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

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.

 

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #88: Dream Lover (dir by Nicholas Kazan)


Dream_Lover_FilmPosterThe 1994 film Dream Lover is almost as strange as Zandalee.

Dream Lover opens with Roy Reardon (James Spader, giving a very James Spaderish performance) in the process of getting divorced.  Sitting in court, he announces that he’s fired his attorney and that he’s no longer contesting the divorce.  The judge informs him that, if he did contest the divorce, the final judgment would be in his favor.  Roy says that doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t want to contest the divorce.

In the next scene, Roy’s ex-wife tells him that he’s a great guy and that it’s too bad that they couldn’t make the marriage work.  They agree that they were just too different.  She apologizes for cheating on him.  Roy apologizes for hitting her.  They agree that Roy has trust issues.

Over the next few minutes of the film, we follow Roy over the course of his new single life.  We discover that Roy is a successful architect who is always attracted to brunette artists with troubled backstories.  We also discover that Roy’s best friend is an obnoxious yet strangely likable guy named Norman (Larry Miller, who brings some unexpected depth to an obnoxious character).  Norman begs Roy for money.  Roy refuses to give it to him.  Norman invites Roy to an art gallery and offers to set him up with a woman he knows.  Roy agrees.  And, seriously, the first 20 minutes of the film are so dominated by Norman that you’re kind of surprised when the film moves on and he’s no longer in every scene.

(But then again, that’s the type of film that Dream Lover is.  Characters appear and vanish at random.  Plot points are raised and then abandoned.)

Anyway, Roy’s date is disastrous.  (“You don’t like me,” the woman says as tears stream down her face.)  However, during the date, Roy meets Lena (Madchen Amick).  When first they meet, they fight.  Then they run into each other again at the grocery store and they hit it off.  They go to dinner and, despite having a good time, Lena makes a point of not inviting Roy up to her apartment.  The next night, Roy shows up unannounced and Lena does invite him up.  At first, she’s cold towards him.  Then they’re making love.  And then they’re getting married.  And then the clowns show up…

Oh yes, there are clowns in this movie.  Roy is haunted by visions, where he’s at a carnival and random clowns pop up and say cryptic things to him.  “How’s the family?” one asks.  Another one continually reminds him that he doesn’t know much about Lena.

Years pass by.  Lena and Roy have two children but it continues to nag at Roy that he doesn’t know anything about her.  He worries that she’s cheating on him.  He fears that the children are not his.  Roy’s friends tell him that he’s being paranoid.  Roy argues that paranoia is just a heightened form of consciousness.

Roy starts to investigate Lena’s past and here’s where I really laughed out loud.  Roy finds out that Lena is from North Texas and goes down to her hometown.  As Roy arrives in this tiny country town, the camera reveals a huge mountain in the background.  Really, Dream Lover?  A mountain in North Texas?

Anyway, for me, this film never really recovered from that mountain but, if you can overlook that geographic mistake, Dream Lover is occasionally enjoyable because it is such a weird film.  James Spader is hot, Madchen Amick is beautiful, and the entire film features one of those huge and improbable twists that you simply have to see for yourself.

And you can see it because it’s currently available on Netflix!

Back to School #56: 10 Things I Hate About You (dir by Gil Junger)


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A few nights ago, my sister Erin and I watched the 1999 high school-set romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You for like the hundredth time.  Seriously, we love this movie so much and, in fact, just about everyone that we know seems to love it as well.  10 Things I Hate About You is one of those films that brings people together.  If you like this movie, I’ll probably like you.

(Want to see true displays of spontaneous sisterhood?  Go to Girlie Night at the Alamo Drafthouse when they’re showing 10 Things I Hate About You.  You will walk out of the movie with a hundred new best friends.)

Why do people love 10 Things I Hate About You?  There’s a lot of reasons.  I love Heath Ledger singing Can’t Take My Eyes Out Of You.  I love watching Joseph Gordon Levitt at his most adorable.  I love that it’s a film about two sisters, largely because I have three older sisters and there is so much about the scenes between Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) to which I could relate.  I love the film’s quirky sense of humor and its unapologetically big heart.  I love the way the film’s script expertly balances cynicism with sentimentality and humor with warmth.  I love the fact that movie takes in place in beautiful houses and features beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes.  What Erin and I especially love about this film is that, as played by Julia Stiles, Kat is just a kickass chick.

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Of course, there’s a reason for that.  Much as how the superficially similar Clueless was adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You is adapted from Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew.  Oddly enough, Shakespeare’s plays seem to translate well into stories about high school.  Maybe it’s because his characters are so often motivated by jealousy, romance, and — it must be said about some — by pure stupidity.  10 Things I Hate About You is definitely one of the best of the teen Shakespeare films.

Taking place at an upper class high school, 10 Things I Hate About You opens with Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) arriving for his first day at Padau High School and quickly befriending the only slightly less adorable Michael Eckman (David Krumholtz).  Cameron wants to ask out the beautiful and innocent Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) but Bianca’s overprotective father (played by Larry Miller) has decreed that Bianca can only date if her older sister Kat (Julie Stiles) is also dating.  The problem is that all of the boys at school are scared of the outspoken Kat.

So, Cameron convinces the hilariously vapid male model Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) to pay the school rebel, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger, so handsome and charismatic and sexy), to ask Kat out on a date.  Joey, you see, wants to date Bianca as well but Cameron is sure that he can win Bianca away from Joey…

Yes, it’s all a little bit complicated but then again, Shakespeare often is.  For that matter, so is high school.

10 Things

What matters is that all of this leads to a collection of classic scenes and classic dialogue.  What’s my favorite scene from 10 Things I Hate About You?  There’s so many that it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one.  There’s the huge party where Joey continually strikes a pose and a drunk Kat ends up dancing on a table.  There’s the wonderful scene where Patrick serenades Kat.  Or how about when Kat reads the poem that gives the film its title.  But for me, my favorite scene is that one where, after spending nearly the entire film as rivals, Kat and Bianca finally talk to each other as sisters.  Bianca demands to know why Kat won’t go to the prom.  Kat tells Bianaca about her own previous history with Joey.  It’s a low-key and heartfelt scene, wonderfully played by both Larisa Oleynik and Julia Stiles, and I love it just because I’ve had similar conversations with all of my sisters.

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I suppose this is where I should make some clever comment about having “10 things I love about 10 Things I Hate About You” but actually, there’s more like a 100 things I love about 10 Things I Hate About You.

This movie makes me happy every time I see it.

And, really, what else can you ask a film to do?

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