Insomnia File #41: Elektra (dir by Rob Bowman)

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, around 2 in the morning on Saturday, you were having trouble getting to sleep, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 2005 film, Elektra.

Elektra (Jennifer Garner) used to be dead but now she’s alive again.  She was killed during the 2003 film, Daredevil, but, two years later, she was resurrected by a blind martial artist named Stick (Terence Stamp).  Stick taught her how to not only fight but also how see into the future, which I guess is helpful if you have to decide whether or not to throw one of those little knife things at someone.  (As you can tell, I’m definitely the expert when it comes to martial arts and ninja assassins.)

Elektra uses her training to become the world’s most deadly assassin, which is probably not what Stick had intended but what’s he gong to do, right?  However, when Elektra is ordered to kill a totally hot guy and his 13 year-old daughter, she starts to have doubts about whether or not being a murderer-for-hire is really for her.  And can you blame her?  Not only do you not get to make many friends but I imagine that you’re also constantly having to buy new arrows for your crossbow and that has to get expensive at some point.

So, Elektra decides not to kill the hot guy or his daughter but it tuns out that an evil group of ninjas called The Hand are determined to kill the guy anyway and apparently his daughter is perhaps destined to maintain the balance between the forces of good and evil.  (Don’t ask me, I didn’t write the script.)  Elektra has to take it upon herself to defeat the Hand and hopefully ensure that the hot guy’s daughter gets to enjoy her adolescence without having to worry about balancing killing people with school work.

Elektra was released with a lot of fanfare back in 2005.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, which apparently led to Marvel getting into their head that no one would pay money to see a comic book film with a female hero.  (This belief was disproven 12 years later, with Wonder Woman.)  Today, in the wake of the MCU and whatever DC calls their cinematic universe, Elektra feels almost like a relic.  It’s a film that lacks of the self-awareness of the later comic book films but it also never matches them in their scope or their ability to make us feel as if we’ve entered into a separate, fully functioning universe.  Elektra is from the age when comic book movie didn’t want to admit that they were comic book movies.

It’s a silly film but, at the same time, it can be kind of fun if you’re in a particularly undemanding mood.  Watching it last night, I was shocked to be reminded of the fact that there was a time when Jennifer Garner actually kicked serious ass.  The fight scenes are fun to watch, mostly because it’s a woman who gets to beat everyone up.  The dialogue is fun to listen to because it’s all so terribly written.  (All of the bad guys refer to the title character as being, “the female, Elektra!,” as if it was felt that there was some sort of danger of the audience forgetting who the star of the film was.)  It’s an enjoyably dumb movie, which makes it perfect for insomnia-fueled viewing.

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

Film Review: Peppermint (dir by Pierre Morel)

2018’s Peppermint is a film about a former banker named Riley North who kills a lot of people but it’s okay because she’s played by Jennifer Garner and has really pretty hair.

It’s also kinda justified because, five years earlier, Riley’s family was murdered and Riley didn’t get justice.  In fact, the perpetrators were acquitted in a trial that was so obviously fixed that I was surprised that no one started shouting “shenanigans.”  Along with hunting down the gang members who murdered her husband and daughter, Riley also murders the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the judge.  I imagine she did this because Riley knows that if she didn’t kill at least one old white guy, the entire movie would just be the cringey spectacle of a white woman hunting down a group of Hispanic men.  Riley may not know how to get justice through conventional means but she’s still savvy enough to know that you’ve got to throw a few white dudes into your killing spree.  (Otherwise, people might notice that, with the exception of one character, every Latino in the film is portrayed as being a drug-dealing killer.)

We’d probably have more sympathy for Riley if we were not forced to sit through flashbacks designed to show how happy her family was.  Seriously, the Norths were so obnoxiously perfect that you kinda feel like they were tempting fate by just existing in a movie.  No one ever gets away with being that wonderful.  If you want to survive a movie like this, it helps to be dysfunctional.

Anyway, as you watch the film, you might find yourself wondering how Riley learned how to be such an efficient killing machine.  I know that I did  It turns out that, after losing faith in the system, Riley spent five years wandering the world, volunteering with Catholic Relief Services, and trying to find grace through suffering.  No, just kidding!  Actually, she robbed the bank where she worked and then she fled to Singapore where she became an MMA fighter.  (Don’t look at me like that, I’m not the one who wrote this damn movie.)  Now, she’s returned to the United States and she’s blowing shit up.

Fortunately, it turns out that the people who killed Riley’s family are no longer as clever as they were in the past.  How else can you explain their inability to not get blown up or shot in the head?  Peppermint is the type of film that asks you to believe that a group of criminals are so powerful that they can bride a state judge but they’re also so incompetent that a someone in their 40s can pick them off, one-by-one.  This is one of those films where people are only smart when the film’s plot requires them to be.  Otherwise, everyone in Peppermint is dumb as a sack of rocks.

Peppermint attempts to be a female version of Death Wish but it’s not as much fun.  The Death Wish remake may have gotten slaughtered by the critics but it’s still kind of enjoyable to watch because Eli Roth doesn’t hold back from emphasizing how ludicrous the film is.  Peppermint‘s director, Pierre Morel, takes the material a bit too seriously.  That approach may have worked when Morel directed Taken but, in the years since Liam Neeson murdered half of Paris to rescue his daughter, we’ve seen so many Taken rip-offs that the only way to approach the material is in the spirit of self-parody.  If you’re going to have a banker go to Singapore and become a cage fighter so that she can then return to America and blow up a retired criminal court judge, you have to have a sense of humor about it.

I do have to say, though, that I disagree with those critics who claimed Peppermint was one of the worst films of 2018.  It’s not terrible as much as its just kind of forgettable.

Love, Simon – A Review. This Film is a MUST SEE!!!! Rating – A+!


“Love, Simon” sometimes films make you exhilarated, cry, and hope because the hero is in physical peril; “Love, Simon” makes you feel those emotions through the agonizingly painful awkwardness of being a teenager and on top of that being gay.   The film has importance as having the first gay lead protagonist in a rom-com.  It’s directed by Greg Berlanti who created the best show I love to watch with dudes getting killed with arrows.

However, without a great story, you’ve got nothing. Simon, luckily, is all of us.  He’s handsome, but is painfully awkward.  This is evident in the first five-minutes when he approaches a handsome landscaper and fumbles all over himself.  These cringeworthy teenage moments happen over and over- just like high school terrible moments.

He’s young, but with a very adult secret and he doesn’t know if his friends today would be his friends tomorrow, if they knew he were gay.  That just sucks.  I don’t normally do this, but I want any readers out there to know that it’s okay to be gay.  You have a right to safety, love, and all of the wonderful things that the world has to offer.  If anyone says differently or uses their religion as a shield or sword for their bigotry against you, you can tell them fuck you right from me!

Back to Simon, he’s struggling with coming out and sees on a blog that someone else is too.  They begin an online correspondence and I prayed that it wasn’t a forty-five year old creepo writing him.  It wasn’t.  Unfortunately, his correspondence is found out by Martin, a fellow student, who threatens to out him, unless he helps set him up with one of his friends.  Martin is a horrible garbage person and is horribly awkward  as well and blunders through his terrible terrible life in the film.

Simon, fearing being outed, complies to Martin’s demand as he tries to discover the identity of his online paramour.  I don’t want to give to much away, BUT in the trailer we learn that Simon either comes out or gets outed.   Yes, he eventually gets outed, but that is as unimportant to the protagonist’s journey as being gay is in real life. It’s just you.  Simon- deals with it and if you’re a small-minded dipshit, you’ll deal with it too! The film proceeds to have many cringeworthy -oh my god,  I’m having teen flashbacks- moments and I’m so glad I’m no longer a teen.

Furthermore, the film could seem hokey or corny to a lot of cynical people that are terrible, homophobic or both.  Honestly, I have to write if you don’t like this film you are per se terrible. I’m not saying that if you gave the movie a C+ you would refuse to make a gay couple a wedding cake, but I bet you would tell there are “Two Sides” bullshit.

The film really goes beyond gay identity just as Simon does.  It is coming of age story where we grow up with simon and realize this is just who he is, but he’s still a kid.  I can tell you that 17 and 18 is still a kid.  My first assignment in the Army I was a lieutenant and had many 18 year olds in my platoon and they had childish interests, were desperate for guidance, and tried many awkward times to get acceptance.  In short, Love, Simon portrays youth accurately and we, like Simon, have to deal.

The film was making a point that these were kids struggling with being grownups and they just weren’t ready.  Adulthood is forced upon us, we don’t get to choose it on our own terms. For me, that’s what Berlanti was trying to say: we have to become adults and deal with our identity because life will force us to do so no matter what.  We don’t choose to be smart, dumb, gay, or straight- it’s just who we are and we have to face it every day because we have to do so.  The film forces us to live through Simon’s awkwardness as he becomes a Man.  Being a grown up sucks, but it doesn’t suck as much as being a teenager.

The film leaves us with uncertainty because that’s what being an adult is.  We have to be ourselves or we can never be free, or as Jennifer Gardner put it heart wrenchingly- you’ll always be holding your breath.

I would recommend that you see this film and then see it again!

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen

Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.



Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Nine Lives (dir by Barry Sonnenfeld)

Much like Warcraft, Nine Lives is another film that came out last year and got reviews that were far more negative than they should have been.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  Nine Lives is technically a pretty stupid movie and it stars a lot of actors who probably should be doing something a little bit more substantial with their time.  That being said, it’s not as if Nine Lives ever promised to be anything more than what it is.

Two facts about Nine Lives:

Number one — it did not make me physically ill, which already makes it a better movie than Hardcore Henry.

Number two — it’s all about cats!  After being more or less pushed to the side by The Secret Life of Pets (which featured only one tokenish kitty), cats finally get a movie of their very own!

It may not be a very good movie but that’s beside the point.  KITTY POWER!

As for what the film is about — well, it’s a concept that is so silly and stupid and predictable that I’m not surprised that it was produced by a major American studio.  (Except apparently, it wasn’t!  Despite taking place in America, featuring a totally American cast, and English dialogue, this is actually a French film, produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.)  Kevin Spacey is an emotionally cold and ruthless businessman who discovers that he does have a heart when he switches bodies with a cat.  Don’t ask how he switches bodies, it’s just too silly for me to talk about.  The important thing is that he switches and it leads to a lot of litter box jokes that made me, as a proud cat owner, cringe.

BUT — and here’s why this film is not as bad you may think, the cat is really cute.  And if a cat did speak with a human voice, chances are that voice would sound a lot like Kevin Spacey’s.  It may sound like a pretty weird role for a two-time Oscar winner and multiple Emmy nominee (and don’t even get me started on the Golden Globes) but dammit, Kevin throws himself into voicing that feline’s thoughts and good for him!

Plus, this is yet another film that features a totally out there Christopher Walken cameo.  The presence of Christopher Walker automatically elevates any film.

Nine Lives may not be good but it’s not terrible.

(Of course, dog lovers will hate it….)


Embracing the Melodrama Part II #100: Pearl Harbor (dir by Michael Bay)


“And then all this happened…”

Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Pearl Harbor (2001)

The “this” that Evelyn Johnson is referring to is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  You know, the date will live in infamy.  The attack that caused the United States to enter World War II and, as a result, eventually led to collapse of the Axis Powers.  The attack that left over 2,000 men died and 1,178 wounded.  That attack.

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, that attack is just one of the many complications in the romance between Danny (Ben Affleck), his best friend Rafe (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale).  The other complications include Danny briefly being listed as dead, Danny being dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was (and yet, later, he’s still seen reading and writing letters with absolutely no trouble, almost as if the filmmakers forgot they had made such a big deal about him not being able to do so), and the fact that Rafe really, really likes Evelyn.  Of course, the main complication to their romance is that this is a Michael Bay film and he won’t stop moving the camera long enough for anyone to have a genuine emotion.

I imagine that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to duplicate the success of Titanic, by setting an extremely predictable love story against the backdrop of a real-life historical tragedy.  Say what you will about Titanic (and there are certain lines in that film that, when I rehear them today, make me cringe), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had genuine chemistry.  None of that chemistry is present in Pearl Harbor.  You don’t believe, for a second, that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are lifelong friends.  You don’t believe that Kate Beckinsale is torn between the two of them.  Instead, you just feel like you’re watching three actors who are struggling to give a performance when they’re being directed by a director who is more interested in blowing people up than in getting to know them.

Continuing the Titanic comparison, Pearl Harbor‘s script absolutely sucks.  Along with that line about “all this” happening, there’s also a scene where Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) reacts to his cabinet’s skepticism by rising to his feet and announcing that if he, a man famously crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair, can stand up, then America can win a war.

I’ve actually been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  I have gone to the USS Arizona Memorial.  I have stood and stared down at the remains of the ship resting below the surface of the ocean.  It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling site, one that leaves you very aware that over a thousand men lost their lives when the Arizona sank.

I have also seen the wall which lists the name of everyone who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and until you’ve actually been there and you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you really can’t understand just how overwhelming it all is.  The picture below was taken by my sister, Erin.

Pearl Harbor 2003If you want to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, going to the Arizona Memorial is a good start.  But avoid Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor at all costs.

Back to School #68: Juno (dir by Jason Reitman)



Even though he’s a likable actor and has appeared in several films that I enjoyed, I am always a little bit uneasy whenever I see Jason Bateman on screen.  To me, he will always be Mark, the seemingly perfect husband from the 2007 best picture nominee Juno.  Mark and his wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are unable to conceive so they agree to adopt the unborn child of pregnant teenager Juno (Ellen Page).

At first, Mark seems like the nicest guy on the planet.  Unlike his wife, Mark appears to be laid back and friendly.  Whereas Vanessa tries to maintain a polite distance between herself and Juno, Mark quickly befriends her.  It’s a familiar dynamic.  Vanessa is the one who keeps the household running.  Mark is the one who keeps the household fun.  Vanessa is the adult and Mark is the guy who is young at heart.  It’s not surprising that Juno finds herself feeling closer to Mark than to his wife.

Much like Juno, those of us in the audience are initially fooled into preferring Mark to his wife.  For me, the first indication that Mark was not quite the great guy he seemed to be came when he attempted to convince Juno that Herschell Gordon Lewis was a better director than Dario Argento.  But even that could be forgiven because, as Mark made his arguments, he revealed that he had a pretty good library of DVDs from Something Weird Video.

(Seriously, at that moment, I really hoped that the movie would just spend five minutes letting us see every title in Mark’s movie collection.)

But then there was that moment.  After telling Juno that he was planning on leaving his wife, he looked at her and asked, “How do you think of me?”  And I have to give Jason Bateman a lot of credit.  He delivered that line with just the right amount of needy selfishness.  It’s rare that you see an actor — especially one who has essentially built a career out of being likable — so fully commit to playing a reprehensible character.  When Mark reveals his true nature, it’s shocking because we were so ready to like Mark.  With that one line, we’re forced to re-examine the entire film and we realize that, much like Juno, we allowed ourselves to be fooled by Mark.

Juno is a film about growing up.  Vanessa is a grown up.  Mark refuses to grow up.  And, by the end of the film, Juno has grown up enough to know that she’s not ready to be a mother but Vanessa is.  Juno has grown up enough that she can allow herself to get close to the baby’s father, sweet-natured track star Paulie (played by Michael Cera).

For many people, Juno seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it type of movie.  There rarely seems to be a middle ground.  It seems that for every person who appreciates Ellen Page’s sardonic line readings, there’s another one who finds her character to be abrasive.  For every one who enjoys Diablo Cody’s script, there seems to be another one who finds it to be overwritten.  The same holds true for Jason Reitman’s direction.  Viewers either respond to his quirky vision or else they dismiss him as being far too showy for the film’s own good.

As for me, I’m firmly and unapologetically pro-Juno.  I think Juno is one of the best films of the past ten years and I think that, eventually, both the character of Juno and Ellen Page’s performance will be viewed as being iconic.  When future historians are watching movies for clues as to what it was like to be alive during the first decade of the 21st Century, Juno is one of the films that they will watch.

And when they do, hopefully, they will understand that Jason Bateman was just an actor giving a good performance as a bad person.