August 2015 Film Diary, Part 2


The rest of the newer movies I watched this month, here’s part 1.

Insomnia (2002). Great Chris Nolan thriller (remake of the 1997 Norwegian film which I need to see now) with detective Al Pacino working on a case in Alaska while Internal Affairs investigates him back in LA. The sun never sets so he goes days without sleep and accidentally kills his partner in the fog. He covers it up and blames it on the murderer they’re after (Robin Williams) who then uses that crime to appoint himself Pacino’s silent partner and get his protection. Hilary Swank is good as the eager and underestimated local cop, but the main attraction is the interaction of the leads, equally haunted, doomed and locked together by similarly tragic decisions and deception.


The Bag Man (2014). Try-hard pulp thriller with silly dialogue, twists and characters. John Cusack waits at a sleazy motel for boss Robert De Niro to pick up a mystery bag. While there he gets mixed up with a hooker and local lowlifes. De Niro looks like Dustin Hoffman playing a mobster. Not much else to say but a great time to mention how much I like Dominic Purcell, here playing a corrupt sheriff, and consistently good in a range of tough character parts.


The Two Faces of January (2014). Patricia Highsmith novel, directorial debut of Hossein Amini, screenwriter of Drive and The Wings of the Dove. American tourist couple Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are visiting Greece in 1962. Looking like easy marks and moneybags, they attract US expat, tour guide and slick grifter Oscar Isaac. Mortensen has secrets too; he’s a bitter and insecure alcoholic with a detective on his tail. After a crime, the couple need Isaac’s help to escape Greece, the men vie for Dunst’s affection and get stuck in a weird accomplice-father-son dynamic. Classy and attractive but should have been a lot more exciting.


The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza, 2013). Art film on a grand scale. The beautiful: rich visuals, Roman landmarks, music and architecture, grand scenes and set pieces that unfold slowly, draw from and comment on Italian history, religion and culture. The ugly: decadence, pretension, dilettantism, idiotic outbursts peddled as “art.” Likable novelist Jep (Toni Servillo) writes on culture, is an arbiter of taste and a fixture of Rome’s nightlife. At 65, he’s shaken by the death of his first love and finds himself bored, unfulfilled, swamped by regret and lost potential, and searches for true beauty. Along the way he skewers phonies, dismantles unoriginal creatives (the woman who makes performance art of running into walls is precious),and destroys the illusions of pompous friends.


Before I Go to Sleep (2014). Memento meets Gaslight in this disturbing thriller based on a bestseller. Amnesiac Nicole Kidman wakes up every morning a blank slate with a husband (Colin Firth) to fill her in on her life story, and a doctor (Mark Strong) to remind her about the video she made yesterday. Every day she begins again, gathering pieces of her puzzle, recording and rewatching some and forgetting others: a dead son, an abusive husband, a sneaky doctor, a scarfaced attacker who caused her head injury, a long lost friend with a secret. Great concept kept aloft by exciting pace, a rich part very well played by Kidman, but trips up at the end due to gaping plot holes and weak explanations.


Out of the Furnace (2013). Stark tale of steel-town brothers plagued by random and self-inflicted tragedy. Iraq war vet Casey Affleck drifts into the bare-knuckle boxing circuit and onto hillbilly psycho Woody Harrelson’s hit list. His more stable brother Christian Bale lost his girlfriend and father while imprisoned for manslaughter, and after Affleck vanishes, Bale seeks revenge. Dreary examination of dark places, well-acted by leads plus Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, but feels flat and lifeless, never powerful.


In a World… (2013). This movie got me thinking: when exactly did we stop hearing the “in a world” trailer narration, can anyone pinpoint the moment for me? A slight comedy from writer/director/actress Lake Bell, about the daughter of a legendary trailer voiceover actor. She has the talent to break into the insular field but dad (Fred Melamed) doesn’t think women should voice trailers and he has an ego and reputation big enough to block her path. Competition gets brutal when a studio seeks a new voice for their epic Amazon Games trailer (starring Cameron Diaz in Fury Road getup!). Bell navigates the industry, a fractured family, almost destroys her sister’s marriage, romances a jerky competitor, gets slapped in the face by studio politics and tries to blaze a path for women.


Last Passenger (2013). Widowed doctor Dougray Scott is on a train with his son, worries about an unruly passenger and flirts with Kara Tointon, when he notices a man crawling on the tracks, the guard missing, and regular stops being passed. It’s a runaway train, with no brakes, a suicidal mystery man at the wheel, and six passengers left to stop it or save themselves. Simple concept, mercifully free of terrorists making speeches about their reasons, refreshingly light on the CGI and stages the action really well on the train “set.” An exciting, lean, claustrophobic thriller.


The November Man (2014). Messy, disappointing story of retired CIA Pierce Brosnan returning to protect and then avenge a fellow spook/old flame. His search for dirt on a war criminal-turned-Russian-leader is complicated by a former protege (Luke Bracey), who went from idolizing to despising Brosnan. Bracey’s daddy issues and most of events and characters are dumb and unconvincing. Olga Kurylenko and Brosnan make good companions, and her grudge and secret mission add some edge and surprise to this otherwise bland action film. 

August full review posts:


7 thoughts on “August 2015 Film Diary, Part 2”

  1. Enjoy your takes on newer movies! I picked up a cheap (like $4) copy of NOVEMBER MAN. Sounds like it’s a good thing I didn’t pay more. 🙂 IN A WORLD… and LAST PASSENGER sound interesting.

    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks! As I always say, “your mileage may vary” so you may find it worth more than $4, you never know. I’ll watch Brosnan anywhere so it wasn’t a waste in that dept. Last Passenger was a nice example of a fun modern B, clearly low budget and not flashy but effective.

  2. The only one of these I’ve seen is Insomnia, and I remember liking Robin Williams’ performance very much. He had some great scenes with Al Pacino.

    Thanks for the heads up re: In A World. Sounds like a good one!

    1. Robin and Al were great together, unlikely pair that play off each other so well and show us what they have in common.

      In a World also has a fun intro that makes you think you’re watching a documentary about trailers.

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