Tag Archives: john grisham

Director’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Joel Schumacher Films

Joel Schumacher was so much more than “the guy who made colourful 90’s Batman flicks.” He himself has said he never meant to be pigeonholed as a superhero guy and if you look at his legendary, prolific career you will see an incredible variety of work including war films, romantic comedy/dramas, musicals, buddy cop flicks, courtroom dramas, suspense thrillers, splatter horror, biopics and more. He was one of the most versatile, dynamic personalities ever to grace the director’s chair and put out superb content in Hollywood. Here are my top ten favourites films of his!

10. The Client (1994)

This John Grisham hybrid of courtroom drama and suspense thriller sees Tommy Lee Jones as an intense DA using an underage murder witness as leverage in a huge mob trial, while the crime syndicate tries to snuff him. It’s slick, high powered stuff with terrific performances all round and plenty of wicked suspense.

9. Blood Creek aka Town Creek (2009)

Chances are you’ve never even heard of this one but it’s such a loopy hidden horror gem. Michael Fassbender plays an evil, whack job Nazi with occult fascination who zombifies himself using evil magic spells and awakens a century later when two small town brothers (Dominic Purcell and Henry Cavill) must do battle with him. There’s buckets of blood n’ gore, a nice grinding low budget aesthetic, bone armour, stunning black & white flashbacks, folk horror, Lovecraftian vibes and more. It’s tough to find but more than worth seeking out.

8. Phone Booth (2002)

One of the original claustrophobic chamber piece thrillers, a moral ad executive Colin Farrell finds himself trapped under sniper fire by an unhinged maniac (Kiefer Sutherland, mostly heard, briefly scene, supremely scary) and forced through a gauntlet of psychological terror as a hostage negotiator (Forest Whitaker) tried to deescalate the situation. It’s a slick, unnerving thriller that’s shot with momentum and spacial dynamics with a very strong central performance from Farrell.

7. Batman & Robin (1997)

Much maligned and infamously cheesy, this is actually a ton of fun and showcases Joel’s uncanny knack for baroque, neon, unbelievably eclectic production design. Sure it’s silly as all hell and the batsuit has nipples but the sheer level of artistry put into set, costumes and scenery is something otherworldly you behold. Give this another chance.

6. Veronica Guerin (2003)

This heartbreaking true story sees a superb Cate Blanchett portray Irish investigative journalist Guerin, who doggedly tried to expose and take down a dangerous interconnected drug empire during the 90’s. It’s dramatically rich, straightforward and has one of the most emotionally affecting endings I’ve seen to any film.

5. Falling Down (1993)

Michael Douglas has had enough and isn’t going to take it anymore as one lone businessman who takes on all the injustices and pet peeves he finds along his journey through one simmering hot Los Angeles day while a cop with a hunch (Robert Duvall) hunts him down. This is a brutal character study, scathing social satire, dry black comedy and unique oddball of a film that has since become a huge cult classic and is Douglas’s personal favourite in his career.

4. 8MM (1999)

A tough, ruthless film to sit through, Nic Cage plays a private investigator who journeys down a rabbit hole of sexual depravity and scum to ascertain the authenticity of a spooky alleged snuff film found in some old dead guy’s attic. This is a rough, fucked up film but it’s also a rich, jet black thriller with excellent supporting work from Joaquin Phoenix, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald and James Gandolfini.

3. A Time To Kill (1996)

Powerful, star studded, thought provoking and humanitarian, this is another Grisham adaptation revolving around the trial of a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) in the south on trial for murdering his daughters rapists, defended by a white lawyer (Matthew McConaughey). It’s a difficult exploration of racial tensions that covers a broad spectrum of the community and ultimately feels like a battle for the region’s soul.

2. Batman Forever (1995)

This one is also highly undervalued, a colour shocked, garish homage to Batman of the 60’s with over the top villains, a surreal Gotham City straight from someone’s dreamscape and that epic, neon production design. This is a special film for me, it’s the first Batman movie I ever saw and one of those films I saw at such a young age that it’s images and impressions are imprinted onto my psyche in that otherworldly way you absorb art at a super young age, the age of absorption that cultivates the very best nostalgia years later.

1. The Phantom Of The Opera (2004)

This grand scale, rococo version of the broadway musical is a lush, passionate, sumptuous and beyond beautiful piece that I probably saw in theatres with my mom like eight times. It launched the careers of both Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum who are electrifying as The Phantom and Christine. One of the best film musicals ever produced and an all timer for me.

-Nate Hill

Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill

Many adaptations of John Grisham’s work have shown up in Hollywood, some great and others not so much, but for my money it doesn’t get any better than Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. There’s something fired up about this story, a heartfelt and desperate aura to the high stakes moral maelstrom that Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey find themselves in here. Jackson is Carl Lee Hailey, husband and father in America’s Deep South who opens up an AK-47 on the two redneck crackers who raped his eight year old daughter and left her for dead on the side of the road. McConaughey is Jake Brigance, the slick attorney hired to defend him who first seeks the limelight, then wishes he didn’t and finally becomes so morally invested in Carl’s case that it begins to unravel both his own life, not to mention stir up racial tensions all over the county.

Was Carl justified in these murders, given the situation? Should he be set free? Will the trial be a fair, civilized event given the fact that he’s a black man from the south in a time where they were not treated justly or as equals? The answer to that third question is definitely not because soon the Klan gets involved, the entire judiciary system itself gets put on trial and the whole state erupts in hot blooded anger over the situation. Jackson is fierce and vulnerable in the role, Never defaulting to the trademark detached, noisy brimstone that has become his thing but letting the hurt and righteous fury emanate from within organically, it’s probably his best work. McConaughey gets the sweaty desperation right and you begin to feel the uncomfortable nature of the situation creeping up on him until before he knows it there’s a burning cross on his lawn and his wife (Ashley Judd) is ready to leave him. Sandra Bullock does fine work as his legal assistants who, being an idealist, works for free because she believes in the cause rather than money or notoriety, the latter of which she receives whether she likes it or not. Kevin Spacey lays on the sleazy attitude as the loudmouth prosecuting lawyer who, naturally, hits below the belt in his tactics. An unbelievable roster of supporting talent shows up including Chris Cooper, Kiefer Sutherland, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Kurtwood Smith, M. Emmett Walsh, Anthony Heald, Charles Dutton, Raéven Kelly, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Doug Hutchison, Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer and Donald Sutherland as a charismatic old alcoholic lawyer who serves as Jake’s mentor and voice of reason.

This film can sort of be used as a barometer to measure moral dilemmas and see through the weak spots of the justice system, of which there are many. Were Carl’s murders justified? I think so, given the heinous nature of the crimes against his daughter. But the ensuing racial turmoil, petty battle of legal wills and outside-the-courtroom power struggle sort of clouds that until the film reaches a barbaric fever pitch of violence and terror, until Jake calmly and directly cuts through all of that and turns the mirror on a whole community with his heartbreaking final address to the jury, after which it’s so dead silent you could hear a pin drop. It’s a bold, fantastic piece of acting from McConaughey and some of his best work also, in a brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Robert Atman’s The Gingerbread Man: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Robert Altman’s The Gingerbread Man isn’t the director’s best, but it’s worth a looky-loo just to see this solid cast cavort around in a sweltering Georgia atmosphere and play out a narrative that’s part sultry seduction thriller and part hard boiled whodunit. I remember watching it and going ‘meh, I’ve seen this type of thing a thousand times and this one didn’t raise the bar at all.’ I’m thinking now that perhaps my mindset was in the wrong space, and that Altman set out to simply bring us the romantic murder mystery in its purest form, without deviation or higher ambitions. In that case he’s made a neat little potboiler with a suitably ludicrous ending, some truly effective red herrings and a really great troupe of actors, so,e going nicely against type. The multitalented Kenneth Branagh plays suave Georgia lawyer Rick MacGruder, who finds himself in deep trouble when he has an affair with sexy, slinky and shady Mallory Doss (the very underrated Embeth Davidz). She’s a good enough girl, but she has a backwoods nutcase of a father named Dixon (Robert Duvall being uber strange and loving every second of it) who is stalking and threatening her. Dixon is a bedraggled, cult-leading swamp rat and Duvall plays him to the frenzied hilt of uncomfortable ticks and unkempt theatrics. MacGruder, being smitten with Mallory, is of course compelled to use his legal and personal power to help her, and concocts a convoluted scheme involving a subpoena to Mallory’s belligerent ex husband Pete Randle (a cranky Tom Berenger blusters about in the third act). This of course sets off all kinds of back door motivations and sweaty double crosses that are hard to keep track of until all is revealed in the final act, prompting a collective audience reaction of “huh??”. It’s all in good fun though and at times it seems like Altman is deliberately dipping into B movie territory just to shirk his high art mantle and spice up this gumbo with some trashy, lowbrow flavour. I say bring it, that’s exactly the way to my heart. Writing this review I’m now realizing I probably like this film way more than my ending statement might suggest, but sometimes we need to hash it all out on paper (or in this case a cramped iPad keyboard) to reevaluate our perception of a certain piece. The cast gets juicier, with Robert Downey Jr. doing a quick bit as Macgruder’s slick buddy who works as a private investigator for the law office, Daryl Hannah and Famke Janssen as Rick’s jilted wife as well. It’s based on a John Grisham novel, and Altman seems to be the first director to adapt his work with a ramped up style and personal flair that goes beyond the academic thrills on the page. This one feels heightened, sultry and oh so sweaty in the way that only a southern set thriller can be. Cool stuff.