Insomnia File #36: Punchline (dir by David Seltzer)


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 up at 12 midnight and couldn’t get to sleep, you could have turned over to Movies TV and watched the 1988 film, Punchline.

Sally Field is Lilah, a New Jersey housewife who, in between getting her children ready for school and helping her husband (John Goodman) throw dinner parties, is pursuing a career as a stand-up comedian.  Everyone says that she has a lot of stage presence but she struggles with her material.  She’s even resorted to buying jokes from a seedy man who hangs out in a grimy diner.

Tom Hanks is Steve Gold, the youngest member of a family of doctors.  When we first meet Steve, he’s getting kicked out of medical school for cheating on an exam.  That’s probably for the best, though.  Steve doesn’t want to be a doctor.  He wants to make people laugh!  Every night, he performs at a comedy club known as the Gas Station.  Audiences love him almost as much as he hates himself.

Together … they solve crimes!

No, actually, they don’t.  I wish they had but they don’t.  Instead, in the tradition of A Star is Born, Steve ends up mentoring Lilah and helping her develop her own voice as a comedian.  Lilah attempts to balance her loyality to her family with her friendship with Steve.  It’s not always easy, largely because Steve isn’t exactly emotionally stable.  On stage, Steve may be in control but offstage, he’s frequently selfish and self-destructive.  Complicating things is the fact that, even as he watches her talent threaten to eclipse his own, Steve thinks he might be falling in love with Lilah.

Punchline is an uneven movie, largely due to the fact that, while one role is perfectly cast, another one most definitely is not.  Not surprisingly, Tom Hanks is believable as a stand-up comedian.  It’s not just that he’s obviously comfortable on the comedy club stage.  Hanks also shows that he knows how to tell a joke.  To put it simply, he has good timing.  As played by Tom Hanks, you can look at Steve Gold and imagine people actually paying money for him to make them laugh.

But then you’ve got Sally Field.  At no point is Sally Field believable as a stand-up comedian.  That’s not so much a problem at the beginning of the film when Field is supposed to an inexperienced amateur.  But, as the film progresses, we’re asked to believe that Lilah could conceivably win a spot on television over Hanks and there’s nothing about Field’s performance that suggests that would be possible.  When we laugh at Sally Field’s jokes, it’s because she’s Sally Field and she’s talking about multiple orgasms.  However, the comedy club audience doesn’t know that she’s Sally Field.  Instead, they just know that she’s a comedian who has absolutely no timing.

Much like The Comedian and the Showtime TV series I’m Dyin’ Up Here, Punchline is one of those films that really goes overboard with the audience reaction shots.  The only thing worse than listening to an unfunny comedian is then being assaulted by a shot or the sound of an audience dying of laughter.  If someone’s not funny, showing some random guy doing spit take isn’t going to help.  One thing that directors rarely seem to take into account is that laughter is rarely neat.  It’s rare that a huge group of people both start and stop laughing at the exact same moment.  There’s usually a stray chuckle or two to be heard, both before and after the punchline has been delivered.  Even Tom Hanks, who actually is funny in the movie, is sabotaged by one scene where a group of patients at a hospital are way too amused by his act.

The film’s a bit too long and it takes its dramatic moments way too seriously but it’s almost worth watching for Tom Hanks. Hanks plays a real bastard in Punchline but you still care about Steve because he’s a likable bastard.  As you watch the film, you hope Steve becomes a star even if he doesn’t really deserve it.   I mean, he’s Tom Hanks!

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

Insomnia File #35: Donnie Brasco (dir by Mike Newell)


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 happened to be awake at 2:30 in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 1997 film, Donnie Brasco.

Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino) has spent his entire life as a loyal Mafia soldier.  It’s the only life that he knows and he can tell you some stories.  He remembers the early days, back when men like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky were in charge of things.  Lefty is proud to say that, over the years, he’s successfully carried out over 20 hits.  Lefty is lucky enough to be an associate of an up-and-comer nicknamed Sonny Black (Michael Madsen).  While Sonny was in prison, Lefty kept an eye on Sonny’s family.  Lefty feels that Sonny owes him.  Whether Sonny feels the same way isn’t always quite clear.

Lefty’s problem is that everyone loves him but few people respect him.  The aging Lefty is viewed as being a relic and, at most, they merely tolerate his constant bragging.  Lefty may fantasize about the big bosses knowing who he is but, when he tries to greet one of them at a party, it becomes clear that he doesn’t have the slightest idea who Lefty is.  Lefty spends his time worrying that he’s dying and dreaming of one last opportunity to make a name for himself.

In fact, perhaps the only really good thing that Lefty has going for him is his friendship with Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp).  Donnie is a jewel thief, a tough and volatile orphan who Lefty introduces to Sonny.  Sonny is immediately impressed with Donnie.  In fact, Sonny thinks so highly of Donnie that he assigns Donnie to look over his operations in Florida.  Lefty can only watch as his protegé’s star starts to eclipse his own.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  As Lefty explains it, Donnie’s success is also Lefty’s success because Lefty is the one who brought Donnie into the crew.  Of course, if Donnie ever fails, the failure will be on Lefty as well.

As for Donnie … well, his name isn’t actually Donnie.  His real name is Joe Pistone and he’s a FBI agent.  When he first agreed to work undercover, he was told that the assignment would only last for a few months.  Instead, the months turn into years and, piece by piece, Joe vanishes as he transforms into Donnie.  The formerly soft-spoken college graduate is soon beating up waiters and chopping up bodies in basements.  His wife (Anne Heche) fears that her husband may no longer exist.  “I  am not becoming like them,” Joe/Donnie says at one point, “I am them.”

Donnie Brasco is hardly the first film to examine life in the Mafia.  It’s not even the first movie about an undercover FBI agent who manages to worm his way into the mob’s hierarchy.  What sets Donnie Brasco apart are the performances of Pacino, Depp, Heche, Madsen, and, as a talkative mob associate, Bruno Kirby.  As played by Pacino, Lefty may be a hardened killer but he’s also just a working class guy who wishes that his boss would just show him a little appreciation.  Lefty may be capable of casually shooting a guy in the back of the head but, at the same time, there’s something heartbreakingly sad about the sight of him tearing up a greeting card that he hoped to personally deliver to the big boss.  As for Johnny Depp, he gives a surprisingly restrained performance, rarely raising his voice except when he’s yelling at his family.  Donnie may appear outwardly calm but the stress of losing his identity is always present in his eyes.

Interestingly, for a mob movie, there’s little violence to be found in Donnie Brasco.  It’s not until 90 minutes in that we get the expected scene of rival mobsters getting ambushed and gunned down.  Donnie Brasco isn’t about violence.  Instead, the film’s heart is to be found in the  story of Lefty and Donnie’s odd friendship.  Instead of being about who is going to kill who, this film is about Lefty’s desire to be something more than he is and Joe’s struggle to remember who he used to be before he became Donnie.  It’s a touching and effective gangster film and one to keep an eye out for.

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

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

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

Insomnia File #32: Smooth Talk (dir by Joyce Chopra)


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 one in the morning last night, you could have turned over to This TV and watched Smooth Talk, a disturbingly creepy coming-of-age film from 1985.

Connie Wyatt (played by Laura Dern in one of her first film roles) is fifteen years old and ready to discover the word.  It’s the summer and, for Connie and her friends, that means going to the mall, trying to capture the attention of the cute boys who go to their school, and lying to her parents about where she goes at night.  (She tells them that she and her friends have been going to the same movie, night-after-night.)  She likes it when the boys in the mall smile at her but not when the stranger honk their car horn at her whenever she walking at night.  Connie thinks of herself as being an independent adult, even though she’s not sure what that means.

Connie does know that she doesn’t want to be like her mother (Mary Kay Place).  Her mother, who claims that she was once a great beauty herself, complains that all Connie does is indulge in “trashy daydreams.”  Her mother tells Connie to be careful about who she flirts with and constantly demands that Connie stay home and help to paint the house.

Connie also doesn’t want to be like her older sister, June (Elizabeth Berridge).  June is obviously her mother’s favorite.  June never sneaks out.  June never rebels.  Whenever Connie and her mother argue, June always take their mother’s side.

In fact, the only member of her family that Connie’s close with is her father (Levon Helm).  Her father is always cheerful and always in a good mood.  Somehow, the constant tension in the house never seems to get to him and he never seems to be worried about anything.  He’s nice but he’s hardly an authority figure.

And then there’s an older man (Treat Wiliams).  When we first see him, he’s sitting outside of a diner and casually watching all of the teenage girls as they walk by.  (We all know the type.)  When he sees Connie and her friends, he looks over at Connie and tells her, “I’m watching you.”  Later, when Connie is alone at her house, the man pulls up in front of her house and starts to talk to her.

His name, he explains, is Arnold Friend.  “A. Friend,” he puts it.  That’s what he wants to be to her.  When she asks how old he is, he says that he’s 18, though he’s clearly closer to 30.  He’s handsome and he’s charming but there’s something off about him.  He shows Connie his car.  “Arnold Friend” is written on the side.  “33, 19, 17,” is written on the back.  Written next to a dent: “A woman driver did this.” Sitting in the car is a friend of Arnold’s, a man who hides his face behind a portable radio.

“He’s strange,” Arnold explains with a sly smile, before suggesting that Connie get in the car with them…

Smooth Talk is based on a short story by Joyce Carol Oates and, oh my God, is it ever creepy!  The first half of the movie plays out like a typical coming-of-age teen film but then Arnold shows up in that car and the film turns into a nightmare.  I spent almost the entire movie cringing, mostly because I once was Connie Wyatt, the only real difference being that I was even younger when I decided that I understood how the world worked better than my parents and I started rebelling.  As I watched the movie, I found myself wondering what I would have done if Arnold Friend had pulled up in front of my house.  Would I have gotten in the car or what I would have run back into the house, locked the door, and called the police?  I’d like to think I would have done the smart thing but … no.  Doing the smart thing would have meant admitting that the adults were right and there were situations that I couldn’t control or even really understand.

Laura Dern was 18 years old when she played 15 year-old Connie and she gave an amazing and naturalistic performance.  When Treat Williams first appeared as Arnold, I thought that he was overacting but, as the film progressed, I came to see that he was actually perfectly cast and giving exactly the type of performance that the movie’s story needed.  Arnold Friend, who speaks in outdated slang and always seems to be trying just a little bit too hard, has to be a slightly ridiculous figure because otherwise, no one would drop their guard enough to get into his car.  As I watched the movie, I realized that it was a mistake to think of Arnold as being a human being.  Instead, he’s a nightmare come to life.

Smooth Talk was a deeply unsettling film about growing up in an increasingly dangerous world.  It’s right up there with Out of The Blue, Christiane F, and Blue Velvet among nightmarish coming-of-age stories.

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

Insomnia File #31: Arsenal (dir by Steve C. Miller)


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 last night around midnight, you could have turned over to Showtime and watched Arsenal, a film that had a brief theatrical run in January and which has now made its way to cable.

Arsenal tells the story of two brothers.  When we first meet them, they’re kids and they’re living with their uncle.  But then their uncle kills himself and the two brothers find themselves going down very different paths.  JP (who is played, as an adult, by Adrian Grenier) turns a part-time job mowing lawns into a full-time job as the owner of a construction company.  Meanwhile, Mikey (played, as an adult, by Jonathon Schaech) stumbles across gangster Eddie King (Nicolas Cage) while Eddie is busy killing a man.  JP heads for a life of respectability.  Mikey heads for a life of crime.  Much like the Bulger brothers, they remain close despite their differing lifestyles.

But who cares about the brothers?  Adrian Grenier and Jonathon Schaech both do the best that they can with these two underwritten parts but ultimately, neither JP nor Mikey is that interesting.  If anything, they’re like the guys who you keep around as backups in case the guy you really like never works up the courage to talk to you.  Instead, let’s discuss about Eddie King.

As I said before, Eddie King is played by Nicolas Cage.  As you can probably guess, Cage does not exactly show anything resembling restraint when he plays King.  That may not be surprising but what is surprising that, after twenty years or going totally overboard in almost every role that he’s played, Cage can still surprise audiences by just how far he’s willing to go.  Every time that you think Cage’s performances can’t get any more bizarre, something like Arsenal comes out and proves you wrong.

There is so much to love about Cage’s batshit crazy performance as Eddie King.  For one thing, it makes absolutely no sense.  If you look at real-life mobsters, one thing that becomes clear very quickly is that the best ones may have been sadistic but they were usually smart enough to know when to lay low.  Eddie, on the other hand, never lays low.  He’s so crazy that he might as well be wearing a shirt that reads, “I kill people and then laugh about it.”  So, not only do you have Cage giving one of his most over-the-top performances but, for some reason, he’s also wearing this extremely fake nose and the movie doesn’t really make much of an effort to disguise the fact that it’s a fake nose.  I mean, you can literally see the glue that’s holding the fake nose over the old nose.  And then there’s Cage’s haircut, which would appear to suggest that Eddie King shares a barber with every pervy humorist who has ever had a job working for Minnesota public radio.  When we first see Eddie, he’s gruesomely killing a man and Cage gets so into it and there’s so much blood flying that I was half-expecting Eddie to then turn into Pennywise the clown.  Eddie gets another scene where he writes a letter to his dead brother.  Cage acted the Hell out of that scene.  It’s as if he was saying, “You thought my Left Behind performance was strange?  CHECK THIS OUT, DAMN YOU!”

Of course, Cage isn’t the only good actor acting weird in Arsenal.  John Cusack plays a cop.  He always wears sunglasses and a cap and he also keeps his shoulder slouched.  Was it a character thing or was Cusack sincerely hoping no one would recognize him in the movie?  I’m not really sure but it’s still fun to try to figure out.

Anyway, Arsenal is your typical low-budget gangster film, where there’s a lot of yelling and people getting shot and tortured and all the rest of the usual crap.  There are thousands of these films and they tend to blend together into one tedious mass of pointless mass of sadism.  One of the brothers gets kidnapped.  The other one has to shoot a lot of people.  Bleh.  Boring.  Outside of the people who need something to watch while at the Russian mafia sleepover, who cares?  WAKE ME WHEN THE BULLETS HAVE STOPPED FLYING AND IT’S ALL OVER!  But at least Cage and Cusack are around to keep things kind of interesting.

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

 

A Suspenseful Insomnia File #30: Still Of The Night (dir by Robert Benton)


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, at 1:30 in the morning, you were having trouble getting to sleep, you could have turned on the TV, changed the channel to your local This TV station, and watched 1982’s Still Of The Night.

Still of the Night actually tells two stories.  The first story  deals with Dr. Sam Rice (Roy Scheider), a psychiatrist who is living a perfectly nice, mild-mannered, upper class existence in Manhattan.  His patients are rich and powerful and his sessions with them provide him with a view of the secrets of high society.

One of Sam’s main patients is George Bynum (Josef Sommer), who owns an auction house and who is a compulsive cheater.  George tells Sam that he’s haunted by strange nightmares and that he is also worried about a friend of his.  George says that this friend has murdered in the past and George fears that it’s going to happen again.  When George is murdered, Sam wonders if the murder was committed by that friend.  He also wonders if that friend could possibly have been one of George’s mistresses, the icy Brooke Reynolds (Meryl Streep).

The second story that Still of the Night tells is about our endless fascination with the films of Alfred Hitchcock.  Still of the Night is such an obvious homage to Hitchcock that it actually starts to get a little bit silly at times.  Almost every scene in the film feels like it was lifted from a previous Hitchcock film.  At one point, there’s even a bird attack!  (Add to that, Scheider’s mother is played by Jessica Tandy, who previously played Rod Taylor’s mother in The Birds.)  Meryl Streep is specifically costumed and made up to remind viewers of previous Hitchcock heroines, like Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, and Tippi Hedren.

Unfortunately, considering the talent involved, Still of the Night never really works as well as it should.  Both Scheider and Streep seem to be miscast in the lead roles.  If Still of the Night had been made in the 50s, one could easily imagine James Stewart and Grace Kelly playing Sam and Brooke and managing to make it all work through screen presence along.  However, Scheider and Streep both act up a storm in the lead roles, attacking their parts with the type of Actor Studios-gusto that seems totally out-of-place in an homage to Hitchcock.  Scheider is too aggressive an actor to play such a mild character.  As for Streep, she’s miscast as a noir-style femme fatale.  Streep’s acting technique is always too obviously calculated for her to be believable as an enigma.

That said, there were still some effective moments in Still of the Night.  The majority of the dream sequences were surprisingly well-done and effectively visualized.  I actually gasped with shock while watching one of the dreams, that’s how much I was drawn into those scenes.

According to Wikipedia, Meryl Streep has described Still of the Night as being her worst film.  I think she’s being way too hard on the movie.  It’s nothing special but it is an adequate way to kill some time.  Certainly, I’d rather watch Still of the Night than sit through Florence Foster Jenkins.

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