pity the living.

The story focuses tightly on Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Moretz, of “Kick Ass”). Two other adults are of consequence: Her “father” (Richard Jenkins), who can hardly be her father and was probably, long ago, in Owen’s shoes. In vampire lore, he is her Familiar. The other adult is a local policeman, played by Elias Koteas as a saturnine and solemn man. He’s investigating a serial killer in the region. Where there are vampires, there must always be serial killers.

The night and the cold are also characters. The film is shot in chill tones of blue and gray, Owen and Abby have uncanny pale skin, there is frost on his breath, but not on hers. She doesn’t feel the cold, we gather. Or the warmth. Many of the events are the same in both films, although the U.S. version adds one surprise that comes at a useful time to introduce frightening possibilities: This is not a safe world, and bad things can happen.

Both films end with scenes set in a swimming pool at night. The windows, high up under the ceiling to admit sunlight, are dark and cold. We can imagine the clammy tiles, the chill in the locker-room where Owen is so often picked on. The bullies call him a “girl” and seem obsessed with seeing his genitals — homophobic cruelty that casts a sad light on the first film’s revelation about Abby’s body. Both these characters feel sexually threatened or inadequate. It may only be me, but as I recall indoor swimming pools at night in winter (at high school, or the YMCA), they always had a whiff of mournful dread.

In the “Twilight” films, sexuality is treated as a tease. The handsome Edward is cast as a sexy but dangerous threat, who manfully holds back from sex with Bella Swan. She’s tempted, but the films are cautionary fables about the danger of teenage sex. In “Let Me In,” sex is seen more as a troubling encroachment on privacy. Owen and Abby for their own reasons quail from intimacy and contact, and their only sensuous moments involve the comfort of close, tender hugs.

Where this will lead is easy to guess. Owen will move into Abby’s life as her next Familiar. She will protect him. Among the things she will save him from is the necessity of growing up and functioning as a normal male. She will control everything. Thus Bela’s sweet masochism will become Owen’s hunger to give over control. To be a servant is the price for not being a victim. Those hoping to see a “vampire movie” will be surprised by a good film.

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Film of the Day: The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Review by Harvey O’Brien PhD.

Like Boys Don’t CryThe Virgin Suicides is a film about an enclosed, ritualistic world which fascinates outsiders. In this case it is a feminine world, specifically the life of a Catholic family in the 1970s. They have five beautiful daughters who prove an endless source of wonder and dumbfoundment to a group of high school boys who observe them from afar. The boys never understand them, and years later they continue to speculate on why all of them committed suicide (not a spoiler: the voice over tells us this at the beginning). As a cinematic essay about enigmas and the impenetrable, almost arcane firmament of Catholicism and femininity, director Sofia Coppola’s film works pretty well. She demonstrates some understanding of composition and narrative rhythm which keeps the audience at arm’s length from the action, inviting them to share the male narrator’s sense of curiosity and frustration. Like a suburban American Picnic at Hanging Rock, the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts, refusing resolution, investigation, and analysis in favour of a sort of transcendent mystery. This will appeal to those who find the only shred of explanation offered (“you’ve obviously never been a thirteen year old girl”) reason enough to do this, but may frustrate those who, like the hapless males who watch and fail to learn throughout the movie, would like to know more and understand the consequences of what we see.

To be fair, Coppola gives us plenty of incidental detail which contextualises the events. We are presented with enough visual evidence to understand the psychological enclosure and sense of familial bonds which has created this largely hidden world. Kathleen Turner and James Woods  give quiet but excellent performances as the well-meaning parents whose own mental entrenchment is at least partly responsible for the tragedy. Neither are completely irredeemable, and the script provides moments of insight into their personalities which show them not as repressive ogres or caricatures, but people attempting to raise their daughters well (according to their standards, of course). But, through the use of costumes and decor, Coppola presents physical space in the family home in terms of claustrophobia, and the relatively simple visual style of the movie adds to this. The girls are rarely separate from one another as personalities, with only Kirsten Dunst emerging as a rebellious spirit who expresses herself through sexual energy (adding to the boys’ fascination with her, of course, and providing the film with the opportunity to make some references to voyeurism). Keeping the action and characters this tightly drawn together, Coppola gives herself less room to make mistakes, and this pays off at least insofar as it does give a sense of the hows and whys of the girls’ psychological and physical incarceration. It also further contribute to the frustrating sense of borderline mysticism, of course, but this is, after all, precisely the point. The same flaw (or feature) mars (or reinforces) the sub-text of exploring the role of teenagers in society, with a hissable news reporter popping in at the fringes of the story every now and then to remind us that such things have wider importance. […]

From Harvey´s Movie Reviews.

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Film of the Day: Monster´s Ball (2001)

With his performances in the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There and now Monster’s Ball, Billy Bob Thornton has shown he’s able to command the screen with seemingly minimal effort. His ability to eliminate the flashy and unnecessary, stripping characters down to their bare essentials while retaining their essence, is a gift few actors possess and one exemplified by his masterful portrayal of the conflicted and pained Hank Grotowski. With just a look he is able to relay his character’s vulnerability aligned to an inner strength, a necessity when playing the taciturn Grotowski. Monster’s Ball is a quiet, contemplative film, filled with space and unspoken feelings that lures you in with its message of hope, a hope that overcomes unfathomable loss.

Marc Foster, the young Swiss director, shows patient respect for the script by Milo Addica and Will Rockos that captures perfectly the empty and unhurried life of the South. Although set in modern day Georgia, Monster’s Ball is a timeless depiction of a parochial existence where change is discouraged and racial prejudice still abounds.

Three generations of Grotowski men all share the same house, the same career, and in the one whore town where they live, Hank and his son Sonny (a mature and charged Heath Ledger) even share the same hooker. It’s their values that divide them. Hank’s father, the bigoted and racist Buck, (an excellent Peter Boyle) had been the unchallenged patriarch until infirmity now threatens his position. Hank still echoes his father’s extreme views, but with less conviction while Sonny incurs the wrath of his elders by adhering little to their credos. Tensions between Hank and Sonny erupt violently at their work as correctional officers, when Hank, who is in charge of carrying out the execution of the cop killing Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), attacks Sonny for what he considers to be an exhibition of weakness. For the sensitive Sonny, it’s the final straw and in one shocking and brutal moment, Hank’s life is changed forever.

When Hank meets a recently widowed black waitress Leticia (Halle Berry), he has becomes liberated from the burden of respect he once held for his father and his father’s values and he and the single mother become passionate lovers, unified by grief when further tragedy befalls Leticia. Throughout, Monster’s Ball is sustained by an overarching sense of expectation due to the fact that Leticia, whose surname is Musgrove, is unaware of Hank’s involvement in her husband’s execution. When the realisation finally comes, she exhibits a lingering and beguiling look that reveals everything and nothing about her state of mind.

Halle Berry’s naked (in every sense of the word) performance is the equal of Thornton’s although it’s hard to accept someone so beautiful would exist in such a drab world. With only minor implausibilities to hold against it, Monster’s Ball is a moving and evocative drama that deserves an audience and a lot of recognition for its two stars.

From TalkTalk Review

GREAT FILM. WATCH IT.

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Film of the Day: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

[…]Despite jumping through the deliberately disorienting hoops of its story, “Eternal Sunshine” has an emotional center, and that’s what makes it work. Although Joel and Clementine ping-pong through various stages of romance and reality, what remains constant is the human need for love and companionship, and the human compulsion to keep seeking it, despite all odds. It may also be true that Joel and Clementine, who seem to be such opposites (he is shy and compulsive, she is extroverted and even wild), might be a good match for each other, and so if they keep on meeting they will keep on falling in love, and Lacuna Inc. may have to be replaced with the Witness Protection Program.

For Jim Carrey, this is another successful attempt, like “The Truman Show” and the underrated “The Majestic,” to extend himself beyond screwball comedy. He has an everyman appeal, and here he dials down his natural energy to give us a man who is so lonely and needy that a fragment of memory is better than none at all. Kate Winslet is the right foil for him, exasperated by Joel’s peculiarities while paradoxically fond of them. The shenanigans back at Lacuna belong on a different level of reality, but even there, secrets are revealed that are oddly touching.

Kaufman’s mission seems to be the penetration of the human mind. His characters journeyed into the skull of John Malkovich, and there is a good possibility that two of them were inhabiting the same body in “Adaptation.” But both of those movies were about characters trying to achieve something outside themselves. The insight of “Eternal Sunshine” is that, at the end of the day, our memories are all we really have, and when they’re gone, we’re gone.

From the review by Roger Ebert

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