Tag Archives: Madeleine Stowe

Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry

What if a cop decided that instead of serving and protecting civilians, he would instead stalk and terrify them? How would you deal with a scenario like that? Cops, after all, hold the power to arrest you or worse and unless you resorted to extreme measures, you’re kind of fucked. Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry is a terrifying psycho thriller that explores this idea deeply and thoroughly enough to give any law abiding citizen nightmares. Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe play a nice yuppie couple whose home is broken into one night by a petty criminal. No one is injured, and the cop who shows up to investigate assured them that he’ll do everything in his power to keep them safe. The only problem is, this cop is played by Ray Liotta and in a film billed as thriller, that’s a dark omen. He’s affable and kind at first, but begins to envy this couple their suburban oasis, particularly placing an unnerving interest in Stowe, and pretty soon he’s gone full monster on them, with complete impunity no less. He wants her for himself, or maybe even isn’t sure what he wants but is nonetheless dead set on wedging himself into their lives like a juggernaut of violent, negative energy. Russell is helpless especially when the officer’s partner (Roger E. Mosley) wants nothing to do with their plight and won’t raise a hand against his comrade, perhaps out of fear himself. This is a scary film not just for the way it’s executed but for the fact that this *could* actually happen in real life. If you turn on the news or scroll through your phone’s feed you’ll see handfuls of headlines about cops getting up to all sorts of no good, reminding us that they too are only people and subject to fallacy and shortcomings. Liotta goes way way beyond that here though into outright monsterville, this is one of his trademark unhinged lunatic roles and instills straight up dread. It’s tough to watch scene after scene of Stowe being terrorized and traumatized by the guy and between and Tony Scott’s Revenge she really got put through a wringer early in her career, but if you’re the female lead in a horror thriller alongside Liotta, you can kind of see the storm on the horizon ahead of time. This is an intense, fucked up film that has razor sharp suspense, three very strong lead actors and a a spooky atmosphere. It also makes a great double feature with Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown, another high strung Kurt Russell thriller where he yet again has to contend with a psycho who has his wife, albeit trading in rogue cops for rogue truckers. Both great films.

-Nate Hill

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Simon West’s The General’s Daughter

The General’s Daughter is one of those films that’s well acted and staged enough from a technical standpoint that the excessive, overcooked script, self righteous snark and needlessly perverse plot could almost be forgiven. Almost. This is a lurid, sweaty southern gothic military murder mystery, and as amazing as that sounds, it’s actually quite an unpleasant piece to sit through. Based on a book by Nelson DeMille (crown prince of airport novel thrillers), and directed by Simon West (Con Air), it’s given the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the nuance of a rogue missile. At least the acting is decent, starting with jumped up John Travolta as a private investigator called to a military base after the daughter of a powerful General (James Cromwell) is found dead on the property in… a compromising way. The suspects are lined up neatly like ducklings and include the General’s faithful aide (Clarence Williams III), an arrogant high ranking officer (James Woods, practically assaulting the dialogue), another officer on base (Timothy Hutton) who went to Westpoint with her and naturally the General himself. Travolta is joined by another investigator (Madeleine Stowe) who he has a romantic history with, because of course he does. They’re threatened by unseen assailants here and there, and stalled by a local redneck Sheriff (the late Daniel Von Bargen) who has it in for him. The investigation gets so weird, convoluted and messed up that it’s a wonder the writers could even keep track of their own work when scotch taping the third act together. When the inevitable flashbacks show up to tell us just what happened to her, we wish we didn’t know. The poor girl, played by Leslie Stefanson, is humiliated, brutalized and murdered in a way that’s miles beyond bad taste, totally unnecessary to show in graphic detail other than for the film to reiterate what a miserable display of ‘too much’ it is in every category. The scene doesn’t even stand to serve her character arc either, as we’re informed she has a history in S&M type shit. The depravity is there simply to exist on its own and turns a relatively run of the mill thriller into something deranged. It’s a spectacle, you won’t be bored, it’s well mounted and acted by a solid cast, but is it a good film? Nowhere close.

-Nate Hill

Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

There are films that sink in almost immediately after the credits roll, others that take some days or months to absorb, and then there are ones like Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, which in my case has taken the years since I was a kid and first saw it to digest the whole experience. Not to say it’s an especially complex or dense story, I mean it’s twisty enough but can more or less be understood with one viewing if you’re keen. There’s just a certain emotional quality to everything, coupled with the hazy unreliability that Gilliam lays over his lead character’s state of mind, an atmosphere like that of a dream you had last night and are trying to remember right as it slips away, an idea which also literally figures into the plot.

Bruce Willis plays against his tough guy image as James Cole, a shellshocked time traveller sent from a dystopian future back to the 90’s to do some cosmic R&D and figure out how a mysterious super virus wiped out almost all of humanity, forcing the rest into subterranean catacombs. Time travel doesn’t seem to be an exact science for these folks though, as they repeatedly send him to the wrong era after which he’s dumped in a mental hospital where, naturally, no one believes who he really is. Or is he even who he thinks he is? Madeleine Stowe is Kathryn Reilly, the psychiatric anthropologist assigned to his case, and Brad Pitt in one demon of a performance plays terminal odd duck Jeffrey Goines, a man whose lunatic ramblings start to sound eerily on point. The mystery of the virus sort of takes a backseat to Willis’s journey through the past, present, future and all times in between, Gilliam loves taking pause to see how he interacts with the world around him and hold scenes for a while until we get a real sense of world building. The moment James hears music for the first time is a showstopper, and the way Willis handles it is not only one of his finest moments as an actor but also a showcase of the craft in itself. Stowe always radiates fierce beauty and compassion in her work, she’s a grounding force of reason and empathy here, while Pitt takes a hyped up Joker approach to his role that takes you off guard while constantly keeping you in the dark about who he really is, the guy says nothing while blurting out everything. Others dart in and out of their story, with appearances from Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, Joseph McKenna, Jon Seda, Harry O’ Toole, LisaGay Hamilton, Christopher Meloni, Bart the Bear and a super creepy David Morse.

I love this film to bits, I think it’s Gilliam’s best work and is definitely my favourite, there is just so much going on both front n’ centre and in the background. It’s a thrilling adventure story, narratives about time travel are always my bag, but it also looks at Willis’s character from a careful psychological perspective. What would time travel do to someone’s state of mind, and how would they react in the long run. Themes of reality versus dreams and imagination are present, and a gnawing sense that it could all be made up. “Maybe you are just a carpet cleaning company and this is all in my head”, James laments through a payphone that transcends space time barriers. Gilliam certainly likes to play with notions of uncertainty and self doubt when it comes to the Sci-Fi aspects, and he isn’t afraid to boldly place in a hauntingly elliptical ending that doesn’t satisfy or resolve, and if anything lingers in our thoughts for a long while, like that elusive dream I mentioned above. Gilliam almost couldn’t get this film made, there were issues with everything from script to special effects to reported studio interference, but I thank the stars that it all worked out in the end, for it is his masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s The Last Of The Mohicans

Before Terrence Malick lyrically explored the relationship between settlers, natives and nature in The New World, Michael Mann crafted the emotionally gripping, beautifully feral The Last Of The Mohicans. Take Mann out of his comfort groove of big city crime epics and whatever new avenue he explores is going to be incredibly fascinating (his much forgotten, sadly panned The Keep is further evidence). Trading in looming urban skyscrapers for equally imposing trees of the frontier, high powered weaponry for one badass long-shot rifle and the onslaught of rapid fire combat for incendiary cannon fire, the colonial times suit him splendidly and he rocks this period piece for all its worth. Daniel Day Lewis is a force of nature as Nathaniel Hawkeye, the white man raised by his adoptive father (Russell Means) and brother (Eric Schweig) in the wild. Madeleine Stowe is a dark haired candle of radiance and fiercely spirited as the lovely Cora Munro, brought from the prim, lacy traditions of Olde England out to the wild, uncompromising new land, with her impressionable young sister (Jodi May is low key brilliant). Wes Studi gives the bitter hearted warrior Magua a steady grace and brutal resolve. The film is lovingly made, sweeping from thundering battles to cascading waterfalls to meticulously constructed war forts to uneasy treaties to verbose politics to romance that stirs the heart and unlocks the tear ducts. But it’s all about those last twenty minutes, man. Holyyy fuck does this movie have an ending. When the final, white knuckle climax happens atop the scenic yet unforgiving Promentory Ridge, hearts, bones and dreams are broken as all the characters collide in a tragic, inevitable confrontation that leaves fire in your heart and tears in your eyes. James Newton Howard and Trevor Jones provide a legendary, soul stirring musical score that swells for the final act and carries it to transcendent heights. Mann directs with a compassionate, objective eye, never designating anyone as the good or bad guy, but simply showing us human beings fighting for survival, love and revenge in a land only just finding its cultural identity. A real classic and one of the best of the 90’s. Oh, and avoid the director’s cut at all costs. That’s not usually advice I’d give for any film but Mann somehow thought it necessary cut an incredibly important final scene of dialogue between Lewis, Means and Stowe that gives thematic weight to the story and caps off the characters arcs gorgeously. Rookie move, Michael, that’s a key scene and bookends the film beautifully.

-Nate Hill

Tony Scott’s Revenge

Tony Scott’s Revenge is a difficult one to sit through, but it’s Aalto a good showcase of not only the late director’s inherent talent around a camera and staging of restless, brutally violent action, as well as one of the better, albeit off-putting entries in a sub genre I like to think of as ‘desert noir’ (Oliver Stone’s U Turn pioneered and set the good standard in my books). Sweaty, sleazy, excessively graphic, melodramatic and mottled out of those old school, primitive pulp laden love triangle bad blood archetypes, it’s relentlessly unpleasant but has a dark hearted charm that somehow sneaks in the back door and gives it an iota of likability, albeit in a weird way. Kevin Costner plays a hotshot navy pilot (Scott shamelessly plugging Top Gun) who heads to Mexico for a little down time, where he finds anything but. While on a visit to his old gangster friend (Anthony Quinn, that big ol’ sweaty Italian meatball), he meets the kingpin’s beautiful, shockingly young wife Miryea (Madeleine Stowe, back when she used to be in things), and naturally they fall in love. This ignites a volcanic conflict between them all that results in some of the most sadistic, sexist acts of violence and a giant rift in the brotherhood between Costner and Quinn, for you see, the pilot saved his life years before and there’s some vague blood debt owed, obviously now null in void when he tries to mow the guy’s lawn. There isn’t much to the story other than these Stone Age, chauvinistic games of betrayal, sex and retribution the three play, or at least the two while Stowe is so badly hurt she’s out of commission after the first act. Costner spends time moping about the backroads and flophouses of Mexico, befriending a dusty old shit-kicker (the late character actor James Gammon, credited simply as ‘Texan’), who helps him get back on his feet. He’s also aided in his vendetta against Quinn by two mercenaries, played by scene stealing Miguel Ferrer and John Leguizamo. The eventual final confrontation between them has the hollow howl of redundancy as both men sheepishly realize they’ve become a slave to their own emotions and ruined their lives, and especially Miryea’s. Ebert wrote of this “It’s such a good job of salesmanship that you have to stop and remind yourself you don’t want any.” Well, that’s Scott for you, who could take footage of a domestic dispute and whip it up into a frenzy of action and energy you can’t take your eyes off of. This is a dark, empty, unpleasant film bereft of gallows humour or tongues in cheeks. But there’s something about it’s lurid sense of danger, hot blooded anger and over the top, hide-behind-the-couch doses of extreme violence that draw you in and cast a dark spell.

-Nate Hill

TWELVE MONKEYS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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“It’s one thing to get lost in your own madness, but to become lost in somebody else’s madness is weirder.” – Terry Gilliam

How do you know when someone is crazy? This is a question that filmmaker Terry Gilliam tries to answer in many of his films, for he is obsessed by the notion of insanity – what makes someone insane and how do others view this person. Is someone really crazy or do they simply have a different view of the world than the rest of society? In the past, Gilliam’s films have presented characters that tend to blur the boundary between sanity and madness, but perhaps his most complex treatment of this subject is Twelve Monkeys (1995). It is with this project that the filmmaker combines his long standing obsession of breathtaking visuals with his knack for working closely with actors. This combination has resulted in more mature films for Gilliam who is normally associated with stylish overkill: films that tend to let the visuals overwhelm the story and characters. And make no mistake, Twelve Monkeys contains some of the most stunning images you are ever going to see but never at the expense of the story or its characters and herein lies one of the reasons why Gilliam remains one of the most interesting people working in film today.

Twelve Monkeys
is a film that constantly plays with, distorts, and more often than not, manipulates time. The film begins in the year 2035. A deadly virus has wiped out almost all of humanity, leaving the survivors to take refuge deep underground. Only the occasional foray up to the surface in protective gear by a select group of “volunteers” offers any clues as to what went wrong. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is one such volunteer who is particularly good at retrieving information. As a result, he soon finds himself being sent back in time to find out how the virus originated and who was responsible. Unfortunately, he goes back too far, arriving in 1990 and is promptly thrown into a rather nightmarish mental hospital in Baltimore where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a fellow inmate with a loopy sense of reality that feeds all sorts of paranoid delusions of grandeur. Cole also encounters Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) a beautiful doctor who feels sympathy for him and his plight.

As Cole travels back and forth in time he begins to realize that one of the most important clues to the source of the deadly virus may lie in the rather enigmatic underground organization known only as The Army of the 12 Monkeys. Soon, Railly and Goines begin to play integral roles in Cole’s search as he consistently crosses paths with them. But is this all taking place in Cole’s mind? Is he really humanity’s only hope at averting a catastrophic disaster or is he just insane? From the first shot to the film’s conclusion we are never quite sure of Cole’s sanity or lack thereof. It is just one of many questions that the audience must think about not only during the film but long after it ends.

The seeds of Twelve Monkeys lie in an obscure French New Wave film called La Jetee (1962) made by Chris Marker. The film was composed entirely of black and white photographs and set in Paris after World War III. It was an apocalyptic vision in reaction to the threat of nuclear annihilation that became prominent in the 1950s and 1960s. Writers David and Janet Peoples were approached by producer Robert Kosberg to do an adaptation of La Jetee. The screenwriting couple wasn’t that keen on the idea, however. “We couldn’t see the point. It’s a masterpiece and we didn’t see that there was anyway to translate that masterpiece,” David remarked in an interview. And he was no slouch to the art of screenwriting, having rewritten the screenplay for Blade Runner (1982) and penned the brilliant Clint Eastwood film, Unforgiven (1992).

Kosberg got the Peoples to watch La Jetee again and the couple began to see possibilities for a different, more detailed take on the material. “How would we react to people who showed up and said ‘Oh I’ve just popped up from the future’ and in turn how would that person deal with our reaction.” With this in mind, David and Janet set out to write a challenging piece of fiction that not only manipulated our conventional views of time but that also dealt with the notion of madness. Janet explained in an interview, “We were very interested in asking questions like ‘Is this man mad? And how about the prophets of the past, were they mad? Were they true prophets? Were they coming from another time? What are all the different possibilities?'” The film’s script argues that certain people who are classified insane by society at large may not really be crazy at all but are in actuality presenting ideas that are way ahead of our time. And perhaps the blame for this misunderstanding should be leveled at the psychiatric profession which, as one character in the film observes, has become the new religion of a society that has deserted traditional faith for modern technology.

After showing the finished screenplay to Marker and getting his blessings, the Peoples were faced with the daunting task of finding someone who would not only click with the material but also have the visual flair that the story needed. The couple figured that the only director to handle such tricky subject matter was somebody like Ridley Scott or Terry Gilliam. The theme of madness that plays such a prominent role in the script fit right in with Gilliam’s preoccupations and so he seemed the natural choice to direct. As luck would have it the filmmaker was between projects and looking for work after several years of seeing potential projects fall through for various reasons.

Gilliam was also eager to take a lot of Hollywood money (a $30 million budget) and create a strange art film that would fly in the face of the traditional mainstream movie. “The idea that someone’s writing a script like this in Hollywood and getting the studio to pay for it was pretty extraordinary. So I thought let’s continue to see how much money we can get the studio to spend.” Gilliam’s battles with Hollywood studios are the stuff of legend – most notably his struggle with Universal over the release of Brazil (1984). They wanted to revoke the director’s final cut privileges to insert a happier ending instead of Gilliam’s decidedly downbeat ending. Gilliam’s vision prevailed in the end, but the ordeal left him understandably wary of further studio involvement. He had reconciled somewhat with Hollywood by making The Fisher King (1991), which turned out to be a surprise commercial and critical success.

Architecture plays an important role in Gilliam’s films and Twelve Monkeys is no different. “I’ve always used architecture as if it was a character.” To this end, he found all sorts of intriguing architecture to populate his film. This included the transformation of an 1820s prison into a 1990s mental hospital where the film’s protagonist, James Cole first meets the Jeffrey Goines. The director found that the structure was designed like a wheel with spokes and hub. And so Gilliam used one section where three spoke-like parts headed off into nowhere. “It seemed to me [that] this trifurcated room was right for multiple personalities.” This feeling of madness is further amplified by the extensive use of skewed, off-kilter camera angles that are often shot at low angles to constantly distort and disorient the scene. “We started doing it and it got more and more fun to see how far we could push it because I wanted to create an atmosphere that you don’t know whether this guy is crazy or whether he actually does come back from the future.” The unusual camera angles not only mimic Cole’s confused state but also reflect Jeffrey’s manic, hyperactive worldview. By presenting the mindsets of these two characters in such a fashion, Gilliam is inviting us to see the world through their eyes and in the process offer a new, unique take on the world that we might not have been aware of before.

Gilliam was not just content to challenge mainstream audiences with unusual visuals and subject matter, but he also wanted to mess with people’s perception of certain movie stars by casting box office names like Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis against type. “One of the reasons [for doing Twelve Monkeys] was taking Bruce and putting him into situations and asking of him things I don’t think he’s ever done before or that people haven’t seen him do … and with Brad Pitt it’s the same thing. Brad is pretty laconic in some ways. Suddenly he’s a blabbermouth, jabbering away at high speed. I love doing that, playing with the public’s perception of that star; otherwise, it wouldn’t be fun.” As a result we get a very different Bruce Willis here than we have come to expect. Gone are the wisecracks and smart-aleck attitude and instead we see Willis impart a real wounded sensibility to the character of James Cole. The reluctant time traveler always seems to be flinching at every little thing, often appearing disoriented or distracted as he struggles to understand what is going on around him. Willis displays great skill in this role – perhaps the best of his career – as he creates a truly tragic figure that may or may not be losing his mind.

Brad Pitt’s character, Jeffrey Goines, resides at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Where Cole is a sad, brooding figure, Goines is a frenetic psychotic oscillating wildly between paranoid ravings and calm interludes where his madness is kept in check but still resides behind wild eyes. It’s a daring performance for Pitt who lets it all hang out as he gladly chews up the scenery with his loony radical environmentalist cum revolutionary that all but steals every scene he’s in. It’s a performance that Pitt worked long and hard to achieve and it paid off in a Golden Globe Award that year for Best Supporting Actor and an Academy Award nomination in the same category.

It is easy to see what attracted Terry Gilliam to a project like Twelve Monkeys. In keeping with his past films, this one also played “with the same old things – time, reality, madness – so I was intrigued.” Even though it was one of the few projects he did not originate himself, Gilliam quickly made the film his own. In fact, it is Twelve Monkeys‘ unique look that prevents any easy categorization. As Gilliam observed in an interview, “I’m determined to make it indefinable.” It is this avoidance of any clear cut genre that makes the film a riddle waiting to be solved. The film is also structured somewhat like an onion. On the surface, the audience knows very little at the beginning, but gradually as it progresses and the layers are removed, more and more of the mystery is revealed. However, this is not readily apparent after an initial viewing. Only after subsequent screenings does the full impact and brilliance of what Gilliam and his cast and crew have created sink in. It is this great amount of care and detail that has clearly gone into this film that makes Twelve Monkeys worth watching.