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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

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…)

Backdraft 2

Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

Yes, it’s true – in 2019, 28 years after the release of the hit movie BACKDRAFT, it got a DTV sequel. Since I hadn’t seen the original when this came out two years ago I didn’t really pay attention, and kind of assumed it was just an unrelated firefighter movie taking on the brand name.

In fact there’s quite a bit of continuity: original screenwriter Gregory Widen (HIGHLANDER) returns, the lead character is meant to be the grown up son/grandson of Kurt Russell’s characters, William Baldwin returns as Brian McCaffrey (now assistant chief) and Donald Sutherland returns as crazy/fun pyromaniac Ronald Bartel. Also it’s supposed to be the same fire station, there are photos of Russell and Scott Glenn on the wall, the events of part 1 are discussed, and (in a real fuckin stretch) Brian uses the phrase “career dissipation light,” which was already a stretch when he repeated it back to a corrupt Alderman he heard using it 28 years ago. Are we really to believe he loved it so much he made it part of his lingo? (read the rest of this shit…)

Backdraft

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021

May 24, 1991

This may surprise you, but I had never seen BACKDRAFT until now. It’s often mentioned as the Ron Howard movie people like, or a good Kurt Russell movie or ‘90s thriller, or a movie with amazing pyrotechnic effects, and I knew I’d heard people speak of it fondly. I asked on Twitter and received many emphatic confirmations that people consider it a classic, some having even reaffirmed their love semi-recently in a theatrical screening.

So I hope you won’t all feel direspected when I tell you I thought this movie was pretty fuckin ridiculous! Maybe that’s part of what you like about it? It’s also true that the fire stuff is impressive, and of course Russell is good in it, and his character is pretty interesting because he’s about 85% total asshole and 15% guy you root for, which is not the obvious choice. Also, it’s fair to say that there aren’t very many movies specifically about firefighters; usually the macho ball-busting sweaty working class bros who go to the pub together to be rowdy and are in dutch with the old lady because of the job in movies are cops. Also, I can’t fault people for loving the type of corny old-fashioned weepy-eyed hand-over-your-heart astronaut movie type salute it gives to the heroism of firefighters. I think these are all legitimate reasons to like the movie, I’m not questioning that. (read the rest of this shit…)

FX2

Monday, May 10th, 2021

FX2 – which is not subtitled THE DEADLY ART OF ILLUSION, that’s just a very memorable tagline, like DIE HARDER for DIE HARD 2 – arrived a surprising five years after the hit first film. It comes from a completely different creative team, but they’re pretty much all-stars. The director is Richard Franklin, (ROAD GAMES, PSYCHO II, LINK). The screenwriter is Bill Condon, who had so far done STRANGE BEHAVIOR, STRANGE INVADERS and SISTER, SISTER, but would be an Oscar winner before the end of the decade. And the score is by the legendary Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, DIRTY HARRY, PRIME CUT, HIT!).

It’s not any of their best work. Especially Schifrin – this is some cheesy-ass late ‘80s TV cop drama smooth jazz type shit. But in a mildly endearing way. And the movie as a whole is kind of the same.

Our first part 2 of the summer opens, of course, with another movie-within-a-movie fake out. This time what seems to be an ordinary New York City street erupts with crazy sci-fi violence. A convertible pulls up, and a homeless man hits on the “lady” driver with the very hairy arms, who (gasp) turns out to be a burly man with a vaguely Arnold accent (did they know this was coming out the summer of T2?) who gets into a shootout with cops, revealing robot parts beneath and spewing beautiful bright blue blood. “The Cyborg” is played by James Stacy, the star of Lancer, portrayed by Timothy Olyphant in ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD. Since he lost his left arm and leg in a 1973 motorcycle accident he must’ve even done the parts where his robot limbs get blown away. (read the rest of this shit…)

F/X

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

F/X is a pretty cool little thriller from 1986 that I think I saw back in the VHS days, but I didn’t remember it at all. And since Bryan Brown (THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH) on the poster looks like Roy Scheider to me, I was really picturing something different. Brown is Australian and is allowed to fully use his accent here, a rarity in American movies that I was prepared to credit to the international success of CROCODILE DUNDEE until I saw that this came out earlier in the same year. So instead I will credit the success off CROCODILE DUNDEE to the success of F/X.

Brown stars as Roland “Rollie” Tyler, a Hollywood (well, New York) special effects genius who seems to be considered the best in the business. And you know what that means: it opens with a scene of violence that turns out to be a film shoot. It’s a pretty good version of that cliche, because instead of a horror movie like usual (see: BODY DOUBLE, PET SEMATARY TWO) it’s a shootout in a restaurant. A guy catches on fire, aquariums get shot up, a bunch of live lobsters get loose. Good scene.

Rollie is approached on set by a dude named Lipton (Cliff De Young, DR. GIGGLES), who claims to be a big fan with some work for him. But the project turns out not to be a movie – he works for the Justice Department, and he wants Rollie to help him fake a death. Notorious mob boss Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach, BREWSTER’S MILLIONS) has turned state’s evidence, people are trying to kill him, if they can fake kill him maybe it will take the heat off until the trial. (read the rest of this shit…)

Promising Young Woman

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN is a black comedy I heard some good things about and had been wanting to see for a while and then right around the time it came out on disc it got nominated for best picture, director, original screenplay, actress and editing Oscars. Okay – didn’t know it was gonna be that kind of party, but I’m down.

The movie opens in a bar as three co-worker bros talk shit. One of them (Adam Brody, JENNIFER’S BODY) seems like the nice one, standing up for a female co-worker the other guys are complaining about, and seeming unimpressed by their sexist horndog talk. And of course when they spot Cassie (Carey Mulligan, DRIVE [the Refn one, not the Dacascos one]) so plastered she can barely sit upright on a bench, he’s the one who goes over and tries to make sure she’s okay.

Put quotes on that last phrase. We all kinda know where this is going: he offers her a ride home, playing it like hey, I know what this looks like, but I’m just trying to make sure she gets home safe before some jerk comes along. But the next thing you know it’s why don’t you come up to my apartment and let’s have a drink (!?) and then he’s on top of her taking her clothes off while she asks him what he’s doing and he keeps telling her it’s okay, she’s safe.

And actually she is fairly safe, because as she reveals when she sits up, she’s completely sober. She just has this hobby of faking drunk to see what assholes try to take advantage of her, and then shame them when they do. Try to scare them out of doing it again. Just a weird vigilante crusade of hers. (read the rest of this shit…)