Showing posts with label Thriller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thriller. Show all posts

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January is an interesting little film written and directed by Hossein Amini, a man best known for penning the script of Drive. Here Amini delivers another taught script set in early 1960s Greece. American tour guide and part time swindler Rydal (Oscar Isaac) gives tours to unsuspecting travellers in the Greek capital Athens and one day comes across an American couple with whom he strikes up conversation and a brief friendship. The tour guide is charmed by the couple and drawn to their wealth and beauty but when it becomes apparent that the couple aren’t quite as well refined and put together as they first appear, Rydal helps them to evade those hunting them before becoming embroiled in their strange and murky circumstances.

There were two things that attracted me to this movie. The first was the name Amini. I was curious to see the screenwriter’s directorial debut and was interested in his script. The second factor was Viggo Mortensen. At this stage in the actor’s career I feel as though I can pretty much trust that if he’s agreed to be in it, it will be good enough to see. Mortensen does indeed impress and his choice of role is once again solid. The movie is about surface and sheen and the attraction that bright and beautiful things hold while under the surface bubbles something more sinister. There’s an uneasy feeling which envelops the film and it stabs through the false surface from time to time in a wonderfully calm but out of control manner.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

To Catch a Thief

A beautiful if underwhelming film, Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief marked the director’s third and final picture starring Grace Kelly. Joining the actress is another actor in his third Hitchcock movie, Carey Grant. Grant plays John Robie, a once jewel thief turned French Resistance fighter who now retired, tends to his vineyards high above the Côte d'Azur. When a series of robberies which display Robie’s hallmarks are committed, the police come looking for the man known as ‘The Cat’ and in order to clear his name, he gets hold of a list of potential targets in the hope of out witting and out manoeuvring the real thief. First on the list are Mrs. Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Francie (Kelly).

To Catch a Thief lacks some of the dramatic tension and edge of the seat thrills of Hitchcock’s finest films but what it lacks in tautness, it makes up for in other ways. Hitchcock cleverly gets passed the Hays/Breen censors with some fantastic sexual innuendo and half hidden imagery. The romantic side of the plot is much more developed than the dramatic side and Hitch wows his audience with sexual fireworks (literally) and a John Michael Hays script which while leaving little to the imagination, somehow feels clean and moral. Coupled with the spectacular beauty on display, this is a movie which is worth investing time in.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Under the Skin

It’s been ten years since Jonathan Glazer’s last film and nearly a decade and a half since his wonderful screen début Sexy Beast. His third film, Under the Skin, is a dark and chilling science fiction horror, loosely based on Michael Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. It stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien who preys on men, using her siren like looks and charm to pull them towards the rocks and to their demise. The movie is incredible, at times getting close to the best I’ve seen in cinema. It veers wildly though towards the opposite extreme with passages of nothingness which reminded me of the torrid time I had while watching Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Extremes exist elsewhere too with sequences which wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery side by side with almost documentary style shooting, filmed with hidden cameras.

The film opens with an abstract scene, perhaps the formation of an eye or the creation of a being. It signals birth or re-birth and sets us up for what is to come. From the very first moments we know this is going to be unlike anything we’ve seen before and it doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The opening establishes the link between the known and unknown, creating tantalising glimpses into who or what we are about to be confronted with before concluding on the recognisable image of an eye, at first still, then moving, depicting consciousness. Although it – or she – may well be aware of her surroundings, the alien shows no emotion regarding what she sees. She’s a cold machine, showing not even contempt for her victims. She’s focussed and has a singular task. In one of the film’s most horrifying scenes, a baby is left stranded on a beach. Though screeching for help, she’s ignored by the strange visitor who acts coldly, even blindly to the presence of the child. As humans we want to protect and mother the infant but to the alien, its screams don’t even register. It’s a scene that sent chills down my spine.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir starring the married couple of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Bogart plays Private Detective Philip Marlowe who is employed by a retired General to help resolve the gambling debts of one of his two attractive daughters. Marlowe soon discovers that there is more at stake than simply some unpaid debts and a confusing and ever deepening plot unfolds, one which contains blackmail, duplicity and murder.

The movie is powered along thanks to some great dialogue and obvious chemistry between the two leads. Its plot however is as impenetrable as a Nun’s chastity belt and just gets more and more confusing as it progresses. The story throws out leads and clues which subsequently lead to more leads and clues, many of which ultimately end nowhere. Raymond Chandler, the writer of the novel upon which the film is based, famously stated that not even he could answer some of the questions the plot places in front of the viewer.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties is a mid period James Cagney gangster picture which co-stars Humphrey Bogart in the third and final film in which the two screen legends shared billing. The film takes on the epic task of depicting the rise and fall of a big shot gangster from his humble beginnings in the trenches of The First World War, through the heights of the prohibition era, the crippling Stock Market Crash and the subsequent repealing of the Volstead Act. This is a film which never feels epic in scale and instead closely follows its protagonists within their ever changing world. It’s also a film which has few standout moments and although considered a classic of the genre, dragged and felt much longer than it truly is.

The romantic elements of the story felt forced and the film was on more solid ground during the rat-tat-tat-tat, fast talking, “What’s the big idea” back and forth of the scenes set in the underworld speakeasies or liquor distilleries. Pricilla Lane is excellent in her early scenes as a wide eyed, inexperienced girl next door but suddenly seems swamped when placed inside the illegal world of the bootlegger. Her voice is sweet sounding and she can certainly hold a tune but she’s at sea when unaccompanied by an orchestra.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The French Connection

A winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, The French Connection is a taught and edgy police thriller starring Gene Hackman in the role that won him the first of his two Oscars. The film is inspired by the book of the same name and blends fact and fiction to bring a major drug smuggling operation to the big screen. Detectives Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle (Hackman) and Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo (Roy Scheider) uncover a plot to smuggle a large quantity of heroin from France to the East Coast of the USA and tail leads, battle assassins and fight their bosses in an attempt to bring the traffickers down.

Early scenes criss-cross the Atlantic between New York City and Marseilles where the protagonists are either setting up to smuggle drugs or carrying out street busts. A few of the opening scenes gave me eye strain due to the slightly juddery hand held style of camera work used by Director William Friedkin. Once I was over the initial disorientation that the camera work gave me though, I was able to appreciate the almost documentary style of realism that Friedkin captures. He gets right to the heart of the action with cameras placed in close quarters to the actors when necessary but also stands back at times, delivering long tracking or panning shots as the characters play a game of cat and mouse through the streets of New York.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


Anyone who knows me personally or has read my review of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge thriller Oldboy will be aware that the Korean film is one of my favourite movies of this young century. Its initial success and cult status in the West meant it was only a matter of time before a Hollywood remake reached the cinema. Talk of a Steven Spielberg-Will Smith project came and went and instead, ten years after the original, we’re hit squarely in the face with Spike Lee’s Oldboy, a sanitised and surprisingly safe American version. The film is based on the Korean movie rather than the original Japanese Manga but contains subtle and often baffling differences.

The story is of Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin). Doucett is a man on the verge of losing his job, a man who spends too much time with the bottle and not enough time with his wife and young daughter. Following a heavy night of drinking he awakens in what appears to be a motel room. It soon becomes apparent that his ‘room’ is in fact a cell, a cell in which he will spend the next twenty years of his life locked up for a reason that he cannot fathom. While incarcerated Joe is framed for his wife’s murder and sees his young daughter adopted. Inexplicably after two decades Joe is released and given the task of working out who kept him prisoner and why he was framed for the grizzly murder of his wife.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Dead Man's Shoes

Dead Man’s Shoes is a psychological revenge thriller, co-written and directed by the toast of the British critical community, Shane Meadows. Writing with Paul Fraser and Paddy Considine, who also stars, the film focuses on the return to a small northern town of an ex-soldier who reappears after his little brother is humiliated by a group of local drug dealers. The film opens with little back story and reveals itself through the use of grainy, black and white flashbacks, building a picture of the events which lead up to the current plot as it progresses in ever more violent and sadistic ways. It saves its biggest and best reveal until close to the conclusion in a feat of wonderful storytelling which put a delicious cherry on top of an already appealing cinematic cake.

Although Shane Meadows is considered to be one of the brightest talents in UK cinema, I’ve never really found myself that blown away by his films. I can appreciate his style and especially the way in which he gets his films made but they’ve never done anything for me. This changed with Dead Man’s Shoes and instantly became my favourite film from a director I hadn’t really got until now. Not only do I think it’s one of Meadows’ best but I’m struggling to think of a better independent British film from the past decade too.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Enemy of the State

Tony Scott’s 1998 thriller Enemy of the State was the first film I ever bought on DVD. Though that disc has since gone walkabout, I remember going into my local Woolworths to buy a different film (an 18 Certificate whose title I can’t remember) but was told by the lady on the checkout that I didn’t look 18 and had to choose another one. Being around 14 I panicked and grabbed Enemy of the State, attracted by the picture of that guy from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on the cover. I remember enjoying the film all those years ago and marvelling at how modern it was. Unfortunately it hasn’t aged particularly well.

Will Smith plays D.C. Lawyer Robert Dean who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy and high profile assassination following a chance meeting with an old acquaintance from college. Without knowing it, Dean takes into his possession a video tape containing footage of the murder and is tracked by rogue NSA official Thomas Roberts (Jon Voight). With nowhere else to turn, Dean tracks down a shady communications expert called Brill (Gene Hackman) with the hope that he can clear up the mess he finds himself in.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Edukators

The Edukators is a sociological thriller about three young anti-capitalists who get in way over their heads after a botched break-in. Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl) are a pair of idealistic young wannabe revolutionaries, living in near squalor in the centre of Berlin. In the evenings they scope out large houses in the suburbs which they break into. Rather than stealing what they find inside, the pair instead moves the furniture and expensive consumer items around, messing with the minds of the rich inhabitants and leaving a note saying something along the lines of “Your days of plenty are coming to an end”. They call themselves ‘The Edukators’. With Peter in Barcelona, Jan becomes friendlier with Peter’s girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch) after the pair had previously been rather standoffish with each other. Jule explains how her life is being ruined by a debt owed to a rich man following a car crash and Jan decides to do something about it, bringing Jule into ‘The Edukators’ without Peter’s knowledge.

The Edukators is a fascinating thriller which bought out the old Commie in me. I was on the group’s side, finding myself nodding along to their rants about consumerism and third world debt while I sat on my leather sofa, watching my flat screen TV. The film bought out something in me which I’ve lost in recent years, my youthful anger at the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry but these days my anger is focussed at religion and stupidity rather than poverty and injustice. This movie bought that back.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Night of the Hunter

1955’s The Night of the Hunter was the first and sadly last film to be directed by famed theatre and screen actor Charles Laughton. Though panned by audiences and critics on its theatrical release, the film has grown in statue over the years and is now widely regarded as a great work. Featuring expressionistic touches and unsettling themes, the film stands apart from the safer, noir tinted thrillers of its day. The plot features a villain so wicked that he scared me, an adult used to modern horror, nearly sixty years after he first appeared.

Robert Mitchum plays Reverend Harry Powell; a preacher turned serial killer who learns of a hidden fortune. While in prison on a minor charge, Powell shares a cell with Ben Harper (Peter Graves), a man serving a long sentence for robbery and murder. Before his arrest, Harper was able to hide his loot of $10,000, telling his children but no one else where the money was. Powell is able to track down the fatherless family and attempts to get the secret from the children while hiding his intent behind his squeaky clean, ministerial front.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


Nominated for three Academy Awards, 1972’s Deliverance is an influential thriller set along the Chattooga River in Georgia. For men from Atlanta set off into the wilderness to take a canoe trip down a portion of river which is soon to be hundreds of feet below a newly dammed lake. Their trip takes a decidedly and unexpectedly dangerous turn when some of the locals take a disliking to the party. Famous for a distressing scene of rape, the movie is much harder than I expected and must have rattled censors forty years ago. As well as the distress caused by these and other scenes, there is also great beauty to be found in the landscape and it’s captured wonderfully by Director John Boorman.

The movie features what we’d consider today to be an all-star cast with Hollywood heavyweights Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds leading the cast. Ned Beatty makes his screen debut alongside Ronny Cox, also a first time screen actor here. The acting is great throughout and the characters are well defined from the start. From the very first scene the audience is made aware of exactly who is who and what their main traits are. This helps to get the film off to a good start as well as easing the audience in.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The East

I’ve been writing little film reviews on this blog for about eighteen months now. I’ve almost always written a review within twenty-four hours or so of watching a movie but I saw The East nearly a week ago. Whether due my brief illness, boredom of writing or lack of interest in the film I can’t say, though I think all three contributed. The trailer for The East was one of the best I’ve seen in recent months. It gave little away and felt edgy and interesting. The film however doesn’t live up to the trailer. I’m a big fan of Brit Marling and thought that her writing and acting in Another Earth were superb. Here she crafts a script which is full of intrigue and expectation but fails to get to the heart of the issues that she is focussing her attention on.

I won’t go into much detail about the plot as some of the characters differ significantly from what I was expecting. All I will say is that there is a group calling themselves The East. They’re environmental terrorists (or freedom fighters depending on your perspective) who use tactics which can be best described as being ‘morally grey’ to right the wrongs done by large corporations. Brit Marling plays a member of The East but begins to question the morals of both sides as she uncovers more about The East, the corporations and herself.

Saturday, 22 June 2013


While recently discussing beautiful actresses for last week’s Six of the Best feature, a friend asked if Monica Bellucci was in consideration for inclusion on the list. I had to be honest and say that although I knew the name, I didn’t know what the actress looked like and couldn’t name any of her films. I was told that she was in the film Irreversible, that it was horrible and that I should watch it. Again, like the actress, the film and its notoriety wasn’t unknown to me but I hadn’t seen it. The following discussion was filled with reasons as to why I should and shouldn’t watch it and I agreed with my friend bringing the film to work later in the week. I was warned however that under no circumstances should I watch it with my girlfriend. I was to wait until she was out or away or something, but just not in the house. Now I’ve seen the movie, I’m glad I heeded his advice.

Irreversible is a movie which wants to make you uncomfortable from the very get go. Its interesting title sequence features back to front wording which seems to slide off the screen as the ‘camera’ rotates like the hand of a clock while pulsating, barely audible noise plays over it. This infrasound has been clinically proven to create anxiety, revulsion and sorrow when played to humans and it successfully created all three in me. The plot uses a non linear narrative to tell of two men who attempt to enact revenge after a rape. Beginning at the end and finishing at the beginning, the film isn’t difficult to understand and it’s much simpler than the likes of Memento. The structure is fascinating and works really well to create at times, tension, panic, worry, and towards the end, a welcome sense of calm coupled with impending dread.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Now You See Me

For weeks, the cinema chain I pay my £14.99 to each month for unlimited movies has been teasing its clientele with the promise of a Secret Unlimited Screening. This one off, top secret screening would be open, free of charge to anyone with an Unlimited Card but the film was to be kept a secret. All we knew was that it would be a 12A Certificate movie and that it was being screened, across the country for one night only at 8:30pm, long ahead of its UK theatrical release. The brilliant marketing behind the scheme insured excitement, anticipation, discussion and a full cinema on a Monday evening for a movie which turned out to be Now You See Me. My initial reaction was one of slight disappointment as I was hoping for something like Pacific Rim which hadn’t been released anywhere else in the world for the selfish reason that a review would drive more traffic to this very page. I’d heard a couple of good things about Now You See Me from the States though so eagerly settled in for the next two hours.

Now you See Me is a heist movie in the vague style of the Oceans movies in that someone (a mastermind whose identity is unknown), draws together a group of experts in their fields to carry out heists on an epic scale. The difference here though is that the individuals chosen aren’t safe crackers, getaway drivers, contortionists or Matt Damon but are magicians. Their heists will involve magic and illusion to steal from banks and companies chosen by their puppet master. On the trail of the magicians is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who is teamed, much to his disliking, with Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent). Together the pair chases magicians Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henly (Isla Fisher) & Jack (Dave Franco) across the United States from show to show, always remaining two steps behind their cunning and trickery.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Internal Affairs

Driven by a twisting, well fleshed out script and some very well honed performances, 1990’s Internal Affairs is a police crime-thriller about the investigations into corruption in a Los Angeles police precinct. Ambitious and well liked cop Raymond Avila (Andy Garcia) joins the department’s Internal Affairs Division where his first assignment is to investigate a former colleague (William Baldwin) who is linked to a possible evidence plant. His initial investigations hint at something more sinister going on in the department and his attention is soon diverted towards respected cop and attentive family man Dennis Peck (Richard Gere).

This movie was recently recommended to me and I can understand its appeal. The script is tight and well written and I was kept on tender hooks by the various twists and reveals. The story goes down avenues you don’t expect from the setup and the characters are wonderfully created and performed. Richard Gere’s Dennis Peck in particular turns into something I haven’t seen the actor become before. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with Gere as I’ve often found him to be too clean cut and weedy. Here he is anything but, playing a vicious, womanising, near psychopath who builds and builds in a creepy and quite way as the film progresses. Andy Garcia’s Raymond Avila is tormented by his prey and the interactions and bust ups between the two are some of the highlights of the film.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Neil Jordan’s return to the vampire thriller feels a bit like a yo-yo. It ranges from excellent while held in the hand to incredibly dull while close to the ground but spends a lot of time somewhere in between. To take the analogy a step further, it also contains anticipation but like a yo-yo, you know where the anticipation is going to lead. The film portrays two female vampires who land in a small, run down sea-side town, two centuries after their making. Mother Clara (Gemma Arterton) works mainly as a prostitute to make ends meet while her gloomy daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) struggles to connect with her mother and is lost and lonely amongst their modern surroundings.

Byzantium is pitched somewhere between gothic thriller and family drama and doesn’t quite succeed at either. At its best it’s a poignant coming of age drama but it’s sometimes painfully slow and meanders between the modern day and early nineteen century when it might have worked better to stay in one or the other. The film is host to a wonderful performance from Saoirse Ronan which helps to elevate it above purely mundane and towards something of interest.

The Iceman

Between 1948 and 1986, New Jersey Mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski is said to have killed somewhere between one hundred and two hundred and fifty men. Having committed his first murder when in his middle teens, Kuklinski eventually gravitated towards the world of organised crime and for several decades worked as a contract killer for the DeCavalcante crime family based in Newark, New Jersey. He did all of this while posing to his family as a successful currency broker. The Iceman is Israeli director Ariel Vromen’s biopic thriller of the ice cold killer, based on interviews with the man himself. It stars an in form (when is he not?) Michael Shannon in the lead role.

The Iceman is a film that I’ve been hotly anticipating for some time. I have an interest in the history of the Cosa Nostra and find that it often forms the basis of excellent movies. Although this is an above average film and features several great moments, it won’t go down with the likes of The Godfather, GoodFellas or even Donnie Brasco in the annals of the great mafia movies. I expect there will be many comparisons drawn to Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece of the genre in particular but unfortunately, despite a fantastic basis for a story, the film is like a skimming stone. It skips along the surface without delving into the murky deep beneath the surface.

Red State

Red State, more thriller than horror, is a film inspired by those nonsense sprouting, humanity hating people of the Westboro Baptist Church as well the as current terrorism policy. Three teenage boys peruse the internet looking for local women to have sex with but discover that their chosen woman isn’t all that she said she was online. The boys find themselves locked inside a church with hate preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) talking about the end of days. He puts humanity’s demise down to homosexuality and has the bought the boys to his church to help free the world of sexual deviancy. Unfortunately for Cooper, a routine police patrol drives past his compound and discovers a car wanted in connection with a road traffic accident. When the police officer hears shots from inside the church he calls for backup and soon an ATF team lead by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) is on the scene.

I’m generally in favour of any movie which highlights the evil of organised religion. Whether through subtle satire or full blown exploratory investigation, if religion is getting a kicking then I’m on board. What Red State does though is make both sides the bad guys. The despicable, murdering in the name of Jesus loons obviously get a hard time from the film makers but so do the Government Agents bought in to take them down.

Friday, 7 June 2013


A few years ago, to me the name Alfred Hitchcock meant that old guy who was famous for making movies that I’d never seen. It took me far too long to watch any of his films but I’ve since been making up for this by watching as many as I can over the last couple of years. What amazes me each time is that almost every film I’ve seen has been at least in part brilliant. Even those which I’m not so mad on often contain a couple of shots or scenes which astound my eyes and he rarely if ever fails to thrill. The latest Hitchcock to flash excitedly in front of my eyes is his 1942 spy thriller, Saboteur. Production on the movie began just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and patriotism, symbolism and propaganda run right the way through the picture in every scene and character.

Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is an aircraft factory worker from Southern California. Following a fire at the plant, in which his good friend dies, the evidence leads detectives to believe that Kane is responsible and he becomes a wanted man, travelling across the country in a bid to unveil the German spy ring that he believes is the true culprit. Along the way he becomes acquainted with Patricia Martin (Pricilla Lane), a model and patriot who attempts to turn the wanted man in time and time again. Their travels lead them to the hornet’s nest in New York City where the suspected spies are planning their latest piece of sabotage.