Insomnia File #58: The Haunting of Helen Walker (dir by Tom McLoughlin)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, you could have gotten on YouTube and watched 1995’s The Haunting of Helen Walker!

What’s it about?  Read on but stop me if this sounds familiar.

In Victorian-era England, a somewhat neurotic young woman is hired to serve as the governess for two children who live in a foreboding estate. Once the governess arrives, she discovers that the children — especially little Miles — can be a handful. She also discovers that there was a governess hired before her, a governess who died under mysterious circumstances. At night, the new governess hears strange noises and soon, she becomes convinced that she’s seen the ghosts of both her predecessor and the old governess’s lover, Peter Quint. Everyone else may think that the new governess has allowed the isolation of the estate to get to her but she’s convinced that the ghosts have possessed the children! She becomes determined to save the children, even at the risk of their own lives….

If that sounds familiar, then you’ve either read Henry James’ Turn of the Screw or you’ve seen one of the several movies that were based on his novella. The Haunting of Helen Walker, which was made-for-television and initially broadcast in 1995, reimagines James’s unnamed governess as Helen Walker, an American woman played by Valerie Bertinelli. The Haunting of Helen Walker also differs from its source material in that it leaves little doubt about the fact that the ghosts are real and the children have been possessed. While the novella is deliberately unclear about whether the governess is correct or if she’s just hallucinating, The Haunting of Helen Walker has little use for such ambiguity.

Still, if you can accept the changes to the source material, The Haunting of Helen Walker is an entertaining and atmospheric ghost story. Director Tom McLoughlin doesn’t waste any time getting to the action and Christopher Guard makes for an appropriately brooding and dangerous Peter Quint. At first, it’s a bit jarring to hear Valerie Bertenelli’s American accent in what is essentially the epitome of a British ghost story but she gets better as the film progresses and she does an especially good job during the film’s dramatic climax. Finally, Diana Rigg does a great job playing the estate’s intimidating housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. She’s skeptical of Helen from the minute she arrives and the fact that Helen says she can see ghosts doesn’t do much to improve Mrs. Grose’s opinion.

In the end, this is an entertaining, if hardly definitive, take on Henry James’s novella. Having been made for 90s television, it actually has to be rather restrained in its shocks but that actually works to the film’s advantage, forcing the movie to rely on atmosphere over jump scares. The Haunting of Helen Walker is currently on YouTube and it’s fine viewing for a rainy night.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud
  55. FTA
  56. Exterminators of the Year 3000
  57. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster

Insomnia File #57: Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (dir by Thomas Hamilton)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Ah, the mystery of Boris Karloff.

On screen, Karloff was a horror icon.  He brought Frankenstein’s Monster to life and influenced generations of actors and horror filmmakers.  He was also the Mummy and the first actor to play Sax Rohmer’s international criminal, Fu Manchu and, of course, he won over a whole new generation as narrator of How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  Over the course of his long career, Karloff appeared in movies both good and bad.  He worked for Mario Bava and Roger Corman and James Whale and Peter Bogdanovich.  He was also the host of Thriller, a much-beloved horror anthology series.  At the height of his fame, he was often credited by just his last name.  Everyone knew who Boris Karloff was.

Off screen, Boris Karloff was a quiet and rather dignified gentleman, one who was widely considered to be one of the kindest and most generous men in Hollywood.  Born William Henry Pratt, Karloff’s father was a diplomat and his family assumed that he would follow their career.  Instead, William Henry Pratt immigrated first to Canada and then to California and transformed himself into Boris Karloff.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster is a documentary that both explores the mysteries of Karloff’s life and also pays tribute to him as an actor.  It attempts to answer the question of how such a kindly man could also be responsible for some of the greatest moments in horror.  Full of archival footage and interviews with those who worked with Karloff and also those who were influenced by his films (like Guillermo del Toro), the film presents a portrait of a talented actor who was as expressive onscreen as he was somewhat withdrawn in real life.  For Karloff, his roles became a way to escape from the troubles of the real world.  As the film makes clear, Karloff didn’t start his career planning to eventually become a horror actor and, occasionally, he did chafe a bit at being typecast.  However, regardless of what role he was playing, Karloff always gave it his best.  He may have appeared in some bad films but he never gave a bad performance.  The film not only includes clips from his films but also an examination of what made his performances so special.  The analysis of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Terror, and Targets is especially interesting.

If you’re a fan of horror, this documentary is for you.  It’s currently available on Shudder.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud
  55. FTA
  56. Exterminators of the Year 3000

Insomnia File #56: Exterminators of the Year 3000 (dir by Giuliano Carmineo)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep tonight, you might want to try going to over to YouTube and doing a search for a 1983 Italian film called Exterminators of the Year 3000.  It won’t cure your insomnia.  In fact, it’s such a peculiar film that it will probably keep you awake for the rest of the night.  However, you will be having fun.  Seriously, if you can’t sleep, you might as well have fun.

The film’s plot will be familiar to anyone who has seen The Road Warrior or Mad Max: Fury Road.  Due to a series of nuclear wars, society has collapsed.  The world is an arid wasteland.  Some survivors live in tiny communities.  Others drive motorcycles across the desert and prey on anyone that they can find.  Water is the most valuable commodity in this world.  The second most important thing to have is a good car.  Your car can be the difference between life and death.

Fortunately, Alien (Robert Iannucci) has a good car.  Unfortunately, Alien keeps losing it.  Alien is a wasteland drifter who spends half of the film looking for his car and the other half of the film helping a kid named Tommy (Luca Venantini) search for water for his community.  Tommy has a bionic arm.  When he’s captured by a group of evil bikers led by Crazy Bull (Fred Harris), his bionic arm gets ripped off.  In one of the strangest scenes that I’ve ever seen, Alien use duct tape to reattach the arm.  If that’s not odd enough, it also appears that he accidentally attached the arm upside down.

That’s just one of the many weird details that sets Exterminators of the Year 3000 apart from all of the other Italian Mad Max rip-offs.  There’s also the fact that Alien eventually and somewhat randomly runs into his ex-girlfriend, who looks like a model and, for some reason, is named Trash (Alicia Moro).  Alien and Trash agree to help Tommy but, the entire time, Alien keeps casually suggesting that maybe they should just abandon Tommy and take all the water for themselves.  This isn’t one of those things where Alien is just pretending to be a cynic, either.  The film leaves little doubt that Alien would have no problem just abandoning Tommy and taking the water for himself.  Even if Trash can convince Alien not to sell out the kid, they’re still going to have to fight a group of people who are all dressed like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  While Alien and Trash travel to get the water, Tommy gets a new arm that’s so strong that he can literally throw a piece of metal into someone’s forehead even while standing a few yards away.  Tommy also has a gerbil, which is not only cute but, in something of a rarity for an Italian exploitation film from the 80s, manages to survive the entire film.  (Seriously, I instinctively cringe whenever I see a cute animal in an Italian film from the 80s because I’ve seen enough of them to know what’s probably going to end up happening.)

Of course, Crazy Bull and his bikers continually show up and cause trouble.  Fred Harris gives such an enjoyably over-the-top performance that not even the usual bad dubbing can hurt it.  For whatever reason, Crazy Bull refers to his gang as the Mothergrabbers.  How can you not love a film that featured the main villain shouting, “Into battle, my merry band of Mothergrabbers!?”

Exterminators of the Year 3000 is a fun movie.  The action moves quickly.  There are lot of explosions.  The villains all snarl with panache.  There are plenty of slow motion shots of cars crashing.  And there’s enough odd moments to keep things interesting.  The film even ends with a sudden miracle.  How could anyone resist?  This is Italian exploitation as it most entertaining.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud
  55. FTA

Insomnia File No. 55: FTA (dir by Francine Parker)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having some trouble getting too sleep last night, you could have taken some sleeping pills and allowed them to knock you out for a day or two.  Or you could have logged into Netflix and watched the 1972 anti-war documentary, F.T.A.

The year was 1971 and the United States was bogged down in a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam.  While protests continued in North America, the soldiers who were actually serving in Asia started to become increasingly outspoken about their own doubts about whether there was any good reason for the U.S. to be in Vietnam.  Often at the risk of being court-martialed, these soldiers started to make their voice heard through underground newspapers and by hanging out at coffeehouses that anti-war protestors had started near military bases.  “F.T.A.” became a rallying cry for these anti-war soldiers.  A play on the army’s then-slogan of “Fun, Travel, and Adventure,” F.T.A. was also said to stand for, “Fuck the Army.”

F.T.A. also stood for Free Theater Associates, an anti-war vaudeville-style troupe that spent 1971 performing at G.I. Coffeehouses.  The show was specifically set up as a parody of Bob Hope’s USO Shows.  Each performance featured music, skits, and a reading from Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun.  Headlining the FTA show were actors Donald Sutherland Jane Fonda, comedians Michael Alaimo and Paul Mooney, and musicians Swamp Dogg and Holly Near.

F.T.A. is really two documentaries in one.  One documentary features the F.T.A. performances and follows the troupe as they travel to military bases in Hawaii, The Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan.  The other documentary features interviews with the anti-war soldiers who came to see the show.  They discuss how they feel about the prospect of dying in a war that none of them support and few of them understand.  They discuss how clueless the officers are.  Black G.I.s discuss the racism within the ranks and wonder why they should die for a country that discriminates against them.

For the most part, the celebrities come across as being dilettantes.  With the exception of Swamp Dogg (who is obviously sincere in his concerns for the people that he’s performing for), the F.T.A. performers come across as being a bit too enamored with themselves and a lot of what we see of the F.T.A. Show seems to be more about impressing the activists back home than entertaining the G.I.s.  (Many of the skits reminded me of the worst of the Freedom School scenes from Billy Jack.)  However, the soldiers themselves are fascinating.  The soldiers discuss their anger, fears, and experiences with an honesty and an authenticity that is never less than compelling.  If nothing else, this documentary highlights the difference between people who are anti-war because they’ve experienced it firsthand and people who are anti-war because it’s the latest thing to be.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a history nerd.  Seen today, F.T.A. is an interesting historical document, one that’s all the more fascinating because it’s a Vietnam documentary that was filmed while the war was still being fought.  As such, there’s no hindsight or attempts to mold the material into something designed to appeal to those looking back with either nostalgia or disdain.  Instead, it’s a time capsule, one that takes you back to a tumultuous time and allows you to experience it for yourself.  On that level, it’s a history nerd’s dream.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud

Insomnia File No. 54: Jud (dir by Gunther Collins)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, you could have gone over to YouTube and you could have watched the the 1971 film, Jud.

In fact, looking the film up on YouTube might very well be the only way that you could have watched JudJud is one of those obscure, 70s indie films that has apparently never gotten a proper video release in the United States.  The version that’s been uploaded to YouTube was taken from a Chinese VHS tape.  It had Chinese subtitles and the image was pretty grainy.  There was a point where, for three minutes, the image froze and only the audio could be heard.  In other words, it’s not the ideal way to watch any movie but, with Jud, that’s probably the best that anyone could hope for.

As for what Jud is about, it’s about a man named …. well, Jud.  Played by an appealing actor named Joseph Kaufmann, Jud has just returned to the United States from serving in Vietnam.  His uncle arranges for Jud to live at a rooming house, one that is full of the usual indie film eccentrics.  Jud doesn’t want to talk about what he saw in Vietnam and no one seems to want to talk to him about it.  But perhaps someone should because Jud is still haunted by flashbacks and nightmares, making this one of the first films to attempt to sympathetically deal with PTSD.  Jud just wants to get on with his life but, after everything he’s seen, he feels out of place in the civilian world.  A one night stand with a friendly hippy (played by future B-movie queen Claudia Jennings) leads to nowhere.  A fight in a diner leads to a police chase.  The only person who is interested in Jud’s story is Bill (played, quite well, by Robert Denman), whose status as a closeted gay man in the early 70s has taught him something about alienation.

Jud is an uneven film.  There are moments of real insight but there also moments where the film itself gets a bit too heavy-handed for its own good.  A lengthy scene where the viewer is subjected to close-ups of Jud’s roommates eating seems to go on forever.  (Anti-war films of the 70s always seemed to feature close-ups of old people eating for some reason.  I guess it was meant to be a commentary on American gluttony but it always feels more like lazy symbolism.)  Especially when compared to other films of the period, Jud deserves credit for portraying Bill sympathetically but it’s still hard not to feel that the character’s ultimate fate is a cliché.

That said, Joseph Kaufmann gives a good performance as Jud and wisely underplays the scenes that would lead a lesser actor to overact.  (Sadly, Kaufmann died in a plane crash, just two years after the release of Jud, at the age of 29.)  Despite featuring a bit more folk music that I would normally listen to, the film has a great soundtrack and, even more importantly, the songs fit well with the action.  (If nothing else, the lyrics help to share what Jud is feeling but can’t quite articulate.)  Finally, for a history nerd like me, Jud is interesting because it serves as a time capsule.  This low-budget, indie film was shot on the streets of L.A. in the early 70s and it has a bit of documentary feel to it.  Until someone invents a time machine and people get the ability to visit the past in person, films like Jud will do.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street

Insomnia File #53: A Nightmare on Drug Street (dir by Traci Wald Donat)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, you could have gone over to YouTube and you could have done what I did when I was having trouble getting to sleep two nights ago.  You could have watched the 1989 educational film, A Nightmare on Drug Street.

Clocking in at 39 minutes, A Nightmare on Drug Street opens with three people sitting in a dark room.  Though the room seems ominous and the three people often appear to only be shadows, they turn out to to be friendly enough.  (And no, Freddy Krueger is not among them.  This is Drug Street, not Elm Street.)

“Hi, I’m Jill!” the one in the middle informs us.  “I’m dead!”

Filipe, who is is sitting to left of and is a bit less perky than Jill, mentions that they’re all dead.  Eddie, the youngest of the three, speaks up and mentions that he’s been dead for two days longer than Jill.  They all have a good laugh about that.  Jill says that she’s not sure where they are but she thinks that they’re supposed to think about their mistakes and to try to prevent other people their age from making the same mistakes.

“Jill,” I nearly shouted at the screen, “you’re in Purgatory!  It’s not that complicated!”

Eddie complains as he realizes that he’s going to have to relive his story again.  Jill laughs and says that Eddie is always complaining.  Filipe does not laugh because he’s not in a particularly good mood and I don’t blame him.  His Purgatory experience is obviously not turning out the way that he was hoping.  It would appear that Filipe has gotten trapped on the boring side of Purgatory.

Anyway, we then see how each of them ended up dead.  As you can probably guess from the title it all has to do with drugs.

For instance, after winning the big game, Filipe got both stoned and drunk and then decided that it would be a good idea to steal his brother’s car.   Needless to say, it doesn’t take long until Filipe’s more intelligent friend is demanding to be let out of the car.  It also doesn’t take long to hear the sound of an off-screen crash.  Apparently, there wasn’t enough money in the budget to film a real crash.

Jill met a guy at a party and basically allowed herself to be talked into trying cocaine.  As anyone who has ever seen a film like this can probably guess, Jill goes straight from doing that one line to stealing from her friends and selling a family heirloom so she can get more money for coke.  Her family is disappointed in her.  Her friends are angry with her.  And her drug dealer keeps hitting on her.  No wonder Jill eventually end up snorting too much.

And finally, Eddie, who is still in middle school, is handed a crack pipe by a friend.  Soon, Eddie is getting high in the bathroom while his parents try to understand why his grades have gone down.

Interestingly enough, each story is narrated by a dead teen but not the teen that actually dies in the story. So, Jill tells Filipe’s story and makes fun of him for being geeky whenever he gets high.  (Yeah, Jill, like you looked really cool with your bloodshot eyes and your red nose….)  Eddie tells Jill’s story and manages to get through it without ridiculing her.  Filipe tells Eddie’s story while wearing what appears to be a hospital gown.  There’s actually a scene in Purgatory where the three of them debate who will tell each story.  Do they automatically know the stories or is it just a case that they’re memorized them because there’s literally nothing else to talk about while in Purgatory?  The film leaves that question unanswered, which is a shame.

(Speaking of unanswered questions, why are we even in Purgatory in the first place?  The three narrators look directly at the viewer when they speak so I’m guess that I’m meant to have died as well.  But if I’m already dead, what’s the point of warning me about drugs?  Seriously, there’s a lot of unanswered questions in this film.)

Anyway, as for the film itself, it’s another well-intentioned but not quite successful attempt to make an anti-drug scare film.  Like many anti-drug short films, A Nightmare on Drug Street suffers due to the fact that the characters are more interesting when they’re high than when they’re sober.  The stories themselves often veer into melodrama though, to the film’s credit, it seems to at least be a bit self-aware when it comes to this.  When Filipe jumps in his car, Jill says that she knows that we know what’s going to happen but she asks us to keep watching anyways.  After being specifically asked to watch, you kind of feel like you have to.

For the most part, this film’s main worth is as a time capsule.  It’s all about 80s fashion and 80s lingo.  Breaking Bad fans will take note that Filipe is played by Raymond Cruz, who later played a fearsome drug dealer on the classic AMC series.  I guess Filipe found his way out of Purgatory after all.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid

Insomnia File #52: The Next Karate Kid (dir by Christopher Cain)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, over the next few weeks, you find yourself having trouble getting to sleep, you might be tempted to log onto Netflix and watch the fourth season of Cobra Kai.  That’s certainly what I’m planning to do over the course of the next few days.  However, before you watch Cobra Kai, you should make sure that you’ve seen all of the earlier Karate Kid films because you never know who might show up on the show.  I mean, if Thomas Ian Griffith is coming back, anyone could be coming back!  And that includes Julie Pierce, the young karate student at the center of 1994’s The Next Karate Kid.

Julie (played by Hillary Swank) is a troubled teenager.  She lives in Boston with her grandmother.  She attends a high school that is run by a weirdly fascistic self-defense instructor named Colonel Dugan (Michael Ironside), who teaches all of the jocks to be tough, ruthless, and to show no mercy.  When Julie’s grandmother leaves to for Los Angeles so that she can relax, Julie’s new caretaker is an old family friend who turns out to be Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita).

At first, Julie wants nothing to do with Miyagi.  She’s still angry about the death of her parents in a car crash.  All she wants to do is take care of a falcon that lives on the roof of the school.  She does like a boy named Eric McGowen (Chris Conrad) but Eric is also friends with the members of Colonel Dugan’s paramilitary gang, the so-called Alpha Elite.  She needs someone who can understand her and her anger and, at first, Miyagi doesn’t seem like he’s capable of doing and of that.  But then Miyagi discovers that Julie has a natural talent for jumping on top of cars and this leads to….

Well, you know what it leads to.  It’s The Next Karate Kid!  Ralph Macchio was 33 years old when this film was first released and was a bit too old to still be playing a kid so the film’s producers tried to reboot the franchise by giving Miyagi a new student.  The Next Karate Kid pretty much hits all of the story beats from the first film, though it does change things up by not featuring a karate tournament.  Instead, it all leads to a post-prom fight between Miyagi and Dugan.  This film is your only chance to see Pat Morita face off against Michael Ironside and that’s got to be worth something.

The Next Karate Kid does not have a particularly good reputation and, watching the film, I understood why.  There’s very little of the spontaneity or the wit that made the first film memorable.  That said, I did appreciate Michael Ironside’s villainous turn.  If Hillary Swank doesn’t necessarily give the type of performance that would make you think, “Future two-time Oscar winner!,” she still does a good job of portraying the anger that’s at the heart of the character.  If nothing else, The Next Karate Kid deserves some credit for taking Julie’s anger seriously as opposed to just writing it off as being a “teen girl thing.”  The Next Karate Kid wasn’t as bad as I expected but it was still hard not shake the feeling that it was largely unnecessary.

That’s said, I still look forward to Julie’s eventual visit to Cobra Kai.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby

Insomnia File #51: Ira & Abby (dir by Robert Clary)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Oh Lord.

So, if you were having trouble getting too sleep last night, you could have turned over to one of the many Showtime channels you could have watched the 2006 film, Ira & Abby.

I doubt it would have helped though.  Ira & Abby is one of those extremely cutesy little love stories where a neurotic guy meets a quirky woman and they spend the entire film having so many easily solved relationship problems that it’ll drive your anxiety through the roof just watching them.

Ira (Chris Messina) is the son of two psychologists (Judith Light and Robert Klein).  Ira is planning on becoming a psychologist himself and, of course, he’s in therapy.  At the start of the film, his therapist tells him that he’s beyond help and that he needs to do something spontaneous for once.  Ira takes this to mean that he should go the gym.

At the gym, Ira meets Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt), who is quirky and universally beloved by everyone who meets her.  (Westfeldt also wrote the script, which …. might explain a little.)  Abby has a positive attitude and lives with her musician parents (Fred Willard and Frances Conroy).  After Ira sees Abby somehow talk a mugger out of robbing everyone on a subway car, he decides that they have to get married.  Free-spirited Abby agrees.

Marriage follows!  Complications follow!  Annulment and remarriage and more follows!  Everyone ends up seeing a different therapist while, at the same time, Ira’s mom has an affair with Abby’s dad.  And yes, it eventually does end with every character in the film gathering in one room and taking part in a giant therapy session.  It’s exhausting to watch, largely because it just seems like all of the problems could be solved by people not being stupid or foolishly impulsive.  Ira is neurotic to the point of no longer being sympathetic.  Abby is so perfect and wonderful that you soon get sick of her and her positive attitude.  Even Ted Lasso would tell her to turn it down a notch.

The most frustrating thing about the movie is that it features good actors like Chis Messina but it goes out of its way to sabotage them every chance that it gets.  Out of the large and impressive cast, only Fred Willard and Judith Light manage to transcend the script.  I would have loved to have watched a movie just about their characters.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola

Insomnia File #50: Zola (dir by Janicza Bravo)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep around two a.m. on Monday morning, you could have turned over to Showtime 2’s west coast feed and watched Zola.

Zola tells the story of Zola (Taylor Paige), a Detroit waitress and part-time stripper who is invited to go down to Florida by another stripper, Stefani (Riley Keough).  Stefani assures Zola that they’re just going to have a good time and make some money dancing in the clubs.  Instead, it turns out that they’re going to Florida with Stefani’s roommate, X (Colman Domingo, showing compelling flashes of charisma and danger), and her simple-minded but loyal boyfriend, Derrek (Nicholas Braun).  It also turns out that X is actually a Nigerian named Abegunde Olawale and that he is Stefani’s pimp.  It doesn’t take long for Zola to grow annoyed with everyone else on the road trip but, unfortunately, she’s already stuck in Tampa with them.  That’s the problem with going on a road trips with perfect strangers.  The trip grows stranger and more violent with each passing hour.  In fact, it gets so strange that, when Zola eventually tells her story on twitter, the thread goes viral.  And then this movie is made, with a disclaimer that states that most of the story is based on fact.

Zola made quite a splash when it premiered at Sundance in 2020.  Audiences either loved or hated its extreme stylization and rather crass cast of characters.  While the film was originally scheduled to be released in 2020, that release was delayed by the COVID pandemic.  At a time when people were scared to go outside and be near even their closest relatives or friends, I guess someone decided that it wasn’t the right time to release a movie about going on a cramped road trip with two morons and a psychotic pimp.  The film was finally released earlier this year.  It got good critical notices, though audiences seemed to be slightly less enamored with it.

Speaking for myself, I was both impressed and annoyed with Zola.  On the one hand, you have to respect a film that’s willing to run the risk of alienating the audience in order to tell its story.  Zola is violent, vulgar, and frequently funny.  It’s also frequently disturbing, with Zola continually finding herself in a bad situation from which she can’t escape.  Taylour Paige brings a lot of inner strength to the role of Zola.  When Zola gets annoyed, she doesn’t hide it.  When Zola says she’s not going to do something, she means it and she says it with such confidence that even X respects her.  She and Stefani also have an interesting relationship, one that will ring true to anyone who has ever had that one friend who simply cannot stop messing up her life.  The film embraces its characters and their activities, refusing to pass judgment or to sentimentalize.  You have to admire the film’s commitment.  At the same time, the film is occasionally a bit annoying.  It’s so extremely stylized and Stefani is so loud and crass that it can sometimes be tough to take.  This is a film that benefits from being watched at home as opposed to in theater, if just because you can hit pause whenever you feel a migraine starting to come on.  (Poor Zola, meanwhile, is stuck in the back of X’s car, listening to Stefani and Derreck and realizing that she’s pretty much stuck with all of them.)  Zola was produced and distributed by A24 and it is indeed very much an A24 film, loud, frustrating, paranoia-inducing, and occasionally compelling.

Zola is only 90 minutes long but it packs a lot into those minutes.  It’s not a boring film.  At the same time, it’s never quite as subversive as something like Spring Breakers.  Instead, it’s just an energetic recreation of the road trip from Hell.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date

Insomnia File #49: Mystery Date (dir by Jonathan Wacks)


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 or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, around one in the morning, you could have turned over to the HBO Family channel and watched the 1991 comedy, Mystery Date!

A young and extremely adorable Ethan Hawke plays Tom McHugh, a college student who is in love with Geena (Teri Polo), the housesitter next door. The only problem is that Tom is extremely shy and can’t even work up the nerve to ask Genna out. It sure would help if he was rich and charming like his older brother, Craig (Brian McNamara). Eventually, Craig helps his brother out. He gives Tom his credit card and his car so that Tom can take Geena out on a date. What an nice brother! Soon, Tom and Geena are hitting the town and having a great time. They even see Gwar perform which …. well, okay. That probably would not be my ideal first date but whatever.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Craig has gotten involved with some pretty bad things and, as a result, there are two dead bodies in the trunk of the car! Uh-oh, that could be awkward. Plus, the Chinese mafia (led by B.D. Wong) are determined to kill Tom because they think that he’s Craig. And finally, to top it all off, Tom has got a crazed flower delivery guy (played by Fisher Stevens) following him all over the city. Can Tom possibly survive the night and still get a second date!?

Mystery Date starts out nicely. Ethan Hawke is cute in a non-threatening sort of way. Teri Polo is likable. They seem like they would make a cute couple. You want things to work out for them. Unfortunately, once the date actually starts, the film gets frantic without getting any funnier. It becomes a case of the film just trying too hard and you feel as if the film is demanding that you laugh as opposed to offering up a reason to laugh. You watch the film and you don’t so much think about what you’re watching as you think about films like Risky Business and Better Off Dead, both of which told similar stories with a lot more energy and imagination. You have to kind of imagine that whenever Ethan Hawke gives one of his interviews where he talks about why he’s not interested in doing typical mainstream films, this is probably the type of movie that he was talking about. Among the many other things for which we have to thank Richard Linklater, he ensured that Ethan Hawke would never have to star in Mystery Date 2.

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
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice