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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

A Simple Plan

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

“You work for the American dream. You don’t steal it.”
“This is even better.”

A SIMPLE PLAN is the first Sam Raimi movie not to be easily recognizable as a Sam Raimi movie. It even has a Danny Elfman score that’s not recognizable as a Danny Elfman score. It’s a grim, uncomfortable neo-noir, stylistically subdued, what little humor it has dry enough that it likely doesn’t register with everybody. If anything, it seems most akin to BLOOD SIMPLE by Raimi’s former roommates/CRIMEWAVE co-writers/DARKMAN cameo-ers the Coen Brothers, transplanted to a snowy Minnesota environment more like FARGO.

Like THE QUICK AND THE DEAD it was a for-hire project, but this time he didn’t want it to feel like any of his other movies. He and cinematographer Alar Kivilo (THE LOOKOUT) agreed that the camerawork should be simple, “invisible,” basically the opposite of what everyone loves about his earlier films. I don’t advocate doing that all the time, or even often, or honestly ever again, but here it definitely works for him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Escape From Alcatraz

Monday, January 3rd, 2022

On January 1, 2013 I reviewed the movie TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, and made up a superstition that it’s good luck for movie critics to start a year with a Clint Eastwood review. So then I ended up kicking off 2014 writing about A PERFECT WORLD, 2015 with THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, 2016 with KELLY’S HEROES, 2017 with PINK CADILLAC, 2018 with TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, 2019 with THE MULE, 2020 with WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART and 2021 with THE GAUNTLET.

It would be hard to argue that any “good luck” panned out in some of those years, and yet I will stubbornly continue the tradition. ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ is from 1979 and it was the last of Clint’s five movies directed by Don Siegel, because they had a falling out over which one of them got to produce it. (Siegel’s only subsequent movies were ROUGH CUT starring Burt Reynolds and JINXED! starring Bette Midler.)

It’s based on the true story of the only maybe successful escape from the notorious island prison. Three guys got out, they may very well have drowned, but they were never found. I remember going on a tour of that place as a kid and hearing the story. Man, prison tours are fucked up. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Moon Rising

Tuesday, November 16th, 2021

I’ve been curious about BLACK MOON RISING (1986) – and many of you have recommended it to me over the years – for the specific reason that it’s based on a script by John Carpenter. According to the book John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness by Gilles Boulenger, he wrote it in 1974 and sold it in late 1975 to producer Harry Gittes (GOIN’ SOUTH, ABOUT SCHMIDT), who does not have a credit on the movie. A decade later it ended up being directed by Harley Cokeliss (BATTLETRUCK, studio second unit director of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) and rewritten by Desmond Nakano (BODY ROCK, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) and William Gray (THE CHANGELING, PROM NIGHT, HUMONGOUS, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT). They used Todd Ramsay, editor of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING, but otherwise it’s not any of Carpenter’s crew. Still, there aren’t too many fresh Carpenter-related projects out there for me to experience, so I went for it.

And I’m happy to report that it’s much more like a John Carpenter movie than THE EYES OF LAURA MARS, while having enough of its own thing going on to not feel like a Dollar Store knock off. It’s elegantly simple, using some standard thriller ideas but not the usual good guys, and it has that precious quality of feeling edgy and slightly futuristic by the standards of a long past era. Most of all it has 1986 Tommy Lee Jones as a cool, mysterious anti-hero who seems all alone, hated by his bosses and former colleagues as he works as a “freelancer” one last time. It was Jones’s follow up to THE PARK IS MINE and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” video, where he plays “a real estate novelist who never had time for a wife” (unless IMDb is wrong and that’s just a guy who looks like him). (read the rest of this shit…)

Hell Hath No Fury

Thursday, November 11th, 2021

You may know Jesse V. Johnson as the director of such Scott Adkins films as SAVAGE DOG, ACCIDENT MAN, THE DEBT COLLECTOR, TRIPLE THREAT, AVENGEMENT and DEBT COLLECTORS. If not, you ought to. Johnson has become well regarded in our circles for his always good, often great movies with Adkins, but it’s not like he’s helpless without him. The latest and best evidence of that is HELL HATH NO FURY, a scorching little WWII thriller released this week on VOD. It’s not a high flying action movie like he’d do with Adkins, but don’t worry, it’s not trying to do SAVING PRIVATE RYAN at bargain prices either. Within a pretty simple standoff scenario, in a contained location and time frame, it finds great tension, some nasty violence and more substance than I ever would’ve expected.

It stars Nina Bergman (ASSASSIN X, THE BEAUTIFUL ONES) as Marie Dujardin, a French woman of uncertain character. We first meet her in the back of a car with SS officer Von Bruckner (Daniel Bernhardt, ATOMIC BLONDE, NOBODY, SKYLIN3S), seeming to enjoy herself before the car is ambushed by French resistance fighters. Three years later, as the Nazis are leaving town, a mob of locals brand Marie a collaborator, shave her head and plan who knows what for her before some American GIs rescue her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cold Hell (Die Hölle)

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

COLD HELL (Die Hölle) is a 2017 German/Austrian movie that’s still exclusive to Shudder in the U.S. I wish they’d put it out on disc like they have with so many of their exclusives, because this is a good one that I’d like to recommend to everybody. As far as I can find the only part of the world to release it on physical media is Germany.

Wanting to see this movie is what originally inspired me to subscribe to Shudder a few years ago, but for some reason I failed to write it up back then. I watched it again in October and it holds up, so I made sure to share it with everyone this time.

Its greatest asset is a strong lead character, Özge, played by Violetta Schurawlow (HEAD FULL OF HONEY, ICEMAN). She’s Turkish, but a citizen of Austria, working as a cab driver. And the movie slowly unveils how tough she is. At first it just seems like the grit required by her occupation, considering how some motherfuckers treat cab drivers, and immigrants, and women. Then it seems to go a step or two beyond that when she needs two guys to stop blocking an alley and beats one up for calling her the c-word. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barton Fink

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

“He’s poor, this wrestler! He’s had struggle!”


It used to be that August was a time for studios to release a bunch of movies they thought were bad or didn’t have high expectations for. You know, they release ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and T2 early in the summer, hoping young people and families will go repeatedly throughout the summer. Once it gets closer to school starting up again there’s less chance for that, so that’s why in the year in question we were seeing weird rooster cartoons and weird dog cartoons and weird dog live action movies and weird Mickey Rourke movies.

Many things in the world of pop culture were shifting that month. While on the Lollapalooza tour, long-time goth fixtures Siouxsie and the Banshees actually actually made it onto the Billboard charts for “Kiss Them For Me.” (By the next summer they’d have a song in a Batman movie.) Pearl Jam released their first album. LaKeith Stanfield was born. But also Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” love theme from ROBIN HOOD was still the #1 song!

This particular August ended with kind of a whimper – CHILD’S PLAY 3 (still the weakest Chucky movie four sequels later) was released on the 30th. But I thought I should end this review series on the August 21, 1991 release that happens to be one of the weirdest but also best regarded movies of the season. If I had to compare it to another ’91 movie I’d have to say it reminds me most of THE DARK BACKWARD, of all things. Well, and I case some fire stunts reminded me of BACKDRAFT. But those are stretches. This one stands alone. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dead Again / Defenseless

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

August 23, 1991 saw the release of two American suspense thrillers by notable overseas directors. Best reviewed, highest grossing and first alphabetically was Kenneth Branagh’s DEAD AGAIN, starring Kenneth Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson, written by Scott Frank (PLAIN CLOTHES).

Under the opening credits are an old timey montage of 1940s newspaper headlines detailing the story of a singer named Margaret Strauss (Thompson), who was stabbed to death with scissors, and then her husband Roman “The Maestro” Strauss (Branagh) was convicted of murdering her. The opening is done in black and white, with The Maestro getting a weird haircut and posing with evil smiles in the shadows as he tells reporter Gray Baker (Andy Garcia in his followup to THE GODFATHER PART III) that he loves his wife. When Baker asks if he killed her, he leans over and whispers to him and you’re supposed to wonder what he said I guess. But, like, what would he say? Definitely no? Arguably yes?

Anyway the main story is 40 years later when private detective Mike Church (also Branagh), who specializes in finding lost heirs and speaks in a shifting series of dorky American accents that I don’t think is intended to be funny, reluctantly agrees to do a favor for a priest he knows (Richard Easton, YOUNG WARRIORS). A mysterious amnesiac woman who does not speak (Thompson again) showed up at the orphanage where he grew up, and he agrees to drop her off at the hospital, but when he sees all the scary mentally ill people she’d be with he feels bad and lets her sleep at his apartment. No, he doesn’t do anything untoward, but yes, he quickly falls in love with her and acts like a weirdo. (read the rest of this shit…)

Take Back

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

TAKE BACK (2021) is a halfway decent DTV action movie, not a great one. The main thing holding it back, I’d say, is an approach to action similar to a Liam Neeson movie; Gillian White (whose name is listed last on the cover, but she’s the actual star) seems like a badass and has a couple good head kicks and stuff, but they move the camera around like they got something to hide. In one scene she actually turns off the lights and then kills a bunch of guys in the dark, which would be a good gag if there were more parts where we actually did get to see her.

Nevertheless I enjoyed this movie and there are several things that are novel about it. So I am here to praise those things.

Gillian White (“Hey Lover” video by LL Cool J featuring Boyz II Men) plays Zara Roland, a successful lawyer living out in a desert town in the Coachella Valley with her husband Brian (Michael Jai White, “Where I Belong” video by Busta Rhymes featuring Mariah Carey) and stepdaughter Audrey (introducing Priscilla Walker). They’re the kind of couple that celebrates their 4th anniversary by sparring at the dojo where Brian teaches. He holds the pads and Zara punches the hell out of him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Siege (a.k.a. Self Defense)

Thursday, July 29th, 2021

SIEGE (previously released in the U.S. as SELF DEFENSE) is a 1983 Canadian exploitation film brought to my attention thanks to the new release on Blu-Ray and DVD from Severin Films. It seems more inspired by ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 than any other movie, and it’s not a wall-to-wall scorcher like that, but I liked it because it’s quick and raw and has some really unique elements.

Down south in the U.S that year, heroic movie cops were being forced to break the rules to stop perverted rapists (10 TO MIDNIGHT, SUDDEN IMPACT) and kids were turning into serial killers because they witnessed gay sex (SLEEPAWAY CAMP). By contrast, SIEGE paints a picture of a Halifax gay bar and their low income neighbors being terrorized by the violent bigots in a right wing militia. The chaos starts with a police strike, where officers on the picket line egg on onlookers as they roar around in their cars whoo-hooing and doing donuts. Reporters speculate that the rowdiness will snowball from there. Sure enough a group of thugs choose this time to enter the club and announce a “New Order” they want to impose on Nova Scotia. (read the rest of this shit…)

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is a movie I was highly anticipating ever since I first read it was in the works. When it finally came out as one of these pandemic same-day-on-HBO-Max releases and it turned out it wasn’t quite the A+ movie I was hoping for, it kind of entered and left my consciousness without much incident. But I did think it was a cool movie taken on its own terms, and worthy of documentation with a review. And then it started to seem better the more I wrote about it.

Reasons I had high hopes:

1. It’s directed and co-written by Taylor Sheridan, who previously directed WIND RIVER and wrote SICARIO, HELL OR HIGH WATER and WITHOUT REMORSE. I just really like his style of quasi-realistic, contemporary-western-ish crime/action with tough, broody characters and a heightened atmosphere of doom.

2. It stars Angelina Jolie, who we don’t see in too many movies these days, but who I believe has an advanced understanding of badass screen presence. I base this partly on WANTED, a ridiculous movie I don’t necessarily love, but that she really stood out in. I always remember reading that she took the script and crossed out a bunch of her dialogue that she didn’t feel she needed, and said that Clint Eastwood taught her to do that. That really seemed to work for her there.

3. Also because I read the cool-sounding premise: a national park fire fighter on lookout duty helps a kid escape from assassins during a forest fire. Is this gonna be pretentious FIRESTORM? Starring an Oscar-winning actress instead of an NFL player? I can dig that! (read the rest of this shit…)