Tag Archives: Thriller

“I’m gonna do something far worse than kill you”: Remembering Ricochet with Russell Mulcahy by Kent Hill

Among the flurry of big action movies that graced our screens from the late 80’s and into the 90’s, it was easy to see how some lost their way to an audience. But thanks to video, these movies that did not enjoy a successful theatrical release were quickly rediscovered on VHS, and some might say because of it, they have endured long after they could have so easily vanished.

They say all a movie cheerfully needs is a man with a vision, and the talented former music video genius turned Hollywood go-to guy for stunning visuals and artful storytelling was looking for exactly that – another story to tell. Russell Mulcahy had made a name for himself long before he directed a little movie called Highlander, but he had just come off of an unpleasant experience directing that film’s sequel when the script for an action/thriller, Ricochet, came across his desk.

The film was being produced by the legendary, machine gun-mouthed Joel Silver and was fixed by the man, Steven E. de Souza, who would eventually pen Die Hard. It would be headlined by the talented John Lithgow and future Academy Award winner Denzel Washington.

Washington plays Nick Styles, a cop on the L.A.P.D. At a carnival, criminal Earl Talbot (Lithgow) takes a hostage after a botched drug deal. Styles and Blake confront each other, during which Blake is wounded by Styles and is  imprisoned. Seven years later, Blake escapes and begins to carry out his revenge against Styles, which centers predominantly around destroying his life and career.

It’s a fast-paced, fun ride as Lithgow turns Washington’s world upside down. It is also a film of excellent performances from the whole cast. Lithgow is such a delicious villain and the ever solid Washington exudes the charisma which would see his career skyrocket over the following years.

Russell’s direction, as ever, is stunning, fluid, and he captures action like few other directors. It was really cool to sit down and have a chat with him while taking a break from working on his new film here, in the great down under; and, I’m happy to report, like most of the cool filmmakers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to, you always get more than you hoped for. Russell told me about an upcoming re-release of his debut feature Razorback and it’s hard not to touch on the subject of his cult classic Highlander. You’ve probably heard all the stories by now – but it is a far different experience when they are recalled for you by the man himself.

I really love Ricochet and I always enjoy talking to Russell, so this one was a real pleasure to bring to you. If you’ve not seen Ricochet then go to it, you won’t be disappointed. It is out there on DVD, but if you can, check out the Blu-Ray for the film in all its true visual splendor.

Mulcahy on Ricochet. Press Play…

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Solace


Serial killer films are a dime a dozen. Literally, you can’t browse ten titles in a thriller subcategory without running into at least, like, three. Within this ever popular area, there’s also the ‘psychic assisting law enforcement to catch a killer’ motif that pops up now and again, more so on television than film, but it’s there. Solace takes a crack at that, and speaking of that particular idea, the first thing I was reminded of was NBC’s Hannibal. This is one stylish flick, in the same way the series is abstract, using sharp, slow motion close ups paired with crisp audio to create a surreal image of something mundane, clues in a seemingly innocuous environment. Anthony Hopkins plays the clairvoyant here, a guy with demons in his past who sometimes consults on cases with his longtime FBI friend (a haggard looking Jeffrey Dean Morgan). There’s a new killer in town, town being Atlanta, one that causes Morgan to drag him out of consultation retirement and have a go at the case, along with his rookie partner (Abbie Cornish, turning in one damn fine performance). Not all is as it seems here, and when the murderer does finally show up it’s clear that he isn’t your garden variety serial slasher, and has an agenda that goes deep into some moral issues, the one place where the script strives for depth beyond the procedural template. He’s played by Colin Farrell of all people, which is a perfect example casting against type that works. Usually it’d be some sinister looking character actor or genre snake playing the role, but by giving it to a leading man of Farrell’s caliber, they’ve achieved some gravity, and he’s brilliant. Now, this isn’t what I’d call a great film, it has it’s inconsistencies, multiple snags in pacing and one convoluted plot for the first two acts. But it’s quite the fascinating effort, one with a dense, thought provoking story to tell, every performer pulling their weight impressively. And like I said, there’s style to go around.  

-Nate Hill

Eye See You 


You know those films that you just seem to get fixated on and love for no particular reason, like they’re not even that good, you just… really like them? That’s Eye See You for me (known as D-Tox to all you folks across the pond), a heavy handed snowbound horror vehicle for a sedated Sylvester Stallone. It’s silly to the max, thoroughly implausible and perforated with cliches, but for whatever reason I just can’t get over the damn thing. Now, I admittedly have an affinity for the Agatha Christie style murder mysteries, especially ones set in the snow (cue fond memories of Hateful 8 and The Thing), and this one piles on a blizzard of red herrings, multiple shady characters, extremely graphic violence and paranoid unease. Maybe it’s that cast, a platoon of tough guy characters actors backing Sly up in one serious roster of a supporting cast. Old Rocky plays a big city FBI agent who is trying to find a jarringly vicious serial killer that targets law enforcement and has that classic obsession with his pursuer. After his girlfriend (Dina Meyer) falls victim to this beast, Sly unravels and following a suicide attempt, is sent up north by his mentor (Charles S. Dutton) for a little R&R,

and both R’s in that stand for rehab in a special remote facility designed just for cops with issues to work out. The place is run by Krusty Kris Kristofferson, and home to so many recognizable faces one has to give the casting director a tip of the fedora. A disgraced Mountie (Robert Prosky), emotionally fragile ex SWAT commander (Sean Patrick Flanery),

former Scotland Yard (Christopher Fulford), hostile ex narc (Jeffrey Wright with some pretty Harvey Dent facial scars), an insufferable macho asshole (Robert Patrick), ex military (Tom Berenger) who serves as caretaker, sympathetic therapist (Polly Walker) and a seriously creepy Stephen Lang. That’s a whole lot of suspicious characters to pick a killer from, because (you guessed it) the meanie has followed Sly out to the mountains and is posing as a member of their group. It’s a guessing game right up until one severely bloody climax, with ex cops dropping dead all over the place along the way, and Stallone looking more hollow and dishevelled as each body turns up. He’s not in action mode here at all, hell, he’s not even in sorta kinda Cop Land action mode, he’s a broken man trying to heal who’s forced back into shit kicking, and it puts a visible strain on him that the actor handles surprisingly adeptly. The rest do their job terrifically, with Flanery standing out in the scant but affecting screen time he’s given, and Patrick blustering through every scene until you’re just praying for the killer to target him next. There’s downsides galore, mind you, this isn’t well thought out territory, it’s gory genre nirvana and not much else. There’s a level of predictability that could have been avoided by making the identity of the killer a bit less… obvious, for lack of a non spoiling term, but oh well. It’s also just overblown lurid potboiler madness, but what else do you expect from this type of thing? I get exactly what I want out of it: a nice helping of ultra-violent intrigue to tune into on a cozy night, and not much more. In fact, I think I feel a revisit happening this week.

-Nate Hill

Jon Amiel’s Copycat


Jon Amiel’s Copycat is one intense piece of work, as tightly wound as razor wire and primed to stir up the adrenal glands. Sigourney Weaver contends with not one, but two extremely vicious serial killers a lá Silence Of The Lambs, with a bit of ass kicking help from spitfire Holly Hunter. Weaver is a clinical psychologist specializing in serial killers, and like most in her cinematic profession, just happens to be a serial killer magnet as well. After narrowly escaping a perverted maniac (Harry Connick Jr.), and assisting in his capture, she retreats to the sanctuary of her San Francisco penthouse apartment in a fit of agoraphobia following the trauma. But there’s another killer out there, one who meticulously recreates the crimes of others. Weaver is reluctantly coerced into helping to find him, and who better to help her than her old buddy Connick Jr.? He’s an odd choice to play this type of character, but he sells it with a sickly swagger and that off kilter grin, a much more lively performance than that of the actor playing the copycat killer. Holly Hunter provides the kick in the ass that timid Weaver needs to see the job done, but there’s danger around every corner, and the film earns it’s hard R rating with some truly uncomfortable bits. Along for the ride is veteran actor J.E. Freeman, Will Patton and good old Dermot Mulroney as fellow cops on the case. Not as instantly iconic or memorable as many in the genre, but takes what could have easily been generic trash and gives it life, style and a sense of real, sweaty danger. 

-Nate Hill

“I am very sure that’s the man who shot me.”: Zodiac 10 years later – by Josh Hains

The idea of offering up a defence for David Fincher’s Zodiac seems rather silly given that ten years later it’s widely regarded as perhaps Fincher’s greatest film, often revered as one of the finer films released over the past decade. We all know it’s great, though admittedly, I didn’t know that for several years.

I avoided Zodiac like it was coated in radioactive slime until 2014. I had heard a great deal of positive things about the movie, and had been greatly intrigued by the marketing behind it, but the knowledge that not only was it was a long, slow paced movie, but also a rather unsettling one too kept me away for so long. When I did finally give it a chance late September 2014, my mind immediately gravitated toward Google, scouring through page after page of information about the investigation in an attempt to better understand the finer details of the case, and come to my own conclusions about who the Zodiac killer may have been. My gut however, felt like I’d eaten a bad take out meal, disturbed, shaken, and stupidly hungry for more. I felt like how I imagined Robert Graysmith felt all those years ago, minus the fear, paranoia, and impending danger of course.

That David Fincher populated Zodiac with such a great cast is a marking of a great director who knows how to compile actors who will treat the characters as individuals and not just caricatures. I find it intriguing and perhaps even ironic, or merely coincidental, that Jake Gyllenhaal starred in last year’s underrated thriller Nocturnal Animals, given that in Zodiac he is essentially one. His Robert Graysmith is a nocturnal animal, an increasingly gaunt, wide eyed mouse sniffing around for a piece of cheese, in this case the next tangible clue or lead worth obsessively investigating. And it’s all thanks to his unshakeable love for puzzles, a factor that helps decode the first Zodiac letter. As he digs deeper into the case, we come to fear for his safety, in particular during a genuinely white knuckling scene in which the unarmed and unimposing Graysmith ventures into the basement of someone we begin to assume might put an abrupt end to Graysmith’s life.

Before the blockbuster splash that was Iron Man in 2008 thundered into the film scene, one could have argued that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery was the best he’d ever given. An argument can be made that while he was seemingly born to play the billionaire tycoon and saviour of the planet Tony Stark, his best work still resides in the fractured Avery. The deeper the investigation gets the further Avery seems to slip from cool as a cucumber journalist to a paranoid, spineless slob.

Prior to his self induced exile on a houseboat, I got a kick out of the scene where he joins Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) for drinks at a populated watering hole, chugging back those luminous bright blue Aqua Velvas while rambling about the case and their personal lives. There’s a great sense of both humour and humanity in that scene, as Avery lets his guard down and actually engages with someone beyond a superficial relationship, while Graysmith sheds his mouse-like internalized mannerisms in favour of energetic, loud behaviour, though briefly. From this point forward however, Graysmith has a spine, albeit a rather loosely fitting one, and Avery has seemingly lost his, donning “I am not Paul Avery” buttons in the hopes of fending off potential threats. He’d have made a wonderful Doc Sportello.

And of course, there’s San Francisco detective Dave Toschi played with a real sense of respectable authority by Mark Ruffalo. Toschi, an Animal Cracker snacking family man, and the inspiration behind both Steve McQueen’s preferred method of wearing his service revolver in Bullitt, and Dirty Harry’s iconic law breaking detective Harry Callahan, can’t seem to figure out how to put the pieces together in the Zodiac case, understandable in light of the overwhelming amount of contradictory information at hand. Under Fincher’s direction, Ruffalo portrays Toschi as a driven yet logically minded detective. He remains dedicated for years to catching the Zodiac, but lacks the desperation and paranoia Graysmith possesses. Instead, Toschi approaches every aspect of the case with the kind of logical thinking and reasoning every detective should be in possession of, following procedure by the book, and generally doing everything he can to crack the case until the psychological burden becomes far to heavy to bear. You can see how heavy sits in his mind by Ruffalo’s subtle body language in later parts of the movie, and you soon feel sorry for the guy.

Near the end of the film, Graysmith declares “I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.”, desperate to prove that Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch; perfectly unnerving and subtle) is indeed the cold blooded killer. He gets his wish a short time later when he encounters Allen at an Ace Hardware store in Vallejo where Allen works as a clerk. Allen offers his assistance to Graysmith with a polite “Can I help you?”, Graysmith responds with a “No.”, the two men simply staring at one another until Graysmith leaves, Allen thrown off by Graysmith, and Graysmith appearing much more certain that Allens is the man they’re after. The movie moves forward eight years to when Mike Mageau, survivor of the Zodiac killer at the start of the film, meets with authorities to potentially identify the Zodiac killer, positively identifying Arthur Leigh Allen as the man who shot him and killed Darlene Ferrin. While many had their suspicions and some evidence pointed in his direction, Allen died in 1992 before he could be questioned. Not that he would have confessed anyway.

Admittedly, I have intentionally left out many details and characters, with no disrespect intended, and it should be said that every actor involved in this film, from the leading performances to the smallest of cameos (for exmaple, Ione Skye of Say Anything as Kathleen Johns, a woman who was threatened in her car by the Zodiac killer), give world class performances, some even the best of their careers to date. And the script by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith, is an achievement of impeccable research and respect for the case. And the cinematography  by the late Harris Savides is bar none the greatest work the man had ever crafted, richly capturing everything with immaculate detail, from the lush valleys of California and its busy, inviting cities and streets, to the Aqua Vera drinks, to beams of red light emanating from police cars. He painted a gorgeous picture for us to gawk at for years to come.

Ten years later, I find it astonishing that Zodiac never truly ends like other movies do. Most movies tie up every loose thread with a ribbon to go with it, others leave room for potential sequels. You can’t end a movie when their is no resolution in reality, forcing a tacked on Hollywood ending wouldn’t sit right with anyone in possession of a brain. You can only leave the audience with the next best thing, the assurance of a living Zodiac victim that the man in the picture they’re pointing to is indeed the man who shot him. That Fincher was bold enough to choose this manner of ending his film shows us he’s a director capable of unsettling viewers long after the film ends, without needing to manipulate his audience or present alternative facts. Zodiac is a bona fide masterpiece, the crime film equivalent to All The President’s Men, and just as good too.

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The I Inside: A Review by Nate Hill 

It’s mind-bender time with The I Inside, a supremely trippy little psychological thriller with shades of everything from Stay and Jacob’s Ladder to Memento and The Jacket. It’s not derivitive though, finding it’s own little bubble of confusing plot twists and unreliable reality for our protagonist, played by Ryan Phillipe, to navigate. He plays a man who awakens in a hospital with no memory of the last two years, how he got there or what went wrong. The head doctor (Stephen Rea) informs him he’s come out of a coma, but offers little other information. Soon time blurs out of mind and he awakens yet again, this time two years in the future, once again in the same hospital. Somehow he can travel in a rift between 2000 and 2002, and must find the connection between the two, and how it relates to him. Now, forewarning: This is one goddamn confusing film. I’m usually pretty adept at distilling dense, scattered or otherwise inaccessible story lines, but this is a doozy. I’ve only seen it once and wound up not having a clue how it all ended up, whether it was due to scattershot writing, or the filmmakers deliberatly making it near unfathomable just to put you in his predicament for effect. Either way, it’s a confounding blizzard of time shifts, strange characters, mental blank spots and perceptive trickery that I’ll need at least a few more viewings to get a handle on. Two different women show up at various points in time, played by Piper Perabo and a chilling Sarah Polley, each claiming to be his wife and messing with his head even more. The only thread that links the two time periods besides him is a mysterious heart trauma patient (an excellent Stephen Lang) who recognizes him in the future and gets his own dose of WTF in the process. This is based on a stage play called Point Of Death, and as such has that intimate, one location feel. We’re never allowed to see outside the hospital in either era, adding to Phillipe’s paranoia and unease. I sometimes think about this film, and what it all really meant, and keep reminding myself to slot in time for a revisit. Take a look, and see if you can figure it out the first time around. 

Triangle: A Review by Nate Hill 

  
Structured like a labyrinthine video game. Packed with loads of paranoid suspense and style. Tuned with the hazy thick atmosphere of a bad dream. A diabolical guessing game from scene to scene. Triangle is one of the most enjoyable mind benders out there, a funhouse of a thriller that sails into murky metaphysical water and doesn’t let either it’s protagonist or its audience off with a cheap resolution. Imagine Dead Calm crossed with Memento and you’ll begin to have some notion as to where this film will take you. It’s a freaky voyage, as star Melissa George finds out after a yachting expedition with friends hits a nasty patch of storm weather. Soon a massive, deserted ocean liner crosses their path, and they are forced to board it after the typhoon wreaks their smaller craft. The rest of her crew just seemed puzzled by the derelict vessel, but Melissa has an eerie, gnawing feeling that she’s been on this boat before, a feeling that something is very wrong. Suddenly there’s a mystery person hunting and killing them, and if I just made it sound like a run of the mill slasher flick, please be assured that it’s anything but. What I’ve described happens in what is maybe the first quarter of the film, and everything after that point is a trip into a dizzy, seafaring twilight zone of psychological mystery and reality warping uncertainty that makes George unsure if anything, including her own perception of reality, can be trusted. Events repeat themselves, characters dart in and out of the wormhole of a narrative arbitrarily yet with a hidden purpouse that managed to scarily elude me for much of the film. It’s scary in the way that ducks usual horror trends. There’s violence and even some ghastly gore, but the real fear here lies in the unknown, the idea that forces beyond what we perceive as reality are messing around with us, and indeed they do mess around with her and then some, right up until the last frame of an ending that’s commendable, haunting and difficult to process. George makes great work of the confusion that morphs into terror and then outright existential panic, keeping us on our toes with the way she handles her character arc. Keep an eye out for a young Liam Hemsworth too. For psychological thrillers, it don’t get much better than this, and it’s off the radar enough that you’ll be able to recommend it to your friends who chances are, haven’t even heard of it.