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INSOMNIA With its bleak atmosphere, internally driven performances and unsettling ending, the 1997 Norwegian character study Insomnia seemed like just the type of movie whose pedigree would be tainted by a needless American remake. Instead, the new Insomnia is a surprisingly faithful remake of its chilly predecessor, and when it does elect to head off in its own direction, it employs changes that fit it well -- that still work within the context of the storyline -- rather than ones that were imposed for the sake of commercial sensibilities. While nothing in this production quite matches the ferocious intensity provided by Stellen Skarsgard's excellent performance in the first picture, it compensates by featuring two often ill-used Hollywood stars -- Al Pacino and Robin Williams -- doing some of their best work in years. Pacino drops the ham to play Will Dormer, an exhausted LA detective who journeys to Alaska to help investigate the murder of a high school student. Plagued by bad luck that doggedly clings to him like clothes static in a dryer and wracked by guilt over an unfortunate turn of events, Dormer begins to allow his fatigue to dictate his actions, even to the point where he enters into an unorthodox partnership of sorts with the case's primary suspect (Williams). Insomnia is directed by Christopher Nolan (the man responsible for last year's best picture, Memento), and he and scripter Hillary Seitz manage to turn it into a slow yet satisfying morality play.
KILIMANJARO: TO THE ROOF OF AFRICA It's hard to say who will reap the most benefits from the latest IMAX feature to be presented in Discovery Place's Omnimax Theater: the patrons who elect to check this out on the big(gest) screen or the travel agencies that might potentially find themselves swamped by tourists hoping to see the majestic mountain for themselves. David Breashears, whose 1998 smash Everest still ranks as the ne plus ultra of IMAX efforts, has produced what basically amounts to Everest Lite: another film about an imposing mountain structure, yet one which lacks the dramatic tension and narrative smoothness of its predecessor. Kilimanjaro instead centers on the journey taken by a handful of trekkers as they venture to the top of the mountain that's located in Tanzania next to the Kenyan border. The breakdown of the group members seems so calculated that the movie could easily pass itself off as Jurassic Park IV -- there's the middle-aged British scientist, the vivacious 12-year-old American girl, the thoughtful 13-year-old African boy, the gorgeous Danish model, etc. -- yet the focus of the picture thankfully isn't its players as much as its setting. Dropping bread crumbs of scientific info to add subtext to its absolutely stunning imagery, Kilimanjaro offers education that's easy on the eyes and ears.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING A repertory theater would have an ideal marquee match-up pairing this with the recent arthouse hit Monsoon Wedding. Yet while Greek isn't nearly as accomplished as Monsoon, it's still a gratifying romantic comedy that gently tweaks stereotypes even as its characters wallow in them. Adapted by Nia Vardalos from her own one-woman show, this centers on the plight of Toula Portokalos (Vardalos), a 30-year-old single woman who's constantly being pressured by her family, most notably the Greek-and-proud-of-it patriarch (Michael Constantine), to get married to a nice Greek boy and start producing plenty of babies. Toula finally meets the man of her dreams, but much to the dismay of everyone around her, he most decidedly isn't Greek -- not with the name Ian Miller (smoothly played by John Corbett). The usual culture clashes come to the forefront in this disarming tale that occasionally overplays the eccentricities (Dad goes around spraying Windex on everything, believing there's nothing it can't cure) but on balance remains lovably recognizable in its presentation of the strengths required -- and struggles revealed -- in the battle for family unity and cultural preservation. As Toula, the frump who blossoms into a flower, Vardalos delivers a lovely performance.