Welcome back to myself and to all of you! After moving, an on-the-job injury, and life as usual, I have finally have managed to make it back here to the hallowed halls of Movie Pilot and begin to bring you what I deem as the best and brightest of anything movie. I appreciate everyone's patience while I was making my way back, and now I am pleased to say that I am and am hoping to be here for a very long time.
Thrillers to me are probably some of the most interesting type of film that Tinsel Town has been making these days, adn they just don't make enough of them to suit my taste, But, as with all things business, all the studios have to follow what the trends are. Right now, the Young Adult novel adaptation-to-screen seesm to be a very hot ticket right now (*ie 'The Hunger Games', 'The Mortal Instruments', 'Divergent', and the soon-to be released 'The Maze Runner', just to name a few). Today's thrillers, though, seem to be becoming more and more of a single-color pastel upon the canvas of things (* I mean they are making a lot of paranormal movies that are mainly horror but are calling them 'thrillers'). But, fear not, as I have searched far and wide to find my picks for the greatest of all of them. Many of you may not agree with me as I say before, but I like to think of myself as someone who 'thinks and likes outside of the norm'. Before you, I have what I deem as some of the best, and they don't always come from the Great Beyond. Some of the most intense can sometimes happen right in your own backyard, where its say somewhere like the Guatemalan jungles of Central America.....
1) 'Basic' (*2003, Columbia Pictures)
In the jungles of Panama, a training exercise goes horribly wrong and ends up leaving an honored but not-well-liked soldier dead and a firefight between the participants under his command ensuing and leaving many wounded and more dead. Colonel Jim Styles (* played by 'Wings' alum Tim Daly), finds himself at a loss for answers and the main suspect, a trainee by the name of Ray Dunbar is refusing, to talk unless he can speak to a fellow Ranger. Enter dishonored DEA agent, master interrogator, and former Ranger Tom Hardy (* played by John Travolta), who is currently being investigated by his agency into allegations of accepting bribe many from powerful drug cartels in South America. With all of this in mind, Styles calls Hardy in unoffcially as an observer, allowing him to interrogate Dunbar in order to find out what he knows and also to ask him questions about the incident, such as why he chose to save Second Lieutenant Levi Kendall at that time. Saddled with by-the-book CID investigator, Julia Osborne (*played by Connie Nielsen), the two must dig even deeper and have only six hours to find out the truth from Dunbar before he is shipped to CID custody in the United States to await court martial. As the case goes even deeper, the truth begins to blur as bits and pieces of the survivors' testimonies begin to create an alternate truth that one may not expect. This world is created with such questions as: Who killed Master Sargeant Nathan West (* played with menace by Samuel L. Jackson)? Who is Dunbar? Who is Pike? Was this a drug deal gone bad or was this something more? What is Section 8?
Of all of the thrillers that have been written in the last few decades, "Basic" to me stands well apart from many of them. It joins the gang of such films like "A Few Good Men", "Casualties of War", and maybe even "Apocalypse Now", just to name a few. What makes this film so unique is that just when you think you have everything well in hand with the information available, two minutes later, you brain just feels like it was kicked by a mule and sent it spiraling out of your skull over the horizon. Not only that, but you may have to watch the film two or maybe three times before you get it all. Why? Because everytimje you watch, there is another piece of evidence that you may have missed from the first viewing that you may not have known before that will clarify how everything happened to begin with. My first viewing took me FOUR HOURS, if that means anything. If you have not seen this riveter, make sure that you mark a day off to rent it. It is by far nothing that anyone will ever expect!
2) 'The General's Daughter' (*1999, Paramount Pictures)
Yet another military film (* what can I say, from a family of Navy men and Marines). Like with all things military, filmmakers do their best to try to do them justice, and that includes how they make motion pictures. John Travolta, to me, shines in roles such as these, and in this gritty, stylish and often harrowing thriller. Travolta plays Chief Warrant Officer Four Paul Brenner, who is on an undercover assignment on a base in Georgia in order to broker a deal with a local freedom fighter posing as an arms supplier. On the night of the deal, Brenner ends up with a flat tire on the side of the road but is assisted by a lovely young woman named Elizabeth Campbell, an officer and instructor in the base's Psychological Warfare Department. After the two exchange chit-chat, Brenner takes it upon himself to show his appreciation the next morning by bringing her a 'Thank You' basket at her office in the department's headquarters. Upon their meeting, Campbell's attitude changes from the bright and cheerful woman to a a stoic ice queen in a manner of moments. However, the matter turns graver after the woman is found dead the following day in the middle of the base's main road, staked down to the ground, her body suffered of being strangled and raped repeatedly. Before Brenner can pursue the investigation, he finds difficulty in the for of the base's Provost Marshall, Colonel William Kent (* played by Timothy Hutton), who has secured the area and will not allow anyone in or out as per the base's commanding offcier, Lieutenant General Joseph 'Fighting Joe' Campbell (* played by James Cromwell), who is also the woman's father and Brenner's commanding offcier when theys erved together during the Vietnam War.
Teamed with fellow Warrant Officer Sara Sunhill (* played by Madeline Stowe), the two search for answers in the deceased's home on base, which uncovers a very dark and twisted double-life led by the fallen captain that includes a torture chamber in her basement and some very revealing VHS tapes that could end the careers of several prominent figures. Filled with gritty realism, intensity, and an issue that has never been addressed in a film of this type before, this one is well worth the view! No to mention the great supporting cast, which includes megastar James Woods!
3) The 'Saw' Series (*2003-2012, Lionsgate Pictures)
"Hello, I would like to play a game." The first time that I saw Billy, the Jigsaw Killer's ventriloquist dummy, ride in on that tricycle, it made my flesh crawl. 'Saw', while classified as a horror by most, is to me not completely so though it may have the elements of it. In truth, I saw these films as the purest and rawest form of the psychological thriller genre. Created by Australian director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, we enter the mind of John Kramer, aka 'The Jigsaw Killer', who is on a crusade to punish those who take their lives for granted and also perhaps will do anything to end it. Seeing it as a way of making his victims understand the error of their ways, John uses his skills as a mechanical engineer to devise a series of 'games' to be used as a form of extreme rehabilitation making the players fight for their lives in order to survive. The seven films in total each tell a piece of John's story, from the victims he kidnaps to the personal tragedies that he has had to endure in his life, such as an inoperable brain tumor to the death of his unborn son while still in his pregnant wife's womb by a small-time drug addict. Still today, there are many that still speak of the ingenuity of the special effects team that worked on the films as they took us into a world where pain, torture and terror are commonplace. We experience the pain of the victims at full volume as they make graphic and often deadly choices to stay alive, such as trying to escape a warehouse filled with nerve gas, having to cut open another person that holds the key to your escape in their stomach while you are seconds from a reverse bear trap preparing to tear your head apart, and then my person favorite: a ten-slotted table saw that will only shut off after ten pints of blood are shed, and the only way to get that is to destroy your arms with the saw blade.
By far, this twisted series has not only become a popular franchise for many, but also a phenomenon. You want to look away, but as you enter Kramer's mind, you begin to see that there is more than what is shown as the films progress. The pace is fast and you are literally feeling your heart jump into your throat. Gripping!
4) 'The Bone Collector' (*1999, Universal Pictures)
Based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Jeffrey Deaver, Lincoln Rhyme (*played with amazing believability by icon Denzel Washington), a former New York forensics expert and now tetraplegic, finds himself thinking about ending his life after a tragic cave-in takes away his normal life. But, after a human hand is found in the rail yards in Brooklyn by street-savvy NYPD cop Amelia Donaghy (*played by the beautiful Angelina Jolie), Rhyme finds himself now attempting to track down a maniacal serial killer who is killing innocent people in order to send a message to the disabled man. Playing on his knowledge of the history of the city as well historical crimes that have occurred in the past, Rhyme and Donaghy must put the pieces together before the killer reveals himself, all the while being at odds with his former comrades and debilitating seizures that could very well make him a human vegetable and end his life prematurely.
Washington and Jolie were amazing together here, and with a supporting cast that features names like Michael Rooker (* 'JFK', 'Cliffhanger', and currently a member of the cast of AMC's 'The Walking Dead' for reference), Ed O'Neil (*'Married with Children', 'Dutch' and currently 'Modern Family' on ABC), and many others, Universal took Deaver's book and made it a chilling masterpiece!
5) The Jason Bourne Trilogy (*2002 -2007, Universal Pictures)
To me, no collection of thrillers is complete without at least a showing of Matt Damon as the enigmatic, tortured, and deadly Jason Bourne, When I first heard that these films were being remade, I was skeptical. The last time I had ever even heard this character's name was when ABC years ago had made the first film, 'The Bourne Identity', for television starring Jaclyn Smith and Richard Chamberlain. Since then, NOTHING! Now, here comes Matt Damon all of a sudden, and he is KICKING TAILFEATHERS! Who would have thought that he could take Bourne to the next level, an assassin on the run from his masters after a botched assassination attempt in Africa goes wrong and he is shot and left for dead. Now, running for his life all over the world, Jason must retrieve the memories that he lost in order to escape. Damon truly proved that he is Bourne, and Ronny Cox and David Straithairn in these films were absolutely amazing!
6) 'Seven' (*1995,New Line Cinema)
This chilling thriller has become engrossed in movie pop culture for years, and I can actually see why. There have been many thrillers that have used the Bible as references when writing them (* 'The Da Vinci Code', 'Angels and Demons', 'Stigmata', just to name a few). Morgan Freeman , Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey were absolutely amazing and worked so well together in a story to me that was so rooted in spirituality, it could make one actually rethink things.
Detective Sommerset (*played by Freeman), must get his new partner, Detective David Mills (*played by Pitt), to take the reigns of his position as he gets ready for retirement. But, he may not be able to get away so easily after an intelligent serial killer begins leaving a stream of bodies in his wake, killing them bassed on the seven dealy sins from scripture. As the killer toys with the two, they do not realize that they have become targets, including Mills' now-pregnant wife (*played by Paltrow) who may be in the suspect's crosshairs. Torn between family and duty, Mills and Sommerset must make decisions that are likely to change their lives forever in ways that they could bever have imagined,
Truly a psychological masterpiece!
7) 'Frank Miller's Sin City' (*2005, Dimension Films)
Willis. Roarke. Wood. Alba. Owen. Dawson. Set against the brooding backdrop of a wicked city, this vignette piece took the film noir genre and set it on its ear. Dark, brooding, and intense, each story is unbelievable on their own and when tied together, they are even more unbelievable. With a cast to die for and a great supporting cast, this film to me, was one of the epitomes of the modern thriller. It also makes one bold statement: 'Sometimes, the good guys don't always win, and sometimes the bad guys are the only good guys left.'
8) 'The Raven' (* 2012, Relativity Media)
I have always been a large fan of Edgar Allen Poe, and when I found out John Cusack was going to be playing the role of the famous poet and author, I jumped immediately and made my way down to the theater house.
In Victorian England, we find Poe (* played by Cusack with great skill and timing) on his last legs, begging for money for ale in a local pub. Completely distraught with his life and feeling mediocre against the scheme of things, he throws himself into stupors in order to ease his personal pain. But, his life is not all bad, as he seeks the hand of his true love, Lenore (* played by Alice Eve , most recently seen in 'Star Trek: Into Darkness'), in marriage against her father's wishes. But, things in his life take a drastic turn after he is approached by Inspector Emmett Fields (* played by Luke Evans) after a woman is murdered in her apartment by an unknown killer in the same manner as one of Poe's stories. Looked upon as a possible suspect, Poe is questioned and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery of epic proportions where he must search his works in order to find out the killer's next move. To make matters worse, the killer repeats the process in unique ways connected to them time and again, egging Poe on to catch him, including kidnapping his beloved at a masquerade ball right in front of her father and the local police!
Cusack was the show stealer here as I became immersed in his portrayal of Poe. The intrigue was enough to set you on edge, and you never lost attention for a few seconds. On the big screen, it is even more so.
9) 'Murder at 1600' (*1997, Warner Bros. Studios)
Based upon the novel, 'Murder In The White House' by Margaret Truman (* the daughter of President Harry S. Truman), a White House secretary is found dead in a bathroom by the night janitor which sets the historic building in a frazzle to find answers. Enter Washington, DC, homicide detective Harlan Regis (*played by Wesley Snipes), who is put on the case to solve the woman's murder. Partnered with extremely professional and hardened Secret Service Agent Nina Chance (*played by Diane Lane), the two's investigation discovers that the murder may have been of a sexual nature, as the killer had used a condom in order to leave behind no DNA evidence behind. Forced to cross lines that could get the two of them suspended (* or worse, KILLED), the two must wade through the political background as they deal with the President's staff, the President himself, and many others in order to avert a cover-up that will keep the truth from ever being found.
One of Diane Lane's best performances!
10) 'Identity' (*2003,Columbia Pictures)
John Cusack hit another home run for thrillers with this one in this imaginative take on the 'whodunnit'- style of films.
On a dark and stormy night, ten strangers end up stranded at a remote Nevada motel during a severe rain storm and forced to check in for the night. After receiving their room keys, one by one, each of them begin to end up dead and soon suspect that the killer is among them. Soon, paranoia begins to spread and so do the accusations as those who remain will stop at nothing to reveal the killer's identity. What they do not know, however, is that the identity is already known, and that person is slated for execution in hours a million miles away!
Definitely will play with your head!
Now, while there have been many thrillers made that will be watched and enjoyed all across the spectrum, this is merely my take. As always, I welcome all comments and suggestions. Until next time, everyone, HAPPY WATCHING!