Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Falling Down

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

tn_fallingdownJoel Schumacher’s FALLING DOWN (1993) is a movie I’ve always hated for what I thought it was saying. Watching it again a couple decades later I think I was partly wrong. Maybe even mostly wrong. But I still can’t get all the way on board. I’ll try to explain why.

Michael Douglas plays a defense industry office drone in L.A. who one morning gets stuck in traffic, loses his shit, decides to abandon his car and walk home. And along the way he decides to go nuclear on anyone he thinks is wronging him. This includes gang members who try to collect a toll for him sitting on their rock and a Neo-Nazi (Frederic Forrest, VALLEY GIRL) who shows him his weapons cache, but also a convenience store clerk, the staff and patrons of a fast food restaurant and random construction workers. As he travels he builds up an arsenal by taking people’s weapons, like a video game that didn’t exist yet at that time.

(He’s credited as “D-FENS” after his vanity license plate, but they find out his name is William Foster, so that’s what I’ll refer to him as.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Judgment Night

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

tn_judgmentnightI’m interested in this idea of The Place White People Can’t Go. According to pop culture and middle class conventional wisdom there are large swaths of every major city that are like the wild west or a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The second a woman steps off the wrong subway or a man’s car breaks down on the wrong block, homeless men in ragged coats turn their heads from the flaming oil barrels where they warm their hands, and seedy criminals step out of the shadows of the garbage-strewn, rat-infested alleys to attempt a gang rape or mugging before this shaky-handed outsider gets a chance to unfold his or her map.

Admittedly many of these swarmers are white too, so maybe it’s really The Place Suburbanites Can’t Go. But it seems like a specifically white paranoia, perpetrated on white movie characters. It’s perpetuated in movies I like, such as the DEATH WISH series, as well as many an ’80s comedy. More recently it made an appearance in TRAINING DAY when walking through the barrio nearly got Ethan Hawke’s “shit pushed in.”

This is not entirely made up. Of course there are high crime areas (in Seattle it’s called “my bus stop”) and desperate, troubled people everywhere, and we’ve all heard stories, some of which are true. But I really think the whole thing is blown out of proportion in a way that appeals to our worst instincts and makes problems worse. In most cases I believe a white man can go anywhere and get a funny look at worst. If you mind your own business most people will leave you alone. Going into “a bad neighborhood” is not really like being a piece of meat in a tiger pit. You’ll probly be okay. (read the rest of this shit…)

Stalking Danger (aka C.A.T. Squad)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

tn_stalkingdangerSTALKING DANGER is the video title for C.A.T. SQUAD, a 1986 TV movie directed by William Friedkin. You can tell it’s TV by the cheap video titles, the 4:3 composition (even though it’s shot by Wes Anderson’s Academy Award nominated cinematographer, Robert Yeoman) and the “guest starring” in the credits, but otherwise it’s very cinematic. It even has a blood-pumping score by Ennio Morricone.

This is another secret agent counter-terror thing, with badass Doc Burkholder (the Michael Douglas-esque Joe Cortese)  appointed to put together his own team to catch an assassin called Carlos (Eddie Velez, THE HUNTED, BLACK DAWN). It’s not supposed to be Carlos the Jackal, by the way,  just standard, human Carlos I believe.

We know who the guy is because we watch him come in disguised as a priest, see how he sets up in a tower, crosses himself after he snipes the guy, gets away. And possibly we realize that the reason he looks so familiar is because he played “Dishpan” Frankie Santana, the best special effects man in Hollywood who joined the A-Team in the last season. But if not we are excited to learn that from IMDb.

Then we switch to Doc going around recruiting each member of his group (always a favorite part of this type of story), following leads, doing surveillance, poring over the photos, comparing everything to what else they know. ZERO DARK THIRTY shit. Eventually they catch on that it’s this guy and they go look for him. They follow him on the street, he tries to lose them down alleys, goes through different apartments and out the back door, that kind of stuff. (read the rest of this shit…)

Joy Ride

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

tn_joyrideThat’s funny, back in 2001 Paul Walker seemed like a pretty boy teen star, a jock from VARSITY BLUES, so even though I always kinda liked him (and defended him from the savage hatred of the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks) he was probly the reason I didn’t take JOY RIDE entirely seriously, didn’t give it proper credit as a really solid thriller. I would’ve told you the movie was good, but I would’ve thrown a “ha ha, it’s actually” on front of that. Now I’m not as self conscious, and now Walker is the specific reason I’m giving it a long overdue re-watch. With his last movie coming out on Friday I thought it would be a good time to take a look at a few of his other roles in tribute.

See, he was a pretty boy, and he never did turn into an actor of great range. But here, in the same year he graduated to cop roles in THE FAST AND FURIOUS (which he probly got because Rob Cohen had directed him in THE SKULLS, and which came out about 3 months before this), he could also still play a youth. He turns his air of nice guy innocence toward a leading man role, which in this case is mostly about fear and problem-solving. How do we get the fuck out of here? How do we get this guy to leave us alone? Problems like that.

This is a road movie stalker like DUEL, ROAD GAMES or THE HITCHER, but for the SCREAM floating-head-poster era. Walker plays Lewis, a hopelessly smitten college kid driving cross country to get home during a break. Along the way he will pick up his high school friend/long distance crush Venna (THE WICKER MAN‘s Leelee Sobieski). But then he gets word that his fuckup older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn, A PERFECT GETAWAY) is in jail and nobody else feels sorry enough for him to get him out, so Lewis goes 500 miles out of his way to post bail. Don’t ever do that, the movie will soon teach us. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Killer Elite

Friday, February 20th, 2015

tn_thekillereliteTHE KILLER ELITE is Sam Peckinpah’s don’t-be-naive-these-covert-ops-are-happening-all-the-time thriller kinda like MUNICH. It starts with straight up perfection: a title card explaining that “This film is a work of fiction. There is no company called Communications Integrity NOR ComTeg and the thought that the C.I.A. might employ such an organization for any purpose is, of course, preposterous.”

James Caan and Robert Duvall star as Locken and Hansen, two hard-drinking, lady-loving partners who claim to have never heard of the C.I.A. even though we just saw them bomb a building. They’ve spent enough time together that they’re always singing made up songs and saying stupid jokes that seem like you had to be there. But they’re obviously having fun.

When they go to a safe house, Locken goes to take a shower and Hansen turns traitor, killing the defector they’re supposed to be protecting and then trying to cripple his partner. When he’s standing there naked with a gun pointed at him Locken doesn’t even get scared because he can only comprehend it as a joke. He really thought he knew that guy, now he’s shooting him in the shower? He never took him for a shower-shooter.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Dying of the Light

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

tn_dyingofthelightDYING OF THE LIGHT is yet another troubled Paul Schrader production. The story is: it was a Schrader script that Nicolas Winding Refn almost directed with Harrison Ford and Channing Tatum as the leads, but Ford and Refn disagreed on the ending (guess who wanted a happy one?) so I guess Ford went and did COWBOYS & ALIENS and Refn did DRIVE. Then Refn became executive producer for Schrader directing it himself with the, uh, less-assured-of-a-theatrical-release team of Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin. Then after it was filmed the other producers shut out Schrader and did their own edit and scoring, so Schrader, Refn, Cage and Yelchin effectively disowned it by wearing t-shirts with the “non-disparagement” clause of their contracts that prevents them from complaining about the movie. Also cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth (2nd Unit DP of SHADOW MAN, ATTACK FORCE, FLIGHT OF FURY, AGAINST THE DARK and A GOOD MAN) wrote a righteous guest column in Variety about the producers recoloring the whole thing against his will and ruining what he and Schrader were trying to do.

We’ll get into that stuff later, but first let’s consider the Damaged Goods Cut on its own merits. It’s a flawed movie but more watchable and original than other recent basically-DTV Cage vehicles. Cage plays Evan Lake, a decorated CIA field operative who 22 years ago was tortured and had his ear mutilated by a young track-suit-wearing terrorist named Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim from the Johan Falk series). Lake refused to give up any information and was about to be executed when commandos stormed in and saved him. Now he’s kind of like their mascot. They have him give the tough guy speech to the fresh-faced new recruits, but he’s a depressed desk jockey who isn’t taken very seriously by the agency or allowed in the field. A big part of his day is trying to control or hide his shaky hand. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blackhat

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

tn_blackhatI didn’t think it would happen in this generation, but they’ve produced a manly movie star. They had to borrow him from Australia, of course, but so what? Arnold and Van Damme and Mel Gibson and a bunch of those guys were imports too.

Chris Hemsworth has the kind of rugged persona and charisma that makes a man feel inadequate – he’s 2014’s People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive, and last week’s Man Who Makes Me Feel Like I Better Do More Push-ups – but you respect him for it, you don’t resent him. I don’t know if he’ll maintain all the muscles when he stops being an Avenger, but I bet he’ll stay pleasantly macho. He’ll slick back his hair and look good in an undershirt and sunglasses and he’ll put his protective arms around tiny women but also respect their intelligence.

It’s nice that one of the few manly marquee names of the modern age has now had the chance to become Mannly. In Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT Hemsworth plays Mann’s idea of a being more godly than Thor. He’s a convict who splits his time between reading Focault paperbacks and doing handstand pushups. He’s done time both for assault and for hacking. He knows how to use guns and build makeshift armor and beat up multiple attackers using restaurant furniture, but also how to write computer programs. He’s hypersmart enough to glance at a screen full of code and instantly identify clues to its purpose and author, but also worldly enough to travel through multiple Asian countries and break into places looking for a mystery man. He can be counted on to sit with a laptop or phone and breach a highly secure database, but also can wing a plan to explode a truck on the roof of a building as a distraction to sneak in and physically steal a hard drive. (read the rest of this shit…)

Nightcrawler

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

tn_nightcrawlerI watched NIGHTCRAWLER back-to-back with FOXCATCHER. So far I’ve been able to keep the titles straight in my head though, haven’t mixed them up like I still do with RISE OF THE/LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS. But it’s not just the titles that are vaguely similar. This is another story about a bizarre, unfeeling weirdo pretending to be a human. The biggest differences from John Du Pont are 1) no fake nose 2) this guy comes from a working class perspective; he’s introduced sneaking around stealing copper to sell for scrap, like a junkie 3) he’s the protagonist.

It takes place in L.A and mostly at night, so it’s kind of like a noir. Jake Gyllenhaal (HIGHWAY, PRINCE OF PERSIA) plays Lou Bloom, the weirdo in question. I liked him so much in PRISONERS that I’ll see a movie just for him now, so I was excited for this even before the acclaim. Lou is the kind of weirdo who (correctly) thinks he can just walk wherever he wants to if he acts like he belongs there. When he’s driving home one night and sees a flaming car wreck on the side of the freeway he just pulls over, gets out and walks up to watch firemen trying to pull the driver out of the wreckage. You know, just curious. Wanted to see what all the fuss was.

When he learns he can make a living listening to a police scanner, chasing down these tragedies and shoving a camera in there, it quickly becomes clear that he has a natural talent for it. He’s not only completely willing to get in the way of cops and paramedics in life and death situations, he’ll also walk into a house where a shooting has taken place, film the bodies, move things around to make the shots more compelling. Here, get this happy photo of the victim next to this bullet hole. Perfect. (read the rest of this shit…)

The November Man

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

tn_novembermanA quick word on THE NOVEMBER MAN. It’s the recently-released-on-video Pierce Brosnan spy joint directed by Roger Donaldson (SPECIES). Brosnan plays Peter Deveraux, an ex-CIA guy (not MI5, interestingly) who gets called in for one last mission for personal reasons, gets betrayed, has to straighten things out and make those motherfuckers wish December would get here real quick. The intrigue involves a brutal Russian general (Lazar Ristovski, CASINO ROYALE) on the verge of becoming president and various parties trying to find a woman who might have incriminating information about him or something. But to Deveraux it’s just about the fact that the agency had his old protege Mason (Luke Bracey, Cobra Commander in GI JOE’S RETALIATION, soon to be remake Johnny Utah) snipe his old girlfriend Natalia (Mediha Musliovic). What the fuck, CIA.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Population 436

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

tn_pop436Yesterday it was officially announced that director Michelle MacLaren will be directing a Wonder Woman movie. She’d been Blogger’s Choice since it got around that Warner Brothers was hoping to get a woman for the job.

It’s a good idea to get some female perspective in some of these super hero pictures, and an interesting challenge. There unfortunately isn’t a very big pool of established female directors to choose from, and zero who’ve been allowed experience in big budget effects or super hero movies. One who came close was Patty Jenkins (MONSTER), who was supposed to do THOR 2, but was fired before filming allegedly for “a lack of overall clarity in her choices.” Women who’ve done medium-sized or small studio genre movies include Karyn Kusama, who did ÆON FLUX; Catherine Hardwicke, who did the first TWILIGHT (then got dumped); Kimberly Peirce, who did the CARRIE remake; and Lexi Alexander, who did the b-movie THE PUNISHER’S WAR ZONE.

To date the biggest budget live action movie directed by a woman is Kathryn Bigelow’s K19 THE WIDOWMAKER. She also happens to be a great action director, but after THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY it’s hard to picture her going super hero. I assume they offered to greenlight six serious contemporary issue dramas if she’d do this, but if so she must not’ve been interested.

So they’re digging into the TV directors. MacLaren got the internet’s eye by directing episodes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Obviously they’ve talked to her about what she wants to do, so they have more to go on than the we do. Personally I’m skeptical of counting on the cinematic vision of TV directors. From what I understand TV is usually a totally different gig than movies. They come in and try to follow an established approach, directing a cast and crew already working together as a team who know how it’s supposed to go. It’s the producers and show runners who have the vision. That’s why it’s rare to see one episode of a TV show that stands out filmatistically. (read the rest of this shit…)