Big Fan, Green Room, Next of Kin,
and four more movies

Big Fan (2009)

Patton Oswalt is a giant fan of the New York Giants, and a frequent caller to a sports-talk radio show. He lives with his mom, and their arguments are hilarious, and reek of real family. He works in a parking garage, and in the ultimate sign that he's a loser, he commutes to work on the bus.

Out for pizza with his best buddy and fellow Giants fan Kevin Corrigan, they spot their favorite player from the team at a gas station across the street, and immediately decide to follow him in their car, like they're private eyes. The trail leads to an upscale strip club, where Oswalt and Corrigan imagine they're going to share drinks and hang out with their hero. Things do not go as well as they'd hoped.

I am not a big sports fan and emphatically not a football fan, but at points in my life I've been a lunatic about Star Trek, Doctor Who, and science fiction in general, so despite my sports-immunity I feel a kinship with people loony about "their team," like Oswart and Corrigan here.

Written and directed by Robert Siegel, best known as Triumph the Insult Dog [No, that's a stupid mistake; see comments. —DH], Wikipedia says Big Fan is a dark comedy, but it's not a comedy in any real sense. It's not laughing at sports fans. It's a smart, thoughtful character study of a guy who takes only one thing seriously in life — football.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Neverending
Film Festival

Call It Murder (1934)

Humphrey Bogart (in his early-career bad-guy era) is an interested observer in the courtroom during a murder trial, and flirts with the daughter of the jury foreman. That makes for an enjoyable first two minutes, but after that, this movie is a disaster.

The woman on trial is found guilty, and sentenced to death. On her execution night, reporters gather outside and inside the jury foreman's house cover her death from his perspective (which seems dang strange to me, but nobody questions it). A stern-looking cop guards the jury foreman's house (which also seems dang strange, and isn't explained or questioned).

The script is constructed as though the jury foreman could change his mind at the last minute — weeks or months after delivering the verdict — and the execution would be called off, which is not the way trials work, or ever have.

With frequent images of the convicted murderess crying in her cell, we're apparently supposed to think she was wrongfully convicted. Until very near the end, though, the movie presents no evidence of her innocence, or of her guilt. We're supposed to sympathize with her, I guess, because she's a woman, which seems very 1934.

Shenanigans are going on — one of the reporters seems shady, and of course Bogey's character is shady, but despite watching this movie with all my wits about me (no beer, no drugs, and wide awake) most of the shenanigans made no sense. Then there's a big dumb plot twist, which resolves itself impossibly and stupidly.

Never seen a legal drama that knows so little about the legal system. Also, if you're a Bogey fan like me, be advised that he gets top billing, but his role is secondary and he's not on screen much.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Green Room (2015)

A touring headbanger band plays a gig at the wrong lowlife club. One of them sees something he soon wishes he hadn't seen, and the club's owner — a very unexpected Patrick Stewart — decides that the band's upcoming tour dates will be indefinitely postponed.

This is a tense thriller big on tension and thrills. You will be tense, and you will be thrilled. Even the punk rock ain't bad, says an old man who usually hates that sound.

"We probably won't all live, but, I don't know, maybe we won't all die."

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hide and Seek (1984)

A bright high school kid wrote a program called Hide and Seek, to infiltrate computers, accumulate data, stay hidden but reproduce itself, and jump to other computers — a virus! Then he forgot about it, but the virus kept spreading, and two years later it resides in 93% of all computer systems.

This was made for TV, so don't expect top-notch production values, and it's Canadian, so brace yourself for the accents. It tosses around high-tech words like 'teleprocessing' and 'digital analysis' and 'cracking' and 'access code', but if you can keep up with such lingo you might enjoy this.

I did, but mostly as a curio. It's hard to say, but I think it would've worked as a caper drama in its time, and if you reset your calendar for the early '80s it kinda still does.

"This program has access to every computer system in the country — and it thinks for itself!"

The high school hacker kid's name is... Greg Hacker. That's probably the scriptwriter's lame joke, I thought, but the word had to come from somewhere, right? So I quickly Googled the etymology, and yeah, 'hacker' had evolved its modern meaning by the 1960s, so calling the kid Hacker is just a scriptwriter's lame joke.

Hide and Seek is kinda good, kinda awful, and Hacker doesn't even try to kiss his girlfriend. Then again, fast-forwarding or clicking it off never occurred to me, and I liked the ending.

Verdict: YES. No wait, MAYBE. Nah, let's give it a YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Next of Kin (1984)

Peter is 23, and lives at home with his parents, who don't like each other and don't understand him. He doesn't have any interest in finding a job or having a career or making friends or much of anything (and I love that about him) but he has an active imagination, and dreams of being a conveyor belt, or perhaps being someone else's son.

This is a thoroughly strange, delightfully awkward movie. I wasn't literally on the edge of my seat, because my recliner is very, very comfortable, but even tilted all the way back, I was intellectually on the edge of my seat. What the hell is gonna happen next?

Next of Kin is unconventional, unexpected, unpredictable, but give it time and it's something beautiful. Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, who now gets the Doug-at-the-movies treatment — I'll be IMDBing his filmography and watching lots of Atom Egoyan movies.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Session 9 (2001)

In the 1980s and '90s, the crackpot science of memory-recovery was widely embraced. In thousands of instances, police and therapists harangued young children until the kids told implausible and obviously untrue stories of abuse, often involving Satanic rituals, kooky orgies, child rape, corpse cannibalism, etc. Look it up.

This Satanic panic era was ugly and terrifying. It didn't touch my life or anyone I knew, but it happened while I was reading about it, and shaking my head saying, No, that's just stupid (much like my reaction to everything present-day Republicans say and do). Writing an article about the Satanic panic has been on my "to do" list for years, and it could certainly make a terrific horror movie.

Danvers Lunatic Asylum should be a perfect setting for that horror movie. It's a real place — a huge, castle-like facility built in 1874 to keep the insane off the streets of Boston, 25 miles away. It closed in 1992, after earning fame for decades of lobotomies, shock therapy, extreme overcrowding, and other assorted cruelties.

Session 9 takes place at Danvers, was actually filmed there, and the Satanic panic is a key ingredient in the story. It's quite an accomplishment, then, that with such factually horrific elements and settings, writer/director Brad Anderson cranked out a horror movie so emphatically not scary.

The story: A crew of workers is removing asbestos from inside the abandoned Danvers Hospital. This should be a three-week job, we're told, but the boss says his crew can do it in two weeks, and there's a big bonus for everyone if they can finish the work in just one week. They're gonna have to be working fast, with long shifts, right?

Nope. Despite the alleged rush to complete the removal, there's never any rush, and the crew has ample time for sitting around smoking, telling stories, yelling at each other, exploring the asylum, reading through old records they've found there, even listening to audiotapes left over from some long-ago Satanic panic doctor-patient interviews.

When we do see the crew working, which ain't often, it's lackadaisically, and they're terrifyingly casual about wearing protective gear when working with asbestos, something else the movie doesn't really care about.

Like its 'rushed' workers, Session 9 is in no hurry to complete the expected responsibilities of a horror movie. It's an hour before it starts getting creepy, and even then it's only slightly creepy, and only for a few minutes at a time. Half a dozen possibly-spooky threads are left loose and unexplained.

In a quick Google to confirm that this was filmed at Danvers, Wikipedia tells me that Session 9 has "developed a reputation as a cult film," so it's possible I've completely missed something special here. If so, sorry, Mr Anderson.

Writing this review a week after watching the movie, I don't remember much about it except wondering what was going on, but not in the sense of being intrigued; more in the sense of, What the heck was that all about?

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Stuart Saves His Family (1995)

Al Franken was funny, before he went into politics and self-destructed. I always enjoyed his Stuart Smalley character, the wounded self-help coach Franken invented and perfected on Saturday Night Live.

Like many popular sketches on SNL, Stuart got a movie. Franken wrote it, and it's OK, but not as good as the movie that Stuart deserved.

Stuart's public-access TV show gets canceled, and his beloved aunt dies. We meet his nutty family, his Overeaters Anonymous sponsor, his Al-Anon sponsor, his Debtors Anonymous sponsor, and his Adult Children of Alcoholics sponsor. There are lots of smiles and about a dozen loud laughs.

As a wounded person watching a movie about wounded people, I was hoping it might take wounded people seriously, if only for a few minutes between the set-ups and punchlines, or for the last few moments at the end. But, nah.

Verdict: MAYBE.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Captain HampocketsJune 28, 2022 at 1:59 PM

    The director of Big Fan is not Triumph The Insult Comic Dog. That's Robert SMIGEL.

    1. Hah! Should I correct my stupid mistake, or just laugh at it? I'll just laugh at it...


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