"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Undertow

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Right after Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red wrote NEAR DARK for her to direct, they wrote UNDERTOW for him. Her vampire movie got off the ground first, and it was almost a decade later when his weird thriller about three weirdos out in the woods during a hurricane became a Showtime movie.

It’s not supernatural, and maybe not even horror, but the mood somehow does remind me of NEAR DARK. Lou Diamond Phillips (RENEGADES) plays Jack (last name Ketchum, apparently!), who’s introduced in his car, drifting to the next town after – as he explains in voiceover narration – falling for a sheriff’s daughter. Too dangerous. But before he can find a new place to stay he drives his truck off the road into a forest and wakes up the captive of a paranoid old redneck named Lyle (Charles Dance, LAST ACTION HERO) and his timid wife Willie (Mia Sara, TIMECOP), who I assumed at first was his daughter. They live in an isolated home in some North Carolina woods that’s somewhere between a hermit’s shack and a luxury resort lodge. It looks cold and some of it is built out of rusty car doors, but it’s huge, with various buildings and facilities. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

“Listen, I got nothin’ against playin’ army. I don’t mind that at all. I think the ideology of some of these folks is good. But there’s assholes everywhere…” –Steven Seagal as Dr. Wesley MacLaren in THE PATRIOT (1998)

I knew exactly three things about THE STANDOFF AT SPARROW CREEK: it was supposed to be potentially controversial for having something to do with a militia, people loved it at Fantastic Fest last year, and it was produced by Cinestate. Because of the last one it was often mentioned in articles alongside the works of S. Craig Zahler, portrayed as daring independent films that are super fuckin edgy because they blur the line between “regular movie” and “movie that all neo-Nazis own on blu-ray.”

That’s probly why I put off watching it until now. But there really wasn’t much to be afraid of. Realistically we can assume that these characters who have dozens of AR-15s, grenades, Kevlar vests and shit stashed in a warehouse are right wing extremists, because they have dozens of AR-15s, grenades, Kevlar vests and shit stashed in a warehouse. But it’s not about that. The closest thing to a political view ever discussed is that some of them believe in killing cops. The two characters that are portrayed as potentially honorable are an undercover cop trying to bust the militia and a former cop trying to save the undercover cop. Race is never discussed, other than one guy being former Aryan Brotherhood (which is portrayed as a stain on his record). It’s really just a novel way to do a “flushing out the mole” type suspense story.  (read the rest of this shit…)

Nighthawks

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’m still working on one more piece that will cap off the Last Summer of ’80s Action series next week. But last night, while celebrating the life of Rutger Hauer and linking to my reviews of his action movie roles (BLIND FURY!), I was confused as to why I couldn’t find a review of NIGHTHAWKS. It turned out I was working on one two years ago that I never posted, so I polished it up and have it for you today. R.I.P.

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NIGHTHAWKS. A couple of tough street cops who go out at night like, uh… a couple of hawks. Or probly more like that famous Edward Hopper painting of the mostly empty diner at night. Except no diner and not always at night.

You know what, you and I together are going to have to face that I actually have no idea why it’s call NIGHTHAWKS, but the point is it’s the story of NYPD (New York Police Department) undercover dudes Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone, DEATH RACE 2000) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams, HIT!) who, just because they’re war veterans and also familiar with where all the low lifes go around here, are recruited by ATAC (Anti-Terrorist Action Command) to stop a terrorist (Rutger Hauer, WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, in his first American film) who is in NYC (New York City) to attack the U.N. (United Nations) which in my opinion is B.S. (bullshit), you shouldn’t do something like that you jerk. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Package (1989)

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

THE PACKAGE is… kind of an action movie from director Andrew Davis. After the better-than-average Chuck Norris vehicle CODE OF SILENCE (1985) and Steven Seagal’s debut ABOVE THE LAW (1988) the director put some similar elements into a thriller with Gene Hackman in the lead. Hackman had just done MISSISSIPPI BURNING (which he got Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for) but did not have any black belts in anything, so I’m not sure why he thought he should be in movies?

He plays U.S. Army Master Sergeant Johnny Gallagher, who I assume is respected for his skills, but he seems mostly just beloved for being a great guy. He’s introduced arriving for security detail at the site of U.S.-Soviet Union disarmament talks in West Berlin and walking around smiling and saying hi to everybody. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sanctuary

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

SANCTUARY (1998) is not The Great American Mark Dacascos Vehicle, but it’s pretty enjoyable classical DTV (or in this case straight-to-cable, I believe) action, the kind that made me fall in love with the format in the first place. Yes, it’s messy, at times confusing or befuddling. It’s kinda gloomy looking, sometimes there are iffy line deliveries, and there are definitely parts that I laugh at that I’m not supposed to. But also there’s some showcasing of a cool actor I like, pulpy traditions of the genre are exercised, and when something really cool happens there’s a sense of underdog achievement. You’re really pulling for it to be good.

It has a convoluted chronology: it starts with our Catholic priest hero Luke Kovak (Dacascos a year after DRIVE) in a Vatican interrogation room being questioned in Italian about what happened six days ago when he got attacked by some killers from his secret past. From the story of six days ago it keeps flashing back to the larger backstory of his former career doing dirty deeds for the government and why he went into hiding to get away from it. A few times he even remembers his childhood, when a priest was his role model until Dyson (Alan Scarfe, CATHY’S CURSE, IRON EAGLE II, LETHAL WEAPON 3) took him and some other orphans and raised them to be experts in martial arts, guns and spycraft. (read the rest of this shit…)

Miss Bala (2019)

Monday, May 6th, 2019

SPOILERS for both MISS BALAs

You may find this shocking, but the American remake of the great 2011 Mexican film MISS BALA is not as good as the original. Director Catherine Hardwicke (THIRTEEN, LORDS OF DOGTOWN, THE NATIVITY STORY) doesn’t Hollywood it up quite as much as the trailer made me think she might, but maybe she should’ve. She stays maybe 75% faithful to the original, maybe more, but the normal, slick style severely blunts the impact of the story compared to the previous suspensefully long, unblinking takes and documentary-like realism. It goes from an intense CHILDREN OF MEN type of style that puts you in the middle of it all with the protagonist to just some random, normal TAKEN sequel or something. And the major story changes that do happen are, in almost all cases, less interesting than the earlier version.

It might seem okay if I hadn’t seen the original. Gina Rodriguez (ANNIHILATION) is quite good in the lead. In this version her name is Gloria Fuentes and she’s an American citizen returning to Tijuana to visit her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo, The Terror) and help her with her makeup when she tries out for the Miss Baja California pageant. After an audition they go to a party where her friend tries to flirt with the corrupt chief of police (Damian Alcazar, MEN WITH GUNS), who supposedly has some sway over who wins the pageant. So they’re there when members of the Las Estrellas gang come in to massacre the police, and Gloria, having seen them sneak in while she was in the bathroom, escapes alone. (read the rest of this shit…)

Serenity (2019)

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

I have great respect for Steven Knight. He wrote EASTERN PROMISES, ALLIED and THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, he wrote and directed the under-recognized Jason Statham movie REDEMPTION (a.k.a. HUMMINGBIRD) and the Tom-Hardy-on-the-phone movie LOCKE. Most of his shit is good. So when his new steamy sleazy noir thriller thing SERENITY was universally panned and made fun of for a purportedly insane plot twist I didn’t entirely buy it. I thought maybe people were being unappreciative of its apparent audacity, maybe I would enjoy it more.

But jesus, they weren’t lying. This is the most potent feeling of how did all these people agree that this was a movie worth making I’ve had in a long time. It’s not just that the twist is outlandish – it’s that it’s just not a good premise. Being crazy, being unpredictable, being bizarre, unfortunately does not always equal being cool. I just can’t picture the person who would get to the part where you find out what’s going on and think Ah ha, now we’re talking! This is absolutely an idea that is not dumb and was worth writing down and printing out on paper and getting talented people to convey in a storytelling medium! Your mileage may vary.

I will of course tell you what the twist is. I have to. But it starts as a story about Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey (AMISTAD), Iraq vet turned charter boat captain and fisherman on a quest to catch a mythical beast of a fish he has named “Justice.” He’s kind of a mess, but well-liked on the tiny island of Plymouth. Also he’s hard up for money and taking it out on his faithful first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou, also AMISTAD), who he fires and accuses of being bad luck. (read the rest of this shit…)

Into the Night

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

A while back, when I reviewed INNOCENT BLOOD and got into a bit of a John Landis run, I realized I’d never seen his 1985 movie INTO THE NIGHT. Didn’t even know anything about it. I guess you could say it’s kind of a thriller, but of the happening-over-one-night variety, and with some humor. Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum, DEATH WISH) is a regular boring aerospace engineer guy who’s unhappy and doesn’t know why. He hasn’t been able to sleep for a long time and he feels disconnected from his wife (Stacey Pickren, RUNAWAY TRAIN). Then he starts dozing off at work, getting himself in trouble, so he decides to go home for a nap, and I think we are all familiar with what happens in movies any time somebody goes home in the middle of the day when their spouse doesn’t expect them. It’s just like in TOY STORY how the toys are always having meetings and playing games and shit whenever you’re out of the room. Similar thing with movie spouses when you’re at work. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Guilty

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

THE GUILTY is an elegantly minimalistic Danish thriller. It’s a premise that makes LOCKE seem needlessly extravagant. Like that movie it’s a story told entirely through its lead character’s phone conversations, but in this one he’s not driving around. Tom Hardy saw it and said “God damn it! Why did you put me through all that? I could’ve just been in a room.” I’m not sure which accent he used.

(I haven’t seen BURIED and don’t remember much about THE TELEPHONE with Whoopi Goldberg, so I don’t know. Maybe they make this look like Michael Bay.)

The visuals take place entirely inside a small call center at a police station. The beautiful thing is that it neither feels like a gimmick or a thing they could’ve changed if they’d had a bigger budget. No, it just feels like the natural, best way to tell this particular story. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

It’s fair to say that earlier in the century The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a pop culture phenomenon. Stieg Larsson’s three novels, posthumously published starting in 2005, were worldwide hits. I enjoyed the stories through their 2009 Swedish movie adaptations (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST) which launched their star Noomi Rapace (PROMETHEUS, PASSION, DEAD MAN DOWN, THE DROP, CLOSE) into international movie stardom, and their leading man Michael Nyqvist into spending his last years playing bad guys in Hollywood movies including ABDUCTION, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL and JOHN WICK (where he delivers the best syllable: “Oh.”). David Fincher’s 2011 English language take on the first book was pretty great and even got Rooney Mara an unlikely but well-deserved Oscar nomination.

But it wasn’t a big enough hit to justify a sequel budgeted for Fincher, Mara and Daniel Craig, so after years of haggling they went with plan B: a lower budget sequel with new director and cast, based not on the next in the trilogy but a continuation written by new author David Lagercrantz. And nobody really seemed to be waiting for that.

Except me! Selling point #1: director Fede Alvarez, who really impressed me with EVIL DEAD and DON’T BREATHE. Selling point #2: less grim and rapey, more fun and actiony. You still got the trademark fucked up and fetishy shit of the snow-bitten Larssonverse, but in this one our heroine is never sexually assaulted, but does have high speed chases on multiple vehicle types. Hot move: ditching police cars by jumping your motorcycle onto a frozen lake. (read the rest of this shit…)