Tag Archives: Thriller

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

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

10. The Client (1994)

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

9. Blood Creek aka Town Creek (2009)

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

8. Phone Booth (2002)

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

7. Batman & Robin (1997)

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

6. Veronica Guerin (2003)

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

5. Falling Down (1993)

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

4. 8MM (1999)

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

3. A Time To Kill (1996)

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

2. Batman Forever (1995)

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

1. The Phantom Of The Opera (2004)

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

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Inconceivable

Inconceivable eh. Anytime I see that title I just think of the little dude from The Princess Bride barking out that word. Anyways this was, for the most part, a rotten turkey of a film. I read in the trivia that Lindsay Lohan was attached to star at one point and had to drop out, but her presence would have elevated this thing nicely, because this Nicky Whelan girl they casted in her stead is a dud, no charisma whatsoever. And then there’s the script… this is supposed to be some kind of “Hand that Rocked The Cradle” shoutout where a supposedly battered wife (Whelan) escapes to a new life, befriends a wealthy couple (Nic Cage and Gina Gershon) and becomes their surrogate mother when they can’t properly have kids, until she becomes creepy and is suspected of sinister ulterior motives. But it plays like a bland, lackadaisical Hallmark-lite thriller where nothing much of anything happens and man I was bored to fucking tears. Cage is relaxed, unflappable and just ruffled enough to pass off as a distraught father when he needs to be. Whelan looks like a wax figure with vague mannerisms but I just didn’t buy that this random chick could befriend, infiltrate, gaslight and royally destroy this family, like it just didn’t seem plausible. A fossilized Faye Dunaway shows up as Cage’s suspicious mother, the only person to have doubts about this stranger in their midst but of course no one listens to her pleas of reason. The only person to give a terrific, fully formed performance is Gina Gershon who is always amazing. She makes the wife character sympathetic, believable and almost saves the story, plus it’s a reunion of sorts for her and Cage after Face/Off back in the day which was nice to see. As a thriller though this just strikes out hard, and it’s leading lady doesn’t have the talent or magnetism to carry a HomeSense commercial, let alone a feature film. Lazily plotted, weirdly paced, unpleasant and uninspired. Two Cages out of five, and one of those is solely thanks to Gershon.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Arsenal aka Southern Fury

Colour me very pleasantly surprised with Arsenal, a spectacularly gory, engrossing and quite effective rural New Orleans crime saga that delivers the goods and then some. Nic Cage plays the bad guy here and I really mean a fucking *BAD* guy. The frantic, heavily character based and supremely entertaining story shows fierce momentum and follows construction entrepreneur JP (always nice to see Vinnie Chase get some decent work) as his fuckup criminal brother Mikey (Jonathan Schaech, always great) is kidnapped and held for ransom by the local crime boss, a twitchy, psychotic piece of work named Eddie King, played by Cage in a delightfully offbeat piece of character work that is the kind of funny/scary antagonist who makes a lasting impression. JP and Mikey grew up poor and rough and while their lives were never easy they always had each other, there’s a fierce love and bond of brotherhood that is written quite well, acted believably by the two and stands as the emotional core of the film. JP enlists the help of several underworld buddies to go up against Eddie including plainclothes vice cop Sal, played by a low key and terrific John Cusack who stands as moral conscious, sidekick and badass when he needs to be. This is a gruesomely violent film, the carnage filmed in broad sunny daylight and often in scrutinizing, Zach Snyder-esque slow motion, with multiple bloody gunfights, vicious bone splintering beatdowns and brutal fights, all shot competently and enthusiastically by director Steven C. Miller, and despite being cheekily gratuitous in areas it somehow just gets away with being that over the top by making the violence a lot of fun, the way Walter Hill or Sam Peckinpah cheekily pull off. Cage is a mad dog off the leash as Eddie King, this guy is a monster and just in case he wasn’t scary enough already the makeup department decided to slap a terrifying, knobby prosthetic nose on his face, an unsettling Pinocchio schnoz that makes him look like something Jim Henson dreamed up. He makes Eddie nuts but not in the “oh look Nic Cage is being nuts again” type way but legit puts work into the character until I believed I was watching ‘rural crime boss Eddie King freaking’ out and not ‘cash strapped Nic Cage monkey dancing for a paycheque freaking out.’ The brotherhood between our two leads is excellent and affecting, the action exciting and well staged, the setting specific and visually stimulating and the story well told. Oh and I might add that in some areas this is called ‘Southern Fury’ instead of ‘Arsenal’ which is another case of them taking a fucking amazing, perfect title and rebranding it with something way less impactful.. what the hell is up with that? Four Cages out of Five.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Grand Isle

This was something else, and aside from a few well placed moments of black comedy and some decent atmospherics, kind of a WTF waste of time. Grand Isle refers to the swampy Louisiana island that kooky alcoholic war veteran Walter (Nic Cage) and his bizarre, manipulative wife Fancy (Kadee Strickland) are confined to during a hurricane sometime circa 1988. They hate each other, he’s a cantankerous, mean spirited drunk and she’s a slinky, untrustworthy wannabe femme fatale and the young man (Luke Benward) that he hired to fix the fence before the storm hit is now stuck in their house with them, a hapless pawn in their half crazed mind games with each other that ultimately end in murder. We know this because there are flash forwards to the future where Buddy, soaked in blood, is being periodically and lazily interrogated by a suspicious detective played by a sneering Kelsey Grammar. This thing tries to be a sultry, southern gothic potboiler and provide a decent mystery but it just can’t keep its story straight or its ducks in a row enough that we care nor comprehend what’s going on. Cage is kind of a hoot here though as the misanthropic asshole drunkard, swilling down an entire case of Pabst Blue Ribbon only to line the bottles up on the fence while Buddy is fixing it and go up to the roof to blast them with a scoped rifle just to shake the poor kid up, lol. Strickland hams it up a lot as the wife and you’ve gotta give her credit for such a crazy performance, whether she’s slowly serving mint juleps or taking a candlelit bath with Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit warbling off a turntable in the background she’s like a weird southern belle Jessica Rabbit or something. Benward is unfortunately just bland and very not charismatic which is felt throughout, and Grammar does his best with his few scenes and is always some kind of presence but his efforts, although garnished with a hilariously over the top southern dandy accent, are kinda lost in the shuffle. I feel like this setting, idea and cast would have been great with a way better script but as it is there’s just nothing of substance there. Two cages out of five.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Tokarev aka Rage

Good god this one was depressing, like knowingly, on purpose, almost cheerfully fucking bleak, with no clear theme or message to wring out of it. It’s called Tokarev officially and was renamed Rage for North American distribution (don’t get me started) but it kinda works because the original title is only mentioned once in the film and so fleetingly I couldn’t even surmise who or what a Tokarev was and how it related to the story whatsoever. Nic plays reformed career criminal Paul Maguire here, an upstanding citizen forced to return to violent ways from the past when his teenage daughter is kidnapped and murdered. Assembling his two former buddies (Max Ryan and Michael McGrady, both badass and likeable) he launches a covert quest for revenge and justice that manages to somehow be both high octane and not very focused for… odd results. He’s hassled by a hotshot detective played by Danny Glover who literally is too old for this shit now and just seems disinterested, even in a monologue that’s meant to be introspective but comes across hilariously tone deaf and out of context to the conversation he and Cage are having. Peter Stormare shows up as a crime boss in a wheelchair and at first I didn’t want to admit to myself that any filmmaker would try and cast him as an Irish dude but the character’s name is Francis O’Connell and Peter’s usual brisk, eccentric Swedish twang is harried by a disastrous attempt at brogue and I just couldn’t with that casting decision man, and usually I’ll buy Peter in any role because the guy is an acting genius. Anyways I’ll give credit where it’s due: director Paco Cabezas has undeniable skill with action and there’s a few scenes that are impressively, kinetically staged with a sense of space and dynamics with the camera. The brotherly camaraderie between Cage, Ryan and McGrady feels quite authentic and is both well written and strongly acted by the three. But that’s about it man, this is a dour, punishingly violent film without the kind of impactful story to make any of it earned or worthwhile and a wannabe Mystic River twist ending that feels out of left field and very unconvincing. You’ll just feel shellshocked when all is said and done and get off the couch feeling like a truck hit you for no good reason. Two Cages out of five.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: The Trust

Finally a solid Nic Cage B flick!! I needed one and The Trust provides a great time as Nic and Elijah Wood play two sad-sack Vegas cops who decide to rob a mob safe house that’s several zeros above their pay grade. This is such a quirky little recipe, super casually paced yet efficient when it needs to speed things along, darkly comic, dangerous, loopy and easy breezy where it counts despite fizzling out a teensy bit in the last act when it should have turned the dial up to full spicy but we can’t have it all. Cage is the cavalier veteran cop who somehow doesn’t see the impending danger in their plan and does a fairly effective job of luring super nervous Wood into it, and yes it all goes violently wrong at one point but probably not as spectacularly as you’re hoping. They bust into an adjacent apartment, hold a girl (Sky Ferreira, almost unrecognizable and doing a great job with little dialogue) hostage and begin to drill below into the mysterious safe, all the while cracking weird jokes, chomping fast food and bickering like sixth grade buddies. That’s basically it, and while the thing is a brisk ninety minutes it still manages to feel laidback and laconic, probably thanks to a hilarious Cage who seems not to have a care in the world in one of his freewheeling, casually weird turns. Wood is a good choice for a nervous guy but he always freaks me out a bit, he’s 39 now and still somehow just comes across as a teenager in physical appearance and essence but he does a fine job that aside. Ethan Suplee shows up as a bored, shady detective with a penchant for Russian roulette and, curiously, the late great comedian Jerry Lewis randomly makes his final film appearance in a quick cameo as Cage’s father. This isn’t anything explosive or super unique and like I said, much of the film is eccentric buildup to a less than earth shattering resolution but there’s tons of welcome sarcastic humour, a nice jazzy original score and Cage subtly hams it to effect playing Vegas’s laziest and craftiest beat cop. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Maria Pulera’s Between Worlds

It pains me to kick off this Nic Cage thing with an absolute hunk of coal in the stocking but I gotta call ‘em like I see ‘em and Between Worlds (2019) is an unrepentant fucking knob of a film and a scourging blight on everyone’s career involved. If you can imagine a sort of wonky, low budget swirling mix of Lolita, a daytime soap, a Eurotrash X Files episode, soft core porno, really badly done David Lynch homage and indie horror you might approximate this ill advised supernatural wannabe gothic pseudo erotic melodrama mess but it has to be seen to be believed. I read a review the other day stating that Nic Cage is in one of two modes these days, work and play. In work mode he’s a restrained, world weary hero and in play mode we get to see those famous bug eyed manic meltdowns. Well he’s here to play and then some in this one, playing dishevelled, homeless looking trucker Joe, a mess of a dude with a tragic past, a shabby baseball cap and a mullet that looks like it’s been through a microwave. He meets single mom Julie (Franka Potente) whose daughter (Penelope Mitchell) is inches away from death after a motorbike accident, so she needs his help (I won’t say how because it’s too ridiculous) in bringing her back from the spirit world. The plot kinda stops dead in its tracks here and meanders around as Cage and Potente get it on, then Cage and the daughter get it on, then they all just shuffle around mumbling, smoking weed and squabbling about nothing in particular. There’s an original score that is so ripped off from Twin Peaks that the filmmakers (hopefully out of guilt) decided to somehow convince Angelo Badalamenti to perform it, it’s neatly atmospheric and kind of hovers in the background but never feels like it belongs to this film. I can’t forgive this thing because as much as there’s a a solid idea behind it, first time director Maria Pulera squanders any quality on needless, gratuitous, trashy and completely unnecessary sex scenes that come one after another at a Caligula level of relentlessness and absolutely stifle any chance the film has at even being a serviceable thriller. Franka Potente is one of my favourite actresses and I’ve always felt she deserves bigger roles but if she’s going to be demeaned in bullshit like this then I’d say don’t even bother. It sucks because Cage and her actually have some half decent chemistry in the first act before it all turns to shit. Nic himself spends the first two thirds wandering about in a daze looking like he just crawled out of a dumpster and then the last third going completely mental, stammering like an invalid and making an embarrassment out of himself. I can’t even berate this thing enough because I could see it on everyone’s faces and feel it in the treacherous, sleazy direction that they all knew better and could have made this at least halfway interesting but they decided to knowingly crank out a gross, sexist, incomprehensible, worthless, unpleasant, excessively sordid waste of celluloid. Half a Cage out of five Cages and that’s being generous.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B-Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Seeking Justice aka Hungry Rabbit Jumps

Here’s a fun idea for a running project I’ll do in the next few weeks: Lord knows I pay attention to B movies and that whole low budget world but when Nicolas Cage does them I sit up straight for some reason and am totally present. It’s funny because these days you have formerly high pedigree actors like Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino all doing these second tier flicks simply because of the narrowing gap between what’s released theatrically and what goes directly to VOD or streaming (also they probably have grandchildren to shunt through Yale). That provides galaxies of weird, off the wall content for big league, once A List tough guys to sandbox in and I think it’s wonderful and always have a laugh when people wail and gnash their teeth and go “what happened to my boy’s career” well guess what bubs, they adapted and evolved to the ever shifting landscape of media entertainment and it’s natural. But for some reason Cage fits this B world like a glove and I was aghast to find that looking at his IMDb I’m woefully behind on the recent output, which I plan to fix in these coming weeks and do a series on the wild and wacky stuff he’s been up to, which I’ll dub the “Nic Cage B-Grade Cinematic Universe.”

First up is a slick flick called Hungry Rabbit Jumps from back in 2011, and the American distribution system just has to dumb down innovative titles like that into patronizing nonsense like ‘Seeking Justice’ which they re-titled this as for stateside release and it doesn’t help its case. It’s a fairly straightforward revenge/conspiracy/crime thriller that benefits a lot from the presence of Guy Pearce as the mysterious pseudo-antagonist. Cage plays a regular dude whose wife (January Jones, way younger than Nic in a sneaky trend in people casted as his spouses) is assaulted, and soon after they are approached by Pearce and his fancy suit, who offers to find and kill the assailant for them in return for a small ‘favour,’ collected somewhere down the line one day. They accept but when it comes time for that favour things get sticky and Pearce expects Cage to murder a man who he tells him is a no-good pedophile but really might be someone else. This all leads to the uncovering of a vast secret organization of well placed vigilantes who use the coded phrase ‘hungry rabbit jumps’ to make themselves known and Cage finds himself now intrinsically linked to their operation whether he likes it or not. It’s an interesting premise given the fairly pedestrian treatment but Nic and Guy get some nice tense moments to spar in and there’s enough action to keep pulses above flatline. I still wish they kept that title ‘Hungry Rabbit Jumps’ instead of fucking lame ass ‘Seeking Justice’ though like… come on man, learn how to read a room and support original flourishes like that instead of slapping it with a latter day Seagal level moniker. Three Cages out of five for this one.

-Nate Hill

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten Original Scores by James Horner

James Horner was a totemic titan of Hollywood musical composition, one of the absolute greats. If you needed unparalleled orchestral grandeur, primally elemental accents to landscape and nature, rousing battle cry pieces of flowing, melodic passages he was your guy and crafted some of the most prolific, memorable scores in cinema. He left us far too soon in a tragic 2015 plane crash but his work lives on eternal, and these are my top ten personal favourite original scores from this wonderful artist!

10. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs

He goes gritty, smoky and jazzy for this classic buddy cop flick, keeping the excitement somehow both light and dangerous in his work. Favourite track: the exuberant main titles with faint, pleasant steel drums that suit the breezy San Francisco vibe.

9. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart

Beautiful bagpipes pull at the heartstrings and sweeping strings roll over the Scottish highlands in this classic historical epic. Favourite track: Can’t beat that main title.

8. James Cameron’s Aliens

His composition is eerie, badass and mirrors the darkly lit corridors of creepy space stations here, getting appropriately intense once the creatures make themselves known. Favourite track: ‘Bishop’s Countdown’, a master class in impossibly suspenseful tension and epic, cathartic release.

7. Ron Howard’s Willow

Swashbuckling high fantasy is the musical tone in this beloved, refreshingly dark and slightly underrated children’s adventure film. Favourite track: ‘Escape from the Tavern’, a playful, jaunty piece that accompanies Val Kilmer in drag and Warwick Davis as they sled down a snowy mountain on a shield at full throttle.

6. Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall

Another historical epic sees James compose some of his most achingly beautiful and richly melodramatic music yet, compositions that sweep over the rugged Montana terrain that is home to an early 1900’s family and many struggles they encounter. Favourite track: the main theme, utilizing brass and pan flutes to evoke a strong emotional connection to the material, setting and characters.

5. Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Those drums man, they still haunt me. This is a playful, sweet natured score that dips into appropriately scary and primal places. Favourite track: ‘A New World’, a lovely piece that has a sympathy for the protagonist’s tough arc and a great sense of small town character.

4. James Cameron’s Titanic

This is just so iconic, and probably the most recognized collaboration between Horner and Cameron who maintained a strong working relationship over several films. Deeply romantic, wistful and reverent, this score has it all and is pretty much time capsule worthy. Favourite track: tough pick but ‘Rose instrumental’ just always gets me in the feels.

3. James Cameron’s Avatar

Here he ducks a typical SciFi sounding score for something far more down to earth and elemental, with tons of affecting vocals and a breathtaking auditory scope. Favourite track: ‘Jake’s First Flight’ … just try listening to that without getting goosebumps and little spikes of actual adrenaline. Pure magic.

2. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

He absolutely nails the Greek tragedy aesthetic in this very underrated, beautiful and heartbreaking epic. Using vocals and battle drum percussion theres a real sense of approaching threat as war literally looms on the horizon and a sense of deep romantic regret from both factions. Favourite track: ‘3200 Years Ago’ sets the mood like no other.

1. Ron Howard’s The Missing

This may look like a weird first choice but it’s an underrated, gorgeous horror western and James’s music is stark, eerie, gruesome and suits the haunting mood just perfectly. Favourite track: ‘New Mexico, 1885’ ushers in the spooky atmosphere nicely.

Irwin Winkler’s The Net

Anyone who has ever experienced identity theft will relate to Sandra Bullock’s desperate situation in The Net, one of those lynchpin 90’s thrillers that captures the dawning internet culture in ways both silly as well as frightening. I mean this is kind of an off the wall film but it’s an old favourite of mine and always works as perfect escapist entertainment. Plus Sandra Bullock just makes the perfect protagonist, she’s so down to earth, humble and sweet that I always find myself right there in the passenger seat, sympathetically along for the ride in whatever crazy scenario she finds herself in. Here she plays Angela Bennett, a garden variety computer programmer who unwittingly stumbles into a deep set conspiracy that’s not only out of her pay grade but way beyond her level of comprehension or ability to dodge. Soon whatever forces out there have noticed and scary shit starts to befall her: her credit cards decline, law enforcement is hijacked into believing she’s a fugitive, a mysterious operative (Jeremy Northam) first appears attractive and friendly before becoming despicable and malevolent and her life begins to spiral out of control. I further sympathize with Angela because she’s virtually alone and has no one to really turn to, no boyfriend, no obligatory supportive coworker, no kindly boss, even her mother (the great Diane Baker) suffers from Alzheimer’s and barely recognizes her. She’s sort of a loner anyways but in that characteristic she finds the necessary resilience, defence mechanisms and edge to fight back against the nefarious net that’s closing in around her. This gets ragged on a lot and sure you can write it off as just another creaky 90’s cyber-tech thriller but it’s Bullock who wins the day with sheer star power and believable work the whole way through. Love this one to bits.

-Nate Hill