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

Insomnia File #48: Malice (dir by Harold Becker)


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 12 midnight, you could have turned over to the Cinemax and watched the 1993 thriller, Malice.  And then you could have spent the next few hours trying to figure out what you just watched.

Seriously, there’s a lot going on in Malice.  The screenplay is credited to Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank and while it has enough overly arch dialogue and untrustworthy women to plainly identify it as being a product of Sorkin’s imagination, it’s also filled with a mini-series worth of incidents and subplots and random characters.  This is also one of those films where no one can simply answer a question with a “yes” or a “no.”  Instead, it’s one of those movies where everyone gets a monologue, giving the proceedings a rather theatrical feel.  It’s the type of thing that David Mamet could have pulled off.  (Check out The Spanish Prisoner for proof.)  Harold Becker, however, was a far more conventionally-minded director and he often seems to be at a loss with what to do with all of the film’s Sorkinisms (and, to be fair, Frankisms as well).

The film starts out as a thriller, with a serial rapist stalking a college campus and Prof. Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) becoming an unlikely suspect.  Then it turns into a domestic drama as Andy and his wife, Tracy (Nicole Kidman), talk about starting a family.  Then Andy meets a brilliant surgeon named Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin) and the film turns into a roommate from Hell story after Jed moves in with them.  Then it becomes a medical drama after a mistake by Dr. Hill leaves Tracy unable to have children.  Then it returns briefly to the campus rapist story before then turning into a modern-day noir as Andy discovers that Tracy has secrets of her own.  (Whenever one watches a film written by Aaron Sorkin, you can practically hear him whispering, “Women are not to be trusted….” in the background.)  Even as you try to keep up with the plot, you find yourself distracted by all of the cameos.   George C. Scott glowers as Jed’s mentor.  Anne Bancroft acts the Hell out of her role as a drunken con artist.  Peter Gallagher is the lawyer you distrust because he’s Peter Gallagher.  Tobin Bell shows up as a handyman.  Gwynneth Paltrow, in one of her first roles, plays dead convincingly

It’s a big and busy and messy film and it too often mistakes being complicated for being clever.  Bill Pullman is a likable hero but you have to be willing to overlook that the script requires him to do some truly stupid things.  Nicole Kidman is always well-cast as a femme fatale but again, the script often lets her down.

Surprisingly enough, it’s Alec Baldwin who comes out of the film unscathed.  Watching Baldwin in this film, it’s hard to believe that he’s the same actor who has since become something of a bloated self-parody.  Yes, he’s playing an arrogant character (which is pretty much his trademark) but, in Malice, he actually brings a hint of subtlety and wit to his performance.  Baldwin does very little bellowing in the film, despite playing a role that one would think would naturally appeal to all of his bellowing instincts.  Malice is a mess but it’s nice to see the type of actor that Alec Baldwin once was.

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

Insomnia File #47: Downhill (dir by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)


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 at two in the morning last night, you could have turned over to HBO and watched Downhill, the remake of Force Majeure that was released in February.

Downhill tells the story of annoying family taking a ski vacation in Austria.  Billie Stanton (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a high-powered attorney who gets annoyed when things don’t go perfectly.  Pete Stanton (Will Ferrell) is …. well, he’s Will Ferrell playing a typical Will Ferrell role.  He’s a big. annoying dofus who spends all of his time on his phone and who is constantly telling the same long, boring, faux profound story about his dead father.  They have two annoying sons and it’s pretty obvious from the start that neither Billie nor Pete is particularly happy with how their marriage or their lives have turned out.  When Pete abandons his family during a minor avalanche, it leads to Billie realizing that Pete doesn’t really seem to be that much into his family or his marriage.  But, since that was obvious from the start, it’s not really that big of a revelation for the audience.

Downhill is a frustrating film to watch, especially if you’ve seen Force Majeure.  Downhill takes the basic storyline of Force Majeure and all of the issues that were raised by Force Majeure and then it explores them in the shallowest way possible.  A lot of the trouble comes down to the fact that Will Ferrell is a good comedian but he’s an inconsistent dramatic actor.  The film tries to work as a dramedy but Ferrell approaches each scene as if it were a sketch on Saturday Night Live.  As a result, Downhill is less like Force Majeure and more like an episode of The Office where D’Angelo Vickers takes everyone skiing.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a little bit more grounded in reality but there’s really not much to her role, beyond being annoyed.

I did like the performance of Zach Woods, playing a pretentious friend of the couple and bragging about how he went skiing on shrooms.  Woods has a talent for suggesting the oddness that often hides behind the most straight-laced of facades.  And the scenes with Miranda Otto as a decadent libertine would have been funny if they didn’t feel as if they belonged in a totally different move.  For the most part, though, Downhill fell flat.

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

Insomnia File #46: Enter the Ninja (dir by Menahem Golan)


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!

It’s been nearly a year since I did my last Insomnia File.  To be honest, as much as I enjoy writing these posts, I feel like the idea behind the Insomnia File format has become obsolete.  The days of people dealing with insomnia by randomly flipping through movies and infomercials have pretty much come to an end.  Now, if someone has insomnia, they’re more likely to binge an old show on Netflix.

That said, if you had insomnia at one in the morning last night and you didn’t feel like binging The Office for the hundredth time, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1981 film, Enter the Ninja.

What would you have gotten out of Enter the Ninja?  Five words: France Nero as a ninja.  Seriously, what more do you need?  Nero plays Cole, a former mercenary who goes off to Japan, trains to become a ninja, and then heads off for the Philippines, where his old mercenary friend, Frank (Alex Courtney), owns a farm.  Frank and his wife, Mary-Ann (Susan George) are having problems because evil businessman Charles Venarius (Christopher George, chewing up the scenery as the bad guy) is determined to force them off of their land.  Add to that, Frank is a pathetic drunk.

Soon, Cole is putting on his white ninja suit and fighting to protect the farm and also dealing with Venarius’s ninja, who just happens to be an old rival of Cole’s.  Cole is also carrying on an affair with Mary-Ann but that’s not big deal because Frank isn’t much of a man.  One of the most interesting things about Enter the Ninja is that it may be a martial arts film but it’s also a modern western and a domestic drama.  Cole could just as easily be a gunslinger, protecting the homesteaders.  Frank and Mary-Ann could just as easily be a couple on a daytime drama.  Instead, they’re all in a ninja film.

The main appeal of Enter the Ninja is Franco Nero, an actor who — in his prime — was one of the sexiest men to ever appear in the movies.  He spends a good deal of the film with his face covered but the important thing is that you can still see those beautiful blue eyes.  As usual, Nero gives a good performance with so-so material.  Nero brings his trademark intensity to the role and he does actually seem to care about whether or not his friends lose their farm.

Enter the Ninja was directed by the legendary Menahem Golan, a filmmaker who understood the importance of never letting the action slow down.  Enter the Ninja is dumb, over the top, and entertaining.  Plus, it’s got Franco Nero!  What else do you need at one in the morning?

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

Insomnia File #45: The Pyramid (dir by Gary Kent)


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 you were having trouble getting to sleep at one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the TCM Underground premiere of a low-budget oddity that was first released in 1976, The Pyramid.

The Pyramid is a collection of disjointed scenes, some of which are unsettling, some of which are rather amateurish, and some of which are oddly poignant.  It’s perhaps as strange a film as a film about hippies in Dallas could be.  The film opens in North Dallas, with a disturbing scene of an old man having a heart attack while driving his car and crashing into a school bus.  (As far as school bus crashes go, it was almost as disturbing as the one that would later open Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue.)  Two reporters show up to cover the carnage — supercool L.A. Ray (Ira Hawkins) and his cameraman, Chris Lowe (C.B. Brown).  In the style of Medium Cool, they’re both detached from the tragedy and the carnage around them.

The film moves on from the school bus crash, which is never again mentioned once L.A. and Chris file their story.  We get a series of scenes that may or may not be connected.  L.A. argues with a woman who might be his wife.  Chris wanders around Dallas and tries to film people talking about their lives.  At one point, Chris and L.A. drive through Dealey Plaza and Chris stares back at the Book Depository Building.  At a party, Chris tells a random woman that both Jesus and Richard Nixon were Capricorns.  L.A. and Chris smoke weed while driving around.  Later, they take part in a slow motion flag football game with a group of hippies.  An old man in a steam room suggests that everyone should imagine being dead.

Chris and L.A. stumble across a shoot out involving the police.  A young black man is gunned down by the cops.  L.A. spends several minutes loudly vomiting.  They go to an abandoned church that is sitting in the middle of the countryside and talk to an old man who says that he’s had religious visions.  Back at the station, Chris’s boss accuses Chris of shooting out-of-focus footage and accuses him of being pretentious.  Chris is fired.

L.A. disappears from the film for a while as Chris wanders around with his camera.  Chris interviews a hog farmer who is worried that he’s going to lose his hogs.  He covers a vacuous fashion show in the backyard of a Highland Park mansion.  In Oak Cliff, he stops to stare at a rooster.  (For the record, the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas is famous for its roosters.)

Chris meets a “confrontational therapist” named Merleen (Tomi Barrett).  Merleen screams at a middle-aged man until the man starts screaming back, his entire body shaking as if he’s become possessed.  Chris meets with his friend Bubba and asks if this is the way that we want the world to be.  People gather underneath a makeshift pyramid.  An astronaut is interviewed about conducting ESP experiments in space.  The real-life suicide of newswoman Christine Chubbuck is crudely recreated and then not mentioned again.  The entire cast appears gathered around a pyramid and starts to sing.  Meanwhile, the sun rises over the Dallas skyline….

The Dallas skyline and the sun rising over it is a sight that’s often seen in this film.  As a Dallas native, I enjoyed that part of The Pyramid.  Even though the film was made long before I was even born, I still saw plenty of familiar sights in The Pyramid.  It’s rare that I get to watch a movie and yell out, “Hey, I’ve driven through that tunnel!”  That part of the movie was fun.

The Pyramid was an odd film.  Just from my own research, I discovered that The Pyramid was filmed over the course of at least two years.  If nothing else, this confirmed one of my main suspicions about the film.  Though production on the film started in either 1972 or 1973, it still features a recreation of Christine Chubbuck’s 1974 suicide.  That would seem to suggest that the film itself was kind of “made up” as things went along.  (It also potentially explains why the suicide is never again mentioned after it rather abruptly happens.)  That certainly explains why the film is such an episodic and disjointed experience.

What’s the film really about?  Your guess is as good as mine.  In many ways, it feels like a Texas version of Medium Cool but it’s also obvious that the filmmaker’s had grander goals in mind than just paying homage to Haskell Wexler’s classic portrait of alienation.  As you can tell by looking at the advertisement at the bottom of this review, The Pyramid was advertised as being “a positive mystical experience.”  The ad also states that “For this engagement, the theaters have been energized with pyramid power.”  The film suggests that we’re all connected to each other and that we need to seek out and embrace the positive, lest we become so consumed by all the negative and hate that we end up like Christine Chubbuck.  It’s a message that’s both naive and kind of sweet.  Whatever else can be said about this movie, it can’t be faulted for a lack of sincerity.

The Pyramid‘s a mess but I kind of liked it.  Of course, I have a weakness for low-budget passion projects.  Whatever flaws this film may have (and it has many), it’s obvious the someone really felt that they had something important to say with this film.  It’s not necessary to agree with the film’s conclusion to respect director Gary Kent’s commitment to bringing to life his own vision.  That said, it bears repeating that The Pyramid is definitely a flawed film.  The acting is frequently amateurish.  The sound quality is far from perfect.  The narrative momentum starts to seriously drag during the 2nd half of the film.  But it has its strengths too.  The shots of the Dallas skyline are impressive and there are a few cinema verite sequences that are interesting from a historical point of view.  (This film basically is a time capsule of the early 70s.)  In the end, it stays true to its own bizarre vision and there’s definitely something to be said for that.

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

Insomnia File #44: Cat Run (dir by John Stockwell)


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 you were having trouble getting to sleep at 3 in the morning, you could have turned over to Showtime and watched the 2011 action film, Cat Run.

So, here’s what you get when you watch Cat Run.  You get:

  1. A few beach scenes
  2. Some stylish action sequences
  3. A nearly incoherent plot
  4. Lots of naked people
  5. Two bumbling heroes
  6. A prostitute with a heart of gold, a young child, and an encrypted hard drive
  7. A cold-as-ice female assassin played by a distinguished, Oscar-nominated performer
  8. Massive and sudden changes in tone as the film goes from comedy to action to comedy again
  9. Sex
  10. Violence

In other words, Cat Run is a John Stockwell film.  As a director, Stockwell specializes in making unpretentious films, ones that usually feature beautiful people doing stuff on the beach.  He makes the type of films that will probably never win an Academy Award (though Kirsten Dunst perhaps deserved a nomination for her performance in Stockwell’s Crazy/Beautiful) but which are still occasionally entertaining if you’re in the right mood for them.  (Seriously, just watch Stockwell’s In The Blood and then ask yourself why he could make the perfect Gina Carano film while Steven Soderbergh couldn’t.)

Cat Run takes place is Montenegro.  The prostitute is named Cat (Paz Vega).  The encrypted hard drive contains footage of a politician (Christopher McDonald) killing a woman at an orgy.  The two bumbling detectives who help her out are named Julian (Alphonso McAuley) and Anthony (Scott Mechlowicz) and they occasionally get a funny line or two.  The assassin who is sent to take care of Cat is Helen and she’s played by Janet McTeer.  Helen is coldly efficient and ruthless killer but she has a difficult time tracking down Cat.  That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it?  The bad guys are always super competent until the movie begins, at which point they suddenly can’t shoot straight.

Anyway, Cat Run is not a particularly memorable movie but it has its entertaining moments.  It’s hyper stylish and the cast seems to be having a good time.  At the very least, you get the feeling that everyone probably enjoyed spending their days off in Montenegro and good for them!  McTeer, not surprisingly, steals the film but Paz Vega has some good moments too.  All in all, this is an enjoyable film that doesn’t have a hint of ambition.  It is what it is and what’s wrong with that?

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

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

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

Insomnia File #41: Elektra (dir by Rob Bowman)


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, around 2 in the morning on Saturday, you were having trouble getting to sleep, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 2005 film, Elektra.

Elektra (Jennifer Garner) used to be dead but now she’s alive again.  She was killed during the 2003 film, Daredevil, but, two years later, she was resurrected by a blind martial artist named Stick (Terence Stamp).  Stick taught her how to not only fight but also how see into the future, which I guess is helpful if you have to decide whether or not to throw one of those little knife things at someone.  (As you can tell, I’m definitely the expert when it comes to martial arts and ninja assassins.)

Elektra uses her training to become the world’s most deadly assassin, which is probably not what Stick had intended but what’s he gong to do, right?  However, when Elektra is ordered to kill a totally hot guy and his 13 year-old daughter, she starts to have doubts about whether or not being a murderer-for-hire is really for her.  And can you blame her?  Not only do you not get to make many friends but I imagine that you’re also constantly having to buy new arrows for your crossbow and that has to get expensive at some point.

So, Elektra decides not to kill the hot guy or his daughter but it tuns out that an evil group of ninjas called The Hand are determined to kill the guy anyway and apparently his daughter is perhaps destined to maintain the balance between the forces of good and evil.  (Don’t ask me, I didn’t write the script.)  Elektra has to take it upon herself to defeat the Hand and hopefully ensure that the hot guy’s daughter gets to enjoy her adolescence without having to worry about balancing killing people with school work.

Elektra was released with a lot of fanfare back in 2005.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, which apparently led to Marvel getting into their head that no one would pay money to see a comic book film with a female hero.  (This belief was disproven 12 years later, with Wonder Woman.)  Today, in the wake of the MCU and whatever DC calls their cinematic universe, Elektra feels almost like a relic.  It’s a film that lacks of the self-awareness of the later comic book films but it also never matches them in their scope or their ability to make us feel as if we’ve entered into a separate, fully functioning universe.  Elektra is from the age when comic book movie didn’t want to admit that they were comic book movies.

It’s a silly film but, at the same time, it can be kind of fun if you’re in a particularly undemanding mood.  Watching it last night, I was shocked to be reminded of the fact that there was a time when Jennifer Garner actually kicked serious ass.  The fight scenes are fun to watch, mostly because it’s a woman who gets to beat everyone up.  The dialogue is fun to listen to because it’s all so terribly written.  (All of the bad guys refer to the title character as being, “the female, Elektra!,” as if it was felt that there was some sort of danger of the audience forgetting who the star of the film was.)  It’s an enjoyably dumb movie, which makes it perfect for insomnia-fueled viewing.

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