Insomnia

Insomnia is a 2002 psychological thriller mystery film directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Hillary Seitz. It is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. The film stars Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, and Martin Donovan. Insomnia is the only work in Nolan’s filmography so far in which he does have at least a co-writing credit, although he did write the final draft of the script.

Pacino stars as Detective Will Dormer, a reputable Los Angeles homicide detective who, while under an intense investigation by Internal Affairs, is requested to travel to the small Alaskan town of Nightmute to solve the murder of a 17-year-old girl. Nightmute’s chief of police is an old friend of Dormer’s, and it is implied that he requested Dormer and his partner Hap Eckhart to get the heat off of them for a while. While conducting the initial investigation, Eckhart informs his partner that he feels he must testify on behalf of Internal Affairs, who offered him a more lenient sentence for cooperation. This angers Dormer immensely.

While setting an ambush for the killer, Dormer, lost in fog and disoriented, shoots Eckhart and kills him. While dying, his partner accuses him of killing him to thwart his impending I.A. testimony. Dormer, knowing it will look highly suspicious, covers up the friendly fire incident. Plagued with guilt over his partner’s death, Dormer begins experiencing insomnia, further exacerbated by the perpetual daylight. He is also taunted with phone calls from the suspect, who witnessed the shooting of Eckhart.

The focus of Insomnia is not the mystery of who killed Kay Connell. That aspect of the film is actually very straightforward. Insomnia is rather the effects of guilt on a person’s psyche. Anchored with talented performances by Pacino and a surprisingly menacing Robin Williams, Insomnia also features a very tight and focused script by Seitz that is very effective in getting at the deeper themes of the story. Featuring brilliant cinematography from longtime Nolan mainstay Wally Pfister and a fittingly dark score by David Julyan, everything about Insomnia is effectively focused on portraying a man plagued by guilt over his actions and paranoid that the web of lies he spun to hide them will be broken at any given moment.

As Nolan’s first big-budget feature following Following (ha!) and MomentoInsomnia is another demonstration of the British auter’s talent and prowess concerning stories of a deeply personal and emotional nature, which is most likely the reason he was given the duty of reinventing (and rehabilitating, thanks to the laughingstock that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin in 1997) Batman with 2005’s Batman Begins, the launch of the trilogy that not only re-introduced Batman to a new generation and gave us the best imagining of The Joker to date, but also cemented Nolan’s status as one of the most popular filmmakers of the last ten years.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven is a 2016 Western action film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. It is a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, which was, in turn, a Westernized version of the 1954 Japanese period epic Seven Samurai. The film stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onoforio, Lee Byung-Hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, and Peter Sarsgaard. In post-Civil War America, corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bouge threatens the town of Rose Creek. Bouge needs the small mining town for his industrial operations. The besieged townspeople have three weeks to save their town. After her husband is killed by Bouge, Emma Cullen and her friend Teddy set out to find some heroes to protect their town. After recruiting the resolute and stalwart Sam Chisholm, they happen upon gunslinger, gambler, and drinker Josh Farraday, who joins them. Chisholm, duly sworn warrant officer of Wichita,  Kansas and (insert host of other occupations I can’t remember) finds his old friend, ex-Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux and his knife-wielding companion Billy Rocks. The group also manages to recruit the eccentric and possibly unstable tracker Jack Horne and Mexican outlaw Vasquez. The group is then completed after happening upon lone Comanche warrior Red Hawk. The group then prepares to defend the town from Bouge.

I am a fan of Westerns. I love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Dollars Trilogy, and I wrote a paper on Unforgiven last semester. I must admit, I was meaning to see the original 1960 film, but never got around to it. I can only hope that the original was better than this. For your information, I left out nothing important in that summary. Nothing of consequence happens that you, the reader, are left unaware of. The only backstories that are ever mentioned are the fact that Bouge murdered Chisholm’s family in Lincoln, Kansas, which is discussed in the first 1/3 of the movie, and the fact that Goodnight doesn’t kill anymore because violence is wrong. You learn nothing of interest about Farraday, Rocks, Horne, or Red Hawk, beyond the fact that they are good guys. You do not care about the characters at all. The plot, though not what I’d call “thin,” is exceedingly generic and reeks of boredom.

There are some amazing films with generic plots, however. John Wick revolves around revenge for a dead puppy; an excuse to showcase mind-blowing action sequences, great set design, and world building. John Wick was also great at exposition. It didn’t tell you worthless information, and told you just enough to make John Wick a scary, badass guy, even to the viewer, which is why the film works so well. Sadly, this is not the case The Magnificent Seven, in which the action sequences, of which their where only about three or four, and just one big one, are as generic as its plot and characters. The film is also loaded up with needless exposition that desperately tries to make you connect with these characters, and it fails miserably.

The acting also leaves much to be desired. I like Denzel Washington in everything I see him in. I feel he is very charismatic and just feels like an empathetic dude in general. Here, though, Washington sleepwalks through this role. Sam doesn’t seem very impassioned about hunting down the dude who killed his family, even when doing the deed. When confronting Bogue, I did not see anger or frustration. The best way I can describe Denzel in this movie is that he wasn’t playing a character, Denzel was playing “Denzel playing a character in a movie,” like RDJ as a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude in Tropic Thunder, but in real life. Chris Pratt is his normal, likable, charming self, but he doesn’t elevate the movie. Basically, everyone in this film is passable, but no one is excellent. I will say two things, though. D’Onoforio’s character is very eccentric, and for some reason, he literally speaks like this the entire movie. It is very irritating and takes away from his character. Peter Sarsgaard, who is the worst actor in his family, plays Bouge. Bouge only has about fifteen minutes of screen time throughout the entirety of the film, and he does nothing scary or intimidating beyond the generic “shoot my own henchmen because I’m a bad guy” thing. He has no motivation for his actions beyond evilness, and Sarsgaard acts his entire character as a very, very poor imitation of Christoph Waltz, playing the sophisticated psychopath, and doing it badly. Also, I may be wrong, but I am almost positive in both Seven Samurai (which I’ve seen) and the original 1960 film, the villains were bandits, who were by definition, outside the law. In the film, Bouge is an industrialist with a mansion, mercenaries, a corporation, the whole nine yards. What he is doing is obviously wrong. They do explain that he has law enforcement on his payroll to look the other way, but there would be some sort of intervention on the federal level. You can’t just murder/enslave entire towns for your otherwise legitimate mining corporation and not expect someone in the federal government to be like “Hold on.” I know that’s a little nitpicky, but to be honest, it’s a rather huge plot hole that no one explains, ever. Why not just make them bandits? They’re scarier anyway.

I watched this film together, with the family, at the behest of my father. You see, I love my family, but I don’t watch movies with them because my Dad’s a talker. Not in the theater, just at home, which is OK. I just can’t get invested when my Dad interjects with a comment on random things at random points. You see, the last time we had a family viewing, the film was Pacific Rim, the (somehow) cult classic monster vs. mechs Guillermo del Toro film that I and the entirety of my family despise with a passion. I will admit that we were in a townhouse at the time while constructing our new house, so we watched it on a relatively small 52″ (which sounds big, but not really) on normal stereo TV sound. I have read that the film is much better in IMAX with theater sound, but I honestly don’t care. Myself, my mother, my father, and my best friend (thankfully my brother slept over at a friend’s house, so he was spared) all hated everything about it. I will never watch it again. So Dad had to beg me to sit down and watch this with the family. I acquiesced; I wasn’t expecting anything mind-blowing, but I was interested to see this film, figuring, if nothing else it would be flawed yet sufficiently entertaining. For the record, I sat on the couch for this one. I got out of my chair and sat on the couch. I watched the entire thing through, I did not space out or get distracted.

Despite all of my complaints and ripping into this movie, I will admit that The Magnificent Seven is not a bad film. It’s not. There is nothing horrible or glaringly, unconscionably deficient about it. In theory, it is all perfectly acceptable. Everything is decent all around. The problem with that is that with everything perfectly acceptable, there’s nothing notable about it. The Magnificent Seven is not a bad film, but it had both me and my brother both bored out of our minds. I am ashamed to say this, but my brother and I interjected more than Dad. There’s nothing here; at least with a movie as bad as Pacific Rim, there would be stuff to talk about. You can have a conversation about it’s badness, which I have had countless times concerning Pacific Rim, trust me. It’s been a few days since I saw The Magnificent Seven. I didn’t post a review right away because I was struggling to think of things to say. Like I said, it’s a movie. That’s it. It is neither notably bad nor any good. I will say my father enjoyed it much more than I did. It’s not a crisis like Pacific Rim was, but I would avoid this if I were you, unless you’re curious to see if it’s boring for you, too.  If I gave scores The Magnificent Seven would get “null/undefined.” Shoulda picked Keanu instead.