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I wasn’t quite up for going out Friday night, so I was just relaxing flipping through channels on TV when I came across Insomnia on AMC. I was immediately drawn in, and thus began an entertaining, if unproductive, night in which I managed to sit through three straight “American Movie Classics”. I am not normally the type to watch that much films, but all three were good enough (and I was lazy enough) to keep my ass on my couch for the night.

Insomnia stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank, and is based off of a Norweigian film by the same name. In it, Pacino’s character, an LA dectective, is sent beyond the Artic Circle to help out with a murder investiation while an Internal Affairs investigation probes whether he planted evidence in cases which he covered. While in Alaska, he accidentally shoots his partner, the same one who was providing information to the investigation. Realizing how this would look, Pacino’s character must at the same time solve the murder he was assigned to as well as cover his own tracks. He struggles to sleep (hence the insomnia), both because of the long Artic summer day as well as because of the feelings of guilt that gradually envelop him.

As I was watching I was reminded of The Prestige and Batman Begins, which have a clear focus on human emotions (obsession and fear) and sure enough, the movie is directed by Christopher Nolan (who also did Momento). (Georgetown trivia – Chris Nolan’s brother (’99) wrote Momento, and named the title character Johnny G. after our hardass screenwriting professor, John Glavin.) Pacino does a masterful job conveying his character’s fragile state, and Robin Williams turns in a strong performance as well.

Trailer here:

What better way to follow an Al Pacino movie than with a De Niro movie – A Bronx Tale, his directorial debut, was up next. I had definitely heard of this movie, just never seen it, and it was fun to see De Niro play a role in which he is on the opposite side of the mafia. The story, which follows a kid growing up in the Bronx in the sixties, used to be a one man show by Chazz Palminteri (from The Usual Suspects), which De Niro saw and tried to buy the rights to. Chazz, who based the tale on his youth in the Bronx, insisted he be given the role of Sonny, the mafia lead, which De Niro then backed.

Even more interesting, however, I found was the lead role of Calogero, played by Francis Capra (age 9) and Lillo Brancato (age 17). First off, this is a picture of Franciz Capra from his Bronx Tale days and present day:

A little different, no?

¬†Lillo Brancato, who plays the teenage version of Cangelo in the film, earned the role under fortuitous circumstances. He was hanging out with his friend on Jones Beach when a talent scout was looking for someone to play De Niro’s son in the movie, and was struck by the similarity of Lillo to him. Lillo even did an impression of De Niro for the scout from Taxi Driver.

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Although he achieved instant stardom through this starring role, and had a moderately successful career since, his life took some dramatic turns as he became a drug addict and, on December 2005, he was involved in the shooting death of an off duty policeman in New York City. He is currently serving time after being convicted of second degree murder, insisting that once he is released he would like to make a film based on his own life. Talk about life imitating art.

For an excellent look into the journey of Lillo Brancato, read this New york Magazine article, I highly recommend it.

Trailer here:

The final film of the night was Dead Calm, featuring Billy Zane and Nicole Kidman. This is a thriller that takes place on the seas off of the Australian Barrier Reef. Nicole Kidman’s character and her husband enjoy a vacation on their yacht after the death of their infant son, when a young man (played by Billy Zane) deserts his nearby sinking boat and comes on board, insisting that everyone on his boat had died of food poisoning. Suspicious, her husband goes to investigate, only to have the man take his boat (with Kidman still on board) and leave him stranded. The husband discovers the mutilated bodies of the crew, his suspicions confirmed, and must try to repair the ship and rescue his wife before she meets a similar end. Kidman, meanwhile, must do everything to stay alive and stall the boat long enough to have her husband reach her.

I actually really enjoyed this movie..whether it was watching Nicole Kidman in one of her earlier roles, Billy Zane pulling off the part of the handsome but wild-eyed psycho perfectly,the Hitchcock-esque pacing, or how the tension develops as the entire film essentially revolves around three characters drifting in the open water, with no margin for error.

I had recognized Billy Zane, but forgot where I had saw him before…he was Cal Hockley in Titanic, as well as was in Zoolander as himself. However, he looks different in this movie, as he now suffers from premature hair loss (but, as Wikipedia puts it, it has not “dimished from his career”). In fact, in Titanic he was wearing a wig.

Here is a before and after photo:

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Trailer here:

So all in all a long evening, but it felt gratifying to catch up with some good movies I probably should see at some point. Now if I can only get someone to see Transformers with me…

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