TROUBLE CITY

CHUD'S 50 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, DAY 24

Movie NewsNick NunziataComment


Welcome to the next CHUD List.

We've tackled our essentials list and the continued revelation of our Kills List from 2003, and now that we've begun the beguine, we must continue. Behold:

The CHUD.com Top 50 Disappointments.

A quick word on the criteria. We could very easily have spent this whole article discussing sequels and prequels and adaptations of television shows and called it a day. Instead, we tried to go a different route. Also, from a master list of over 100, the involved parties (Devin, Jeremy, Micah, Russ, and myself) all killed off a choice for each one we claimed. As a result, we'll run a big list at the end of this of the 'ones that got away'. So, here is day one of many where we chronicle the 50 Biggest Disappointments. Two a day, every week day for five weeks. In no particular order:

http://chud.com/nextraimages/blowpos.jpg#4 - Insomnia (2002. dir. Christopher Nolan)

Memento wasn’t technically Christopher Nolan’s debut, but it might as well have been as far as most of us were concerned. A glorious puzzle film anchored by a real character brought to tragic life by Guy Pearce, Memento was the kind of movie that announced that Nolan was all in, as they might say in poker.

Nolan followed it up with a movie that promised good things. Based on an incredibly bleak 1997 Norwegian film, Insomnia transplanted its action to the only part of America that experiences six months of daytime – northern Alaska. The original was a taut, unrelenting film about two Swedish cops sent to the north of Norway to investigate a murder. When it turns out there’s a serial killer on the loose, the cops launch a desperate investigation, and during a chase on a foggy beach one cop (the pitch-perfect Stellan Skarsgård) accidentally shoots his partner. He tries to cover it up, but then gets contacted by the killer… who saw the murder.

Nolan’s casting seem inspired – an Oscar trifecta! Al Pacino was the guilt-wracked cop, and Robin Williams (who, you’ll remember, was on his post-Bicentennial Man effort to rehabilitate his image with dark films like One Hour Photo, Death to Smoochy and The Final Cut) the killer. Hilary Swank still had just the one Oscar and hadn’t yet begun to devolve into the white female Cuba Gooding Jr. With Nolan at the helm, it seemed like the rare recent foreign film remake that could turn out well.

But it didn’t. While the Norwegian original is relentless in its austere and desolated tone, Nolan’s film just feels torpid. The 1997 film replicated that strange feeling of being exhausted but unable to sleep; Nolan’s version felt like snuggling up in front of a big fire with a warm cup of milk.

Beyond that, Nolan’s version does one of those amazing things only Hollywood films can do: it makes an ending where the hero dies more hopeful than the one where he lives. In the original, Skarsgård’s character technically triumphs, but it’s obvious that he’s corrupted and ruined as a human being. Nolan has Pacino take the loss at the end of the movie, but it’s in service of his sweet rehabilitation. His final words, ‘Let me sleep,’ are like a hokey slap in the face of the whole preceding film.

For me Nolan has never recovered. Insomnia showed that he mistakes somnolence for seriousness, and he would go on to make a couple of po-faced films that seemed to experience mild distastefulness at their own pulpy roots. Thankfully the original Norwegian film is readily available through the Criterion collection (buy it from CHUD here!) and the Nolan remake has slowly slid off the radar of even his most devoted fans.

- Devin

Travesty Scale (1-10): 7 out of 10

http://chud.com/nextraimages/cradle_will_rock.jpg#3 - Cradle Will Rock (1999. dir. Tim Robbins)

1999 was a great year for great movies. This wasn't one of them.

Tim Robbins, love him or hate him, puts his money where his mouth is. He also puts his mouth where Susan Sarandon's nipples are, so maybe you should just envy him. Cradle Will Rock was the filmmaker/activist's big follow-up to the uneven but fun Bob Roberts and the resoundingly successful Dead Man Walking and his most ambitious and star-studded affair to date. The story of a left wing musical whose funding dropped out due to conflicting politics is a brave one, featuring an angry Orson Welles (Angus McFayden, no seriously) and tons of familiar faces but noble intentions and overindulgence muddy up what could have been a really subversive bit of entertainment.

Problem is, it isn't very entertaining and it isn't all that spiritually uplifting either. The cast tries hard, and the people involved are even more impressive today (Jack Black was a nobody when this was done), but Robbins can't corral all the ideas and themes into a coherent bundle. There's a classic film to be made here, for the themes of censorship and artistic oppression are hardly ones unique to any one era but the Death of Art and the powerful voice of a driven man are lost to a parade of familiar faces and moments that seem like they should be slyly funny but aren't.

One day I may become old enough or smart enough for this film but as it stands it's a very ambitious waste of good intentions and really good talent. Tim Robbins has a masterpiece in him [aside from Tapeheads], but it ain't this. - Nick

Travesty Scale (1-10): 4 out of 10

Previously Disappointing:

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