Insomnia File No. 54: Jud (dir by Gunther Collins)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, you could have gone over to YouTube and you could have watched the the 1971 film, Jud.

In fact, looking the film up on YouTube might very well be the only way that you could have watched JudJud is one of those obscure, 70s indie films that has apparently never gotten a proper video release in the United States.  The version that’s been uploaded to YouTube was taken from a Chinese VHS tape.  It had Chinese subtitles and the image was pretty grainy.  There was a point where, for three minutes, the image froze and only the audio could be heard.  In other words, it’s not the ideal way to watch any movie but, with Jud, that’s probably the best that anyone could hope for.

As for what Jud is about, it’s about a man named …. well, Jud.  Played by an appealing actor named Joseph Kaufmann, Jud has just returned to the United States from serving in Vietnam.  His uncle arranges for Jud to live at a rooming house, one that is full of the usual indie film eccentrics.  Jud doesn’t want to talk about what he saw in Vietnam and no one seems to want to talk to him about it.  But perhaps someone should because Jud is still haunted by flashbacks and nightmares, making this one of the first films to attempt to sympathetically deal with PTSD.  Jud just wants to get on with his life but, after everything he’s seen, he feels out of place in the civilian world.  A one night stand with a friendly hippy (played by future B-movie queen Claudia Jennings) leads to nowhere.  A fight in a diner leads to a police chase.  The only person who is interested in Jud’s story is Bill (played, quite well, by Robert Denman), whose status as a closeted gay man in the early 70s has taught him something about alienation.

Jud is an uneven film.  There are moments of real insight but there also moments where the film itself gets a bit too heavy-handed for its own good.  A lengthy scene where the viewer is subjected to close-ups of Jud’s roommates eating seems to go on forever.  (Anti-war films of the 70s always seemed to feature close-ups of old people eating for some reason.  I guess it was meant to be a commentary on American gluttony but it always feels more like lazy symbolism.)  Especially when compared to other films of the period, Jud deserves credit for portraying Bill sympathetically but it’s still hard not to feel that the character’s ultimate fate is a cliché.

That said, Joseph Kaufmann gives a good performance as Jud and wisely underplays the scenes that would lead a lesser actor to overact.  (Sadly, Kaufmann died in a plane crash, just two years after the release of Jud, at the age of 29.)  Despite featuring a bit more folk music that I would normally listen to, the film has a great soundtrack and, even more importantly, the songs fit well with the action.  (If nothing else, the lyrics help to share what Jud is feeling but can’t quite articulate.)  Finally, for a history nerd like me, Jud is interesting because it serves as a time capsule.  This low-budget, indie film was shot on the streets of L.A. in the early 70s and it has a bit of documentary feel to it.  Until someone invents a time machine and people get the ability to visit the past in person, films like Jud will do.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street

Insomnia File #53: A Nightmare on Drug Street (dir by Traci Wald Donat)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, you could have gone over to YouTube and you could have done what I did when I was having trouble getting to sleep two nights ago.  You could have watched the 1989 educational film, A Nightmare on Drug Street.

Clocking in at 39 minutes, A Nightmare on Drug Street opens with three people sitting in a dark room.  Though the room seems ominous and the three people often appear to only be shadows, they turn out to to be friendly enough.  (And no, Freddy Krueger is not among them.  This is Drug Street, not Elm Street.)

“Hi, I’m Jill!” the one in the middle informs us.  “I’m dead!”

Filipe, who is is sitting to left of and is a bit less perky than Jill, mentions that they’re all dead.  Eddie, the youngest of the three, speaks up and mentions that he’s been dead for two days longer than Jill.  They all have a good laugh about that.  Jill says that she’s not sure where they are but she thinks that they’re supposed to think about their mistakes and to try to prevent other people their age from making the same mistakes.

“Jill,” I nearly shouted at the screen, “you’re in Purgatory!  It’s not that complicated!”

Eddie complains as he realizes that he’s going to have to relive his story again.  Jill laughs and says that Eddie is always complaining.  Filipe does not laugh because he’s not in a particularly good mood and I don’t blame him.  His Purgatory experience is obviously not turning out the way that he was hoping.  It would appear that Filipe has gotten trapped on the boring side of Purgatory.

Anyway, we then see how each of them ended up dead.  As you can probably guess from the title it all has to do with drugs.

For instance, after winning the big game, Filipe got both stoned and drunk and then decided that it would be a good idea to steal his brother’s car.   Needless to say, it doesn’t take long until Filipe’s more intelligent friend is demanding to be let out of the car.  It also doesn’t take long to hear the sound of an off-screen crash.  Apparently, there wasn’t enough money in the budget to film a real crash.

Jill met a guy at a party and basically allowed herself to be talked into trying cocaine.  As anyone who has ever seen a film like this can probably guess, Jill goes straight from doing that one line to stealing from her friends and selling a family heirloom so she can get more money for coke.  Her family is disappointed in her.  Her friends are angry with her.  And her drug dealer keeps hitting on her.  No wonder Jill eventually end up snorting too much.

And finally, Eddie, who is still in middle school, is handed a crack pipe by a friend.  Soon, Eddie is getting high in the bathroom while his parents try to understand why his grades have gone down.

Interestingly enough, each story is narrated by a dead teen but not the teen that actually dies in the story. So, Jill tells Filipe’s story and makes fun of him for being geeky whenever he gets high.  (Yeah, Jill, like you looked really cool with your bloodshot eyes and your red nose….)  Eddie tells Jill’s story and manages to get through it without ridiculing her.  Filipe tells Eddie’s story while wearing what appears to be a hospital gown.  There’s actually a scene in Purgatory where the three of them debate who will tell each story.  Do they automatically know the stories or is it just a case that they’re memorized them because there’s literally nothing else to talk about while in Purgatory?  The film leaves that question unanswered, which is a shame.

(Speaking of unanswered questions, why are we even in Purgatory in the first place?  The three narrators look directly at the viewer when they speak so I’m guess that I’m meant to have died as well.  But if I’m already dead, what’s the point of warning me about drugs?  Seriously, there’s a lot of unanswered questions in this film.)

Anyway, as for the film itself, it’s another well-intentioned but not quite successful attempt to make an anti-drug scare film.  Like many anti-drug short films, A Nightmare on Drug Street suffers due to the fact that the characters are more interesting when they’re high than when they’re sober.  The stories themselves often veer into melodrama though, to the film’s credit, it seems to at least be a bit self-aware when it comes to this.  When Filipe jumps in his car, Jill says that she knows that we know what’s going to happen but she asks us to keep watching anyways.  After being specifically asked to watch, you kind of feel like you have to.

For the most part, this film’s main worth is as a time capsule.  It’s all about 80s fashion and 80s lingo.  Breaking Bad fans will take note that Filipe is played by Raymond Cruz, who later played a fearsome drug dealer on the classic AMC series.  I guess Filipe found his way out of Purgatory after all.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid

Insomnia File #52: The Next Karate Kid (dir by Christopher Cain)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, over the next few weeks, you find yourself having trouble getting to sleep, you might be tempted to log onto Netflix and watch the fourth season of Cobra Kai.  That’s certainly what I’m planning to do over the course of the next few days.  However, before you watch Cobra Kai, you should make sure that you’ve seen all of the earlier Karate Kid films because you never know who might show up on the show.  I mean, if Thomas Ian Griffith is coming back, anyone could be coming back!  And that includes Julie Pierce, the young karate student at the center of 1994’s The Next Karate Kid.

Julie (played by Hillary Swank) is a troubled teenager.  She lives in Boston with her grandmother.  She attends a high school that is run by a weirdly fascistic self-defense instructor named Colonel Dugan (Michael Ironside), who teaches all of the jocks to be tough, ruthless, and to show no mercy.  When Julie’s grandmother leaves to for Los Angeles so that she can relax, Julie’s new caretaker is an old family friend who turns out to be Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita).

At first, Julie wants nothing to do with Miyagi.  She’s still angry about the death of her parents in a car crash.  All she wants to do is take care of a falcon that lives on the roof of the school.  She does like a boy named Eric McGowen (Chris Conrad) but Eric is also friends with the members of Colonel Dugan’s paramilitary gang, the so-called Alpha Elite.  She needs someone who can understand her and her anger and, at first, Miyagi doesn’t seem like he’s capable of doing and of that.  But then Miyagi discovers that Julie has a natural talent for jumping on top of cars and this leads to….

Well, you know what it leads to.  It’s The Next Karate Kid!  Ralph Macchio was 33 years old when this film was first released and was a bit too old to still be playing a kid so the film’s producers tried to reboot the franchise by giving Miyagi a new student.  The Next Karate Kid pretty much hits all of the story beats from the first film, though it does change things up by not featuring a karate tournament.  Instead, it all leads to a post-prom fight between Miyagi and Dugan.  This film is your only chance to see Pat Morita face off against Michael Ironside and that’s got to be worth something.

The Next Karate Kid does not have a particularly good reputation and, watching the film, I understood why.  There’s very little of the spontaneity or the wit that made the first film memorable.  That said, I did appreciate Michael Ironside’s villainous turn.  If Hillary Swank doesn’t necessarily give the type of performance that would make you think, “Future two-time Oscar winner!,” she still does a good job of portraying the anger that’s at the heart of the character.  If nothing else, The Next Karate Kid deserves some credit for taking Julie’s anger seriously as opposed to just writing it off as being a “teen girl thing.”  The Next Karate Kid wasn’t as bad as I expected but it was still hard not shake the feeling that it was largely unnecessary.

That’s said, I still look forward to Julie’s eventual visit to Cobra Kai.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby

Insomnia File #51: Ira & Abby (dir by Robert Clary)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Oh Lord.

So, if you were having trouble getting too sleep last night, you could have turned over to one of the many Showtime channels you could have watched the 2006 film, Ira & Abby.

I doubt it would have helped though.  Ira & Abby is one of those extremely cutesy little love stories where a neurotic guy meets a quirky woman and they spend the entire film having so many easily solved relationship problems that it’ll drive your anxiety through the roof just watching them.

Ira (Chris Messina) is the son of two psychologists (Judith Light and Robert Klein).  Ira is planning on becoming a psychologist himself and, of course, he’s in therapy.  At the start of the film, his therapist tells him that he’s beyond help and that he needs to do something spontaneous for once.  Ira takes this to mean that he should go the gym.

At the gym, Ira meets Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt), who is quirky and universally beloved by everyone who meets her.  (Westfeldt also wrote the script, which …. might explain a little.)  Abby has a positive attitude and lives with her musician parents (Fred Willard and Frances Conroy).  After Ira sees Abby somehow talk a mugger out of robbing everyone on a subway car, he decides that they have to get married.  Free-spirited Abby agrees.

Marriage follows!  Complications follow!  Annulment and remarriage and more follows!  Everyone ends up seeing a different therapist while, at the same time, Ira’s mom has an affair with Abby’s dad.  And yes, it eventually does end with every character in the film gathering in one room and taking part in a giant therapy session.  It’s exhausting to watch, largely because it just seems like all of the problems could be solved by people not being stupid or foolishly impulsive.  Ira is neurotic to the point of no longer being sympathetic.  Abby is so perfect and wonderful that you soon get sick of her and her positive attitude.  Even Ted Lasso would tell her to turn it down a notch.

The most frustrating thing about the movie is that it features good actors like Chis Messina but it goes out of its way to sabotage them every chance that it gets.  Out of the large and impressive cast, only Fred Willard and Judith Light manage to transcend the script.  I would have loved to have watched a movie just about their characters.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola

Insomnia File #50: Zola (dir by Janicza Bravo)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep around two a.m. on Monday morning, you could have turned over to Showtime 2’s west coast feed and watched Zola.

Zola tells the story of Zola (Taylor Paige), a Detroit waitress and part-time stripper who is invited to go down to Florida by another stripper, Stefani (Riley Keough).  Stefani assures Zola that they’re just going to have a good time and make some money dancing in the clubs.  Instead, it turns out that they’re going to Florida with Stefani’s roommate, X (Colman Domingo, showing compelling flashes of charisma and danger), and her simple-minded but loyal boyfriend, Derrek (Nicholas Braun).  It also turns out that X is actually a Nigerian named Abegunde Olawale and that he is Stefani’s pimp.  It doesn’t take long for Zola to grow annoyed with everyone else on the road trip but, unfortunately, she’s already stuck in Tampa with them.  That’s the problem with going on a road trips with perfect strangers.  The trip grows stranger and more violent with each passing hour.  In fact, it gets so strange that, when Zola eventually tells her story on twitter, the thread goes viral.  And then this movie is made, with a disclaimer that states that most of the story is based on fact.

Zola made quite a splash when it premiered at Sundance in 2020.  Audiences either loved or hated its extreme stylization and rather crass cast of characters.  While the film was originally scheduled to be released in 2020, that release was delayed by the COVID pandemic.  At a time when people were scared to go outside and be near even their closest relatives or friends, I guess someone decided that it wasn’t the right time to release a movie about going on a cramped road trip with two morons and a psychotic pimp.  The film was finally released earlier this year.  It got good critical notices, though audiences seemed to be slightly less enamored with it.

Speaking for myself, I was both impressed and annoyed with Zola.  On the one hand, you have to respect a film that’s willing to run the risk of alienating the audience in order to tell its story.  Zola is violent, vulgar, and frequently funny.  It’s also frequently disturbing, with Zola continually finding herself in a bad situation from which she can’t escape.  Taylour Paige brings a lot of inner strength to the role of Zola.  When Zola gets annoyed, she doesn’t hide it.  When Zola says she’s not going to do something, she means it and she says it with such confidence that even X respects her.  She and Stefani also have an interesting relationship, one that will ring true to anyone who has ever had that one friend who simply cannot stop messing up her life.  The film embraces its characters and their activities, refusing to pass judgment or to sentimentalize.  You have to admire the film’s commitment.  At the same time, the film is occasionally a bit annoying.  It’s so extremely stylized and Stefani is so loud and crass that it can sometimes be tough to take.  This is a film that benefits from being watched at home as opposed to in theater, if just because you can hit pause whenever you feel a migraine starting to come on.  (Poor Zola, meanwhile, is stuck in the back of X’s car, listening to Stefani and Derreck and realizing that she’s pretty much stuck with all of them.)  Zola was produced and distributed by A24 and it is indeed very much an A24 film, loud, frustrating, paranoia-inducing, and occasionally compelling.

Zola is only 90 minutes long but it packs a lot into those minutes.  It’s not a boring film.  At the same time, it’s never quite as subversive as something like Spring Breakers.  Instead, it’s just an energetic recreation of the road trip from Hell.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date

Insomnia File #49: Mystery Date (dir by Jonathan Wacks)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, around one in the morning, you could have turned over to the HBO Family channel and watched the 1991 comedy, Mystery Date!

A young and extremely adorable Ethan Hawke plays Tom McHugh, a college student who is in love with Geena (Teri Polo), the housesitter next door. The only problem is that Tom is extremely shy and can’t even work up the nerve to ask Genna out. It sure would help if he was rich and charming like his older brother, Craig (Brian McNamara). Eventually, Craig helps his brother out. He gives Tom his credit card and his car so that Tom can take Geena out on a date. What an nice brother! Soon, Tom and Geena are hitting the town and having a great time. They even see Gwar perform which …. well, okay. That probably would not be my ideal first date but whatever.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Craig has gotten involved with some pretty bad things and, as a result, there are two dead bodies in the trunk of the car! Uh-oh, that could be awkward. Plus, the Chinese mafia (led by B.D. Wong) are determined to kill Tom because they think that he’s Craig. And finally, to top it all off, Tom has got a crazed flower delivery guy (played by Fisher Stevens) following him all over the city. Can Tom possibly survive the night and still get a second date!?

Mystery Date starts out nicely. Ethan Hawke is cute in a non-threatening sort of way. Teri Polo is likable. They seem like they would make a cute couple. You want things to work out for them. Unfortunately, once the date actually starts, the film gets frantic without getting any funnier. It becomes a case of the film just trying too hard and you feel as if the film is demanding that you laugh as opposed to offering up a reason to laugh. You watch the film and you don’t so much think about what you’re watching as you think about films like Risky Business and Better Off Dead, both of which told similar stories with a lot more energy and imagination. You have to kind of imagine that whenever Ethan Hawke gives one of his interviews where he talks about why he’s not interested in doing typical mainstream films, this is probably the type of movie that he was talking about. Among the many other things for which we have to thank Richard Linklater, he ensured that Ethan Hawke would never have to star in Mystery Date 2.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice

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


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night around 12 midnight, you could have turned over to the Cinemax and watched the 1993 thriller, Malice.  And then you could have spent the next few hours trying to figure out what you just watched.

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

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

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

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

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill

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


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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

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

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

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

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja

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


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid

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


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run