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

Music Video of the Day: Sorry You Asked? by Dwight Yoakam (1996, dir. Dwight Yoakam)


It’s time to pick up with Harry Dean Stanton’s character from Heart Of Stone. This time we find out his name is Bobby Watkins. The video plays the same till about one minute and fifty seconds. That’s where the videos split.

We see Bobby go into the skating rink with two sets of skates, but we’ll soon see that he has no partner for the couples-only skating period.

Bobby starts skating on his own when we get my favorite bit with Stanton. Am I smoking? How did that get there? Let me just toss it like I have no idea where it came from. He also tells him he can’t be out there during couples-only.

Office-guy sits down with Bobby, and he asks what happen to Carolyn. I assume she’s the lady from Heart Of Stone.

That’s when the video launches into the song at close to four minutes into the video. I wonder how much this was edited when it was aired. That’s a lot of build-up regardless of the fact that music plays during it.

This is the better video between this and Heart Of Stone. Not only do we get to see Stanton onstage with Yoakam, but…

we also get a more playful Dwight Yoakam.

It works well in contrast to Stanton.

This works especially well when Yoakam fades his own vocals out at the end before you would expect, and then drops you off emotionally by cutting to Stanton singing the chorus in black-and-white.

This might be my favorite of the Harry Dean Stanton videos. He was a good choice for this even if his age makes Heart Of Stone seem a little ridiculous. That’s assuming I put these in the correct order and that she was supposed to be Carolyn. Enjoy!

Harry Dean Stanton Retrospective:

  1. Heart Of Stone by Dwight Yoakam (1996, dir. Dwight Yoakam)

Music Video of the Day: Heart Of Stone by Dwight Yoakam (1996, dir. Dwight Yoakam)


A lot of the time somebody famous, who isn’t associated with music, passes away, I can find one or maybe two music videos they helmed or were in. Harry Dean Stanton did more than just one or two music videos. I can find a record of 7 of them. I can find 5 of them. Let’s do them all. They’re all worth spotlighting.

Edit: I found 2 more for a total of 9 that I know of, and 7 of them that I can find.

The earliest I can find is one he did for Dwight Yoakam’s song Heart Of Stone. He did another one for Yoakam the same year.

I must admit that the extent of my knowledge about Dwight Yoakam is that their is a country musician named Dwight Yoakam. He helmed up to possibly 13 music videos. There are a couple where he was a co-director, but the majority of them have him listed as being the solo director. He even directed a movie called South Of Heaven, West Of Hell in 2000.

There are two interesting things about this video for me–aside from Stanton

The look. I love the grainy footage and the lighting.

The fact that it takes one minute and fifty seconds to even get to the song.

Otherwise, I like the other one Stanton did with Yoakam better. Particularly because you get to hear Stanton sing. However, you do need to watch them both since this one leads into the other. I’ll do that one tomorrow. Think of this as the introduction to the set and character that will be followed up on in the next video.

A Movie A Day #90: Red Rock West (1992, directed by John Dahl)


The place is Red Rock, a little town located in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.  When a man from Texas (played by Nicolas Cage) wanders into his bar, the owner, Wayne (J.T. Walsh), assumes that the man is Lyle From Dallas, the semi-legendary hit man who Wayne has hired to kill his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle).  Wayne gives the man half of his payment in advance and promises the other half after Suzanne is dead.  What Wayne doesn’t realize is that Lyle From Dallas is not actually Lyle From Dallas.  Instead, he is a drifter named Michael who has just recently lost his job.  Michael takes Wayne’s money but, when he sees Suzanne, he tells her that Wayne wants her dead.  Suzanne responds by offering to pay Michael to kill Wayne.  Michael mostly just wants to leave town but his every effort is thwarted, with him continually only managing to get a mile or two out of town just to then find circumstances forcing him to once again pass the Red Rock welcome sign.  Meanwhile, the real Lyle From Dallas (Dennis Hopper) has shown up and he is pissed.

Red Rock West is a clever and energetic neo noir that plays out like the child of a marriage between the Coen Brothers and David Lynch.  Like the Coens’ Blood SimpleRed Rock West is a violent movie that is full of twist and turns and features characters who are often confused and rarely understand what is actually going on.  From David Lynch, it borrows both Twin Peaks‘s Lara Flynn Boyle and Blue Velvet‘s Dennis Hopper.  Red Rock West was made when Nicolas Cage still gave a damn and it also shows why, during his short career, J.T. Walsh was everyone’s favorite duplicitous character actor.  Hopper is his usual crazy self and Boyle is a sultry and sexy fatale.  Red Rock West is one of the best neo noirs of the 1990s.

Review: Crank (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


Through the Shattered Lens has been quite eclectic when it comes to reviewing films, music and all forms of entertainment. While we’re not averse to the more high-brow and artistic fare what will come across to most visitors of the site is how love for grindhouse and exploitation films are quite strong in this place. Grindhouse and exploitation of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s usually fill the bill but once in a while a certain film of aq more recent time frame will make the cut. One such film is the over-the-top, ultraviolent and extremely funny film Crank from Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, or as they like to call themselves, Neveldine/Taylor.

One thing I must point out is how this movie has confirmed Jason Statham in my eyes as the current action-star of the last couple years. A favorite of Brit action-auteur director Guy Ritchie, Statham has gradually built himself a decent list of action-movies that take good advantage of Statham’s old-school sense of machismo and smirking confidence reminiscent of the such past macho actors like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen just to name a few. Statham is thick in body, but none too muscular and his wry, British sardonic personality mixes well with his many different action-movie personas. In Crank he pretty much steals and holds the ludicrous and unique different plot from spiralling out into camp and MST3K territory. Even though Statham would never be considered an acting giant, his performance as the hitman Chev Chelios racing against time to avenge his inevitable death was very well done. Crank starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Like the actions and behavior of its main character, this film seems to be racing towards the end and not caring to slow down and give the audience a chance to take a breather. He literally willed this film to be nothing but crazily entertaining.

Many have called the idea for Crank as another derivative of the mid-90’s action film Speed. I’d be the first to say that they’re really not off the mark by much. Instead of a bus wired to explode if it dips below a predetermined speed, Crank puts the same premise and uses a human body instead. The human in question is one Chev Chelios whose botching of a contract hit lands him in a bit of hot water with the underworld bosses who hired him to do the job. Ambushed and knocked unconscious, Chelios soon wakes up to realize that something is definitely wrong with him. A bit of villain grandstanding from the employer he disappointed, Chelios quickly finds out that he has been injected with an exotic cocktail of chemicals called the Beijing Cocktail (definitely sounds like something made-up for a grindhouse flick) which would kill him by inhibiting his body’s ability to produce adrenaline. He learns from a colleague that he will need to keep his adrenaline pumping constantly to remain among the living and must do so by any means necessary. Whether he accomplishes this through extreme physical activities, drugs, and energy drinks Chelios must do them all in order to buy himself enough time to tie up lose ends in his life and to find the employers who have killed him. That is pretty much the story of Crank in a nutshell.

Crank doesn’t take much of the film’s early minutes to explain some backstory on Chelios other than him being a professional hitman. Instead writer-directors Neveldine/Taylor use the entire running time of the movie to gradually give glimpses into what kind of a person Chev Chelios is. With their use of handheld digital cameras and kinetic-style editing and camera shots, Neveldine/Taylor takes the premise of Crank and lets the audience ride along not just as passive viewers but almost like active participants. The “in the now” look of the film with some shots angled so that they’re almost in first-person or over the shoulder views doesn’t look as gimmicky as it sounds. One film released the same year that compares to Crank in terms of unique filmmaking for an action film it would be Running Scared that was released earlier this year. Both take the action flick conventions and dare to rise above it either through a dark fairytale style that was Running Scared or the manic, darkly amoral humor that gives Crank such an exhilirating sense of pacing.

The one thing that people will remember most about this movie is the many action sequences that happen throughout the film. With their decision to use handheld digital cameras, action sequences in Crank take on an almost hyperkinetic look to them. Again this film shares some similarities with Running Scared with how its action sequences were shot with such inventive use of angles and framing not to mention in-your-face violence. Crank has less of the surreal quality of Running Scared and more of a live newscast. In fact, at times I felt as if I was watching a news crew vainly chasing after Statham’s character as he paints the Los Angeles with non-stop adrenaline-pumping violence and activities. Whether its him getting into an outnumbered free-for-all brawl with a certain inner-city gang or having a very impromptu, unexpected and thoroughly indecent display of public affection with dozens in witness, the film’s amoral and sense of active nihilism makes this film a most politically-incorrect one. There’s a scene involving a taxi driver that was wrong on so many levels yet it invoked some of the biggest laughs and reactions from myself and the audience around me when I first saw it in the theaters.

The violence comes hard and fast and unlike Statham’s past couple of Transporter flicks, there’s nary a martial art choreographed fight scene to be seen. No, Chelios is an action film character who attacks and fights with sudden directness and brutality with as little movements required as possible. Chelios doesn’t need kung fu or karate moves to take out an opponent when a a well-placed kick, punch, elbow, etc…is all that’s needed to put a man down. Crank’s action sequences also had no CGI used (something I learned prior to seeing the film) with Statham doing most of his stunts. This wouldn’t be too much of a big deal until one factors in the fact that one of the action pieces takes place in a helicopter flying a thousand or so feet above the street of LA. Statham must have quite a steely pair if there’s truth behind him doing that helicopter fight with no greenscreen CG trickery or wire-fu assistance used.

Outside of Statham the rest of the cast took to their roles with a relish and had fun with them. And as with every action-flicks the hero will need a foil to motivate him. Statham’s Chelios has his opposite number in Verona played with thuggish calculation by Jose Pablo Castillo. Then there’s Doc Dwight Yoakam as Doc Miles. Chelios’ acquaintance whose knowledge of all things chemical borders on the absurd but in Crank makes it work. But the other performer who stood out outside of Jason Statham has to be Amy Smart as Chelios’ ditzy but well-meaning girlfriend, Eve. She plays this character to the hilt and seem to be having a ball while doing so. Her outdoor scene of PDA with Statham and a follow-up scene during a car chase shows me that Ms. Smart was pretty game about going all the way with how to portray her character.

I won’t mention too many more details on what actually happens in the film since I think its best to see it for oneself. Words can’t really describe the sheer insanity and fun mayhem this movie puts up on the big-screen. The story may not be too original and it’s lead may not be the best actor out there, but what Statham lacks in acting proficiency he more than makes up for sheer charisma and old-school machismo that’s way too rare in action-flick actors nowadays. Crank is more than your run-of-the-mill action movie. The creativity shown by writer-directors Neveldine/Taylor gives Crank a unique look and their attempts to try new techniques succeeds more than it fails. But in the end this film lives and dies on the shoulders of Jason Statham who I must say is the action-hero of this new generation of actors.

So, better grab hold tight of something or someone, because this film is one hell of a ride and you’re not getting off until the very end whether you like it or not.