Tag Archives: Thriller

Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction

Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction left me both a uneasy and appalled. Billed as a sleek, sexy psychological thriller, it showcases Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in an ugly, disturbing cautionary tale regarding adultery and lies, and although well acted it came across as really misguided to me. Keep in mind I didn’t see it way back when, I only got around to it recently to see what all the fuss is about and because I like Lyne’s other work (check out Jacob’s Ladder for an *actual* psychological thriller), so I don’t have yesteryear nostalgia for it. Michael Douglas always seems to be at the whim of women scorned, be it the calculating femme fatale (Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct), the power tripping boss (Demi Moore in Disclosure), the scheming lover (Gwyneth Paltrow in A Perfect Murder), or the hag ex wife (Kathleen Turner in War Of The Roses). Here the female character is startlingly real as opposed to archetypical caricature, splendidly portrayed by Glenn Close but… she’s stuck in the wrong narrative, a lurid, nasty exercise in cheap scares and exploitation that isn’t remotely kind to either character and has no idea what tone or outlook it wants to take. Douglas has a one night stand with her, having no idea who she is or where she comes from, which is already ill advised. Worse? He’s married, to poor Anne Archer, and has both a kid and an adorable bunny rabbit, which obviously doesn’t last long the way the film is headed. Soon after he rejects her further advances, she gets clingy, unstable and downright scary, but here’s the thing: this is obviously a girl who is very sick, as he finds out later, and not just some thinly written psycho-sexual serpent like in many of these films. How does he react? Well, instead of calling authorities or getting help as soon as one, maybe two of those red flags go up, he aggressively spurns her a second time, and has no coherence or intuition to fix the situation, plus he’s a little bitch who wants to keep his indiscretion secret at all costs. I understand that thriller guidelines dictate logic right out the window, but Close’s performance is too realistic and fascinating to be quick-sanded in such a silly, insulting story. Not to mention the fact that once the final act has rolled around, she has devolved into a rabid slasher villain and the script has ceased to care about any semblance of character at all. If the pieces fit a little better with this one, it might have worked, but as is I found myself wishing the whole time that they would ditch the ridiculous storyline and do a serious spinoff of her character. A tasteless misfire.

-Nate Hill

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Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP: Alien Vs. Predator

Here’s the thing: much of what is needed was in place to make an epic, badass Alien/Predator crossover flick. They had a solid premise, a director with a sure footing and visible background in horror, an able cast with a genre/franchise titan as a callback to earlier entries, and all the special effects they could want at their disposal. So how did AVP: Alien Vs. Predator end up being an oven roasted, inexcusable slice of shit? Well, script and execution I suppose, the whole thing just has a murky, suspiciously rushed feel to it and no trace of memorable pedigree at all. However, to me their first mistake and cardinal sin was to rate the thing PG-13. These are two intense, extremely graphic and gruesomely violent horror franchises, and as such any amalgamation should, of anything, step up the carnage, so whoever had final say as far as that goes should have a face-hugger attached to every orifice of their body. So what does work? Well, Lance Henriksen for one, but he has a history of being the best thing about many films he’s been in and it’s hard for him not to shine through any amount of muck. He plays the dying CEO of infamous Weyland Yutani corporation and gives all the grit and gravity he can amongst a flurry of inconsequential CGI. Recruiting a team of scientists and mercenaries, he plans to descend into an Antarctic pyramid where centuries ago, the mythic Yautjas and the primal Xenomorphs had a Royal Rumble. Star Sanaa Lathan is actually great as the ‘final girl’ of sorts in this slasher game, other team members include Ewan Bremmer, Raoul Bova and Tommy Flanagan, but most are lost in the confusion, poorly written or forgotten entirely. The battle scenes are haphazard and sloppy, the dialogue barely there and the colour scheme is this kind of shitty, subdued blue-hue nonsense with no personality it’s own, like an icy deodorant commercial that just happens to have monsters in it. Many people blame director Anderson, but who really knows. People forget that he’s responsible for the first Resident Evil film which is solid, gutsy horror and has the type of energy meant to be found here, as well as Event Horizon, one of the scariest, well wrought sci-fi/horror flicks of the century, so he was a reasonable candidate to helm this. In any case, it’s a big ol’ mess, a titanic wasted opportunity and a dark stain on both respective legacies. There’s a sequel which I haven’t seen, but it’s probably just as wretched.

-Nate Hill

William Monahan’s Mojave

William Monahan‘s Mojave is garbage dressed up in hopeful noir tropes, a flick that could go either way when you see the promising trailer, but ultimately ends up as the little movie that tried, and failed pretty darn bad. What works, or at least helps it limp through its extremely violent final act, is a performance from Oscar Isaac that’s a lot of fun, if never exposited very well. It’s like The Shining by way of The Dark Half but with less King and more paradoxically muddled pseudo supernatural desert pulp, which admittedly sounds great when I write it like that but really is just repetitive and frustrating. Garrett Hedlund does a moody turn as a morally twisted Hollywood screenwriter who is ready to punch his own ticket. On a spontaneous solo trip out into the desert, he meets a mysterious, sinister weirdo (Isaac) who causes nothing but trouble and chaos from the moment he enters the narrative. Latching onto Hedlund, he follows him back to the city, makes his life hell and they slowly play a circular game of cat and mouse that the filmmakers don’t quite realize is only their own narrative circling the drain from being too exhausted and deliberately oblique. Walton Goggins shows up as a sleazy Hollywood figure and Mark Wahlberg has an amusing cameo as a producer, but it’s mostly Isaac growling out dark, nonsensical platitudes and not making much sense, despite being pretty entertaining in his efforts and putting in good villain work. Parts of this seem to have come from a better movie where… I dunno, where things actually make sense, but the way everything is organized and presented here is one big shitty head scratcher, and misses the dartboard overall. Pass.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-Nate Hill

Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line Of Fire

Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line Of Fire is as solid as action pictures get, a three course thriller meal, and one of my favourite Clint Eastwood flicks. Starting to show his age here and adopting a brittle, calcified hardness, he plays disgraced secret service agent Frank Horrigan, a quiet, resolute man who is haunted by his failure to protect Kennedy from that infamous bullet. He’s on undercover sting operations with his rookie partner (Dylan McDermott) these days, and is battling some health issues that go hand in hand with getting up there in years. No better time for predatory, mercurial ex CIA assassin Mitch Leary (a terrifying John Malkovich) to taunt him out of retirement with threats against the new president, up for election. Leary is a cunning psychopath who won’t go down so easy, and Frank is just the determined wolfhound to take him down, as a dangerous, violently suspenseful game of cat and mouse plays out. There’s an obligatory female love interest too, but the film shirks the usual ditzy throwaway chick and goes for something classier in Rene Russo, a capable senior agent who initially roasts Frank for his age before eventually warming up. Russo is an unconventionally attractive, intuitively engaging actress whose subtly likeable nature sneaks up on you and the muted chemistry she has with Eastwood is terrific. The three excellent leads are surrounded by a nebulae of awesome supporting players including John Mahoney, the always solid Gary Cole, Fred Dalton Thompson, a sleazy Tobin Bell and scene stealing character actor Steve Railsback in a brilliant cameo as Leary’s shady former Agency handler. Subtlety has never been Petersen’s forte, but his approach works here as he tells the story in big, bold strokes that highlight each set piece with sterling suspense. There’s also a brooding score by the master himself, Ennio Morricone, which takes the solemn, scary route instead of blaring up the Zimmer-esque fireworks. As great as the action is here (that plastic 3D printed gun though), my favourite scenes are the creepy late night phone calls that Malkovich makes to Eastwood, teasing him but also betraying notes of loneliness in his perverted psyche. This is a battle of wills before it even gets physical, and the two heavyweights spar off of each other with calculated portent and restrained, fascinated loathing. A thriller classic.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear is a harrowing film, one with enough perverse psychosexual energy, dripping southern atmosphere, stalker suspense and domestic trauma to raise the dead from the swamps of North Carolina where it takes place. Technically a remake of an old 60’s black & whiter with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, I have to give Scorsese’s version the edge no matter how controversial that opinion may be, he just had the freedom to take it further and not have to be so tame as films were back then. He also benefits from having star Robert Deniro in the hot seat as Max Cady, a monstrous, homicidal lunatic out to get Nick Nolte’s Sam Bowden, the slick heeled lawyer who put him away for years. Disclaimer: this is a thoroughly fucked up, highly disturbing film that goes to places you don’t even want showing up on the fringes of your nightmares, and doesn’t shy away from showing these atrocities in wild screaming life. Cady is an extremely clever, resourceful southern gentleman when he wants to be, and when the facade comes off he’s an unabashed, mass murdering psychopathic beast who will get at Sam any way he can, including the harassment and abuse of his wife (Jessica Lange) and teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis). It’s a setup for a wild ride of a thriller that seldom lets up once the wheels are rolling, and flies towards a conclusion set on the bayou that will raise hairs. Lewis, in one of her earliest roles, was rightly nominated for an Oscar, her simultaneous terror and mesmerization when Cady eerily seduces her is magnetic. The Mitchum and The Peck have two fun cameos too, the former as a sceptical cop and the latter as a hilarious, bible spouting asshole lawyer who shamelessly defends Cady. Nolte and Lange are charismatic in their scenes, but this is Deniro’s show all the way, and he creates a villain for the ages. Whether he’s beating up the guys Sam hires to beat him up, cackling maniacally in a movie theatre to piss everyone off, giving off violent rapey vibes to both Lewis and Lange or using freaky disguises to follow them all around, he’s a charming, ruthless boogeyman that has since become iconic. This is one of the premier psycho thriller of the 90’s, an intense, evocatively shot southern gothic freak show that has only gotten better with age.

-Nate Hill

David Fincher’s Panic Room

You know a thriller is gonna pack some torque when the opening credits are emblazoned boldly against the skyline of a huge metropolitan city. Well, not necessarily, but it’s a nice urban atmospheric touch, and David Fincher’s Panic Room employs the tactic before it unleashes an unholy, seriously suspenseful bag of tricks on Jodie Foster and her young daughter (an androgynous looking Kristen Stewart). Recently divorced and poised to move into an airy, gorgeous NYC brownstone, she quite literally walks into the perfect setup for a thriller that Fincher milks for all it’s worth and then some. As the real estate agent (Ian ‘Dick Tremayne’ Buchanan) theatrically informs her, this townhome comes with a fortified Panic Room, a steel box installation in which one may safely hide from any and all intruders. That safely part gets shot to shit when three burglars bust in on their first night staying there, and turn it into one of those real time ‘one long night from hell’ motifs. Aloof, slightly compassionate Forest Whitaker, sketchy, strung out Jared Leto and vicious psychopath Dwight Yoakam are a hectic mix, but the chemistry is there and they’re all freaky in their own way, like wayward trick or treaters who grew up and graduated into petty thievery. They’re after something that’s only accessible through the panic room, but Jodie and Kristen won’t let them inside, which prompts the ultimate siege game of cat, mouse and upper class NYC mom that goes into the wee hours of a typically rainy night. Fincher could be considered the crown prince of the big budget, R rated Hollywood thriller, and he absolutely goes for broke in every department here. He’s got two mad dog cinematographers in Darius Kondji and Conrad W. Hall, who prowl the apartment like panthers and achieve some truly great WTF shots, turning the home into an elongated nightmare of barren hallways, rain streaked bay windows flickering surveillance cameras. Musical deity Howard Shore composes a baroque, threatening piece that practically booms across Central Park and echoes through the adjacent skyscrapers before it whistles through the steel rivets of the panic room like the dangerous propane that Whitaker maniacally tries to smoke them out with. Originally written with Nicole Kidman in mind (she has a super quick cameo), I think Foster is a better suit for the role with her narrow eyed, breathless intensity and lithe, lynx like physicality. Things get satisfyingly brutal later on, with some shocking violence when mommy grabs a sledgehammer and starts bashing heads in. The suspense here is real, it’s tactile, tangible, earned tension, the kind you can’t just fake or stage every other scene without detailed setups to catalyze the payoff. This isn’t Fincher’s first rodeo, and he rides this thing in the captain’s chair all the way to suspense nirvana. One of the best thrillers out there.

-Nate Hill