Tag Archives: vanessa hudgens

Thrill of the Hunt: Nate’s Top Ten Cop Vs Serial Killer Films

An obsessed, tormented renegade detective tracks down a disturbed, lone wolf maniac who kills innocent citizens for pleasure, compulsion and perhaps to agitate his pursuer and deliberately instigate a game of cat and mouse. This is an ages old motif that has permeated the thriller genre of Hollywood and beyond for eons, providing complex villains, self destructive protagonists, keen Agency profilers, blustery police captains, angsty mayors and no shortage of chases and carnage. Here are my personal top ten favourites!

10. Eye See You aka D Tox

This is commonly known as ‘that one shitty Sylvester Stallone film that no one saw, and I’ll be the first to admit it has its issues. However, I still enjoy it greatly, I love putting it on on a lazy rainy weekend day. Stallone plays a distraught big city FBI Agent whose girlfriend (Dina Meyer) was slaughtered by a vicious serial killer. After heading north into the mountains to a remote rehab facility for damaged cops (run by Kris Kristofferson no less) he soon begins to realize that the killer may have followed him there when people begin to turn up dead. This is a slightly cheesy, predictable thing but I really like the snowy Agatha Christie vibe and the cast is absolutely stacked with interesting talent including Tom Berenger, Robert Patrick, Jeffrey Wright, Stephen Lang, Charles Dutton, Sean Patrick Flanery, Robert Prosky, Chris Fulford, Polly Walker and more. But which one is the killer?

9. Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground

Another snowy one, yay! This fantastic film follows Alaska State trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) as he hunts down nasty real life killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack, chilling) who abducted and killed countless girls back in the 80’s. This film is overlooked and works as a thriller, stern police procedural and affecting interpersonal drama. An eclectic supporting cast surrounds Cage and Cusack but the heart of the film for me is Vanessa Hudgens in a brilliant performance as a wayward teenage prostitute who winds up in Hansen’s crosshairs and eventually Halcombe’s protection.

8. Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer 8

There’s a killer loose in an eerie Pacific Northwest town and its up to big city detective Andy Garcia and local sheriff Lance Henriksen to stop them. This is one of Uma Thurman’s first roles as a blind girl who may be next on the killer’s list. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s tense, freaky and the rainy setting provides lots of dark groves and ominous alcoves where anyone might be hiding. Also John Malkovich shows up for like five minutes as some weirdo FBI interrogator and chews more scenery than the rest of his collective career combined.

7. E. Elias Merhige’s Suspect Zero

Not one you’d find on many top ten lists, but my aim with these blog posts is to shed light on unfairly maligned films or hidden gems that need a good dose of re-evaluation. Ben Kingsley plays a mysterious serial killer who is praying on other killers for murky reasons that relate to an ages old FBI program that tried to harness the power of clairvoyants. Aaron Eckhart and Carrie Ann Moss pursue him while stylistically fascinating filmmaker Merhige (remember Begotten?) gives an otherwise routine tale some stark, elemental visual horror elements that chill the spine, and Clint Mansell’s nervous score warbles on in the fringes of our awareness.

6. Harold Becker’s Sea Of Love

Al Pacino investigates a series of murders and gets into a sweaty affair with mysterious Ellen Barkin, who may have an involvement in the crimes. The killer here uses unique MO in luring people in via the personals section of the newspaper, which gives Pacino and partner John Goodman some hilarious ‘hands on’ stakeout opportunities. This is sexy stuff but the real danger lurking throughout is never smothered by too many steamy encounters, there’s always balance and when the killer does finally show up in person they’re played by a reliably scary familiar face.

5. Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs

This made waves upon release and holds up wonderfully to this day. Anthony Hopkins’s articulate, sophisticated Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine’s perverse nut-job Buffalo Bill are still one of the most terrifying duo of killers to ever grace the same film with their collective presence. Jodie Foster ultimately steals the show as Agent Clarice Starling though and hers is a performance you get more out of each time you view the film, full of hidden hurt, dutiful observation and a keen survivor’s instinct.

4. David Fincher’s Seven

Kevin Spacey plays maybe the most heinous killer on this list and at least the most prolific and inventive in ways you’ll wish you didn’t see or hear. Weary veteran cop Morgan Freeman and eager rookie Brad Pitt are assigned to track him down, the hellish investigation inevitably leaking over into their personal lives. Atmosphere is key here and although Fincher never specifies where the bleak, rained out and despairingly lived-in city is located, one gets a darkly ardent sense of place all the same. Sheets of rain pour down, body after body is unearthed, each slain in increasingly gruesome ways and the uncanny feeling that the killer is just steps away haunts every scene like the constant darkness in the visual palette.

3. Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen

The killer isn’t quite human in this noir and supernatural tinged horror flick that finds homicide detective Denzel Washington searching for a killer who has resurfaced to strike again after being executed. Or has he? Or is it a copycat? It’s a conundrum that causes Denzel to question everything he knows and begins to wonder if this monster is something from another world. It’s a brilliant piece with burnished, gothic cinematography and lively supporting work from John Goodman, James Gandolfini, Embeth Davidtz, Donald Sutherland and a terrifying Elias Koteas.

2. David Fincher’s Zodiac

Score two for Fincher! Good on him, this is a sprawling, hyper realistic, meticulous examination of the murders that sent cops, journalists and civilians alike into a panic back in 70’s San Francisco. The film is constructed to follow the real life events as closely as possible and, as most already know, they never caught this guy which makes for a an eerie, dread soaked trip into paranoia and unease. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo play the dogged, determined professionals who work tirelessly to snag this monster while Fincher expertly crafts some of the most flat out suspenseful, terrifyingly tense scenes ever put to film.

1. Sean Penn’s The Pledge

Jack Nicholson’s ex cop Jerry Black sits alone at a run down, remote Northwest gas station. There’s a haunted air about him as he rambles on to himself and if you’d just been led on the chase of a lifetime by an extremely elusive killer of young girls and then arrived at the excruciatingly unsatisfying conclusion he has, you might be a might frazzled too. Penn’s discomforting, unearthly film is a haunting meditation on obsession, what it does to a person, their choices and mental state when the ultimate result of a quest like this is essentially failure. Many were frustrated by the narrative but that’s where the real beauty lies for me. Penn beautifully illustrates a dark, oblique tale, Nicholson takes on one of his most challenging roles and wins the day, Hans Zimmer creates moody, atmospheric bliss with his score and the cast is peppered with exceptional talent including Benicio Del Toro, Robin Wright, Aaron Eckhart, Sam Shepard, Helen Mirren, Tom Noonan, Lois Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Costas Mandylor, Patricia Clarkson, Dale Dickey, Harry Dean Stanton and a sensational cameo from Mickey Rourke in one of his very best roles.

Thanks for reading! Please share your favourites in this interesting genre as well!

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills

If Robert Rodriguez’s Machete cracked a few beers in the grindhouse exploitation cooler, his follow up Machete Kills taps the entire keg and lets it flow for a sequel that although isn’t as focused or on point as the first, blows it out of the water in terms of cameos, star power and sheer bottom feeding genre madness, it’s a hell of a fun time. Danny Trejo did the journeyman tough guy thing in a long stint throughout the 80’s and 90’s, by the time Rodriguez found him for a smaller role in Desperado he was already long overdue for a starring vehicle as far as I’m concerned, which Robert handed to him and then expanded with this balls out sequel that although is still indisputably Danny’s show, is also peppered with a staggering amount of star power and recognizable faces. That’s the thing about Rodriguez, he’s such a talented, hands on enthusiast of a filmmaker that he attracts actors from all walks of industry life to work with him, and his projects come alive. Trejo’s ex federalé super badass Machete is recruited by the president of the United States himself this time, played by Charlie Sheen in exactly the type of portrayal you’d expect. Mel Gibson’s big bad gun runner Luther Voz is stirring up trouble and it’s up to our antihero to stop him, as well as a whole pack of villains, weirdos, corrupt officials and femme fatales. This one sees a lot more characters running about including Sofia Vargera’s Desdemona, a matriarchal shryke of a contract killer whose daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) also figures into the plot while Machete recruits a lethal government agent (Amber Heard) who doubles as beauty queen Miss San Antonio. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba also return but are sort of swallowed up in the emerging newer elements. The great character actor William Sadler turns up briefly as a Texas Sheriff with a big gun, as do Rodriguez regulars Julio Mechoso, the Avellan twins, Tom Savini, Demian Bichir and Alexa Vega. Perhaps the best element in either Machete film is an elusive, inspired contract killer called The Chameleon who changes their appearance frequently. Not many films can say they hired Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins and Lady Gaga to all play the same role, but Rodriguez pulls it off and gives each actor something fun to do. I enjoyed this Machete more in the sense that it didn’t try to be socially conscious or inject a political message like the first, this is straight up action pulp the way it should be, and hopefully we will get to see Machete blast off into space soon as the reliably ridiculous meta fake trailer outlines here.

-Nate Hill

Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground

Nicolas Cage has been on a seemingly never-ending rampage of starring roles in some… odd flicks post mid 2000’s, and it can seem like kind of a quagmire to navigate through them without landing yourself a turd (one day I’ll do a comprehensive flow chart so everyone knows which ones to avoid). There are some pretty great films scattered throughout though, and Scott Walkers’s The Frozen Ground is one I’ve always enjoyed and wish it got a little more hype. Cage ditches the crazy and seems down to earth here in a stone cold, somber tale based on the hunt and capture of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen, here played by John Cusack in his nastiest, most skin crawling role. Cage is Robert Halcombe, a real life state trooper who bonded with a teenage sex worker (Vanessa Hudgens) who once escaped Hansen’s clutches and tries to track the guy down, as well as prove that he’s the monster killing girls out there on the tundra. What ensues is a gritty, episodic police procedural that earns the 1970’s cop thriller vibe it’s going for, showcases stunning and eerie Alaskan photography and tells a powerful, suspenseful and at times repellant story. Cage is earnest and relatable,

Cusack is despicable without getting campy or going over the top, an everyday monster whose laid back facade make the darkness just below even scarier when we’re forced to be privy to his crimes, filmed with raw frankness. Most impressive though is Vanessa Hudgens, who I didn’t pay much attention to until this, but gives a visceral portrait of fear and determination, believable every step of the way. There’s a galaxy of supporting work from Dean Norris, Brad William Henke, Michael McGrady, Kevin Dunn, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Matt Gerald, Radha Mitchell and 50 Cent as a pimp with a mullet (lol). It works as a moody thriller, a docudrama and mutual character study of Cage and Hudgen’s roles, as well as being scary in the right places.

-Nate Hill

Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch

I’m already giggling picturing the cries of protest that will rise up when I post this review, but the hell with it, I really like Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch. I never deliberately play the contrarian, I just seem to often gravitate towards films that have been maligned by the masses, and I can’t really help it. Now, in this film’s case, a few of the many and varied negative criticisms are somewhat warranted, yet blown out of proportion when you really take a good look at the story. The film is pure style, and although Zachary might have let his imagination run a little wild and clutter the whole affair with fanboy fantasies and video game visuals, there is a clear and discernible story beneath if one cares to look. Now, the only way that story is entirely comprehended is by watching the extended director’s cut, which includes an absolutely crucial, pivotal scene that’s should have never, ever ended up on the editing room floor for the theatrical version. Seriously, they we’re straight up asking for hostility and confusion by not keeping it in every cut of the film, it’s just common sense. Speaking of story, here we go: the film opens in breathless style and classic patented Snyder slo mo, with young Baby Doll (Emily Browning) trying to save her little sister from their tyrannically abusive stepfather. Outsmarted and shipped off to an austere mental institution, her journey is a sad, surreal and somewhat befuddling one, but there’s a method to the madness that might not be clear with only one viewing of the film. The asylum she is sent to is plagued by a sinister orderly (Oscar Isaac) who is abusing the girls in his care, and as a result, Baby Doll channels such horrors into a grandiose set of fantasy worlds, the base of which rests on a burlesque style brothel where she and others work for volatile pimp Blue (also Isaac). Joined by Amber (Jamie Chung), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), she blocks out the reality of what is happening and replaces the details of an elaborate, systematic escape attempt with impossibly epic, highly stylized adventures, each of a different theme or set in a vaguely familiar period of history. Battling medieval dragons, giant samurai golems with mini-guns, WWI zombie hordes in a gaunt, bombed out European landscape, it’s all a detailed rush of sound and fury that hits you like a ton of bricks, and although is far too much for the film to handle and still get its point across, it’s completely dazzling stuff, especially on Blu ray. Guided by a mysterious Wise Man (a kickass, rootin tootin Scott Glenn) who shows up in a different get up each time and mentored by brothel Madam of sorts Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), each setting holds the key to move along a certain cog in their plan, correlating back down the line of delusions straight to the asylum, if a little tenuously. Now it all hinges on the arrival of the High Roller (Jon Hamm), a rich playboy who has come to the brothel to see Baby Doll dance, and probably more. Here’s where they fucked up royally: The scene I mentioned earlier is a monologue from him that is pretty much one of the most important parts of the film, capping off both realities beautifully, and without it, not only is Hamm relegated to basically a walk on extra, the entire final punch of the climax is rendered lost and neutered, not too mention quite uncomfortable in a sense. Whoever was in charge of that particular piece of the editing should be tarred, feathered and run off the studio lot by teamsters. With the scene left in on the extended version, however, the story is given both point and purpose, feeling like a complete vision with a little weight to go along with it’s Hindenburg sized bag of visual tricks. Not Snyder’s best for sure, but it’s in no way close to the turkey some people will have you believe it is. Whiners. Style over substance? Yes, I’ll definitely concede there’s an imbalance, but don’t try and tell me the whole thing is bereft of substance at all, because that is a lazily researched argument. The soundtrack is a treasure chest, I might add, with beautiful covers of Sweet Dreams and Sing Me To Sleep sung by Browning herself. 

-Nate Hill