Darkman: Sam Raimi’s Forgotten Masterpiece

The name Sam Raimi is now closely linked with comic book movies. His Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire were big hits. But way back in 1990 Raimi made a movie that in retrospect feels like an audition tape for Spider-Man. The movie was called Darkman. While it wasn’t based on any comic book in existence, it feels like a superhero origin story. It’s been largely forgotten since its release. But you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Sam Raimi wanted to adapt The Shadow, but was unable to secure the rights. So he went out and invented his own character and created one of the most original comic book style movies ever made.

Darkman stars Liam Neeson, before audiences knew him from Schindler’s List, the Taken and Dark Knight movies. Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a brilliant scientist who has invented a way to create synthetic skin, what has today become 3D printing. The only problem with the process is that the synthetic skin degrades after being exposed to light for 100 minutes.

Tragedy strikes when Westlake is attacked by gangsters, his lab is blown up and he is presumed dead. But Westlake was in actuality blown into the river when the lab exploded. He is brought back to life by an operation that leaves him unable to feel pain. This gives Westlake tremendous strength. But it also mentally destabilizes him.

All of this no doubt sounds like a traditional origin story. But Darkman has one great twist after another. Instead of a superhero who is straight up after revenge, Darkman is a character who struggles with the choices he makes. You really feel how mentally unstable the character is. The way Darkman gets back at those who wronged him is really inspired to. He rebuilds his lab and creates synthetic masks of the villains. This allows him to get revenge on them and still get away with it.

None of this works without Liam Neeson, who gives us a whole range of emotions in his performance. It would be easy to overact a part like this. But Neeson hits all the right notes.

Darkman has Sam Raimi’s trademark dark humor. To this day, I think Raimi is one of the most offbeat and inventive voices of cinema. He gets so much of minuscule budgets and seemingly routine stories. Sam Raimi’s imagination is limitless, as anyone that has seen his Evil Dead movies or Drag Me To Hell can attest. Darkman drew inspiration from the Universal monster movies. So the movie also has a great stylish look to it.

In an era of sequels and remakes, I think it’s high time people give Darkman another look and appreciate it for being the understated masterpiece it is.

United 93 and The 20th Anniversary of 9/11

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There have been several movies made about that day. But I want to reflect on the one that for me is the best and most powerful. It’s United 93. It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Director but not Best Picture. And that is wrong to me on so many levels. But I get why it was a hard movie to market and lobby for during awards season. It was released in 2006. For many people that was too soon to revisit that horrific day. There are some who may never watch it because of the trauma that day caused them. And I understand that completely. Everyone needs to heal in their own way on their own time.

But let me tell you why United 93 is a perfect tribute to those we lost on that day. First and foremost, director Paul Greengrass didn’t sensationalize the story at all. This wasn’t some pumped up Hollywood action movie of what happened. It plays out like a reenactment/docudrama. And that kind of tone is exactly what this story deserves.

Another reason United 93 works so well is that they didn’t cast big name Hollywood stars to play the characters. They cast unknowns who looked like regular people. It contributes to the realism of the movie. The filmmakers even went to the extent of casting some people who were air traffic controllers on 9/11. Ben Sliney, who was the FAA’s National Operations Manager on that day, plays himself. He made the decision to stop all air traffic on the United States that day.

United 93 doesn’t politicize the tragedy or fill it with empty platitudes to help the j

audience make sense of things. It’s presented very matter of factly. We see, in what feels like real time, ordinary citizens band together to do what they could to stop United flight 93 from reaching its destination (likely the White House or the Capitol). The characters aren’t all given colorful backstories. They’re just people brought together by extraordinary circumstances who sacrificed their lives to save others.

Paul Greengrass is no stranger to action movies, having directed a couple of the Jason Bourne movies. But he brings a real sensitivity to this material that makes it pitch perfect. United 93 is a heartbreaking movie because of the real life events it portrays. But it’s also one of the most moving tributes to real life heroes I’ve ever seen.

Tech Noir Essentials

When we think of things that go together in movies, science fiction and film noir probably don’t come to mind. But that combination is a sub genre of noir called tech noir. One of the reasons science fiction and noir go together really well or because both deal a lot with moral ambiguity. In classic noir it’s whether a criminal’s actions are justified. In science fiction, parts of the stories often deal in moral/ethical dilemmas brought about by scientific progress. Here are 5 tech noir essentials to get you into the sub genre.

5. Ghost In The Shell

If you like noir and anime, then Ghost In The Shell is the movie for you. Set in 2029 where cyborgs are commonplace, it follows Major Motoko Kusanagi of a secret police unit as he hunts for a cyber criminal known as Puppet Master. In this movies world, human brains connect to the Internet directly. That sure doesn’t feel far off today. Puppet Master hacks into the brains of cyborgs to get information and commit crimes. The anime has a great look to it and the movie raises ethical questions, including what autonomy you have over your own thoughts.

4. Gattaca

Gattaca may have flopped at the box office in 1997. But don’t let that stop you from seeing it. Gattaca was way ahead of its time and went over a lot of people’s heads. It’s set in a future where your life path is determine at birth. Your DNA determines what job you are suited for. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is born with a congenital heart condition. This dashes his hopes of space travel. He goes underground at Gattaca Corp. and assumed the identity of Jerome (Jude Law), a perfect specimen rendered paraplegic by a car accident. Vincent uses Jerome’s DNA samples to get a path to traveling into space. But his plan hits a snag when the program director is murdered and Vincent carelessly leaves an eyelash at the crime scene. Gattaca raises so many questions about eugenics along with being a great crime story.

3. Dark City

Dark City remains one of the most striking films from a visual standpoint I have ever seen. It has a look that feels inspired by Fritz Lang’s science fiction classic Metropolis, with its towering skyscrapers. John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a strange hotel room having lost his memory. He is also wanted for a series of brutal and strange crimes. Murdoch struggles to put his memory back together and evade supernatural beings known as The Strangers. The Strangers have the ability to put people to sleep as well as alter the city physically and its inhabitants. It’s an immensely compelling crime story that has a vibe that harkens back to the classic noir films of the 40s and 50s.

2. Minority Report

If anyone tells you Steven Spielberg didn’t make any great movies in the 2000s, they clearly didn’t see Minority Report. Based on a short story by prolific science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, it’s set in the year 2054. In the future, criminals are caught before they commit crimes. This is done by the Precrime Unit lead by Chief Anderton (Tom Cruise). The future crimes are foretold by gifted humans known as Pre-Cogs. Anderton believes the system is perfect. But then the Pre-Cogs predict Anderton will commit a murder in the next 36 hours. Making the situation extra bizarre is that Anderton is predicted to murder someone he doesn’t even know. Anderton goes on the run from the system he helped create to determine who set him up. Minority Report works as a thought provoking science fiction, story and an exhilarating action picture. Steven Spielberg’s skills are alive and kicking in this era.

1. Blade Runner

If one movie really illustrates tech noir, it’s Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Whether you love it or hate it, its influence is undeniable. In 2019 Los Angeles, the Tyrell Corporation creates develops robots called replicants to aid society. Replicants look and act like humans. The Nexus 6 replicants are used for dangerous off-planet activities. But then the replicants stage a mutiny on an off planet colony and are outlawed. Special cops called Blade Runners are tasked with hunting down and destroying any replicants that make it back to Earth. Former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) comes out of retirement to track down four such replicants. The toughest to catch is their leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). A lot of science fiction is set in a pristine looking future. Blade Runner is not one of them. Its world is grungy and feels very lived in with its acid rain falling from the sky and seedy alleys/bars. Blade Runner beautifully blends cyberpunk visuals with a noir storyline. And it’s loaded with great performances from Ford, Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos, to name a few. See Blade Runner on the biggest and best quality screen you possibly can.

10 Thoughts I Had While Watching The Bonfire of the Vanities

The troubled production of The Bonfire of the Vanities is the subject of season 2 of TCM’s podcast The Plot Thickens. So I decided to finally watch the movie for tut first time and…yikes! Here are 10 thoughts I had while watching it.

1. Starring Tom Hanks and directed by Brian De Palma? Not two people whose styles seem like they will work well together. But I like both. So I’ll give it a shot.

2. This is based on a book by Tom Wolfe? The author of The Right Stuff? I’m even more intrigued.

3. I feel like Wall Street captured this world that Tom Hanks’ character lives in better. Hanks just feels out of place. It’s not that he’s not capable of playing Sherman McCoy. He just wasn’t ready as an actor to make the leap to dramatic actor yet. Philadelphia was when dramatic Tom Hanks completely arrived.

4. Melanie Griffith’s accent kind of comes and goes. So that’s an interesting choice. Also, this part is a big step down for her after the wonderful Working Girl. What a shame.

5. This detour that Sherman and his mistress Maria take where Maria accidentally runs over a black boy with a car seems out of a different movie in its tone.

6. We’re halfway through the movie and none of the motives of these characters make any sense. And the racial/political undertones of the story seem really murky. I haven’t read the book. But I have read Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. The book has to be better.

7. Nuance is seriously lacking in the characters and storyline. I don’t blame the actors. A lot of it I’m guessing was lost in the translation from page to screen.

8. Is Bruce Willis’ character even necessary? Nothing against him as an actor. But Peter Fallow seems like a completely contrived plot device.

9. Could we get a movie about Richard Belzer’s shady television producer character? He’s only there for one scene. But it’s the best part of this hot mess.

10. The speech delivered by Judge White (Morgan Freeman, giving a better performance than his movie deserves) at the end of the trial is sanctimonious to the point of being nauseating.

10a. The movie is over? Hurray! I made it. Not sure which is worse: The Bonfire of the Vanities or Wilson.

Why Captain America: The First Avenger Is Still The Best MCU Movie A Decade After Its Release

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. There are a lot of great movies to watch for the occasion: 1776, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Independence Day…But I will continue my tradition of spending the 4th with Captain America: The First Avenger. On the 22nd of this month, the movie will be a decade old. I’ve seen all the MCU movies. To me, Captain America: The First Avenger is the best of the bunch. Why? Let me explain.

While the MCU has certainly had flashier movies, there’s something endearing to me about the old fashioned charm of the first Captain America movie. A lot of the credit for that has to go to director Joe Johnston. He brought a similar tone to the brilliant but underrated movie The Rocketeer, another movie set in that time period with a superhero of sorts. The costumes, the sets and the whole visual look is just fantastic. I have to confess that one of the big draws of this movie to me is that I’m an old soul. The 40s happens to me my favorite decade of cinema. And this movie captures that era really well.

Of course none of this would work without great casting. Chris Evans might not have seemed like a logical choice at the time. But the casting of Evans as Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark were the critical first steps in the success of the MCU.

Evans has the perfect boy next door look and wide eyed optimism to play the role. One of the things that’s refreshing in this particular origin story is that Steve Rogers had such a strong moral compass before taking the super soldier serum. As the serum’s inventor, Dr. Abraham Erskine (played by the endlessly versatile Stanley Tucci) explains the night before Rogers takes the serum, “Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”

The origins of Captain America are brilliantly told in his first movie: scrawny kid from Brooklyn wants nothing more than to enlist in the army to fight during WWII, is seen as too weak physically by army doctor after army doctor, ends up getting chosen for the super soldier program by Erskine for his moral fiber…All of this comes together in a movie that has some thrilling action set pieces (my favorite being the fight in the burning factory). One of the thrills of Captain America: The First Avenger is that the special effects are convincing but feel as realistic as they can be for a superhero movie. This is not a movie with bloated wall to wall CGI.

This movie also benefits from a rich supporting cast. In addition to Stanley Tucci there’s Hugo Weaving playing the villainous Red Skull, Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Phillips, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Sebastian Stan in his first outing as Steve’s BFF Bucky Barnes and Hayley Atwell stealing the show as Peggy Carter (future SHIELD agent and Steve’s love interest).

While I absolutely adore Captain America: The Winter Soldier for its 70s spy thriller vibe and love Captain America: Civil War for its part in further developing the moral conflicts and high stakes in the MCU as a whole, Captain America: The First Avenger is a flat out winner in its own right. From the first minute we see Chris Evans on screen we’re rooting for him. Steve Rogers isn’t a billionaire or a God, he’s just an ordinary guy who wants to make a difference during one of the darkest times in our nation’s history. You can’t ask for a better protagonist than that.

Bonding With My Dad Over MST3K and Learning The Value of B-Movies

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. My father passed away nearly 20 years ago. So it will be a tough day emotionally. But I plan on honoring his memory with a Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon. You see, my dad introduced me to that show and helped teach me the value of B-movies.

Growing up, Saturdays were the day my dad and I spent together. Usually we’d run a few errands in the morning while listening to Car Talk in the background (that’s where I got most of my knowledge about cars from). We would usually go our separate ways after that.

But one day I walked through the living room and saw him watching some show with a silhouette of talking characters on the bottom of the screen. Perplexed, I asked my dad what he was watching. He explained the concept of the show: a human was marooned in space with some robot companions and mad scientists forced them to watch the worst movies ever made. To keep from losing their minds, the characters talked back to the screen and mocked the cinematic turkey of the week.

I guess all those years of watching Star Trek episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel rubbed off on my dad, because he branched out to the network’s other programming, MST3K included.

The first episode I watched was Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders in case you’re wondering. Well, the show grew on me very quickly. It became our Saturday ritual to enjoy MST3K together. It was during that time that I developed my twisted sense of humor (although I got some of that from my mom too) and gained an appreciation for B-movies.

Anyone that has seen MST3K knows that the movies the characters were forced to endure weren’t just bottom of the barrel. They scraped the bottom of the barrel. But my dad would often point out that the low-budget movies often had more imagination than some of the movies currently in theaters. Sure Manos was a dumpster fire. But you’d never seen anything like it. I’m not saying I would go out of my way to seek it out, but it at least gave me something I didn’t expect.

Over the years I’ve found myself going back to MST3K for nostalgia and laughter. To this day, I can’t help but enjoy a good B-movie when I come across it. Sometimes the movies screened on MST3K even show up on Turner Classic Movies, which allows me to work on my own riffing skills as I do my own commentary on Twitter.

While I laugh at the cheap sets, special effects, bad acting, etc., I have a special place in my heart for B-movies. It’s fun to see what people come up with using their imagination and a shoestring budget. While the end product may not be on par with, say, Casablanca, it usually is entertaining in its own cockeyed way.

It’s worth noting that my dad also routinely rented Godzilla movies for my brother and I. Something about a giant monster stomping around Tokyo was appealing to me as a kid. And I’m still a devotee of Kaiju movies.

I miss those Saturdays with my dad learning about cars from Car Talk and the art of movie riffing from MST3K. I miss my dad’s laugh. I just really miss my dad. But I’ll always treasure the time we had together, especially those Saturdays when we enjoyed spending time with Joel, Mike, the bots and the Mads.

Saving Private Ryan: A Reflection

This Memorial Day Weekend you’ll likely see lots of war movies on TV. While I’ve seen a great many of them, the one that has stayed with me the most is Saving Private Ryan. Like another classic war movie, All Quiet On The Western Front, Saving Private Ryan raises real questions about the morality of war and gives us a brutal look at the realities of combat.

The first 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan for me is the most visceral war footage I’ve ever seen. The re-creation of the storming of Normandy on D-Day is bloody, chaotic and absolutely chilling. This is not a movie that glamorized war in any way, shape or form. It leaves you in awe of the brave people who went through it. Director Steven Spielberg makes a few very wise but unconventional choices during that sequence. Filming in a desaturated visual style, so it feels like news imagery of the time, is very effective. Another is not using action music during that sequence. His frequent collaborator, John Williams, delivered his usual quality work. But it’s not used to ratchet up the drama. Using a score would have taken viewers out of the action. Finally, the way that whole sequence was shot made you feel how chaotic and horrifying it must have been for soldiers who were there.

Some people say the first 25 minutes are great, but the rest isn’t much to write holt about. I couldn’t disagree more. The rest of the movie, which follows Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) as he leads a mission to locate Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). All of Ryan’s brothers have been killed in action, and the government wants to spare Ryan’s mother any further pain.

This is where Saving Private Ryan cements its greatness. We don’t follow a bunch of quirky characters through battle and none of it feels like fun. The soldiers openly question the validity of their mission and we see over the course of the story a realistic portrayal of the affect combat has on people. One of the most powerful moments of the movie is a speech by Captain Miller where he wonders if his wife will even recognize him when he returns home, bringing the psychological toll of war home to modern audiences.

Saving Private Ryan is a war movie that stays with you. It’s up there for me with Paths of Glory, All Quiet On The Western Front, The Thin Red Line and Platoon. It isn’t just content to show us the horror of combat. It’s a deeply philosophical look at the morality of war. And it manages to be thoughtful instead of preachy. The technical quality of the movie isn’t surprising since Spielberg is one of our most gifted directors. But the philosophical aspect of the movie is. And that’s why it’s still a masterpiece almost 25 years later.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/25-5/1

It’s the last week of 31 Days of Oscar. Here are my daily viewing recommendations.

Day 25. Silverado

The western has become an almost forgotten genre. And that’s really a shame. One of the people keeping the western alive is Kevin Costner. In Silverado, he gets to pay homage to the genre in a tongue and cheek way. This is a movie that has a lot of fun with western cliches. That’s no surprise, given that the director and co-writer is Lawrence Kasdan. Silverado has gained a cult following over the years. And it’s easy to see why.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Spanish Main.

Day 26. Stage Door

There’s something about backstage movies that is endlessly appealing. And Stage Door is a great example. It follows the ups and downs of actresses living in the same boarding house. Two of them are played by Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. Stage Door has a sharp sense of humor. But it doesn’t shy away from the dark side of show business.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: A Stolen Life.

Day 27. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Few actresses have been as versatile as Barbara Stanwyck. She could comedy, drama, westerns…But film noir Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite Barbara Stanwyck. In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, she plays a cold businesswoman haunted by a crime she committed and covered up as a child. The cast includes Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott and Kirk Douglas.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Sunrise At Campobello.

Day 28. Them!

I love a good creature feature. And Them! is one of the best creature features ever made. A New Mexico town is overrun by giant ants. And while that premise is ridiculous, the movie is fun and has some great special effects. The giant ants are believable. And the human characters aren’t just there to prop up the visuals.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Third Man.

Day 29. The Truman Show

Reality TV is everywhere these days. But, once upon a time, a movie satirized it brilliantly. That movie was The Truman Show. It features Jim Carrey in one of his best performances as Truman Burbank. He leads a seemingly ideal life as an insurance salesman in a typical American town. One day Truman discovers cameras everywhere he looks and that his life is a 24/7 reality show. The Truman Show is satire of the highest order. And it’s one of the best movies of the 90s.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: 12 Angry Men.

Day 30. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking love stories ever told. It’s a musical, but not a traditional one. The dialogue is sung-through. It was photographed in glorious three-strip Technicolor. And you owe it to yourself to see the best print of it possible on the biggest screen you can.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Victor/Victoria.

Day 31. The Wizard of Oz

Gone With The Wind may have won Best Picture over the strong crop of films from 1939. But The Wizard of Oz deserved the honor IMHO. It’s a timeless musical that continues to be discovered and loved by generation after generation. And there are multiple reasons for that. There’s Judy Garland’s star turn, the great songs and the great look of the film, to name a few. If there is one Hollywood movie that I’m certain will remain a classic 100 years from now, this would be it.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Z.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/18-4/24

Here are my picks for the next week of 31 Days of Oscar.

Day 18. Mystery Street

Mystery Street is not only a super noir film. It was also a movie ahead of its time. The movie was one of the first to delve into forensic science, which was fairly new in 1950. Mystery Street is a very involving police procedural. And it features a stellar performance by Ricardo Montalban as the lead detective on the case.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Ninotchka.

Day 19. Now, Voyager

The subject matter of Now, Voyager could have easily become a melodramatic soap opera. But the cast elevates the material and makes it a timeless classic. Bette Davis is Charlotte Vale, a mousy young woman constantly being bullied by her controlling mother (Gladys Cooper). Charlotte has a nervous breakdown and is treated by Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains). When she heads home after her treatment, she meets and is romanced by Jerry (Paul Henreid) on her ship voyage home. Superbly acted, it’s a must-see.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: On The Waterfront.

Day 20. Papillon

Anyone that says Steve McQueen can’t act never saw Papillon. McQueen gives his best performance in this movie as a prisoner serving a life sentence in a French Guyana penal colony. He befriends fellow prisoner Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman). The two plot a daring escape. A brutal look at prison life, Papillon is a movie that stays with you long after it’s over.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Passion Fish.

Day 21. The Philadelphia Story

What’s not to like about The Philadelphia Story? The script is witty, it had a great cast and it’s just a riot from start to finish. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart only made this one movie together. And it’s a complete winner. Socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is getting remarried. Her ex-husband CK Dexter Haven (Grant) comes in to crash the ceremony. Stewart plays a reporter assigned to cover the wedding. The chemistry of the entire cast is sublime. It’s a quintessential screwball comedy.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Poltergeist.

Day 22. Psycho

Halloween may have been the first full on slasher movie. But Alfred Hitchcock laid the groundwork for the genre in Psycho. By now we all know the story. Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzles $40,000 from a client of her employer and goes on the run. She ends up checking into the Bates Motel run by Norman (Anthony Perkins). She checks in. But she doesn’t check out. While Perkins wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, he delivers one of the most chilling performances in the history of cinema. To this day he remains an underrated actor. And that’s a shame. But no one who Psycho can forget his performance.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Pygmalion.

Day 23. Rashomon

It’s hard to pick one movie as a favorite from Akira Kurosawa as a favorite. But, if you twist my arm, my answer is Rashomon. It was the movie that got the Academy to add a Best Foreign Language Film category. In the movie, multiple people tell their version of a crime. A bride is raped and her samurai husband is murdered. We get multiple versions of the same story. It’s a fascinating look at human behavior and how we see what we want to see. What really happened? Kurosawa leaves us to sort it out. And that is one of his n many strokes of brilliance.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Romeo and Juliet.

Day 24. The Sea Wolf

Another Edward G. Robinson movie makes my list. Based on Jack London’s novel of the same name, The Sea Wolf stars Robinson as the ruthless Wolf Larsen. Larsen is the captain of The Ghost, a sealing schooner. Larsen’s crew fishes Ruth (Ida Lupino), George (John Garfield) and Humphrey (Alexander Knox) out of the sea. Larsen more or less holds them prisoner, refusing to make contact with other ships or put them ashore. The Sea Wolf is a too often overlooked masterpiece by Michael Curtiz. And Robinson as Wolf Larsen gives Captain Bligh a run for his money.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Shaft.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/11-4/17

Here’s my weekly viewing guide for TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.

Day 11. In The Heat of the Night

In The Heat of the Night is one of Sidney Poitier’s most iconic performances. Abs that’s saying a lot! His character, Det. Virgil Tibbs, starts off being arrested for the murder of a prominent businessman. Once he clears his own name, he teams up with racist police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), to dolce the crime. Packed with great performances top to bottom and skillfully directed by Norman Jewison, In The Heat of the Night is a riveting crime drama and a powerful time capsule of the tumultuous late 60s.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Inherit The Wind.

Day 12. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Sometimes you just need pure escapism. And boy does this movie deliver exactly that. There’s barely a dull moment in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It follows the hapless adventures of a group of motorists and their quest to find the buried loot when they happen upon the crash scene of a reckless motorist who tells them about it as he takes his last breath. The movie has one great gag after another, an all-star cast and some inspired cameos. My favorite of the bunch is Peter Falk.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Johnny Belinda.

Day 13. Key Largo

I love film noir. And Key Largo is quintessential noir. This was the last onscreen pairing of Bogie and Bacall. And it has Bogie going toe to toe with Edward G. Robinson. It also has Claire Trevor, Lionel Barrymore and was directed by John Huston. You can’t ask for more than that!

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Kings Row.

Day 14. Leaving Las Vegas

My day 14 pick is also my insomniac theater pick. Nicholas Cage has become a punchline of late. And that’s really a shame, because he’s a very gifted actor. And this is the performance that won him an Oscar.

Cage plays a Hollywood screenwriter who loses everything because of his alcoholism. He decides to head to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. While in Vegas, he hires a high end prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue). The initial encounter doesn’t turn out that great. But the two feel a connection. They form an unlikely friendship that turns into love. Both have their own demons. But they decide to live together and make the most of whatever time they have left.

Leaving Las Vegas sounds like a gut wrenching movie because it is. But it’s also a fascinating portrait of two lonely souls. The movie theaters are packed these days with movies that give us chases and explosions. And I love a good action movie. But it’s refreshing once in a while to see a movie that devotes so much time to such authentic characters.

Day 15. Little Caesar

Edward G. Robinson makes my viewing list once again! Little Caesar is an essential pre-Code movie. And it happens to be the one that made Edward G. Robinson a star. As Caesar Enrico Bandello, Robinson delivers a ferocious performance. It’s a great look at the rise and fall of a gangster during Prohibition. Every actor that played a gangster after this movie cage out owes a debt to Robinson. It’s a performance for the ages.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Logan’s Run.

Day 16. Lover Come Back

Doris Day and Rock Hudson made a slew of great comedies together. In Lover Come Back, they work for rival advertising agencies. Day tires of Hudson’s questionable methods to get contracts (including wining and dining prospective clients). She even tries to get him kicked out of the business. It’s an endlessly inventive screwball comedy and one of their most underrated onscreen pairings.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Day 17. Mildred Pierce

Say what you want about Joan Crawford. She may have been a diva. But the woman could act. In Mildred Pierce, she plays a hardworking mother who wants her kids to have the best. She spoils her kids rotten, which is what leads to her getting divorced early in the movie. Mildred becomes an entrepreneur who eventually opens a chain of restaurants. But all that work is unappreciated but her ungrateful daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). All of this could have turned into trashy melodrama. But in the hands of its talented cast, including the wonderful Eve Arden as Mildred’s best friend, it’s an absorbing film noir.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.