Tag Archives: Movies

John Hyams’ Alone

It’s tough to find thrillers that are actually consistently suspenseful throughout, that go above and beyond in their job of, you know, thrilling the audience. John Hyams’ Alone is like an hour and a half panic attack put to film, a sleek, ruthless, transparently simple yet magnificently executed genre exercise in terror, isolation and pursuit that entertains so well it’s made it onto my top ten of the year (so far). The story couldn’t be more distilled into tunnel vision high concept fashion: a lone girl (Jules Willcox) packs up her modest belongings into a U-Haul trailer, says goodbye to Portland, the tragedy she lived through there and heads out onto the highways of Oregon, through the lush Autumn Pacific Northwest to bury her trauma, forget the past and start a new life elsewhere. After a scary traffic incident with a mysterious black Jeep, she finds herself stalked and eventually kidnapped by its driver, a creepy loner played by the imposing Mark Menchaca. She’s imprisoned in his remote cabin, fights her way to escape and so begins a breakneck, cutthroat cat and mouse game for survival across the rough but beautiful boreal rainforest, chased doggedly through the brush by this unhinged yet calculating and quite clever maniac. This film impressed me a lot because at no point did I I award any scene with the oft used utterance of “Yeah right” as something implausible or farfetched happened. Everything here, although heightened and extreme as any thriller of its type, feels like it actually could happen for real. Our heroine is brave, resourceful, logical in her strategies and commands our sympathy and support. Our villain is tactical, psychologically manipulative, terrifyingly predatory and straight evil right to the bone. Director John Hyams is the son of Peter Hyams, who made quite a few awesome films back in the day and it seems the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, at least here. His shot composition is gorgeous, full of austere, somehow peaceful overhead shots of the trees, opaquely suggesting the drama unfolding beneath their foliage while maintaining a beautiful yet eerie elemental atmosphere. The film is split up into chapters given titles like ‘The Road’, ‘The River’, ‘The Rain’, a welcome lyrical touch. There’s an absolutely wonderful sound design transition in which a rapidly beating heart morphs into the percussive rhythm of a helicopter propellor that is just so inspired and worth the price of admission alone. I think what I loved most about this fantastic film was the deeply affecting themes humming along harmonious in the background; there’s a reason it’s called ‘Alone’, and it’s not because she was driving those highways by herself when the killer picked her. This woman has been through hell before our story finds her, and in a way her horrific ordeal with this adversary serves as a form of redemption, a coming to terms with past trauma. Now, in a lesser film this would have perhaps been too obvious and heavy handed, but those themes are so expertly integrated and the film overall so well crafted, so brisk yet full of depth if you take the time to look, so thrilling and full of life, atmosphere and excitement, it comes out a winner all across the board. A must watch.

-Nate Hill

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker is one of those journeyman courtroom dramas that’s isn’t all flash, sizzle and spectacle. There are those things periodically and in the obligatory final flourish but this is more a piece that shows the dutiful, unsung labour that goes into putting a deposition together, the many hours of stress involved in taking on a class action lawsuit and for once, a quality I admired, focuses more so on the victims who are suing rather than the lawyers themselves in terms of character. Based on a John Grisham novel and directed by a fellow you may have heard of called Francis Ford Coppola, it stars Matt Damon in a humble, restrained turn as rookie lawyer Rudy Baylor, riding on the coattails of amoral hustler guru Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke) and backed up by perennial sidekick Deck Shiffler (Danny Devito). Stone’s firm (if you can call it that) is an unabashed ambulance chasing racket until Rudy stumbles into some genuine high stakes cases that matter, namely a lawsuit against an insurance giant for denying treatment to a boy (Johnny Whitworth) dying of leukaemia. This puts Rudy and Deck up against a top dollar team of legal talent led by preening shark Jon Voight, the kind of soulless muckraker who gets ruffled at the very mention of the fact he’s sold out to the wrong side. Also along for the ride is battered housewife Claire Danes, whom Rudy takes a liking to and wishes to protect against her monster of a husband. It’s a fairly sprawling tale with an impressive amount of characters all juggled handsomely, not to mention a dense narrative that is somehow delivered to us breezily and coherently. But character is key here and ultimately wins the day; DeVito is terrific as the chow mein guzzling little curmudgeon who initially comes across as a sleaze but quietly, ever so subtly peels back a hidden and unobtrusive later of compassion as the story draws you, and him in. Rourke is priceless, chain-smoking, chewing dialogue and literally walking out of the film a third of the way through to some tropical beach where he delivers key information over the phone before returning to his all your can drink margaritas. Voight is cold, steely and blusters without getting hammy, something he’s always somehow been able to tightrope pretty damn well. Danny Glover is great as a sneakily idealistic judge, Dean Stockwell as a short lived and quite cantankerous one and watch for vivid supporting turns from Mary Kay Place, Teresa Wright, Red West, Randy Travis, Roy Scheider as the leathery, evil insurance CEO and a scene owning Virginia Madsen as a terrified whistleblower. I greatly enjoyed this because although it’s a big budget, star studded Hollywood courtroom drama, it takes its time, is leisurely paced, lived in, meticulous about character development, sincerely cares and has compassion for the humans who are scared and hurting within its narrative and tells several interwoven stories, all well worth your time and attention. Great film!

-Nate Hill

Antonio Campos’s The Devil All The Time

I can say without doubt or hesitation that The Devil All The Time is the ‘feel bad’ movie of the year, and I mean that in a good way. This isn’t a film that seeks to find the silver lining, heart of gold of light at the end of the tunnel as far as atrocious human behaviour, sickening acts of violence and degradation and overall depravity go, this is a film that displays such things without much in the way of message, theme, agenda or apology. It’s just a film about terrible people doing terrible things, plain as pasta. If you can reconcile that early on in and stomach your way through the rest, there’s a whole lot to appreciate here, namely a spectacularly star studded cast all giving superb work in a gorgeously produced piece of Southern Gothic, nihilistic, psychosexual, blood spattered, sleazed up, unpretentious hayseed pulp fiction that has no patience for the squeamish, the self righteous or those who just tuned in to see Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson and won’t know what hit them. The film is a sprawling backwater canvas that spans decades and sees a whole host of unsavoury denizens interweave devilish deeds, violent acts, religious mania and murder most foul, or in this film’s case, most celebratory. Holland is terrific as Arvin, a tough kid with a nasty past who was taught early on in life by his extremely troubled father (Bill Skarsgard, haunting) about what kind of evil is out there. He’s forced to reckon with quite a few gnarly characters including a married couple serial killer duo (Jason Clarke and Riley Keogh), the county’s most corrupt lawman (Sebastian Stan), a belligerent small town mobster (Douglas Hodge) and a piece of work preacher (Pattinson playing gleefully against type) with a penchant for sexual abuse of underage girls and not a remorseful bone in his body about such acts. Arvin anchors the whole sordid tapestry together but is by no means a hero, and as much as the violence he inflicts is justified when you consider the people he’s up against, he is still a very harsh and cruel force, made so by Skarsgard’s passing of the torch as a young boy. The narrative doesn’t always seem to flow naturally, there’s a few jerks on the pacing chain that I noticed but the film is so beautifully made in terms of production design and performance it just sweeps you up anyway. It’s based on a novel by a fellow called Donald Ray Pollock, and judging by the wistful narration provided here he approves of what the filmmakers have wrought with his work, but I also see on google that he grew up in the actual county this is set in, and god help him if any of this stuff happened in his life because I wouldn’t wish these events on anyone. This is a pessimistic film that doesn’t pretend to be some holy treatise on pain and suffering whereby showing awful things happen we attain some kind of catharsis, by distance, perspective or irony. No, this film just presents to us the absolute shittiest human behaviour it can think of, and let’s us sit with it as we will. Many will abhor it, I appreciated it for what it was, for the craftsmanship, acting, artistry and scriptwriting on display and I suppose if there’s one thing it had to say that I absorbed, it’s that violence begets violence, generationally speaking in this case, and sometimes that’s not such a terrible thing when put to good use. A tough pearl of wisdom, but then again this is the toughest sort of film to be moved by.

-Nate Hill

Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian

A lot can happen on a nearly eight thousand kilometre railway trip, and much of it does in Brad Anderson’s chilly, blunt, ruthless and exciting Transsiberian, a Hitchcockian whodunit with as many turns in the plot as there are bends in the railroad. Filmed on location in Russia and China, the Trans Siberian is indeed a real train that makes a long, snowy voyage from Beijing all the way to Moscow and here serves as evocative backdrop for six various characters involved in a dangerous game of deceit, escape, intimidation and foul play. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are the American couple, he’s a bit of a bumbling nebbish, she’s more quiet, shrewd, observant and possessive of a reckless past. Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara are another couple, outwardly shady, edgy and suspiciously rough around the edges. One of these four is smuggling a large amount of heroin somewhere in the train, and it’s up to the viewer to discern why, how, where they got it and what the consequences will be. Meanwhile, two Russian narcotics officers trawl the train trying to smoke out the mule, played by a cold, psychopathic Thomas Kretschmann and a wily, charismatic and utterly scene stealing Ben Kingsley. This is such an entertaining, suspenseful, panicky, fascinating, character based piece of melodramatic escapism, made so by brilliant work from its cast, powerful scenes of violence, pursuit and distrust and locations that are at once beautiful, desolate, eerie and breathtaking. Mortimer is excellent as the kind of woman who fiercely guards her true nature and is resourceful to the bone in a tricky situation. Mara is low key very effective as the mysterious girl in over her head, Noriega just the right mixture of charming and dangerous, Kretschmann thoroughly chilling in his full on Slav tracksuit while Harrelson gets the film’s only comic relief as the lovable schmuck who doesn’t see danger until it’s in the same train compartment staring him down. Kingsley steals the show though, he’s a cackling fiend who exudes menace, dark humour and terrifying villainy, sometimes all in the same note. Director Anderson is responsible for some of my favourite horror/thriller films out there (Session 9, The Machinist, Vanishing On 7th Street) and this is one of his best. Cold, stark, with well written, believable characters, oppressive atmosphere, tangible danger and a feeling of karmic forces giving each player exactly what they need and deserve as the serpentine narrative unfolds. Great film.

-Nate Hill

David Koepp’s You Should Have Left

This one is called You Should Have Left, and buddy let me tell you if I saw this in a theatre I just might have. It’s a fairly terrible film, just muddy, cluttered, rushed, undercooked, unfocused and painfully mediocre. It’s directed by David Koepp, who did the awesome Secret Window based on a Stephen King yarn and with this one he’s clearly trying to evoke The Shining, it’s a breadcrumb trail of inspiration that leads down a bunch of dimly lit corridors of a spooky manor that looks like a hurricane whisked up an entire Ikea and shat it out on a hill in the Welsh countryside. Kevin Bacon plays a wealthy Hollywood type married to famous actress Amanda Seyfried (I’m not being funny, she plays a famous actress) who, um, is like two decades younger than him and it’s just creepy seeing that kind of casting decision at work. He’s got a murky, tragic past, their marriage isn’t all wine n’ roses, their daughter (Avery Tiuu Essex should be commended for outshining Bacon and Seyfried combined) picks up on the friction and things are very tense before supernatural stuff even pops up. When it does, it doesn’t make much sense narratively, borrows off more than a few better films and feels out of place. Bacon plays two characters, and the story was so willy-nilly I couldn’t tell if we were supposed to know right off the bat that it was him in both roles or not (it’s obvious). The twist has zero impact because everything before wasn’t explained to us anywhere near close to clearly enough, and the level of incomprehension is almost insulting to any viewer. Why Bacon and Seyfried would do this kind of lukewarm, flaccid excuse for a horror flick is beyond me. I will say it had some cool lighting, and a half decent atmospheric score, but beyond that? Secret Window this ain’t, You Should Leave before wasting seven bucks for this on iTunes like I did.

-Nate Hill

Jon Turtletaub’s The Meg

For a movie about a giant shark, given a giant budget, Jon Turtletaub’s The Meg is just kinda underwhelming. First off it’s PG-13, which is just not gonna do your shark attack flick any favours, I mean people wanna see sharks fucking people up and rating constraints will put a damper on that. Secondly, they just don’t do much with the infamous prehistoric megalodon other than have it jump around a bit, swallow a few people whole and arrive at a densely populated beach that looks like it was conceived by Wes Anderson’s production designer. What does work? Much of the interaction between some engaging human characters is funny, genuine and likeable. Jason Statham is great as a legendary deep sea diver who would rather just crush beers in his Thailand shanty. Robert ‘Longmire’ Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, stoic Cliff Curtis, unbelievably sexy Ruby Rose, Bingbing Li and a smarmy Rainn Wilson are fun. There’s a welcome tribal feel to the group dynamic and enthusiastic cheesiness that somehow reminded me of Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising, a much more fun ocean set creature feature. But the shark action is lifeless and just not exciting, and if the lynchpin of your film doesn’t hold the thing together all you have is what works, in this case a fun group of folks played by varied actors running around impressive sets. The rest? Boring as hell dude. There’s one cool moment when a little girl sees The Meg slowly swim up to a giant glass window underwater and lunge for her but Netflix put that as the little teaser video on the film’s main menu so it’s spoiled before you even start the thing. I’ll still take Deep Blue Sea over this tide-pool detritus any day.

-Nate Hill

Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe

Don’t rob an old blind dude in Detroit, especially if the dude is Stephen Lang with an angry Rottweiler backing him up. Seriously don’t though, you don’t wanna know the consequences involving a turkey baster, a pair of scissors and a jam jar full of… I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking grim. Don’t Breathe is a pretty damn effective shocker from director Fede Alvarez, who did that Evil Dead remake that had the nerve to be way better than it should have been. In an especially derelict Detroit neighbourhood, three hapless street kids (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto) unwisely decide to burglarize the home of gulf war veterans Lang, who reportedly has a nice wad of cash stashed in his basement. Well.. he’s got more than that down there, let me tell you. Once he gets wind of their presence, his lithe warrior reflexes, keen hunter instincts and heightened sense of hearing make their experience between his walls a living nightmare, not to mention… other things he gets up to. Lang is the perfect actor for this because before he got super jacked for Avatar he was a pretty lanky guy, so you have this sinewy frame with sizeable muscle mass packed on, not the body type you want to be trapped in a narrow hallway with. Plus he’s just a terrific actor and plays this guy like a feral beast with touches of sorrow curdled into madness. Alvarez makes great use of his cameras here, doing long sweeping takes that utilize hallways, door frames and wide rooms, evoking David Fincher’s Panic Room just enough to garnish his own style. The acting aside from Lang is just ok; Levy does the wide eyed, tomboy Final Girl thing well, Minette is just not a naturally gifted actor and it shows, while Zovatto is saddled with horribly written lines from the Hollywood ‘this is what street punks act like’ typewriter bot and is just cartoonish. Still though, it’s a highly suspenseful effort that benefits greatly from Lang’s presence. As for the turkey baster, I’m not sure the film needed such a stark, sickening set piece (Fincher himself would squirm) but I won’t soon forget it, which I suppose is half the point. Tense stuff.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Hopkins’ Judgment Night

Who remembers Judgment Night? I do, and I’m only randomly bringing it up because I had a dream about it last night where I was a character in the movie, and if you’ve seen this thing you’ll know just how nerve wracking any dream about it would be. It’s one of those greasy 90’s ‘all in one urban night from hell’ thrillers that’s pulpy, over the top, formulaic yet absolutely captivating, in this case because of the villains. So basically there’s four dysfunctional yuppie bros headed from the burbs into darkest downtown Chicago for the basketball game. They’re played by Cuba Gooding Jr, Emilio Estevez, Jeremy Piven and Stephen Dorff, four varied and interesting personalities who clash even before conflict finds them. On their way home through an especially gross part of town they accidentally witness a gang of criminals full on execute a disloyal homie, and from there the thugs make like jackals and hunt our boys through the nightmarish urban jungle with plans on slaughtering them one by one. Now, the top dog thug is played by Denis Leary, who is a solid choice because even when he’s playing good guys you still get the sense you can’t really trust him. He’s a verbose, sociopathic animal here and he’s backed up by perennial badass Peter Greene as his second in command, the two of them making genuinely memorable villains. Director Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost & The Darkness, Predator 2, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3) has real talent in evoking thick, tangible atmosphere be it jungle, urban sprawl or dreamscape and he makes the slums of Chicago look like a fiery vision of hellish alienation and hidden danger around any cluttered, garbage strewn alley or rooftop. The script mostly follows the breathless, brutal pursuit motif but there’s also some clever bits of social satire thrown in, particularly in Leary’s scenery chewing dialogue and rants. The fun lies in watching him and Greene stalk, terrorize and try to kill the four bros though, and it’s all executed very well. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet

I never thought I’d say I was even slightly underwhelmed by a latter day Christopher Nolan film, but such is the case with Tenet, a new pseudoscience mind bending espionage barnstormer from the filmmaker that didn’t so much blow my mind as tie it’s proverbial shoelaces in a knot. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, there’s plenty to get excited by here, but swaths of the narrative feel dry and uninvolved, the central premise that should be rich and tantalizing is painfully underdeveloped and the main character is less a character than a blank game piece scooting around a chessboard of intrigue and action. He’s ‘The Protagonist’, given the ironically opaque title and played by John David Washington in a performance that is sadly devoid of much life or expression. Tasked with playing a vital part in an incoming Cold War whose implications reach beyond science and physics, he’s teamed up with 007-esque operative Neil, played by Robert Pattinson in a turn that’s blessedly engaging, subtle and picks up Washington’s slack. I don’t want to give too much away because the film’s secrets are pretty fun, as they race all over Europe smoking out vague intel, having fierce gun battles and car chases and trying to prevent… what, exactly? There’s a spectacularly nasty Bond villain played by Kenneth Branagh who is a genuinely scary, fascinating piece of work, and I greatly enjoyed his arc and that of his long suffering wife (Elizabeth Debicki, solid) as well as some well mounted, intricate action set pieces. There’s a quick Michael Caine cameo that exists purely so Nolan can seat him at a table for all of two minutes to deliver clipped exposition, and appearances from Martin Donovan, Fiona Dourif, Aaron Tyler Johnson and Clemence Poesy. Nolan makes his paradoxical concept so dense and intricate that by the time the scintillating finale rolls around, parts of it are so much in the clouds that you just raise your arms in defeat and go “ok bro” and trust that he knows what he’s doing, because I sure didn’t, yet perhaps will with some more viewings a lá Inception. That isn’t the bone to pick here though, it’s mainly the fact that the narrative feels rushed, staccato, unnatural in places and doesn’t possess the fluidity, grace, cohesion or focus of his earlier works. Half the time the dialogue and editing during interaction scenes is so brisk, so chopped up and so hurried that its tough to really be drawn in, before you’re off to the races in a flurry without a proper roadmap to prep you for the fun. There are some very exciting sequences involving the premise which I won’t spoil, some terrific character work courtesy of Branagh, Debicki and Pattinson. But man, Washington is just not a dynamic actor and can’t carry the weight expected of him, while much of the film’s setup isn’t strong enough for payoff later on that isn’t strong enough either. I loved the super sonic, unconventional score by Ludwig Göransson, the action is neatly photographed and intensely realized when its good, and somewhat incomprehensible when it falters, especially in a hectic third act paramilitary incursion that I’m sure made sense to Nolan on the drawing board, but comes across as pandemonium on film. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but I have to be real and say this could have been so much more, especially for an artist as accomplished as Nolan.

-Nate Hill

Not just another Zombie movie by Kent Hill

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Amanda Iswan has always dreamt about making movies. While she isn’t Robinson Crusoe when it comes to such an ambition, it is often fascinating to me how such a common dream defies all the boundaries the world sets before us, and how, even in a massive city like Jakarta, Indonesia, her light is burning bright, her journey to the big screen is upon us. Having traveled extensively in the country and enjoyed numerous local films, like Amanda told me, genre cinema, especially local genre cinema – you have to be a bit of a rebel to butt heads against the dramatic norms. American movies dominate the globe, so when you try mounting films that aren’t just people talking about life, love and the human condition, (even here in Australia) the finance is not there. You are forced to go rogue, go guerilla-style, and with ZETA, Miss Iswan has brought a dash of depth and difference to what isn’t your garden-variety flesh-eating extravaganza.

Film Regions International (FRI) is announcing the release of “ZETA” a new foreign language horror film that the company has licensed for video-on-demand both in the United States and United Kingdom. The cast includes Indonesian actors Cut Mini, Dimas Aditya and Jeff Smith. The film is subtitled in English for the U.S. and U.K. territories.

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ZETA” tells the story about Deon, a student in Jakarta, Indonesia who witnesses a strange incident at his school when a friend bites a nurse’s neck and becomes a raging cannibalistic flesh eater. Suddenly, he realizes the entire city has become ravaged by a zombie apocalypse caused by an amoeba Naegleria-Zeta parasite. Deon, along with his mother Isma, who is suffering early signs of Alzheimer’s, are forced to quarantine in their sky rise apartment and eventually team up with a rebel gang to get the best combat strategies against the zombie horde.

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The film is currently available for rental or purchase on Amazon Prime Video and subsequent VOD platforms will follow soon.