Insomnia File #34: The Minus Man (dir by Hampton Fancher)


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!

Last night, if you were unable to sleep at one in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 1999 film, The Minus Man!

The Minus Man is a strange little film about a rather odd man.  Vann (Owen Wilson) is a drifter.  He avoids questions about his past with the skill of someone who specializes in being whatever he needs to be at the moment.  When he rents a room from Doug and Jane Durwin (Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl), he tells them that he’s only drunk one beer over the course of his entire life, he always works, he always pays his rent on time, and that he’s never smoked “the dope.”  He says it so earnestly that it’s difficult to know whether you should take him seriously or not.  And yet, Vann is so likable and so charmingly spacey that you can’t help but understand why people automatically trust him.  Vann succeeds not because people believe him but because they want to believe him.

Vann’s new in town.  As he explains to a cop who pulls him over, he’s just interested in seeing the countryside.  From the minute that Vann shows up, he’s accepted by the community.  He goes to a high school football game and befriends the local star athlete (Eric Mabius).  He tries to help repair Doug and Jane’s marriage, which has been strained ever since the disappearance of their daughter.  With Doug’s aid, Vann gets a job at the post office and proves that he wasn’t lying when he said he was a hard worker.  Vann even pursues a tentative romance with the poignantly shy and insecure Ferrin (Janeane Garofalo).

In fact, it’s easy to imagine this film as being a sweet-natured dramedy where a drifter comes into town for the holidays and helps all of the townspeople deal with their problems.  However, from the first time we see him, we know that Vann has some issues.  As Detective Graves (Dennis Haysbert) puts it, Vann is a “cipher, a zero.”  There’s nothing underneath the pleasant surface.  Of course, Graves doesn’t really exist.  Neither does his partner, Detective Blair (Dwight Yoakam).  They’re two figments of Vann’s imagination.  They appear whenever Vann is doing something that he doesn’t want the world to find out about.

Whenever the urge hits him, Vann kills people.  When we first meet him, he’s picking up and subsequently murdering a heroin addict named Casper (Sheryl Crow).  Vann makes it a point to use poison because he says that it’s a painless death.  Vann also says that he’s doing his victims a favor, as he feels that the majority of them no longer want to live.  Vann is the type of killer who, after having committed his latest murder, sees nothing strange about volunteering to help search for the missing victim.

Like a lot of serial killer films, The Minus Man cheats by giving all of the best lines to the killer.  In real life, most serial killers are impotent, uneducated losers who usually end up getting caught as a result of their own stupidity.  In the movies, they’re always surprisingly loquacious and clever.  While Vann may not be a well-spoken as Hannibal Lecter, he’s still a lot more articulate than the majority of real-life serial killers.  As I watched the film, it bothered me that we didn’t really learn more about Vann’s victims.  (It would have been a far different film if someone had mentioned that Vann’s third, unnamed victim was “Randy, who was just having a bite to eat while shopping for a present for his little girl’s birthday.”)  Too often, The Minus Man seemed to be letting Vann off the hook in a way that a film like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or even American Psycho never would.

That said, The Minus Man may be occasionally uneven but it’s still an intriguing and sometimes genuinely creepy film.  The Minus Man makes good use of Owen Wilson’s eccentric screen persona and Wilson gives a very good performance as a man who has become very skilled at hiding just how empty he actually is.  Much like everyone else in the film, you want to believe that there’s more to Vann than meets the eye because, as played by Wilson, he’s just so damn likable.  Over the course of the film, Vann and Doug develop this weird little bromance and, as good as Wilson is, Brian Cox’s performance is even more unsettling because we’re never quite sure what Doug may or may not be capable of doing.  Even Janeane Garofalo gives a touching and believable performance as a character who you find yourself sincerely hoping will not end up getting poisoned.

With all that in mind, I wouldn’t suggest watching this film if you’re trying to get over insomnia.  This is the type of unsettling film that will keep you awake and watching the shadows long after the final credits roll.

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

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: The Dark Tower (dir by Nikolaj Arcel)


What the Hell was The Dark Tower about, anyway?

It’s a legitimate question.  I know that the film was technically a continuation of Stephen King’s overrated Dark Tower books.  Matthew McConaughey was Walter, the Man in the Black, the man who is kidnapping psychic children so that he can weaponize their powers and destroy The Dark Tower.  Idris Elba was Roland, the last of the gunslingers, who is obsessed with killing Walter because Walter killed his father.  And Tom Taylor is Jake, an eleven year-old boy who lives in New York City and who keeps having visions of the Tower, Walter, and Roland.  Walter wants Jake.  Roland wants Walter.  Jake wants to understand it all…

And that’s pretty much the entire movie.  Jake switches back and forth between his world and Roland’s world.  Walter occasionally pops up in New York so that he can kill Jake’s family and assure that Jake won’t have any reason not to continue traveling with Roland at the end of the movie.  It all basically feels like the pilot for a television series and, to be honest, it probably wouldn’t be that bad of a show.  For one thing, if The Dark Tower was a tv show, there would be more of an opportunity to develop the characters of Roland, Walter, and Tom.  The Dark Tower movie only last 95 minutes and the majority of those minutes feel very rushed.

Obviously, if you’ve read Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, this film will be easier for you to follow than it will be for people who have never had to suffer through them.  I know I’m in the minority as far as this is concerned but I find The Dark Tower series to be King at his most pretentious.  Interestingly enough, a little bit of pretension probably would have helped the film version of The Dark Tower.  As it is, The Dark Tower is almost too workmanlike and straight-forward.  It could have really used a pointless Stephen King-style soliloquy about faith, innocence, and horror.  At the very least, they could have had someone in the background, droning on about politics in a Maine accent.

I have to admit that I really, really, really wanted to like The Dark Tower.  I love Idris Elba.  I love Matthew McConaughey.  Even more importantly, I love being a contrarian.  Whenever a film gets as many negative reviews as The Dark Tower, my natural instinct is always to assume that it has to be a secret masterpiece.  I mean, seriously, who trusts critics?  I really wanted to watch The Dark Tower and then write a 1,000-word defense of it.  I was hoping that, much like The Counselor, it would turn out to be a masterpiece that only I could recognize.

Sadly, that didn’t turn out to be the case.  I will say that Matthew McConaughey seemed to be having a sincerely good time playing the bad guy.  And Idris Elba had just the right mix of weariness and compassion to play Roland.  But otherwise, the movie just felt so pointless.

Overall, this has been a pretty good year for Stephen King film adaptations.  It deserves to be nominated for an Oscar, though it won’t be.  Gerald’s Game made people thankful for Netflix.  The Dark Tower, though, will be quickly forgotten.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Fist Fight (dir by Richie Keen)


While I wouldn’t begin to argue that it’s been a great year for movies, there were still some really good movies released in 2017.

Unfortunately, there were also some really bad ones.

Which do you think Fist Fight was?

If you answered really bad, congratulations!

Actually, I don’t think anyone was expecting Fist Fight to be a classic or anything like that.  Basically, the film is about a conflict between two teachers, a conflict that seems destined to end with the event promised by the title.  The two teachers are played by Ice Cube and Charlie Day.  Of course, in the movie, they have different name but it doesn’t matter.  Neither character has an identity outside of the actor who plays him.  Charlie Day is nerdy and quick to yell.  Ice Cube is tough and intimidating and not the type to back down from a fight.

Now, at the risk of losing all credibility, I’m going to be honest about something.  When I first saw the trailer for Fist Fight, I thought it might not be as bad as it turned out to be.  Charlie Day is hilarious on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  One of the more appealing things about Ice Cube is his willingness to poke fun at his tough guy image.  More often than not, I tend to like movies about teachers acting like children because, when I was in school, I always suspected that was the way teachers actually behaved when they were safely in the teacher’s lounge.  Charlie Day desperately running around the school, hyperventilating while Ice Cube pops up to remind him that they have a fist fight scheduled?  Seriously, it sounded like it could be funny in a dumb way.

Well, I was wrong.  Fist Fight is one of the most painfully unfunny films that I’ve ever seen.  This is a movie that should have been focused on one thing: the fist fight at the end of the day.  The entire movie should have been Charlie Day preparing for a fight that he knows he can’t possibly win.  Instead, the movie kept getting distracted with unnecessary subplots.  For instance, because it’s the last day before summer, all of the students are pulling pranks on their teachers.  In fact, the entire student body is out-of-control.  But who cares?  We’re here to see Charlie Day try to throw a punch at Ice Cube.  We don’t care about a bunch of obnoxious students pulling pranks that seem like they were directly lifted from a Crown International high school movie.  If we want to see that, we can rewatch The Pom Pom Girls or Joy of Sex.  And if we want to watch a teacher stand up to his students, we can watch Class of 1984.

The film is full of funny people but it never really takes advantage of them.  Actors like Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Christina Hendricks pop up but just as quickly disappear.  Charlie Day does his best but the level of writing never rises to the level of It’s Sunny In Philadelphia.  (I personally would love to see “The Gang Gets In A Fist Fight With Ice Cube.”)  Compared to Fist Fight, even something like Horrible Bosses looks like nuanced and subversive humor.  There’s a lot of screeching in Fist Fight but very little of it is funny.

A Movie A Day #118: Navy SEALs (1990, directed by Lewis Teague)


While rescuing hostages in the Middle East, a team of Navy SEALs discover that terrorist leader Ben Shaheed (Nicholas Kadi) has a warehouse full of stinger missiles.  Hawkins (Charlie Sheen) wants to destroy the missiles but his superior, Curran (Michael Biehn), orders him to concentrate on saving the hostages.  As a result, Shaheed has time to move the missiles to another location.  With the help of a Lebanese-American journalist (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) and the CIA, the SEALs must now track down the new location and destroy the missiles before they are used by Shaheed’s organization.

Navy SEALs is mostly memorable for the amount of James Cameron alumni who appear in its cast.  The cast not only features The Terminator‘s Michael Biehn and Rick Rossovich but Bill Paxton as well.  Of course, the main star is Charlie Sheen, still technically a serious actor at the time, who gives a wide-eyed and histrionic performance that suggests Hawkins may have snorted a little marching powder before reporting for duty.  24‘s Dennis Haysbert plays a SEAL who is engaged to marry Law & Order‘s S. Epatha Merkerson.  Haysbert spends so much time planning his wedding and talking about both the importance of both duty and love that the only shocking thing about his role is that he manages to survive half the movie before getting killed.  Neither Val Kilmer nor Cary Elwes is in the cast, though it seems like they both should be.

Navy SEALs was a box office bust in 1990 but, after the death of Osama Bin Laden, it experienced a sudden upswing in popularity and even appeared on primetime television a few times.  The scene where the SEALs blow off some steam by playing golf is a classic but, otherwise, this is a largely forgettable Top Gun rip off.

Shattered Politics #60: Absolute Power (dir by Clint Eastwood)


Absolute_power

The main reason that I enjoyed the 1997 Clint Eastwood film Absolute Power was because it features a murderer who also happens to be the President.  As someone who dislike the idea of any one person having absolute power, I always get annoyed by the attitude that authority is something that has to be automatically respected.  Instead, I’ve always felt that all authority should be distrusted and continually questioned.

Just take President Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman) for example.  At the start of Absolute Power, he’s a popular President.  He’s quick with a smile.  He’s quick with a memorable line.  I imagine that excerpts from his State of the Union speech would probably be very popular on YouTube.  However, at the start of the film, elderly burglar Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) witnesses President Richmond getting violent with Jan Levinson-Gould.  When Jan resists him, two Secret Service agents (Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert) run into the room and shoot her.

Okay, technically, the victim was not really The Office‘s Jan Levinson-Gould.  (They both just happen to be played by Melora Hardin.)  Instead, her name was Christy Sullivan and she was also the wife of one of Richmond’s top financial supporters, Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall).  After the murder, President Richmond and his chief-of-staff, Gloria Russell (Judy Davis), attempt to frame Luther for the crime.

Absolute Power is pretty much your typical Clint Eastwood action picture.  In the role of Luther, Eastwood snarls his way through the film and never dispatches a bad guy without providing a ruthless quip.  (When one bad guy begs for mercy, Luther replies that he’s “fresh out.”)  Luther has an estranged daughter, a lawyer named Kate (Laura Linney) and, despite the fact that she’s helping the homicide detective (Ed Harris) who is trying to capture him, Luther still pops up to look out for her.  In the end, Luther’s not only try to prove that the President is a murderer but he’s trying to be a better father as well!  Awwwwwww!

Again, it’s all pretty predictable but the film is worth seeing just for the chance to witness Gene Hackman play one of the most evil Presidents ever.  As far as soulless chief executives are concerned, Alan Richmond makes Woodrow Wilson look like a humanitarian!  And Hackman does a good job embodying the affable type of evil that could conceivably translate into an electoral landslide.

Absolute Power may not be a great film but it’s a good one to watch whenever you need an excuse to be cynical about the absolute power of the government.

Trailer: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Official Teaser)


Sin City A Dame to Kill For

Hard to imagine it’s been 9 years since the original Sin City hit the big screen. It was a comic book adaptation that many thought wouldn’t work, especially how Rodriguez envisioned it to be slavishly loyal to not just Miller’s dialogue but also his unique art style.

The original film’s success quickly ramped up rumors that a sequel was already being planned using the second graphic novel in the Sin City series. Rodriguez himself stated he wanted Angelina Jolie for the role of Ava Lord, the titular “Dame to Kill For”, but after years and years of delay the role finally landed on Eva Green‘s lap (not a bad choice and one I fully support).

So, we’re now going back to Basin City for more tales of booze, broads and bullets in this hyper-noir film that should be loved or hated in equal measures by those who have followed Frank Miller’s career. Once again the directing duties have been split between Rodriguez and Miller. Here’s to hoping that Miller has learned how to be a much better directer after his last film, The Spirit, tanked.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is set for an August 22, 2014 release date.

2013 In Review: The Best of SyFy


It’s been quite a year for the SyFy network, even if the network’s most widely-seen original film, Sharknado, was actually one of their weaker offerings.  As a proud member of the Snarkalecs and a Snarkies voter, I’ve certainly enjoyed watching, reviewing, and live tweeting all of the films that SyFy and the Asylum have had to offer us this year.

Below, you’ll find my personal nominees for the best SyFy films and performances of 2013.  (Winners are listed in bold.)

End of the World

Best Film

Battledogs

Blast Vegas

*End of the World

Flying Monkeys

Ghost Shark

Zombie Night

Best Actor

Neil Grayston in End of the World

*Greg Grunberg in End of the World

Anthony Michael Hall in Zombie Night

Frankie Muniz in Blast Vegas

Corin Nemec in Robocroc

Tom Everett Scott in Independence Daysaster

Best Actress

Maggie Castle in Blast Vegas

Lacey Chabert in Scarecrow

Kaitlyn Leeb in Grave Halloween

*Maika Monroe in Flying Monkeys

Ariana Richards in Battledogs

Mackenzie Rosman in Ghost Shark

Best Supporting Actor

Barry Bostwick in Blast Vegas

William B. Davis in Stonados

Brad Dourif in End of the World

Dennis Haysbert in Battledogs

John Heard in Sharknado

*Richard Moll in Ghost Shark

Best Supporting Actress

*Shirley Jones in Zombie Night

Nicole Munoz in Scarecrow

Jill Teed in Independence Daysaster

Jackie Tuttle in Flying Monkeys

Dee Wallace in Robocroc

Kate Vernon in Battledogs

Best Director

Griff Furst for Ghost Shark

Robert Grasmere for Flying Monkeys

John Gulager for Zombie Night

W.D. Hogan for Independence Daysaster

*Steven R. Monroe for End of the World

Jack Perez for Blast Vegas

Best Screenplay

Shane Van Dyke for Battledogs

Joe D’Ambrosia for Blast Vegas

*Jason C. Bourque and David Ray for End of The World

Silvero Gouris for Flying Monkeys

Paul A. Birkett for Ghost Shark

Rick Suvalle for Scarecrow

Flying Monkeys

Best Monster

*Skippy from Flying Monkeys

The Shark from Ghost Shark

Robocroc from Robocroc

The Scarecrow from Scarecrow

The Tasmanian Devils from Tasmanian Devils

The Zombies from Zombie Night

Battledogs

Tomorrow, I will continue my look back at 2013 with my picks for the 16 worst films of 2013!