Reviewd this week: Insomnia, Enough, Life or Something Like It, Windtalkers
insomnia (Warner Home Video, 2002) D: Christopher Nolan, w/ Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank. $34.90. Rating: NNNNN
Red Dragon, a remake of Manhunter that uses the original movie's cinematographer, is currently in the theatres, and The Ring, which verges on being a shot-for-shot remake of a four-year-old Japanese horror film, arrives tomorrow (Friday, October 18). But here's a remake of a recent film that avoids the American sin of slavish copying, instead reinterpreting its foreign model.
In Insomnia, two detectives come from the south to the land of the midnight sun to investigate a brutal homicide. During the manhunt, one cop accidentally kills the other and tries to cover up his crime, only to discover that there's a witness -- the very murderer he's hunting.
The Norwegian Insomnia, Erik Skjoldbjaerg's debut feature, with Stellan Skarsgärd as the detective, is good, and bleakly Scandinavian. The American remake, Memento director Christopher Nolan's third feature, is better. (It's easy to compare the two -- there's an excellent Criterion DVD of the original.)
Nolan and screenwriter Hillary Seitz give Al Pacino's cop layers of motivation and ambiguity that Skarsgärd's character lacks. For instance, in the original there's no reason for him to cover up the fact that he's shot his partner, since he had no motivation to kill him. Pacino's character does, which makes the accident more problematic.
This sets up an acting duel between Pacino and Robin Williams, and both Oscar winners are on best behaviour. Pacino never suddenly starts yelling, and of Williams's trilogy of bad-guy performances this year, this is the most compellingly realistic. Get the wide-screen edition to appreciate Wally Pfister's stunning cinematography.
One of the year's best films.
EXTRAS A unique director commentary: Nolan scrambles the film and shows it in shooting order, no surprise from the director of Memento. Scene-specific commentary by Swank, Seitz, the cinematographer and editor, various making-of featurettes, short documentary on the eponymous affliction, trailer, stills gallery, English and French dubbed versions, English, French and Spanish subtitles
enough (Columbia Tri-Star, 2002) D: Michael Apted w/ Jennifer Lopez, Bill Campbell. $36.95. Rating: N
Here's a hint on how to tell if a movie sucks. The rave quote on the front of the video box -- "The thriller of the year!" -- comes from Ari Fischbach of Fox All-Access Countdown. You're saying, "Who? From Where?" Which is the point. Even the well-known blurb whores gave up on it. And the movie in question is a thriller directed by Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, 35 Up). Apted is good with documentaries, biopics and courtroom dramas but can't direct thrillers. Enough is Sleeping With The Enemy if Julia Roberts had gone into training and then kicked her abusive hubby's ass. Jennifer Lopez stars, and what's really unbelievable here is that after what seems like only a few weeks' training she can take someone a foot taller than she is. It's very difficult to overcome someone with an extra 8 or 9 inches of reach. Enough? Hardly.
EXTRAS Trailer, Jennifer Lopez music video, English, French versions, subtitles.
life or something like it (Fox Home Entertainment, 2002) D: Stephen Herek, w/ Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns. $31. Rating: NN
Life Or Something Like It raises important questions like "Will Angelina Jolie ever pick a script that doesn't stink?" and "Who decided that someone with her colouring should be blond in this picture?"
Jolie plays a vain, shallow and ambitious Seattle TV news personality confronted by a street psychic (Tony Shalhoub) who tells her she's going to die in a week. To redeem herself, she must face the emptiness of her life and, apparently, become a frantically busy life force.
There are few things more embarrassing than watching an essentially dark, serious actor discover her inner goofball. In the commentary, director Herek (Rock Star) keeps talking about cut scenes that sound far more interesting than what's in the film, but they aren't included on the DVD.
EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical trailer, wide-screen and full-screen versions, French, Spanish and English versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
windtalkers (MGM Home Video, 2002) D: John Woo, w/ Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach. $34.90. Rating: NNN
John Woo's Windtalkers, an extravaganza of explosions and exit wounds, depicts the taking of the Japanese island of Saipan during the second world war from the point of view of a young Navajo codetalker (Beach) and his bodyguard, a decorated Marine sergeant played by Nicolas Cage.
Plainly, Woo was more interested in filming full-scale battles than in dealing with an actual story, and the screenplay, or what's left of it, doesn't get much play between the clichés of the American war movie. For once, Woo's action isn't entirely coherent; every time Mark Ruffalo pops up, you're thinking, "Didn't you die in the last battle?" As empty-headed action pictures go, this one is better than most, but if you're exploring Woo for the first time, this is the last picture to pick up, not a starting point. And I'm writing as someone who liked Mission Impossible 2.
EXTRAS Skimpy presentation -- the only extras are the theatrical trailers and the teaser for Die Another Day. English, French and Spanish soundtracks and subtitles.JOHN HARKNESS
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy