Tuesday, April 8, 2014



I am determined to use my confinement and convalescence as a time to catch up on my life and on film viewing. I have been entirely too neglectful of some of the other ventures in my life such as my line of clothes, make-up and collector items. I have hired a staff of round the clock nurses to see to my needs while I am immobile and have been in close contact with my dear advisers such as Joseph and Madame Rose to make sure that the name Mrs. Norman Maine will be connected with positive influences, rather than with exploding ice rinks and zambonis.

Our first order of business has been to file suit against Flamingo Fresh feminine products for foisting dangerous consumer goods upon an unsuspecting world. Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, have been hard at work making sure that the media are well aware that combustible sanitary napkins are the true villains in this little disaster. I have been promised a centerfold story in the next issue of The Weekly World News. I also had my attorneys subpoena the footage from the Project GreenLester crew to prove my case; unfortunately, I have been informed that all the tapes have already been forwarded to America's Funniest Home Videos for a possible one hour special. I am somewhat aghast that my troubles, especially my serious injury, could be treated so cavalierly, but then free publicity is free publicity.

I have a brief moment between phone calls and important faxes to catch all my fans up on my summer film going. Last week, shortly before the incident at Rosita's Ice-A-Rama, I managed to catch the new Christopher Nolan film, Insomnia, at the local Cineplex. Nolan, the auteur behind last year's puzzler Memento, has this time remade a Norwegian film from 1997 which originally starred international actor Stellan Skarsgard (Breaking the Waves, Good Will Hunting). The original, a moody thriller about an inspector investigating a murder in a town in the far north of Norway, has been Americanized to Alaska with Al Pacino stepping into the lead role.

Al Pacino plays Detective Will Dormer (a sophisticated pun on the French verb, to sleep), a legendary homicide detective from the LA Police Department who is loaned, together with his partner (Martin Donovan in a role that functions mainly as plot device) to the town of Nightmute (a less sophisticated pun), Alaska where a local girl has been found brutally murdered and dumped at the landfill. The local police consist of a couple of Texas Ranger types and the hot shot young female, Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who hero-worships Dormer and is determined to prove herself to him.

Some good detective work on the part of the Los Angelenos and young Ellie leads to the cornering of a suspect on a foggy day at the beach. Shots are exchanged and the wrong person ends up dead. Soon the suspect, a local hack novelist (Robin Williams in gritty evil mode), contacts Dormer - accusing him of deliberately gunning down his partner. Dormer has a motive - LA internal affairs is hot on his case about improper detective work and his partner was about to crack. The movie then shifts gears from police procedural to deadly cat and mouse game between Pacino and Williams, flip sides of the same broken coin.

The title refers to Pacino's reaction to the land of the midnight sun. It's high summer in Alaska and the sun isn't setting and, no matter how much Pacino tries to blot out the light, it creeps into his room and prevents his ability to sleep - or is it his guilty conscience at work. With each additional sleepless night, he becomes greyer and more hangdog and less able to make the right decisions with his highly trained mind.

Hillary Seitz adapted the original Norwegian screenplay to its American setting and keeps more or less the same story shape. The details have been Americanized, but some of the same Scandinavian moodiness and angst remains making the film more interesting than most Hollywood entries in the police genre. Director Nolan also does good work, drawing subtle performances from his talented cast and making the scenery (British Columbia doubling for Alaska) work for him. The clouds, the ever present grey light, the temperate rain forests, and the rolling fog off slate beaches are as much part of the ambience of the film as the human characters, and, in establishing shots, completely dwarf human activity with the immensity of the landscape. This is a hardscrabble society, perched on the edge of an oblivious landscape. Only the hardy, escapees from somewhere else, can make it here and the film returns again and again to that theme of escape.

Pacino gives one of his best performances in years as the tormented Dormer. He's been reined in by Nolan into a quiet and reflective mode, rather than the gross scenery chewing he's been want to do in recent times. Williams, while more histrionic, is also toned down to human scale, giving a performance more like some of his early dramatic roles than the oversized caricatures he's specialized in lately. Their scenes together are intricate and subtle dances of dominance and guile which bear repeated viewing. Hillary Swank, as our heroine, isn't given enough to do, but creates a very human Ellie, torn between her professional ambitions and her emotional side. Unfortunately, the script has her play damsel in distress in the third act but she gets enough good scenes earlier to forgive her.

Insomnia is a better film than it should have been, mainly due to Nolan working with a talented cast. It's worth a look at the local matinee or, if it's been replaced by endless showings of Scooby Doo, watch for the video release.

Manicured corpse fingernails. Plastic sheeting. Angry young man. Revolver in oil drum. Revolver in heating vent. Secretly taped conversations. Ferry boat rides. Lakeside cabin. Sympathetic inn keeper.

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