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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Body Heat

Monday, December 14th, 2015

tn_bodyheatlucasminusstarwarsBODY HEAT is a tight, atmospheric, sometimes literally steamy neo-noir from writer and first time director Lawrence Kasdan (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CONTINENTAL DIVIDE). It pulls off the feat of having the protagonist seem reasonably relatable and likable despite doing the wrong thing from beginning to end (including but not limited to aggressively courting a married woman and then plotting to kill her husband and get his money).

He is Ned Racine (William Hurt, who at that time had only starred in ALTERED STATES and EYEWITNESS), a sleazy Florida defense lawyer renowned by his friends like District Attorney Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson, THE ONION FIELD) and police detective Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston from THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR and HIGH NOON II: THE RETURN OF WILL KANE) for his sexual conquests, though not his competence as a lawyer. One night Ned sees Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner, a stage actress with one TV episode to her name) standing looking at the ocean, and it’s all over for him. She’s just standing there like a real sexy piece of cheese in a mouse trap, and a mouse is gonna do what a mouse is gonna do.

BODY HEAT is a good title, but this is another one that could be called KEEP YOUR DICK IN YOUR PANTS. In the noir tradition they verbally spar; he hits on her, she rejects him, then makes one unmistakably suggestive comment before disappearing like Batman when Ned’s not looking. Might as well have thrown down a smoke pellet. (read the rest of this shit…)

Assault On Precinct 13

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

tn_assaultonprecinct13“Hey, this is regular vanilla. I wanted vanilla twist.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I sincerely thought CREED was coming out last Friday and wanted the ROCKY reviews to run right into my review of that. But now I ran out of ROCKYs and I don’t want to leave you guys with nothing new to read on the day before Thanksgiving. So here’s one that has a minor connection to the ROCKY series that will come up later. This movie is based on westerns, and the characters who represent the cowboys and the Indians don’t even come close to eating sweet potatoes together, but I still think this is a good one for Thanksgiving. This year (as in many years) we’ve lost some really extraordinary people who inspired and entertained me over the years. That really reminds me not to take for granted the directors and movies I love, for example John Carpenter and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Thank you, people who make great movies, and thank you all for being here with me to share in their celebration.

Of all the John Carpenter movies that are like westerns, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is the most like a western. You’ve got a lieutenant (Austin Stoker, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, MACH 2) who’s like a sheriff, holed up in an about-to-be-shut-down police station that’s like a jailhouse. You’ve got a prisoner transfer and a siege where the lieutenant and a notorious killer (Darwin Joston, THE FOG, ERASERHEAD) have to work together, and they sort of become friends. The hostile territory is a ghetto, Anderson, California, and the Indians are a WARRIORS-like multi-ethnic gang. They even do a bloodletting ritual before the siege.

But the scary thing about these gangsters is they don’t talk, and they keep coming. We mostly see them in the distance, at night, scurrying behind trees for cover. Then we see their hands reaching through the windows, or their bullets hitting windows, walls, cops. It’s such a good approach because there are so many ways these types of characters could’ve been silly. If the guy who looks like Che were talking to the cops he would probly use dated slang, have some corny line delivery, make us laugh. It would be fun to watch, but he’d be less menacing. As a silent force he’s much more effective. (read the rest of this shit…)

Taking Lives

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

tn_takinglivesI don’t watch these twisty suspense thrillers too often, but they can be fun. I honestly don’t know what drew me to TAKING LIVES right now, but the only thing I knew about it other than that it stars BY THE SEA director Angelina Jolie is a really absurd thing that happens at the end that somebody told me about back when it came out. That turns out to be the best part of the movie, but I guess it’s okay I had it spoiled 11 years ago because otherwise I don’t think I would’ve watched it. There is no scenario where I see this fresh. It’s kind of like how I saw both SEVEN POUNDS and ORPHAN only because their plot twists sounded funny. Not that this is as good as those, but I enjoyed it okay.

Extra-hot-late-twenties Jolie plays Agent Illeanna Scott, an FBI profiler who has come to Canada to help Hugo Leclair (Tchéky Karyo), her mentor from Quantico, catch a serial killer. You know the drill: she’s totally brilliant, she has odd habits (like she lays inside a grave to get closer to the crime), she looks at gory photos while eating, she comes up with theories based on tiny details and everybody looks at her in either awe or fear. Olivier Martinez (BEFORE NIGHT FALLS) plays a cop who doesn’t trust or respect her, and he gets to be the bearer of that cliche that if you say something insulting in front of someone in another language thinking they don’t understand it then for sure they will play along and later say something to you in that language to reveal that they are fluent and then you will be embarrassed and not know what to say. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bridge of Spies

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

tn_bridgeofspiesIt’s like a whole bridge full of spies. Or at least, there are a couple spies on this bridge. It’s the climax of the story, two countries meeting up one cold night to trade prisoners. I guess that’s where the title comes from.

Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, who is not a spy. He’s just a lawyer who, through luck, foresight and principles, ends up rescuing a downed American spy pilot in this true Cold War story.

When we first meet him Donovan seems far from an American hero. He’s an insurance company lawyer in a bar having an argument where he’s comparing motorcyclists run over by a truck to bowling pins. But when the Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, BLITZ) is captured, somebody (Alan Alda) decides to give Donovan the shit job of defending him. What nobody expects is that he will take the job seriously.

They tell him he should defend Abel to show that America believes in giving everybody a fair trial. But of course none of these people want to actually give him a fair trial. They’re angry and confused when Donovan tries to, like, do his job. But his attitude is that if we’re gonna brag about what we stand for then we should put in the work to actually stand for that.

I gotta be honest, if I didn’t know this was a Steven Spielberg movie I would never have seen it. The trailers and the poster really make it look like a chore. You can picture the righteous speeches and triumphant music as a Regular Man stands up for noble ideals in court rooms and wintery period settings. And don’t get me wrong, this is a movie for grown ups. It is a 2 hour, 21 minutes drama starring Tom Hanks about the Cold War and the idea of America. That is true. But it’s way more fun than the trailers make it out to be. It’s not that dry, and it’s got plenty of laughs. It’s entertaining. It’s Spielberg. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Usual Suspects

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

tn_usualsuspects

RELEASE DATE: August 16th
RELEASE DATE: August 16th

Do you guys know about these “Usual Suspects”? They’re this group of criminals who get rounded up one day for a line up for some crime none of them had anything to do with, and it pisses them off so much that they decide to pool their resources for a job that will get them some diamonds and humiliate the police by exposing their corruption. As a bonus it will also allow them to terrorize an uptight Paul Bartel and blow up his car. But when they go to fence the jewels they realize they’ve been pulled into this whole other thing with an infamous boogie man super-criminal who now says they owe him and have to do a job for him or their loved ones will be assaulted and killed. Or at least that’s what this lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite, INCEPTION) tells them. Or at least that’s the story that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, MOON, The Equalizer) tells Customs Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri, BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON) when he wants to know what led up to the burning ship full of dead bodies discovered last night.

Yeah, actually this movie is pretty complicated, and that’s just the basics there. There’s also the whole thing about a Hungarian burn victim survivor of the boat fire and the FBI agent (Giancarlo Esposito, DO THE RIGHT THING, The Equalizer) bringing in a translator and sketch artist before surgery to try to get him to tell what he knows about the mysterious Keyser Soze and trying to get the information to Agent Kujan in time and etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

tn_mi5It’s been a joke for quite some time that Tom Cruise, like Prince or Keanu Reeves, never ages. Actually, now he’s starting to show some age, and I like it. He has a few more lines on his face, a little more character. Good work, Tom. Also his new MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie is good.

It has been a tradition in the series to have a respectable actor in a position of authority over Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his Impossible Mission Force team. In part 1, Jon Voight played the boss and mentor. In part 2, Anthony Hopkins sent Hunt on his missions. In part 3 there was Laurence Fishburne to question his actions, and in part ghost Tom Wilkinson was “the Secretary.” Now in part 5, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (M:I-RN), we have the most involved of all of these characters, Alec Baldwin as CIA director Alan Hunley. He gets the entire IMF agency disbanded and tries to capture or kill Hunt, who is still in the field trying to finish his last mission.

What I’m getting at is that Alec Baldwin’s famous narrator voice gets to deliver a very good Just How Badass Is He? speech for Ethan Hunt, which includes the appropriately hyperbolic phrase “he is the manifestation of destiny.” That’s one of the many advantages of having Christopher McQuarrie aboard as director and co-writer. The man made JACK REACHER. He loves a good Just How Badass Is He? speech. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Net

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

tn_thenet

RELEASE DATE: July 28
RELEASE DATE: July 28

In THE NET, Sandra Bullock (DEMOLITION MAN) plays Angela Bennett, a loner computer expert who becomes The Beta Tester Who Knew Too Much when a colleague stumbles across a backdoor being used to enter major databases and sends her a disk to take a look at.

Bullock spends alot of the movie saying out loud what she’s pretending to type. Angela mostly stays indoors, and most of her friends are either software company people in other parts of the country that she talks to over the phone, or people in “Cyberchat.” This being 1995, with dial up modems and floppy disks, that was still a pretty new idea, as was her ordering a pizza online (which I would still never do myself in this futuristic age). Of course it’s a movie that plays up the exoticism of computers and the internet, and heavily bullshits it up. The backdoor creates a rapid burst of screens of information that computers back then couldn’t have handled and that have no possible use except movie flashiness. A virus is instantly identifiable because it turns what’s on the screen into little shapes as it quickly destroys the system. Call it the Photoshop Mosaic Filter Virus. So it’s a goofy mix of dated technology and not-feasible-at-that-time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Falling Down

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

tn_fallingdownJoel Schumacher’s FALLING DOWN (1993) is a movie I’ve always hated for what I thought it was saying. Watching it again a couple decades later I think I was partly wrong. Maybe even mostly wrong. But I still can’t get all the way on board. I’ll try to explain why.

Michael Douglas plays a defense industry office drone in L.A. who one morning gets stuck in traffic, loses his shit, decides to abandon his car and walk home. And along the way he decides to go nuclear on anyone he thinks is wronging him. This includes gang members who try to collect a toll for him sitting on their rock and a Neo-Nazi (Frederic Forrest, VALLEY GIRL) who shows him his weapons cache, but also a convenience store clerk, the staff and patrons of a fast food restaurant and random construction workers. As he travels he builds up an arsenal by taking people’s weapons, like a video game that didn’t exist yet at that time.

(He’s credited as “D-FENS” after his vanity license plate, but they find out his name is William Foster, so that’s what I’ll refer to him as.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Judgment Night

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

tn_judgmentnightI’m interested in this idea of The Place White People Can’t Go. According to pop culture and middle class conventional wisdom there are large swaths of every major city that are like the wild west or a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The second a woman steps off the wrong subway or a man’s car breaks down on the wrong block, homeless men in ragged coats turn their heads from the flaming oil barrels where they warm their hands, and seedy criminals step out of the shadows of the garbage-strewn, rat-infested alleys to attempt a gang rape or mugging before this shaky-handed outsider gets a chance to unfold his or her map.

Admittedly many of these swarmers are white too, so maybe it’s really The Place Suburbanites Can’t Go. But it seems like a specifically white paranoia, perpetrated on white movie characters. It’s perpetuated in movies I like, such as the DEATH WISH series, as well as many an ’80s comedy. More recently it made an appearance in TRAINING DAY when walking through the barrio nearly got Ethan Hawke’s “shit pushed in.”

This is not entirely made up. Of course there are high crime areas (in Seattle it’s called “my bus stop”) and desperate, troubled people everywhere, and we’ve all heard stories, some of which are true. But I really think the whole thing is blown out of proportion in a way that appeals to our worst instincts and makes problems worse. In most cases I believe a white man can go anywhere and get a funny look at worst. If you mind your own business most people will leave you alone. Going into “a bad neighborhood” is not really like being a piece of meat in a tiger pit. You’ll probly be okay. (read the rest of this shit…)

Stalking Danger (aka C.A.T. Squad)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

tn_stalkingdangerSTALKING DANGER is the video title for C.A.T. SQUAD, a 1986 TV movie directed by William Friedkin. You can tell it’s TV by the cheap video titles, the 4:3 composition (even though it’s shot by Wes Anderson’s Academy Award nominated cinematographer, Robert Yeoman) and the “guest starring” in the credits, but otherwise it’s very cinematic. It even has a blood-pumping score by Ennio Morricone.

This is another secret agent counter-terror thing, with badass Doc Burkholder (the Michael Douglas-esque Joe Cortese)  appointed to put together his own team to catch an assassin called Carlos (Eddie Velez, THE HUNTED, BLACK DAWN). It’s not supposed to be Carlos the Jackal, by the way,  just standard, human Carlos I believe.

We know who the guy is because we watch him come in disguised as a priest, see how he sets up in a tower, crosses himself after he snipes the guy, gets away. And possibly we realize that the reason he looks so familiar is because he played “Dishpan” Frankie Santana, the best special effects man in Hollywood who joined the A-Team in the last season. But if not we are excited to learn that from IMDb.

Then we switch to Doc going around recruiting each member of his group (always a favorite part of this type of story), following leads, doing surveillance, poring over the photos, comparing everything to what else they know. ZERO DARK THIRTY shit. Eventually they catch on that it’s this guy and they go look for him. They follow him on the street, he tries to lose them down alleys, goes through different apartments and out the back door, that kind of stuff. (read the rest of this shit…)