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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

The Player

Thursday, May 19th, 2022

“It’s an art movie. Doesn’t count. I’m talkin about movie movies.”

April 10, 1992

I have enjoyed some of Robert Altman’s movies over the years, but never became a full-on “he’s one of my favorites” convert like so many film buffs a little older than me. In fact the only ones I’ve ever reviewed are MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, POPEYE and NASHVILLE. POPEYE was definitely the first Altman movie I saw, since it starred my biggest childhood hero (not Robin Williams – Popeye). THE PLAYER was the first one I watched as a grown-ish person trying to see good movies for adults.

I don’t hear people talk about it that much these days, but it has an 86 on Metacritic, which they quantify as “universal acclaim.” And it has a Criterion Edition. I remember it being viewed as a major cultural event in the film coverage I read in magazines and alternative weeklies of the time. In his review, Roger Ebert brought up Wall Street scandals and said the movie “uses Hollywood as a metaphor for the avarice of the 1980s,” but in my memory people enjoyed it as a satire of Hollywood executives. My most specific memory about it was a certain cameo in a movie-within-the-movie meant to parody the “pat Hollywood endings” joked about throughout the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Thunderheart

Monday, May 16th, 2022

April 3, 1992

“We choose the right to be who we are.”


THUNDERHEART is not a weird movie like some of these other 1992 releases, but it’s a pretty unusual one: a procedural thriller that attempts to shine a light on real life injustices taking place on tribal land in the U.S. An opening title says “This story was inspired by events that took place on several American Indian reservations during the 1970’s.” From what I’ve read it’s largely inspired by the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973, but director Michael Apted (COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER) also released the documentary INCIDENT AT OGLALA later in the summer, and that was about similar clashes between traditional and Americanized Sioux and a shootout with the FBI on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. I assume those events influenced it as well.

After the murder of tribal council member Leo Fast Elk (Allan R.J. Joseph, later a stuntman on DESPERADO) on a South Dakota reservation, FBI Agent Ray Levoi (Val Kilmer following his MTV Movie Awards nominated role in THE DOORS) gets called to Washington DC by his boss (Fred Dalton Thompson, who had ACES: IRON EAGLE III coming out in June). They know from his file that he has mixed Native heritage through his biological father, but he’s so out of touch with it he has to be told it’s Sioux and that his father died when he was 7 (he says it was when he was a baby). It’s just not a part of his life, but they make it very clear that they’ve chosen him for this case so they can tell the locals he’s one of them. “You’re going in there as who you are— an American Indian federal officer.” Should go great. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Jackal

Thursday, April 28th, 2022

Bruce Willis is… THE JACKAL. This one came out in 1997, between THE FIFTH ELEMENT and MERCURY RISING. It was coming off an adventurous couple of years in Bruce’s career that included NOBODY’S FOOL and 12 MONKEYS, and this is more of a normal Hollywood picture than those, but it was still an unusual role for him. He’s top-billed over Richard Gere (who was between RED CORNER and RUNAWAY BRIDE) but playing the antagonist, a very cold and serious assassin hired to kill the head of the FBI.

It comes from director Michael Caton-Jones (DOC HOLLYWOOD) and it’s based on Kenneth Ross’s screenplay to the 1973 Fred Zinnemann film DAY OF THE JACKAL, which itself was based on a 1971 novel by Frederick Forsyth. The new screenplay is credited to Chuck Pfarrer, a national hero because he wrote HARD TARGET and part of DARKMAN. (He was also a Navy SEAL and wrote NAVY SEALS.) Reportedly there was an uncredited rewrite by Kevin Jarre (who has a “story by” credit on RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II). (read the rest of this shit…)

Ambulance (2005)

Tuesday, March 29th, 2022

When I realized the upcoming Michael Bay joint AMBULANCE was a remake of a 2005 Danish movie, I figured that meant it was probly a pretty good high concept film. The last time Jake Gyllenhaal starred in a remake of a limited location foreign language film it was THE GUILTY, which I had really enjoyed. So I rented an import DVD of AMBULANCE (Ambulancen), and it fulfilled my hopes.

I actually think the Bay movie looks potentially good, and it’s obviously gonna be very different – way bigger, way more expensive, way more pretty, way more complicated, way more blowing hot air about our great military heroes and what not. Seeing the elegant economy of this one actual makes the remake trailer seem more laughable… of fucking course they saw this and said “How can we get the War on Terror in here?” (If not “How do we get them out of this ambulance?”)

But that’s fine. However that one turns out, I’m glad it led to me to this really solid movie that uses simplicity to its great advantage. It doesn’t have to be epic to be a total rush. (read the rest of this shit…)

Curfew

Tuesday, March 15th, 2022

CURFEW is a 1989 New World Pictures joint, a kinda sleazy, kinda odd home invasion thriller that I never heard of until Vinegar Syndrome recently released it on blu-ray. In the dream-like opening scene, a guy named Bobby Joe Perkins (John Putch, JAWS 3-D, MACH 2) excitedly cuts a piece of cake for a not-very-enthusiastic-looking young woman. Suddenly a menacing man appears at the door – it’s his brother Ray Don (Wendell Wellman, SUDDEN IMPACT), who storms in and attacks the young woman, over Bobby Joe’s protests.

Then all the sudden the Perkins brothers are in prison together. Then all the sudden they’re out of prison together. At times the editing of this movie is incoherent, but there are other times when it’s got a good momentum to it. They stop to talk to some ranchers, cut to the ranchers already dead and the brothers wearing their clothes. Some of it works. (read the rest of this shit…)

Benny’s Video

Thursday, February 24th, 2022

BENNY’S VIDEO (1992) is a disturbing psychological drama about a teenager whose fascination with violent videos blooms into actual sadistic violence. And you know how it always seems like parents have no idea what their little brats are up to? Well, when this kid’s parents find out about it they don’t have what most would consider a healthy or ethical response. The movie is very dry and unnerving, well made, and easy to read as a judgmental statement by someone who’s completely full of hot air – all trademarks of writer/director Michael Haneke’s early work. I don’t mean to diminish his filmography as a whole, which mostly does not deal with this theme of violent media’s connection to real violence. But this is his sophomore film, coming three years after his acclaimed debut THE SEVENTH CONTINENT and five years before the similarly themed FUNNY GAMES.

It opens with real video footage of a pig being killed with a bolt gun. After it dies, the video rewinds and replays in slow motion. As with FUNNY GAMES, I got the feeling Haneke was saying, “Isn’t it disgusting that you sick fucks watch this shit that I put into a film and advertised and encouraged you to watch?” But in the case of FUNNY GAMES, I gotta concede that I would indeed watch violent movies like that on my own accord. I would not have purposely sat down to watch a video of a pig dying. So you definitely don’t have the high ground on this one, professor. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kimi

Thursday, February 17th, 2022

KIMI is the new straight-to-HoBoMax Steven Soderbergh joint. This one is a tight little thriller written by David Koepp (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, SNAKE EYES, PANIC ROOM) with all the breeziness and smarts you expect from Soderbergh, plus that knack he has for style that simultaneously seems retro and more of-this-very-moment than anything anybody else is making. Like, it seems like it’s shot pretty run-and-gun with modern, lightweight digital cameras and natural lighting and stuff, but the staging, framing (and credits) sometimes remind you of how the ‘70s suspense classics were crafted.

We could call it a techno thriller because the titular “Kimi” is a Siri or Alexa type device through which our heroine, Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz, THE BRAVE ONE, ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT), accidentally hears a murder. Her job is to listen to recordings of times Kimi didn’t understand what people were asking for, figure out what the miscommunication was (a regional term, a pop culture reference, a word used incorrectly) and add new information to improve the algorithm. When she hears something disturbing in the background of a recording she does some sleuthing, tries to navigate the company’s dense protocols for handling such a situation, and becomes a target. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Gift (2000)

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022

The year was 2000. For the the third year in a row, Sam Raimi released a “this is the more serious Sam Raimi” type of movie. Though it combines a thriller story with southern gothic atmosphere and some supernatural elements, it’s his only movie to date that seems in a similar mode to A SIMPLE PLAN. And the script is by that film’s co-star Billy Bob Thornton, along with his long time writing partner Tom Epperson. The two had broken through as writers with ONE FALSE MOVE (starring Bill Paxton), followed by the lesser known A FAMILY THING and DON’T LOOK BACK. On the DVD extras for THE GIFT, star Cate Blanchett says that Thornton told her about the script while they were filming PUSHING TIN together. If it was his idea to cast her in the lead, good idea, Billy Bob.

Blanchett (not long after her first Oscar nomination for ELIZABETH) plays Annie Wilson, a widow raising three boys in a small town in Georgia. The titular gift is her clairvoyance, inherited from her grandmother (Rosemary Harris, UNCLE VANYA), which she uses to make a living, seeing clients in her home. She’s very helpful and beloved by most of the town, though treated with suspicion and superstition by a few assholes. (read the rest of this shit…)

A Simple Plan

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

“You work for the American dream. You don’t steal it.”
“This is even better.”

A SIMPLE PLAN is the first Sam Raimi movie not to be easily recognizable as a Sam Raimi movie. It even has a Danny Elfman score that’s not recognizable as a Danny Elfman score. It’s a grim, uncomfortable neo-noir, stylistically subdued, what little humor it has dry enough that it likely doesn’t register with everybody. If anything, it seems most akin to BLOOD SIMPLE by Raimi’s former roommates/CRIMEWAVE co-writers/DARKMAN cameo-ers the Coen Brothers, transplanted to a snowy Minnesota environment more like FARGO.

Like THE QUICK AND THE DEAD it was a for-hire project, but this time he didn’t want it to feel like any of his other movies. He and cinematographer Alar Kivilo (THE LOOKOUT) agreed that the camerawork should be simple, “invisible,” basically the opposite of what everyone loves about his earlier films. I don’t advocate doing that all the time, or even often, or honestly ever again, but here it definitely works for him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Escape From Alcatraz

Monday, January 3rd, 2022

On January 1, 2013 I reviewed the movie TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, and made up a superstition that it’s good luck for movie critics to start a year with a Clint Eastwood review. So then I ended up kicking off 2014 writing about A PERFECT WORLD, 2015 with THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, 2016 with KELLY’S HEROES, 2017 with PINK CADILLAC, 2018 with TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, 2019 with THE MULE, 2020 with WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART and 2021 with THE GAUNTLET.

It would be hard to argue that any “good luck” panned out in some of those years, and yet I will stubbornly continue the tradition. ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ is from 1979 and it was the last of Clint’s five movies directed by Don Siegel, because they had a falling out over which one of them got to produce it. (Siegel’s only subsequent movies were ROUGH CUT starring Burt Reynolds and JINXED! starring Bette Midler.)

It’s based on the true story of the only maybe successful escape from the notorious island prison. Three guys got out, they may very well have drowned, but they were never found. I remember going on a tour of that place as a kid and hearing the story. Man, prison tours are fucked up. (read the rest of this shit…)