Insomnia File #33: The Comedian (dir by Taylor Hackford)


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 around two in the morning last night, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2016 film, The Comedian.

It probably wouldn’t have helped.  It’s not that The Comedian is a particularly interesting movie or anything like that.  Abysmally paced and full of dull dialogue, The Comedian would be the perfect cure for insomnia if it just wasn’t so damn loud.  Robert De Niro plays an aging comedian named Jackie Burke and, in this movie, being an aging comedian means that you shout out your punch lines with such force that you almost seem to be threatening anyone who doesn’t laugh.  However, the threats aren’t necessary because everyone laughs at everything Jackie says.

Actually, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that everyone laughs.  In The Comedian, Jackie is such a force of pure, unstoppable hilarity that all he has to do is tell someone that they’re fat and literally the entire world will shriek with unbridled joy.  The thing with laughter is that, in the real world, everyone laughs in a different way.  Not everyone reacts to a funny joke with an explosive guffaw.  Some people chuckle.  Some people merely smile.  But, in the world of The Comedian, everyone not only laughs the same way but they also all laugh at the same time.  There’s never anyone who doesn’t immediately get the joke and, by that same token, there’s never anyone who can’t stop laughing once everyone else has fallen silent.  The Comedian takes individuality out of laughter, which is a shame because the ability to laugh is one of the unique things that makes us human.

Anyway, The Comedian is about a formerly famous comedian who is now obscure.  He used to have a hit TV show but now he’s nearly forgotten.  Why he’s forgotten is never made clear because nearly everyone in the movie still seems to think that he’s the funniest guy in the world.  Jackie’s an insult comic and people love it when he tells them that they’re overweight or when he makes fun of their sexual preferences.  This would probably be more believable if Jackie was played by an actor who was a bit less intense than Robert De Niro.  When De Niro starts to make aggressive jokes, you’re natural instinct is not so much to laugh as it is to run before he starts bashing in someone’s head with a lead pipe.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that Jackie gets into a fight with a heckler.  The video of the fight is uploaded to YouTube, which leads to a scene where his manager (Edie Falco) stares at her laptop and announces, “It’s going viral!”  Later on, in the movie, Jackie forces a bunch of old people to sing an obnoxious song with him and he goes viral a second time.  I kept waiting for a shot of a computer screen with “VIRAL” blinking on-and-off but sadly, the movie never provided this much-needed insert.

In between beating up the heckler, ruining his niece’s wedding, and hijacking a retirement home, Jackie finds the time to fall in love with Harmony Schlitz (Leslie Mann), a character whose name alone is enough to The Comedian one of the most annoying films of all time.  Harmony’s father is a retired gangster (Harvey Keitel) and you can’t help but wish that Keitel and De Niro could have switched roles.  It wouldn’t have made the movie any better but at least there would have been a chance of Keitel going batshit insane whenever he took the stage to deliver jokes.

I’m not sure why anyone thought it would be a good idea to cast an actor like Robert De Niro as a successful comedian.  It’s true that De Niro was brilliant playing a comedian in The King of Comedy but Rupert Pupkin was supposed to be awkward, off-putting, and not very funny.  I’m not an expert on insult comics but, from what I’ve seen, it appears that the successful ones largely succeed by suggesting that they’re just having fun with the insults, that no one should take it personally, and that they appreciate any member of the audience who is willing to be a good sport.  Jackie just comes across like a cranky old misogynist.  Watching Jackie is like listening to your bitter uncle play Vegas.  I guess it would help if Jackie actually said something funny every once in a while.  A typical Jackie joke is to refer to his lesbian niece as being a “prince.”  Speaking for myself, when it comes to Robert De Niro being funny, I continue to prefer the scene in Casino where he hosts the Ace Rothstein Show.

Perhaps the funniest thing about The Comedian is that, when it originally released into theaters, it was advertised as being “The Comedian, a Taylor Hackford film,” as if Taylor Hackford is some type of Scorsese-style auteur.  Taylor Hackford has been making films for longer than I’ve been alive and he has yet to actually come up with any sort of signature style beyond point and shoot.  The second funniest thing is that The Comedian was billed as a potential Oscar contender, up until people actually saw the damn thing.

Though it may have failed at the box office, The Comedian seems to show up on Starz quite frequently.  They always seem to air it very late at night, as if they’re hoping people won’t notice.  

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

A Movie A Day #227: Silk Degrees (1994, directed by Armand Garabidian)


Actress Alex Ramsey (Deborah Shelton) may have become a star as a result of playing the lead role in a cop show but she still worries that her show is not realistic enough.  When a fight with her director (Gilbert Gottfried) leads to her walking off the set for the hundredth time, Alex stumbles across a real-life murder.  Now being chased by terrorists and gun smugglers, Alex is forced to go into hiding.  FBI agent Baker (Marc Singer) is assigned to protect her but how can he hide one of the most famous women in America, especially one who does not appreciate being told what to do? Making things even worse, there is a traitor in the bureau.  Shelton is going to have to use all of her tv crime-fighting skills to survive.

Though it featured enough Deborah Shelton nudity to win it a place in the regular Skinemax rotation, Silk Degrees is basically a standard 90s direct-to-video action film but it has a cast that will be appreciated by any B-move fan.  Along with Body Double‘s Shelton, Beastmaster’s Marc Singer, and everything’s Gilbert Gottfried, Silk Degrees also features Charles Napier as Singer’s boss, Mark Hamill as Singer’s partner, and Katherine Armstong as a duplicitous femme fatale.  The main villain is played by singer Michael Des Barres.  Even Adrienne Barbeau shows up in a tiny role!  Silk Degrees is not a great movie but with a cast like this, it does not have to be.

Let’s Talk About Sharknado 4!


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Last Sunday night saw the premiere of Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens!

For the fourth year in a row, SyFy and the Asylum allowed us to take a peak into the shark-filled life of Finn Shepherd (Ian Ziering) and his family.  Also for the fourth year in a row, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film was practically a national holiday.  Long before the film even started, #Sharknado4 was the number one trending topic on twitter.  I actually live tweeted the film twice, once for the east coast and then a second time for my friends on the west coast.  That’s right — I sent out over 300 tweets about Sharknado 4 on Sunday and I’ve never been more proud of myself.  Live tweeting the latest Sharknado is a lot like wishing someone you barely know a happy birthday on Facebook. It’s a part of the ritual of social media.  It’s like the Internet’s version of a Thanksgiving parade or a 4th of July fireworks show.

After four films, it’s easy to forget that Sharknado started out like almost any other SyFy film.  The first Sharknado film featured no celebrity cameos and very little of the self-referential comedy that has come to define the series.  In fact, I didn’t even see Sharknado when it first aired because it premiered, opposite a Big Brother eviction show, on a Thursday.  It was only on Friday morning that I discovered that Sharknado had become a phenomena, largely due to the fact that celebrities like Mia Farrow had decided to live tweet it.

After all this time, it’s easy to forget just how much we veteran live tweeters resented that attention that was paid to celebrities like Farrow, the majority of whom were virgins as far as live tweeting SyFy was concerned.  (The fact that the majority of Farrow’s Sharknado tweets weren’t that good only added insult to injury.)  The media acted as if those celebs had invented live tweeting.  They also acted as if Sharknado was the first entertaining and over-the-top film to ever premiere on SyFy.  Among those of us who had been live tweeting SyFy film long before the premiere of Sharknado and who had loved pre-Sharknado movies like Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Shark Week, there was more than a little resentment.

But you know what?  I watched Sharknado the following Saturday and I had a great time live tweeting it.  The next year, I made sure to watch and live tweet Sharknado 2 the night that it premiered.  The same was true of Sharknado 3 and I even ended up casting a vote on the question of whether or not April should survive that film’s cliffhanger.  With its cheerful absurdity and determination to continually top the glorious absurdity of each previous entry, the Sharknado franchise won me over.  In fact, the franchise won over not only me but hundreds of thousands of other viewers.  Sharknado has become very much a part of our culture.

As I mentioned above, Sharknado 3 ended with a cliffhanger and that alone indicates just how big a deal Sharknado has become.  Sharknado 2 was made because the first Sharknado was an unexpected success.  Sharknado 3 followed because Sharknado 2 had proven that the first one was not a fluke and that there was an audience for these films.  However, by the time 3 was in production, there was never any doubt that there would be a Sharknado 4.  Sharknado 4 also ends with a rather abrupt cliffhanger, leaving little doubt that there will be a Sharknado 5.  At this point, not doing another Sharknado film would be the same as canceling summer all together.

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As for what Sharknado 4 was about … well, does it really matter?  At this point, we know that there’s going to be another sharknado and that Finn is just going to happen to be nearby when it strikes.  We know that landmarks will be destroyed (in this case, Las Vegas is thoroughly ravaged during the film’s first 30 minutes).  We know that Al Roker will show up and say stuff like, “There are reports of a Lightningnado near Kansas…”  (Both Roker and Natalie Morales apparently survived being attacked by sharks during Sharknado 3, though Morales does have an eyepatch in 4.  Matt Lauer is nowhere to be seen so I assume he wasn’t as lucky.)  We know that celebrities will appear in a cameos and that the majority of them will be promptly eaten by a flying shark.  We know that Finn and his family will eventually have to use a chainsaw to battle the sharks and we know that at least one person will be rescued from the inside of a shark’s stomach.

We don’t really watch a movie a like Sharknado 4 for the plot.  We watch it for the communal experience.  Last Sunday was Sharknado Day and it seems like the entire world was on twitter, talking about Sharknado 4.  The majority of us weren’t tweeting about the plot.  Instead, we were acknowledging that we had picked up on the in-jokes and the references to other films.  When April (Tara Reid) showed up alive and was revealed to now by a cyborg, many references were made to the Terminator — both in the film and on twitter.  When we learned that David Hasselhoff has been rescued from the moon, it was time to make jokes about The Martian.  When it was announced that a sharknado was headed towards Kansas, I made a Wizard of Oz joke on twitter.  Three minutes later, in the movie, a house fell on a character who could charitably be called a witch.  We briefly got a shot of her feet sticking out from under the house.

(I should also mention that Gary Busey shows up, playing a mad scientist.  The fact that Sharknado 4 could find prominent roles for both the Hoff and the Busey says a lot about what makes this franchise so endearingly entertaining.  Considering that Penn Jillette was in Sharknado 3, you have to wonder if the franchise will eventually feature every single person who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice.  Who doesn’t want to see a flying shark bite off Piers Morgan’s head?)

(Actually, as long as I’m mentioning stuff — here’s my favorite inside joke.  Finn and his family are driving through North Texas.  Just judging by the hills and the mountains in the background, this scene was not actually filmed in Texas.  Anyway, they stop off at a general store where Dog Chapman — the bounty hunter — sells them a chainsaw.  When the sharks attack Texas, a chainsaw-wielding army is waiting for them.  Among that army is Caroline Williams, who starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  On the one hand, everyone viewing will immediately get the chainsaw joke.  But only the dedicated horror fans will truly understand why it’s so brilliant that Caroline Williams was credited as playing a character named Stretch.)

At this point, the Sharknado franchise is no longer just a series of films.  Instead, it’s a deliriously over-the-top experience.  In these times of partisan rancor, it briefly did not matter if you were a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican.  For two hours on Sunday night, if you were watching and live tweeting Sharkando 4, you were a part of a gigantic family, a community of people with an appreciation for over the top silliness.  Sharknado 4 brought this country together.

That’s not bad for a film about a bunch of flying sharks.

If you missed Sharknado 4 the first time, catch it when it’s shown again.  Just make sure that you watch it with a friend, someone who you can trust to make you laugh.

And, for God’s sake, enjoy yourself!

Life’s too short not to enjoy a Sharknado film!

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Halloween Film Review: Highway to Hell (1991, directed by Ate de Jong)


Highway to HellHighway to Hell, a low-budget take on the legend of Orpheus, opens with a young couple, Charlie (Chad Lowe) and Rachel (Kristy Swanson), driving to Las Vegas so they can elope.  When they stop to get gas, Sam (Richard Farnsworth) warns them not to drive on the back roads at night.  Charlie ignores him and the couple continues to drive through the desert until they are suddenly pulled over by Sgt. Bedlam (C.J. Graham), a scarred and mostly silent demon who is also known as the Hellcop.  The Hellcop drags Rachel out of the car and then vanishes with her.  Charlie returns to the gas station, where Sam tells him that Rachel has been kidnapped to Hell and will become Satan’s latest wife.  After Sam gives him a shotgun and a car, Charlie heads into Hell to rescue Rachel.

Charlie discovers that Hell is even stranger than he was expecting.  The highways are full of VW bugs and motorcycle gangs.  Charlie passes a road crew made up of Andy Warhol look-alikes.  (In a clever touch, they also work for the Good Intentions Company.)  When Charlie stop to pick up a hitchhiker (played by Lita Ford), he is suddenly attacked by a crazed ice cream man.  Occasionally, a friendly mechanic (Patrick Bergin) shows up and helps Charlie out.  The mechanic’s first name is Beezle.  Did you already guess that his last name is Bub?

There are parts of Highway To Hell that do not work.  Chad Lowe seems lost as Charlie and Highway To Hell’s abrupt ending feels like it belongs in a totally different film.  But Highway to Hell has enough odd characters and weird moments to make it worth watching.  For instance, I liked the scene where the Hellcop stops off at a roadside diner that is full of zombies.  Anne Meara plays the counterwoman who won’t stop talking long enough to take anyone’s order.  (It is Hell, after all.)  Jerry Stiller shows up as another cop and, finally, Ben Stiller plays a short order cook who won’t stop yelling.  Ben Stiller actually plays two roles in this movie.  Later, he shows up as Atillia the Hun, eating breakfast with Hitler (Gilbert Gottfried!) and Cleopatra (Amy Stiller).  Hitler tries to convince them that he is actually a teenager named Bob and that he was sent to Hell accidentally.

Despite the film’s title, AC/DC is nowhere to be heard on the Highway to Hell soundtrack, which is obviously a missed opportunity.  In fact, with the exception of Lita Ford’s cameo, there is no metal to be found in Hell which seems strange considering that this movie was made in 1991.  Music aside, Highway to Hell is an entertaining journey into the underworld.

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Film Review: Hot to Trot (1988, dir. Michael Dinner)


Don (John Candy)

Don (John Candy)

Before I talk about the film, I need to make some apologies:

1. I apologize to Bobcat Goldthwait for reminding people that this movie exists.
2. I apologize to everyone for reminding them that Bobcat Goldthwait once had starring roles in movies. From what I can gather from IMDb, he did the Sofia Coppola and now works behind the camera. His movies seem to get decent reviews too.
3. I’d like to apologize to anyone involved in the production of the Francis movies.

This is about a moron who came across a movie about a talking horse that had bad ratings on IMDb, then discovered it was available for streaming and thought it would be funny to watch. Oh, wait, that’s my story. The movie is about a moron whose mother dies and leaves him a talking horse. This moron named Fred P. Chaney (Bobcat Goldthwait) works at a stockbroker firm. The firm is run by Walter Sawyer (Dabney Coleman) who really needs some dental work.

Walter Sawyer (Dabney Coleman)

Walter Sawyer (Dabney Coleman)

Let’s apologize to Dabney Coleman while we are here too. Anyways, Sawyer offers to buy the talking horse whose name is Don and is voiced by John Candy. Apologies to John Candy…and horses. This movie really is a blatant ripoff of those movies from the 1950’s about a smart ass talking mule named Francis and his buddy played by Donald O’Connor. Except those are kind of funny. This is painful.

Sex Doll

That’s a blow up horse sex doll by the way. Getting ahead of myself. After acquiring Don, Chaney is introduced to Don’s family. Apparently, Don’s Mom is curious what it’s like to be facing someone while having sex with them. I say it a lot, but no joke, that happens in this movie. We return to the brokerage firm and Don calls Chaney with a hot tip. Of course it pans out and now Chaney has some dough. This is where another set of apologies needs to be issued:

1. I apologize to Little Richard that Tutti Frutti is used in the movie.
2. I apologize to The Replacements that their song Shooting Dirty Pool is in this movie.
3. I apologize to the Beastie Boys that their song (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) is in here too. We now know that the Beastie Boys also divorced themselves from their first album because it was featured in Hot to Trot.

Oh, and Virginia Madsen is in this for some sort of love interest, but when horses are saying things like “Eat shit and die!” you can’t bring yourself to care about it. Don’t believe me that one of the horses says that? Here you go!

Bad Words

The meat of the movie basically goes like this. Chaney gets into some zany situations like hanging from the side of a building while a dove tries to do him in. Sawyer and his friend try and figure out how they can also make money using whatever secret Chaney seems to have discovered. Don has a house party with a dog, a cat, a bird, and probably some other animals. It all comes down to a horse race that Don needs to win with Chaney as the jockey. A stock deal goes south for Chaney and this is some sort of final showdown between him and Sawyer.

Oh, I forgot, Don’s Dad dies. Presumedly because they had already made an animatronic horsefly and needed to have some excuse to use it. Don’s Dad is reincarnated as it.

Horsefly

Of course Don and Chaney win the race. They do it by having Don say things to the other horses. He tells one horse that the winners are being turned into glue. He tells another one, who I guess is Spanish, that immigration is here. The jokes are so awful in this movie. And just for one final cherry on top of this dung heap, we get a short appearance by Gilbert Gottfried. Why? Because Don wants a diamond on his tooth like that bad guy in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985) and Gottfried is the dentist.

Straight From The Horses Mouth

Straight From The Horses Mouth

The one good thing about this movie is that I don’t even need to put in a final verdict sentence. The movie does it for me.

Verdict