Tag Archives: Thriller

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

Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate

For a film about some book written by the Devil, old Satan is curiously absent from Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, a gorgeous looking but frustratingly muddled and ultimately incomprehensible pseudo religious mumbo jumbo thriller starring Johnny Depp and his trusty librarian’s man purse. Depp is Dean Corso, a rare book dealer known to be ‘thoroughly unscrupulous’ by his peers for his cunning habit of ripping off clueless clients. He’s a decent-ish guy though and is moral enough to be kind of shook when millionaire manuscript collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, never hammier) and his hilarious pinstripe suit commission him to track down an ancient volume said to be written by Lucifer himself. This leads him on a Europe trotting spot of intrigue to compare Balkan’s copy to two others and look for clues that might help this collective bunch of spooky book nerds summon the devil… or something like that. This is either one complex film that was just beyond my tired ass or one confused film that Polanski didn’t really know what to do with other than give it the slow burn Rosemary’s Baby effort. The problem is, there’s nothing in the kerosene lamp *to* slow burn here, it’s just an undercooked series of chases, extended discussions on theology and satanism and one very silly, very cliched summoning ceremony complete with baroque robes and hundreds candlelit stone chambers as only rural Europe can provide. What works about it? The supporting cast is nicely placed. Langella has a lot of fun as the maniacal zealot and I was thinking the whole time that they just should have casted *him* as the Devil to amp up the proceedings, he already has the look. Lena Olin is appropriately savage as a vicious cultist bitch who fornicates with Depp and runs off into the night. The underrated James Russo has a nice bit as Dean’s rare book dealer buddy. Impossibly sexy Emmanuelle Seigner is some supernatural siren who follows Depp around like a vulture and uses her snazzy powers to assist him when necessary, for purposes the film never feels the need to even tell us. There’s a terrifically unconventional score by Wojciech Kilar, who also put his talents towards eccentrically spooky work in Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is perfectly suited for oddly eerie compositions. Depp is strangely ineffective here and is either stressed, smoking, slamming cocktails or wandering about in a trench coat daze while nondescript forces of muddy menace muster around him. And the ending? Fuck if I know, man. I mean it works as a neat tour guide of some really pretty Europeans cities and towns, the atmosphere is very evocative, the supporting actors all give wonderful work but it’s like somehow the lynchpin of it all, and I suspect it’s the script, is just… absent. It’s sad because this premise with all the talent involved should have been something truly frightening and memorable and instead it’s just kind of.. meh.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Christopher Lee Performances

Christopher Lee was the kind of guy that came to mind whenever you heard the term ‘commanding presence.’ He had a legendary career that bridged the gap from 70’s Hammer horror fare all the way to being a regular in Tim Burton films as well as memorable voiceover work and a handful of instantly recognizable roles in iconic Sci-Fi/fantasy franchises. The one aspect to this wonderful actor was his strikingly deep voice, like molasses poured over mahogany and put to use in countless treasured performances. These are my personal ten favourite!

10. Victor in Disney’s Return From Witch Mountain

This is an admittedly lacklustre sequel to a magical Disney classic but it’s on here for a reason. I grew up with Escape To Witch Mountain, I’ve seen it a trillion times and I waited forever for Disney to release this one from the vault. It’s enjoyable if not as amazing as the first but I really loved seeing Lee as the darkly charismatic mad scientist who wants to harvest the hero’s supernatural powers, stepping in for Ray Milland’s maniacal billionaire antagonist from the first film.

9. Rochefort in The Three Musketeers

This is a totemic role for me because many actors I adore have played it including Michael Wincott in the 90’s as well as Tim Roth and Mads Mikkelsen more recently. This 1973 musketeers film is admittedly a silly version but Lee makes an imposing incarnation of the one eyed anti-musketeer.

8. Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Jinnah

I’ve admittedly only seen part of this on TV in Europe but it’s one of Lee’s personal favourite roles that he himself cherishes and an important piece of acting/filmmaking. Jinnah was the political founder of Pakistan and a man who believed that all human beings everywhere have the right to worship whichever god they choose and can coexist and be free. It’s a stunning performance from the man and if you YouTube any interviews where he is asked what roles he cherishes most in his career he always brings it up and you can feel how important it is and how much it meant to him playing that historical figure.

7. Dr. Catheter in Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch

If there’s one thing Lee was great at it was keeping a straight face in the midst of sheer lunacy. He’s a maniacal scientist hellbent on weird experiments here as the huge high rise building he works in becomes infested with nasty Mogwai, and he plays it pricelessly deadpan.

6. Burgomaster in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

He’s only in this for like two minutes right at the beginning but he basically singlehandedly sets the mood with a couple lines. I’m not sure what a ‘burgomaster’ is but he appears to be some kind of austere judge who dispatches Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow and is the first character in the film to actually say the town’s name in that iconic voice.

5. Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man

The legacy of this awesome British cult horror film is obviously now scarred by the obnoxious Nic Cage remake but seek it out anyways, Lee plays the deeply philosophical and extremely unnerving head of a pagan cult with supernatural proclivities and a hostile attitude towards puritans. He embodies this charismatic fiend with affability that swiftly turns into menace, a very fascinating antagonist.

4. Dracula in a bunch of Dracula films

Lee in the Vampire getup is such totemic symbol of 60’s/70’s horror, what can I say. I haven’t seen all the Dracula stuff he did but the image of him as the character is imprinted in my pop culture subconscious as I imagine it is for many.

3. Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun

One of the classiest, most dangerous and cool Bond villains, an assassin for hire with a literal golden gun and a… uh… third nipple. Lee is calm, sociopathic and deadly as the guy, who enjoys killing people a lot and is good at it too.

2. Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones

My second favourite Star Wars antagonist after Darth Maul, Dooku is a no good scheming arch-baddie who incites a war, pits intergalactic factions against each other and masterminds one of the most memorable gladiator arena matches in cinema history. He gives the guy an ever so slight air of aristocracy and swings around a cool curve handled lightsaber like nobody’s business.

1. Saruman The White in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings

This was the first film I ever saw him in and will always be the character I remember him for. He’s unbelievably intense, measured in line delivery and incredibly malevolent in an implosive portrait of power hungry mania. Saruman is the wizard gone bad, and Christopher takes full advantage of that arc, not to mention nailing the stark look of the character wonderfully.

-Nate Hill

The movie Hollywood doesn’t want you to see by Kent Hill

Controversy sells right; the more shocking, obscene, the more worthy of the front page? Yet, when it comes to movies, people, it seems, are well defined in relation to their tastes. There are those with high-brows, that believe a spoonful of Marvel ain’t  gonna make the medicine go down – and nothing short of complete cinematic opulence will cut the mustard.

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Rene Perez makes B-movies. He makes no bones about it. But, that doesn’t mean his stories lack the depth of a celebrated filmmaker’s voice that many cineastes would site with greater reverence. Yes, his politics does hog a large portion of the spotlight in The Insurrection (see my review here), but it always shares the stage with his love and inquisitive nature with regards to character and the human condition. He is a storyteller intrigued by the grandest conflict, which is the one inside us all.

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The Insurrection is presently available all over the world via Vimeo, so there is no excuse not to see it. Unlike even the worst entries in his filmography, and as he has personally stated, The Insurrection has failed to find a distributor. One can almost hear the distant echo, carried on the thermals out of the heart of the now silent Dream Factory calling, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” However, when you are such a self-sufficient artist, as is Mr. Perez, you are endowed with the ability to transcend barriers of the style and genre applied to the tale you are piecing together with pictures…and actually say something.

Here with writer/producer/director/editor/composer/cinematographer Rene Perez and his astonishingly talented, beautiful and charismatically magnetic leading lady, Wilma Elles, we look a little deeper at the film Hollywood might not want you to see…but you should.

THE INSURRECTION IS AVAILABLE NOW!!!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW…

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IT’S ALSO AVAILABLE ON AMAZON FOR VIEWERS IN THE USA!!!

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Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz

For such a measured, introspective and anti-Hollywood prison break film, Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz is a fantastically entertaining and unbearably suspenseful thriller. This isn’t a film with action sequences, huge set pieces, scenery chewing wardens, shanks in the shower fight sequences, extreme near misses or anything you’d expect from a studio escape film. The warden (Patrick McGoohan with malfeasance on a low burn) is a terrifyingly strict piece of work to be sure, but he’s curt, to the point and buttoned down. Our hero Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) isn’t a preening rapscallion or rascally rogue but a straightforward, quiet, surprisingly compassionate and determined fellow. The obligatory aggressive inmate (Bruce M. Fischer) he clashes with isn’t some contraband adorned gang chess piece but rather a hulking bruiser who gets right to the point. The escape itself is a dank, claustrophobic trek through corroded crawl-spaces and could be considered anticlimactic of it didn’t feel so darn authentic. Like, this is what it would *really* be like to bust out of that joint of all joints in the curiously tranquil San Francisco harbour and I both admired and greatly enjoyed this film for its down to earth, by the book presentation. That’s not to say it’s dry or boring, despite being remote. Most of the story is told through quick glances, offhand mannerisms and clipped dialogue, but beneath that, if one intuits it out, are carefully placed pockets of psychological depth, wellsprings of human behaviour buried under the blunt aspects that are a wealth to anyone who loves complexities not readily apparent. Just look at Frank’s carefully cultivated relationship with stone-spirited bookkeeper English (Paul Benjamin) and the payoff that comes later, given their subtle interactions. Or examine the cold heartbreak and mental unravelling of Doc (Roberts Blossom) when the warden takes away his painting privileges, an activity that singlehandedly fuels his will to survive behind bars. That sequence cuts deep in a way that’s tough to impart in words. This film treats the day to day life in prison with the same dutiful care and attention to craft as it does the eventual escape and the result is something that feels lived in, mature, effortlessly magnetic and so simple that one might need to do several double tales to soak in the yawning profundities tucked in behind every monosyllabic utterance, every deliberately chosen camera placement, every flick of the eyes towards the prison walls that seem like dimensional barriers and the skies above them, somehow so close and so far. Few Hollywood prison films reach for heights in such a direct way, and succeed in doing so. Great film.

-Nate Hill

John Dahl’s Red Rock West

Ever drive past a dusty one horse town on the edge of some forgotten interstate in the middle of nowhere and wonder what kind of crazy shit the shady locals get up to with too much time on their hands? So does John Dahl and his terrific neo-noir/Western hybrid Red Rock West is a diabolical good time at the movies. It’s one of those deliciously twisted narratives where everyone is out to kill each other, they all are angling for the Money McGuffin buried somewhere out there (in this case a graveyard) and everyone is a deeeitful, sociopathic piece of work. This differs from other such similar noirs out there because Nicolas Cage’s forlorn, weather beaten protagonist is a fundamentally decent guy, a righteous dude who has a terrible case of ‘wrong place wrong time’ syndrome. After meandering around looking for work to no avail he wanders into the town of Red Rock and more specifically into the local bar owned by Wayne (J.T. Walsh), a man who looks perpetually suspicious and nervous at the same time. Wayne has called in a contract killer from Dallas to murder his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) and inadvertently assumes that Cage is the guy before, you know, checking his ID or something but in a town that sees like one drifter or newcomer a year we can forgive his oversight. Cage becomes hopelessly embroiled with Wayne, his wife, the rest of the local police force and even the actual hitman who shows up a week late like a tornado in the form of Dennis Hopper, having a scene stealing blast in Frank Booth Lite mode. There’s double crosses, murders, hidden identities, shootouts, sexy seductions and all manner of naughty fun as only a noir can provide, given low key yet somehow terrifically pithy verve by Dahl and his wonderful quartet of actors who are all clearly having a party. Cage smoulders yet ultimately is a force of conscience and reason amongst such wanton bad behaviour, Boyle does the same slinky, sly sexpot thing she’s done in other hard boiled flicks, Walsh was just so damn good at playing contemptible scumbags and Hopper is off the chain as ‘Lyle from Dallas.’ I enjoyed how he and Cage are two of the many, many US veterans scattered to the wind following any given war, left to their own devices and somewhat abandoned by the system, and they both have tread very different paths that have somehow led them into each other’s orbit once more. Cage is decent, low profile and hard working, Hopper is a rowdy, morally bankrupt assassin and it’s quite fascinating to see the two clash royally. If you like your short, sweet and offbeat, this is the ticket, one of the most fun crime films the 90’s has to offer.

-Nate Hill