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Intruder Alert: Nate’s Top Ten Home Invasion Thrillers

Lock the doors, bolt the windows and load that shotgun, because someone’s out there and they want in. There’s something primal and terrifying about a good home invasion thriller, a certain violation felt in the act of unwanted visitors breaching the sacred perimeter of one’s homestead. Be it burglars, psychopaths, serial killers or Jehovah’s Witnesses, no one likes the sanctity of their dwelling encroached upon and the premise alone has made for some really fun, often scary and always exciting films, my top ten of which are as follows:

10. Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

These days there’s a new Nicolas Cage flick for every day of the week, and you have to tread carefully through the proverbial minefield of shit nuggets. This is a sleek, solid thriller in the tradition of 90’s Hollywood programmers and provides serviceable excitement. Cage and Nicole Kidman are an upper class couple whose lavish mansion is invaded by a trio of nasty, violent criminals played by Dash Mihok (always awesome), Cam Gigandet (I know he sucks so bad but he’s the only weak link here) and Ben Mendelsohn who rocks the house as always. Who are these guys? What do they want? The fun is in finding out and watching Cage and his family evade these dangerous loonies while trying to stay alive.

9. Joseph Ruben’s Penthouse North

Another 90’s genre throwback, this one sees blind artist Michelle Monaghan facing off against psychopathic jewel thief Michael Keaton, who hid a diamond in her spacious Manhattan loft apartment years ago and wants it back. Monaghan is always terrific and overlooked as an actress, whenever she scores a lead role I’m first in line for tickets. Keaton tends to nail the diabolical villain part because his upfront affability is so disarming that one feels true shock when he abruptly shifts to volatile nastiness. This was tied with Mike Flanagan’s Hush for a spot on the list and while that one is terrific too, I felt that due to the extreme obscurity and overlooked status of Penthouse North that it needed some love.

8. Michael Dunstan’s The Collector

A very unique horror film in which an ex con decides to rob the country estate of his wealthy employer, with a small crew. But someone else has also targeted the house on the same night, basically the last dude you want to be stuck alone with in a closed off environment. It’s a stylish, spooky mashup of Saw, Home Alone and Mouse Trap with a dark palette, some spectacularly gory sequences and a villain you won’t soon forget.

7. James DeMonaco’s The Purge

While the overall concept of the purge is better explored and elaborated on more in the sequels, this first one still works as a horror thriller and dishes out some great suspense, not to mention believable performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. It’s also fun watching Hawke’s reportedly foolproof home security system get slowly breached by the preppy psycho brats that have decided to target them.

6. Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry

This whacked out funhouse of a flick starts with one home invasion that’s a brash, routine burglary and evolves into another that is subtle, psychological and terrifying. Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe are the couple who receives help from Ray Liotta’s friendly cop following the burglary, but then he gets a bit *too* friendly. Taking a keen, perverse interest in Stowe, he latches himself onto their lives and eventually becomes violent and unstable in this harrowing tale of one officer of the law who forgot about protecting and serving.

5. Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

It’s kind of an unconventional choice for a home invasion flick, but the vibe is technically there and I’ve always really liked it and found it to be unfairly bashed. Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone move their kids (Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson) to a creaky old mansion in the countryside for some rest and readjusting. Scary local redneck Stephen Dorff grew up there though, and he isn’t quite ready to move on, let alone watch another family set up camp and start renovating. So begins a relentless series of stalker moves, creep out moments and serious violations of privacy that start to turn violent. It’s essentially a pretty predictable Hollywood thriller but the spooky rural atmosphere is something I’ve always liked and you get a cool Christopher Plummer cameo too.

4. Michael Cimino’s Desperate Hours

One of Cimino’s less celebrated films is a remake of an oldie with Humphrey Bogart about three murderous burglars who take a suburban family hostage. Here the lead criminal is Mickey Rourke, the family patriarch Anthony Hopkins and the tone is very broad and melodramatic, but still a lot of fun. Any middle of the road film will get points for having a top notch cast and the players here are all terrific including Elias Koteas, David Morse, Lindsay Crouse, Dean Norris, Shawnee Smith, James Rebhorn, Mimi Rogers and Kelly Lynch.

3, Brian Bertino’s The Strangers

This sensational horror/shocker taps into everyone’s primal fear of being stalked by killers in their own home, and leaves a brutally nihilistic lasting impression. With an auburn, earthy visual tone, nods to 70’s horror films of the same style and a believable central performance from Liv Tyler, this one hits all the right notes and cultivates a terrifically hopeless sense of dread.

2. Florent Siri’s Hostage

This isn’t your garden variety Bruce Willis action picture. Buried cleverly in and around the tale of a hostage negotiator (Willis) trying to rescue an innocent family from three dangerous juvenile criminals is something almost noirish, expressionist in nature and akin to a horror movie in places. The house that these guys break into is a specifically designed labyrinth of shadows, walls and security traps that prove hard to navigate for all parties involved and makes an evocative setting while Willis gives one of his best, most haunted performances on record and Ben Foster makes chilling work of the lead antagonist who is a devilish psychopath.

1. David Fincher’s Panic Room

The bar is set here in terms of home invasion thrillers, and pretty damn high too. Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart (for the second time on this list!) retreat to the titular stronghold within their NYC home and fight for their lives against three evil professional thieves (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto). The suspense here is just unreal, this should be in textbooks on how to craft an effective, aesthetically pleasing thriller that keeps you on edge the whole time.

Thanks for reading!

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: Brian Smrz’s Hero Wanted

In the realm of Cuba Gooding Jr straight to DVD stuff, Brian Smrz’s Hero Wanted is probably my favourite. Many of them are absolute paycheque collecting trash, some are half assed efforts but a couple are scrappy, unique little gems worth seeking out. Gooding explores the dark side of human nature here as Liam Case, a simple inner city garbageman who uses the underworld ties of his colleague Swain (Norman Reedus) to stage a bank robbery for… unorthodox purposes, to say the least. Only problem is that the gang they hire is led by unstable maniac Skinner McGraw (Kim Coates) and his cop hating second in command Derek (Tommy Flanagan). The robbery ends up in disastrous bloodshed thanks to Liam’s plans and he then launches a personal crusade of vigilante justice against Skinner’s gang. All this commotion also attracts the attention of a tough homicide detective (Ray Liotta) who comes gunning for him as well. That’s only the main story arc, there’s all kinds of swervy subplots including a young girl (Sammi Hanratty) who Liam saved from a burning car years ago, the mother (Jean Smart) of one of the bank tellers injured in the botched robbery and the great Ben Cross as Liam’s ex special forces adoptive father.

It’s a lot to take in and it doesn’t all work together in the pot it’s thrown into, but it’s never not interesting, has a gritty 70’s crime aesthetic to it, plus both the writing and performances are organic and inspired. Gooding is terrific, his character essentially a perpetual fuckup whose schemes have lead him down a dark path, one he’s fighting brutally to find his way off of. Liotta brings heart and humour, not just another thankless cop role but someone who seems like an individual. Reedus gives my favourite performance as a dude who walks the line between good and bad finely, and pays dearly for it in an intense, poetic cap to his arc. Coates and Flanagan chew the scenery like there’s no fucking tomorrow, relishing the villain roles and creating two reprehensible street scumbags for the ages. The film skips all over the place and jumps around in time on a whim, so characters who died a few scenes ago are back again, a plot thread resolves itself before its even begun and it takes some getting used to. It’s a low budget effort at heart, but a huge and very creative one at that. A lot of the dialogue seems improvised and very candid, my two favourite exchanges being: Liotta and enters a crime scene, sees his partner visibly shook up and dryly intones: “What’s the matter? You look like Oedipus after they told him he just fucked his mother.” Elsewhere, Gooding and Reedus have a beer on their lunch break and shoot the shit: “You know America was founded on labour?” Reedus absentmindedly observes. “My uncle used to work in that factory over there,” replies Cuba, “Now that niggas on crack.” It’s that kind of deliberately offbeat energy that makes this one for the books and not just another B grade write off. Fun stuff.

-Nate Hill

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

Daniel Alfredson’s Blackway

Daniel Alfredson’s Blackway (aka Go With Me) is a bizarre disaster that would have made for a cool flick if… well if it didn’t turn out so darn shitty. I suppose you could blame editing, there’s elements that work, some decent performances and genuinely terrific photography but I’m not sure what they were going for in terms of tone and story because it’s an unholy mess. Anthony Hopkins is always a welcome presence, but he has a silly habit of sleepwalking through roles that he’s clearly only taken on to grab a buck (that twitter video of him spazzing out to music in his living room had more charisma than he musters up here), and although he never fully phones it in, there’s a somewhat listless lack of clarity in a lot of his later career work, this included. He plays an ex logger here with tragedy in his past, living the quiet life in the Pacific Northwest, until trouble brews in his small lumber town. Julia Stiles plays a new waitress in town who catches the eye of titular Blackway (Ray Liotta) an ex cop turned powerful crime lord with a hefty anger problem, violent tendencies and an overall scary reputation. He stalks, harasses and won’t leave the poor girl alone, and since he owns the pitiful excuse of a local police force there’s not much she can do but run and seek help elsewhere, supplied by Hopkins and a few of his pals including Alexander Ludwig and Hal Holbrook. If I was a powerful producer with the clout to green-light projects and you pitched me a noir-esque stalker thriller with Hopkins, Liotta and Stiles set in the Northwest I’d chuck my wallet at you and give my blessings. I’d later learn a hard lesson though, because as well as this looks on paper, or rather the alluring one sheet and exciting trailer, it really tanks and blows just about all of its potential. Stiles is always fantastic, she’s one of my favourites and can do no wrong in my book, she shines here. Liotta is a master actor and does a truly terrifying villain turn but he’s sort of in the wrong film. He has a big city gangster vibe that’s decidedly urban and bereft of the rustic trappings you need to pull off a mythic mountain man kingpin, and as such he feels out of place despite his great talents and considerable efforts. There’s a few decent set pieces like a face off at Blackway’s backroads whorehouse, but this thing is paced so oddly it’s hard to keep up or care. Alfredson is an accomplished filmmaker who gave us the original Lisbeth Salander trilogy, but I think he tried too hard to make this into something of an art film or really mean something when in reality there’s nothing more than a painfully average thriller. Worth it for the actors and the drop dead gorgeous scenery (I will forever be a sucker for films shot and set in this region), but other than that it’s a big swing and a bigger miss.

-Nate Hill

FUCK YOU ALL: The UWE BOLL Story Interviews by Kent Hill

I love the cinema of Uwe Boll. How you ask? Haven’t you read the reviews – don’t you know the stories? My answer: Yes.

I have read the press, I know all the stories. I watched as mindless degenerates hiding in their mother’s basements hurled shit across the web, and into the face of one of cinema’s most prolific, most passionate, fiercely independent figures. A man who needed, not a studio, but his own incredible knowledge and production savvy to make movies . . .

. . . all Uwe Boll ever wanted to do.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s set the ‘way-back machine’ for the late 90’s, and I’m tending the counter at the local video store – back when it was really its namesake – and they bring in a new coin-op to keep the punters in the store and spending money. That video game was called House of the Dead.

Supposedly so graphic and horrifying – as well as being literally rated R – HOTD was a shoot ’em up in the best, most fun sense of the genre. Behind the black curtain that was there to frivolously attempt to shield the eyes of the innocent from the mayhem, the masochistic, bullet-shredding magnificence, was a really cool world where the aim of the game was to blast your way through hordes of the undead with merciless glee.

So being a fan, and sneaking off to play while I should have been at the desk – when a friend of mine said, “I hear they’re going to make a movie based of this” – I was like, “take all my money man – this is gonna rock!” (And that was prior to The Rock  giving video game adaptations a shot)

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I remember going to the cinema to see it, and soon being one of only a handful of people still watching after a good number of folks had walked out. So – why did I stay I can hear you ask? Well there are two reasons. One is simple – I enjoyed the movie on many levels. Yes it wasn’t the game, nor could it have been. I think people operate under the fallacy  that just because a video game has a backstory or mythology on which it is based, then it must be simple to adapt into a movie. I believe precisely the opposite to be true. I think truly solid adaptations rely more on the wit and invention of the filmmaker. To combine a good narrative with recognizable elements from the game to appease the faithful.

And, love him or despise him, that is exactly what Uwe Boll could do – and do well. For if he couldn’t dear reader, then those multitudes of investors that he went back to time after time, movie after movie would not have entertained him. If he were not commercially successful, the career of Uwe Boll would not exist, nor could it be captured in the brilliant, candid and touching portrait of a film about a filmmaker, a man, who refused to remain silent whether he was being applauded or damned.

Unlike Dan Lee West’s RAGING BOLL, which deals more with the sensationalist side of Boll’s career, S.P. Shaul’s picture meanders down the quite roads and sheds light on the personal figure behind the media circus, the private man, the family man, the man who in spite of those basement dweller’s vitriol – followed his dreams and fought many a battle to bring them into the cold light of reality.

FUCK YOU ALL, is not a gratuitous middle finger in the face from the man dubbed the worst filmmaker of all time. No dear PTS listener – it is about the pursuit of what inspires, the burden of making visions come alive as well as the reminiscences of a man who worked with and alongside the cream of the Hollywood crop while smiling at the absurdity of it all.

When and wherever you can see this, The Uwe Boll Story, I urge and hasten you. It is filled with insults and hatred but that is always counterbalanced by the friends and collaborators of Dr. Boll, speaking words of praise, constructive criticism, and overall of a man with whom it was always fun to go to work with – and as it is said best, by Brendan Fletcher (a long-time Boll collaborator), and I’m paraphrasing here: but he speaks to the haters of Boll and says . . . “when have they ever risked anything?”

It is a great film about a fascinating artist and I am most excited to present my chats now, not only with the filmmaker responsible for the documentary, but with the filmmaker who inspired him to make the journey . . .

. . . enjoy

UWE BOLL

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As a child, Uwe produced a number of short films on Super 8 and video before beginning his studies as a film director in Munich and Vienna. He also studied literature and economics in Cologne and Siegen. Uwe graduated from university in 1995 with a doctorate in literature. Uwe has since directed, written and produced over 30 movies with such stars as Ben Kingsley, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta and Ron Perlman. Uwe also runs and owns the BAUHAUS Restaurant in Vancouver alongside Michelin Star chef Stefan Hartmann.

(Courtesy of:http://uwebollraw.com/)

SEAN PATRICK SHAUL

Uwe and Sean

Sean is a Canadian Documentary Filmmaker who became aware of Uwe Boll whilst working on the production, Assault on Wall StreetHis first encounter the wild, unchecked hullabaloo of an Uwe Boll movie. Sean would then go back and watch a number of the master’s films before lightning struck – Uwe would be the subject of his next documentary. Boll never one to have a problem with being candid – Shaul received and all access pass to the life behind the great director – enough to construct this, his definite portrait of the man, the myth, the mouth . . . the man named, BOLL!

PLEASE VISIT: http://prairiecoastfilms.com/

 

 

Paul Schrader’s Forever Mine

Paul Schrader’s Forever Mine is a melodramatic romantic revenge thriller that never truly coalesces into something great, but has elements which work nicely. We get two really great lead performances from Gretchen Mol and Ray Liotta, and one from Joseph Fiennes that isn’t as committed, or maybe it’s just that I’m not a fan of his and always feel that he’s mis-casted. Fiennes is the cabana boy working the beaches who falls in love with Mol, the much younger wife of Liotta’s shady, volatile politician. Jealousy roars into play, violence rears it’s head and tragedy looms when the affair becomes a full blown love triangle. Liotta is a dangerous man with powerful friends and he soon fixes it so the two of them can never see each other again, on top of having him viciously scarred. Flash forward a decade or so, Fiennes has become something of a shady businessman himself, and has returned seeking payback on ol’ angry Liotta. The one giant misstep in the script here is assuming that no one would recognize him simply because he’s become rich, cultured and suave, I mean it’s still the exact same guy in the flesh, Liotta and his ilk seem to buy the ruse, but it just doesn’t sell. It’s all very mirthless and operatic, so much so that it reminds me of Tony Scott’s Revenge which is the ultimate noir soap opera, but it works here and there. Liotta and Mol simmer off the screen but like I said above, Fiennes is just an awkward foot and doesn’t seem to work for me wherever I see him. The film’s strongest point lies in its last sixty seconds or so, when the whole thing wraps up in a melancholic vignette of tandem narration from him and Mol, a beautifully spoken and edited sequence that’s brief but truly affecting, poetic and heartbreaking. A so-so film.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Control

Control is a clunky psychological thriller that gets away with feeling realistic by the skin of its teeth thanks to four terrific actors who are so good that they somewhat cloak the incredibly silly narrative. Built around a high concept psychiatry experiment, Ray Liotta plays a vicious career criminal psychopath who is recruited into a secret government program by hotshot Doctor Willem Dafoe. Dodgy mood altering pharmacology is used to try and augment Liotta’s antisocial, violent behaviour and increase empathy levels, thus making him a productive and well adjusted member of society. It seems to work at first, he gets a steady job and meets a nice girl (Michelle Rodriguez cast wonderfully against type). But demons catch up with al of us, and the drugs start having side effects, which complicate the whole thing. Liotta is combustible in the role and gives it his all, he has few genuine lead roles but whenever they throw him one he always shines. Dafoe is incapable of a false note and makes his character work, while Irish veteran Stephen Rea makes creepy work of Dafoe’s sinister superior doctor. They’re all great, it’s just the story that falls into silly territory, especially with a huge WTF twist right at the end that takes the wind right out of the film’s sails and feels completely unwarranted. Come for the actors, stay awhile for the actors, make of the script what you will.

-Nate Hill