Piecing together puzzling movies

Nicola Dove/Courtesy

Related Posts

I see dead people, and you know damn well why. It’s that time of year, when the numbing, entropic hellscape of a “Transformers” third act is made real; that time of year when we all become Sean Bean, meeting the unyielding embrace of certain doom in myriad, creative ways; that time of year when the possibility of a 4.0 becomes lost in time, like tears in rain. The horror. The horror.

But not all is lost — here are some movie recommendations for when you want to take a much-deserved break. 

‘Memento’ — available on Netflix

If you thought Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was bewildering, just try wrapping your head around the storylines Nolan presents in “Memento.”

Indeed, the fun of this crime thriller is not that the narrative assembles itself in clever fashion. Rather, “Memento” presents disparate puzzle pieces and asks the viewer to connect them — a reflection of Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby, who has anterograde amnesia and can’t retain recent memories. If nothing else, “Memento” is eminently relatable — as a character who tattoos important information on himself, Leonard would understand what it’s like to fit a semester’s worth of knowledge onto one tiny flashcard.

The Handmaiden’ — available on Amazon Prime Video

Park Chan-wook’s latest puzzler just might be his best, a lesbian love story crafted with the utmost sensitivity — and one predicated on twists and turns — all tinged with darkness until the narratives of the film reveal its affecting emotional center. The Daily Californian’s own former arts & entertainment editor Joshua Bote said it best — “The Handmaiden” is “a treat wrapped in barbed wire.”  

Even though the film is dependent on two narratives meeting each other, those of the lovers at the center of the film, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) and Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), the genius of the film is how layers of the meticulous plot unravel — the uniting of individual puzzle pieces takes a backseat to seeing how the film deconstructs the narrative facade it initially presents. There isn’t a more delightfully twisty film on this list.

Colossal’ — available on Hulu

Director Nacho Vigalondo’s film is like a fully assembled puzzle that’s swept off a table — “Colossal” knows what it’s like to fall apart (oh look, another dead week metaphor).

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a writer struggling with alcoholism, and she has no choice but to return to her hometown in the hopes of finding a fresh start. Throughout the film, toxic men manipulate Gloria’s alcoholism, leveraging her for their own gain. So when Gloria finds herself in control of a massive monster, it’s at once empowering and just downright vitalizing, and it’s not long before Gloria has the monster dance in a South Korean cityscape. There’s plenty of darkness in “Colossal,” but just enough humor to suggest that things will be OK in the end.  

Murder on the Orient Express’ — playing at UA Berkeley 7

Director Kenneth Branagh’s decision to shoot this latest Agatha Christie adaptation with a Panavision 65mm camera lends the film with a special degree of mimesis, creating a deep sense of immersion that’s perfect for escaping the drudgery of dead week. The film’s perennially popular tale certainly lends itself to this immersion, too — it’d be impossible not to become captivated by the twists and turns of Christie’s murder mystery — or, in the case of this adaptation, by the perplexing layers of Branagh’s mustache. It’s frustrating that “Murder on the Orient Express” features the problematic Johnny Depp, but in a meta way, the film acts on our frustrations with the actor. Ultimately, the film should offer a satisfying break from the rigor of studying.

Harrison Tunggal is the arts editor. Contact him at [email protected]