Insomnia File #43: Legend (dir by Brian Helgeland)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were having trouble getting to sleep around two in the morning, you could have turned over to HBO and watched the 2015 British gangster film, Legend.

Tom Hardy is Reggie Kray.  Arrogant, handsome, charming, and dangerous to know, Reggie is a club owner who is also an up-and-coming gangster in 1960s London.  Scotland Yard has him under surveillance.  The East End both fears and respects him.  American gangsters want to do business with him.

Tom Hardy is also Ronny Kray!  Ronny is the ugly twin, the one who lives in a trailer and has just been released from a psychiatric institution.  Ronny is openly gay at a time when that was still illegal in the UK.  Driven by jealousy of Reggie and a desire to prove himself superior to everyone who has ever judged or looked down on him, Ronny is determined to make sure that he and his brother become the top gangsters in London.

Together …. they solve crimes!

No, actually, they do the exact opposite.  They commit a lot of crimes.  Ronny is willing to shoot anyone in the head.  Reggie tries to be a bit more respectable.  He even attempts to run a legitimate nightclub.  Reggie understand that sometimes, the threat of violence is more effective than violence itself.  Reggie and Ronny are about as close as siblings can be, even if they do spend a lot of time beating each other up.

Frances Shea (Emily Browning) is the sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie (Colin Morgan).  She’s sixteen when she meets and falls in love with Reggie Kray.  Reggie loves her too and he even marries her.  (Of course, he has to do a stint in prison first.)  Reggie swears to Frances that he’s going to go straight and that they’re going to have a normal life.  Deep down, Frances know that will never happen so, while her husband and brother-in-law conquer London, she copes with pills.  Lots and lots of pills.

For an American viewer like myself, British gangster films are always fun to watch because they’re just as violent as American gangster films but, at the same time, everyone’s always dressed impeccably and stopping in the middle of all the mayhem to have a cup of tea.  Legend is based on a true story, which turns out to be both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.  On the one hand, it’s fascinating to see the film’s recreation of London in the early 60s.  On the other hand, the film never convinces us that we should really care about the Krays.  This isn’t a case where, like the Corleones, the Krays are tragic figures who can’t escape their destiny.  Tom Hardy does a great job playing Reggie and he’s an adequate Ronny but you can never quite escape the feeling that the two brothers are just — to use one of their own preferred insults — two wankers who aren’t really worth all the trouble.  This is a film that you watch and you ask yourself, “Why should we care?”  Beyond the novelty of the Krays being twins, the film really can’t provide an answer.

Still, I happen to be fascinated by the early 60s so I enjoyed the film as a historical recreation.  Legend isn’t a bad film.  It’s just somewhat underwhelming.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge

Horror Film Review: Stir of Echoes (dir by David Koepp)


It’s blue collar horror!

As the 1999 film Stir of Echoes shows, ghost don’t only haunt the rich and famous.  Sometimes, they haunt ordinary guys who live paycheck to paycheck and just want to be able to take some pride in having a home that’s free of secrets and evil spirits.  “Ghosts, they’re a real pain the ass sometimes, y’know what I’m saying?”

For instance, in Stir of Echoes, Kevin Bacon plays Tom Witzky.  Tom is a phone lineman who lives in Chicago.  Tom wishes that he could have been something more than a phone lineman.  He wishes that his band could have taken off and he could have been a rock star.  But, now Tom’s reached his 40s, he’s got a wife named Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), a son named Jake (Zachary David Kope), and another child on the way.  So, he works hard and then he comes home and he has a beer and sometimes, he might go to a high school football game.  It’s not a glamorous life but at least it’s something with which Tom can be happy.

Of course, then Tom makes the mistake of going to a party that’s being given by his friend, Frank (Kevin Dunn).  When Maggie’s sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), says that she knows how to hypnotize people, Tom scoffs and challenges her to hypnotize him.  Lisa does so and, the next thing that Tom knows, he’s sitting there with tears in his eyes and everyone laughing at him.  Even though it was only a few seconds to Tom, he was apparently under hypnosis for quite a while.  He talked about being bullied as a child.  He stuck a safety pin through his hand.  He even accepted Lisa’s suggestion that he “try to be more open-minded.”  Upset over being revealed to be vulnerable, Tom leaves the party.

Tom soon learns what it means, in his case, to be more open-minded.  Soon, Tom is hearing voices and seeing what appears to be the ghost of a teenage girl in his house.  He starts to have disturbing and violent visions.  When Tom tries to pretend that nothing’s wrong, Jake tells him that it’s okay because he can see the ghost as well.

Growing obsessed with his visions, Tom is soon tearing his own house apart in an attempt to discover what the spirits are trying to tell him.  Is Tom truly seeing ghosts or, as so many in the neighborhood suspect, is he losing his mind?

When I first started rewatching Stir of Echoes for this review, I have to admit that I was a little bit concerned.  Kevin Bacon is one of the most likable actors on the planet and this film is usually cited as featuring one of his best performances but, in the first few scenes, he seemed to be almost going a little overboard with the whole “I’m just a working class guy” routine.  But, as the film progressed, I actually came to realize that Kevin Bacon was giving a brilliant performance.  The fact that he played Tom as being so rational and almost boring during the first half of the movie made it all the more effective when he started tearing his house apart during the second.  During those scenes, Bacon plays Tom as not only someone obsessed with discovering the truth but also as someone who just wants his life to be normal again.  If he has to destroy his life to get it back, that’s what he’s going to do.

(That said, my favorite character in the film was Lisa, mostly because we share the same name and she was played by the brilliant Illeana Douglas.  The thing I loved about Lisa is that, when she was informed that she had messed up Tom’s mind, she was both sorry and proud of herself at the same time.)

Stir of Echoes is still a frightening film, one with plenty of jump scares and a subtext of paranoia as it’s revealed that both the neighborhood and Tom’s friends are full of secrets.  Because they both came out in 1999, it often gets compared to The Sixth Sense.  I like The Sixth Sense but I actually prefer Stir of Echoes, just because it’s not quite as self-important as M. Night Shyamalan’s film.  The makers of Stir of Echoes didn’t set out to change the world.  They just wanted to make a scary ghost story and they succeeded.

 

Horror on the Lens: Not of this Earth (dir by Roger Corman)


Today’s horror on the lens is the 1957 Roger Corman-directed, sci-fi “epic,” Not of this Earth.

Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) may seems like a strange character, with his stilted way of speaking and his sunglasses and his overdramatic reaction to any and all loud noises.  Paul could us be an eccentric.  Or, he could be …. NOT OF THIS EARTH!  Actually, his habit of draining people of their blood and sending weird, umbrella-like creatures out to attack his enemies would seem to suggest that the latter is probably true.

Listen, it’s not easy being a blood-sucking alien.  I mean, sure, there’s always seems to be people stupid enough to show up at your mansion so that you can drain their bodies.  Paul is lucky that he doesn’t exactly seem to be surrounded by brain surgeons.  But sometimes, things happen.  For instance, someone might show up from your home planet and demand an immediate transfusion!  What is an alien to do?

Watch this low-budget but undeniably entertaining film to find out!  And be sure to especially keep an eye out for the great Dick Miller, who reportedly improvised his role as a vacuum cleaner salesman.  (Before going into acting, Miller actually did sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door.)

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Unspeakable (dir by Thomas J. Wright)


So, here’s a few good things about the 2002 film, Unspeakable.

First off, Jeff Fahey plays the governor of New Mexico.  Any film that presents us with a world where Jeff Fahey can be elected governor of an actual state has to be worth something.  Seriously, I’ve long thought that the country would be more interesting if actors were elected to run each state.  Here in Texas, for instance, there was a movement to draft Tommy Lee Jones a few years ago.  (Personally, I’d rather live under Governor McConaughey.)  Steven Seagal (agck!) apparently wanted to run for governor of Arizona and, of course, Cynthia Nixon actually ran up in New York.  There’s always a chance of Alec Baldwin running for something and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger actually did govern California for two terms.  Val Kilmer, I should add, came close to running for governor of New Mexico, where this film is set!  Personally, I’d vote for Jeff Fahey over Val Kilmer,  It’s the eyes.

Another good thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dennis Hopper playing a crazed prison warden who rambles about how much he enjoys sending people to the electric chair.  “I am God!” Hopper says at one point and you have to enjoy any scene that features Dennis Hopper saying, “I am God!” in a southwestern accent.

Another fun thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dina Meyer and Lance Henriksen as scientists!  Meyer invents this weird little headband thing that allows her to look into your mind and see your thoughts.  Let me repeat this for those of you who might have missed the significance: DINA MEYER HAS INVENTED A MACHINE THAT ALLOW HER TO SEE EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING IN SOMEONE’S MIND!  If that wasn’t amazing enough, there’s also the fact that no one seems to be that impressed.  In fact, no one really cares.  Everyone just kind of shrugs it off.

Meyer and Henriksen ask for permission to test their invention out on death row inmates.  Sure, why not?  It’s not like Warden Hopper cares what happens to the inmates, right?  Meyer discovers that one of the inmates is innocent!  Unfortunately, no one cares.  Gov. Fahey, who is also Meyer’s former lover, refuses to commute the sentence because he’s got an election coming up and voters love the death penalty.  And so, that innocent man goes off to the electric chair.

But wait!  There’s a new prisoner on death row.  His name is Jesse Mowatt and he’s played by Pavan Grover, the doctor who wrote this film.  It turns out that he is America’s most prolific serial killer!  He’s murdered hundreds of people, all because of some weird issue he has with religion.  Anyway, it’s pretty obvious that this killer has a date with the electric chair but first, Meyer gets to use her amazing-invention-that-nobody-cares-about on him.  What she discovers is that this serial killer might be a demon-possessed monster who can use his mind to drive other people to do things like rip their faces off.  Or maybe he’s just really clever.  He does definitely have super strength and beats up any guard that comes near him.  It never occurs to the guards to use handcuffs on him or anything.  That’s just the type of prison that it is.

Anyway, I appreciated the film’s anti-death penalty theme but the film still got a bit too heavy-handed for my tastes.  Pavan Grover wrote himself a pretty good part but he doesn’t really have the screen presence necessary to do the whole irresistible sociopath thing.  Still, I appreciate any movie that features Jeff Fahey as a governor.

FAHEY 2024!

 

Insomnia File #42: Revenge (dir by Tony Scott)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Earlier today, If you were having trouble getting to sleep around one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1990 action film, Revenge.

Revenge is an almost absurdly masculine film about two men who are in love with the same woman and who, as a result, end up trying to kill each other and a lot of other people.

Jay Cochran (Kevin Costner) is a U.S. Navy aviator who, when we first see him, is doing the whole Top Gun thing of flying in a fast jet and making jokes while his navigator worries about dying.  Interestingly enough, Top Gun and Revenge were both directed by Tony Scott so perhaps this opening scene was meant to be a self-reference.  Well, regardless of intent, it’s a scene that goes on forever.  This is Jay’s last flight, as he’s due to retire.  We go through an extended retirement party, where everyone has a beer and Jay gives one of those bullshit sentimental speeches that men always give in films like this.

Jay has been invited to estate of Tibbey (Anthony Quinn), who is a Mexican gangster.  Tibbey and Jay are apparently old friends, though it’s never quite explained how the youngish Jay knows the not-very-youngish Tibbey.  Tibbey is one of those gangster who is incapable of doing anything without first talking about what an amazing journey it’s been, going from poverty to becoming one of the most powerful men in Mexico.

Tibbey apparently wants to play tennis with Jay and take him hunting.  Jay decides that he’d rather have an affair with Tibbey’s much younger wife, Miryea (Madeleine Stowe).  Miryea is upset that Tibbey doesn’t want to have children because he feels that pregnancy would ruin her body.  When Tibbey finds out about the affair, he sends Miryea to a brothel and Jay to the middle of the desert.  That’s Tibbey’s revenge!

Except, of course, Jay doesn’t die because he’s Kevin Costner and if he died, the movie would end too quickly.  So, Jay fights his way back from the desert, intent on not only finding Miryea but getting his own revenge on Tibbey!

(It’s hard to take a bad guy named Tibbey seriously, even if he is played by Anthony Quinn.)

Revenge goes on for way too long and neither Tibbey nor Jay are really sympathetic enough to be compelling characters.  You never really believe in Tibbey and Jay’s friendship, so the whole betrayal and revenge aspect of the film just falls flat.  On the plus side, youngish Kevin Costner is not half as annoying as cranky old man Costner.  Anthony Quinn was one of the actors who was considered for the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather and, watching him here, you can kind of see him in the role.  He would have been a bit of a crude Corleone but Quinn had an undeniably powerful and magnetic screen presence.  In Revenge, Quinn chews up and spits out all of the scenery and is not subtle at all but it’s entertaining to watch him because he’s Anthony Quinn.

Anyway, Revenge ends with a tragedy, as these things often do.  Anthony Quinn never says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” and that, to me, is a true missed opportunity.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra

Panther’s Revenge: Night Creature (1978, directed by Lee Madden)


Axel McGregor (Donald Pleasence) is a world-famous author and big game hunter who, while on a hunt in the steamy jungles of Thailand, is maimed by a ferocious panther.  With both his body and pride wounded, Axel posts a reward for the panther, demanding that it be captured and brought to his private island estate.  When the panther is delivered, Axel plans to set it free so that he can hunt and kill it and regain his lost virility.  Unfortunately, as soon as McGregor sets the panther free, unexpected guests show up at the island, Axel’s two daughters (Nancy Kwan and Jennifer Rhodes), his granddaughter (Lesly Fine), and an obnoxious tour guide named Ross (Ross Hagen).  The panther proves to be harder to hunt than Axel was expecting and soon, one daughter has been killed and another daughter suffers a fate worse than death when she becomes Ross’s default love interest.

Night Creature is a strange film.  It was obviously made as a part of the nature-gone-wild cycle that started in the wake of Jaws but, once the daughters arrive at the island, there are several lengthy stretches where the movie concentrates more on the love triangle between Ross and the daughters than on the panther.  When the panther does show up, the attack scenes are so confusingly shot that it is difficult to be sure what has really happened.  Director Lee Madden goes overboard with slow motion shots of the panther stalking its prey and an attempt to introduce some psychic bond between Axel and the panther largely falls flat.

At least we get Donald Pleasence, playing one of his twitchy roles and suffering another extended nervous breakdown.  Night Creature may not offer much but it does have one of the best Pleasence freakouts ever captured on film.  It’s always a pleasure to watch Pleasence chew the scenery, especially when he’s joined by panther.

Horror Scenes I Love: The Television Scene From Ringu


Yesterday, in a comment, Michael McClure mentioned this scene as a scary one and you know what?  He’s right!

So, I decided — why not share it today?

Now, of course, if this scene seems familiar, that’s because it was later remade as The Ring.  This, however, is from the Japanese original.

From 1998’s Ringu, here’s a scene that I love!