Posts Tagged ‘Thriller’

The Good German – Minute Movie Review

Mittwoch, Oktober 20th, 2010

Review:

In post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam conference, American journalist George Clooney is sent on his own heroic journey when his driver is killed and old girlfriend Cate Blanchett re-emerges. Steven Sonderbergh made this film as a thriller that was meant to be an homage to film noir, down to black and white photography and the aspect ratio, but ultimately fails on both counts. Sure, the film is twisty enough for a noir classic, but it lacks the subtle charm of those films, and the story is just not all that interesting by modern standards. It’s an extremely ambitious film with many aspects to recommend it, but ultimately it fails to entertain the viewer.

Random Observations:

The Good German at the IMDb

Cate Blanchett plays a German and as such her German should be flawless, which it almost, but not quite, is. George Clooney’s German, on the other hand, is about as good as you would expect from an American living in Germany.

The film might have been a bit better without the war setting and titular good German. Then again, maybe not.

I was really impressed with how alive the film felt, even though it was completely filmed on Hollywood backlots – just like in the olden days.

Death Proof – Minute Movie Review

Montag, Oktober 11th, 2010

Review:

A group of attractive young woman meets the mysterious and creepy Stuntman Mike, whose fetish is deadly car crashes. Naturally, things don’t end well for the girls, but luckily Mike meets some more formidable opponents as his next targets. Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the grindhouse thrillers, cheap exploitation flicks designed to entertained and titillate, is far too sophisticated for its own good. The fake scratches in the picture can not disguise the polished design. Tarantino made an entertaining film – even his worst efforts, such as this one, are that – but it works neither as a homage nor a spoof of a genre that is probably best forgotten. Simply put: a bad script and bad acting do not make a so-bad-it’s-good film, you also need a bad director for that. Undone by his own vanity, Tarantino luckily went on to make the far superior Inglourious Basterds.

Random Observations:

Death Proof at the IMDb

I first saw the film in an open-air cinema back in 2007, the only showing of the original Grindhouse double bill (combined with Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror) in Germany. It started to really rain after the first thirty minutes, so I left early. And while the rest of the film is slightly better than the beginning, it’s not any better than I hoped or expected.

When you desperately need bad actors, it’s not such a bold move to cast a stuntwoman (Zoe Bell) in a lead role. Surprisingly, her acting doesn’t really stand out from the crowd.

The female dialogue Tarantino writes is so annoying that you can’t help but root for bad guy Kurt Russell, who while not cool or scare, at least is not annoying. At least until his inevitable breakdown into a crying baby.

I really should have put spoiler tags on that last paragraph. My bad.

Surveillance – Minute Movie Review

Mittwoch, September 22nd, 2010

Review:

Jennifer Lynch’s main accomplishment in life is being born as the daughter of visionary film-maker David Lynch. This film, her second feature, which she also co-wrote, did nothing to change that fact. She tried very hard to borrow from her father and his style is immediately recognizable in this abnormal thriller, even if she tries to give it some of her own flourishes. Two FBI agents come to a small town to investigate a series of gruesome highway killings. The local police is in way over their head and the tales of the witnesses are not entirely trustworthy. So the question is: what happened? And even more importantly: what is going to happen? But despite every attempt, there is nothing truly new, creative or unique here. The story is patently predictable, the violence is superfluous but not entirely unreasonable and the depth of human nature that are pumped have all been seen before. Without anything really standing out, including the performances from some name actors, the film has very little to recommend it. Still, if you are bored and have 90 minutes to spare, you can give it a try.

Random Observations:

Surveillance at the IMDb

Speaking of actorly performances: the film features the severely underused Pell James. Sure, she might not be the most talented American actress under 30, but she is certainly one of the prettier ones…

The film was co-written by Lynch and Kent Harper, who also plays a crucial role.

Sneakers – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, September 17th, 2010

Review:

Combining genres is tough. Combining thriller and comedy is nigh-impossible. Sneakers still attempts it – with middling success. It’s an absurd story of professional thieves that test out security systems so that real thieves don’t break in who stumble over what may be the biggest invention in human history. The thrilling moments are rare and so are the funny ones, mostly due to a charismatic Robert Redford in the lead role, while the impressive supporting cast (Ben Kingsley, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, David Strathairn) is mostly reduced to being annoying. Nevertheless, the film manages to be solid entertainment – and often, that is quite enough to be remembered two decades later.

Random Observations:

Sneakers at the IMDb

The film features a pre-elder-statesman-aged David Strathairn, which just goes to prove that some actors are born to play one part, even if they have to wait fifty years to fit the role.

Nice bit of Fabricated Truth trivia: this is the first “proper” entry I write since my return. And even though I’ve been back for more than a week, this is the first new film I’ve seen. (I watched Casablanca again a couple of days ago, because it’s just that awesome.)

The Black Dahlia – Minute Movie Review

Montag, August 16th, 2010

Review:

After being moved to a higher office in the Police Department because their charity fight brokered everyone a pay increase, rivals Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett team up. They are having a good time of it until a girl is murdered and Eckhart’s desire to find the killer and once more claim the spotlight starts to create trouble. But this is only half of the overly convoluted, stupid, erroneous and downright insulting thing this film calls it’s storyline. Director Brian De Palma set out to make a modern day film noir and his recreation of 1940s Los Angeles is certainly very beautiful, with great production design and cinematography, but in all that glory he forgot to create a compelling and coherent story or to hire actors that can act or at least direct them decently. The film is overly ambitious and fails spectacularly, which is still better than all the middling fare out there, but not enough to make it worth spending any time with.

Random Observations:

The Black Dahlia at the IMDb

The film is based on James Ellroy’s novel, which in turn is based on a true story. Which in this case means: the murder actually happened, but it was never solved and none of the people apart from the victim in the novel ever existed, and even the real Elizabeth Short aka The Black Dahlia bore little resemblance to the book or film version. So basically they just used a true murder as a hook to get people interested in the crappy story. (For full disclosure, I should add that I have never read the novel, but if the story is anything like in the film, it’s bound to be bad.)

Whatever happened to Josh Hartnett? There was a time when he seemed like the next big thing, but now he seems all but forgotten. Could it be that this film exposed his limited acting ability?

The only actor in this film who is any good is Aaron Eckhart. Everyone else, even otherwise talented people like Fiona Shaw, Hilary Swank or  Scarlett Johansson turn in absolutely lacklustre performances that are distracting from the film more than anything else. On the other hand, maybe that was intentional.

The Yakuza – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, August 13th, 2010

Review:

After his daughter is kidnapped by Japanese Yakuza, an American businessman with ties to Japan asks his old friend Robert Mitchum to get her back. Mitchum knows Japan and uses the chance to return to the woman he loves, while also caching in an old favour to help his friend. But things don’t go as smoothly as planned and before long he and his partner in crime Takakura Ken must face their opponents time and time again. The film is an excellent portrayal of Japanese culture, especially their idea of honour, a great action movie and also a touching drama that is perfectly acted by both the American and the Japanese cast. Brutal, honest and above all thrilling and touching, this is an underrated gem that deserves to be rediscovered.

Random Observations:

The Yakuza at the IMDb

This concludes our celebration of the great Robert Mitchum. If you are still not convinced that you should see as many of his films as possible, all I can say is that you are missing one of the best actors of all time.

There is currently talk of a remake, which naturally, would be a complete travesty. The only good thing about it could be that it would draw a little attention to the all but forgotten original.

Directed by Sydney Pollack, the film has more than Mitchum’s name to attract casual viewers. And of course there is the screen-writing dream team of Robert Towne and Paul Schrader.

I’m used to shots of starting and landing planes to establish the location as an airport, but this is the first film I’ve ever seen where a Lufthansa plane was used.

Undercurrent – Minute Movie Review

Montag, August 9th, 2010

Review:

The daughter of a chemistry professor falls madly in love with the rich business-man and moves to high society after they are married, but her husband displays some rather startling aggressiveness and especially hatred for his brother and anything connected with him that make her doubt her love and instead be drawn to the mysterious missing brother, who many believe to be dead. The film by Vincente Minnelli is beautifully photographed and has some great actors, including Katharine Hepburn and Robert Mitchum, but it just doesn’t work. None of the relationships in the film are believable and the slow pacing is unsettled by the frantic ending, although it injects some much needed life into the proceedings. It’s a good story and could have been a great film, but sadly falls short.

Random Observations:

Undercurrent at the IMDb

To celebrate Robert Mitchum’s birthday (which actually was last Friday, he would have turned 93), we are going to deviate from the regular Mon-Wed-Fri schedule and bring you a review of one of his films every day this week! (Actually, only through Friday, the internet has the weekend off.) Mitchum is one of the most underrated leading actors Hollywood ever had, a tough guy who could play anything from comedy to sensitive melodrama. His best roles include such film noir classics as Crossfire and Out of the Past, but otherwise it is high time to showcase his incredible talent and range, which we’ll do this week. Although I admit that in this film his chemistry with Katharine Hepburn is non-existent and she reportedly told him that he couldn’t act, I still hold that he was a great actor and deservedly shortly after this film moved on to lead roles.

In a delightful bit of irony, Brahms’ 3rd Symphony soars on the sound track just as the title card for Herbert Stothart’s original music appears on screen.

This was lead actor Robert Taylor’s first film after returning from the war, an episode in his life that is not visible in his acting.

It’s very odd to see Katharine Hepburn play such a boring and weak female lead – and not entirely convincing.

North by Northwest – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, August 6th, 2010

Review:

New York advertising men Cary Grant is mistaken for somebody else and set up to be killed. He barely escapes, but nobody believes his story. As things move along, he gets more and more drawn into the plot, desperately trying to both find out what is going on and simply staying alive. The script was written especially for Alfred Hitchcock to make “the Hitchcock film to end all Hitchcock films” and it largely succeeds. It perfectly showcases Hitchcock’s humorous and fantastic side, while also being an excellent thriller.

Random Observations:

North by Northwest at the IMDb

This is the 21st Alfred Hitchcock film I’ve reviewed for this here publication. It’s also the first Hitchcock film I ever saw, many years before I ever decided to write my opinions on films down.

Saul Bass is probably the most underrated “signature” artist of the 20th century. The moment I saw the opening titles, I knew he had designed them. And this despite the fact that his titles for different films never look the same, he just has a very unique style.

This concludes our four week marathon of American Cinema of the 1950s. And what a high note to go out on!

Dial M for Murder – Minute Movie Review

Mittwoch, Juli 28th, 2010

Review:

When Ray Milland plans to have his wife Grace Kelly murdered after he learned of her love for another man, the plan seems perfect. But naturally, it doesn’t work out and so he has to improvise – which also seems to work out in his favour. But as crime writer and true love of Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, remarks: perfect crimes are committed easier on paper than in reality. Alfred Hitchcock’s film is a good, but not perfect thriller, that is suspenseful despite the obvious story. It’s not his best film, but good actors all around make it worth watching.

Random Observations:

Dial M for Murder at the IMDb

Incidentally, just like Gene Kelly wanted to film Brigadoon on location in Scotland, but the studio objected, the studio forced Hitchcock to make the film in 3D. So at this point, we should have relearned the power of the studios in American Cinema of the 1950s.

I’m not a big fan of 3D movies, but this is one film I would have been curious to see in that format. I’m sure Hitchcock managed to make the most, i.e. very little but significantly more than James Cameron, of it.

Normally, it’s very clear who you as the viewer are supposed to be rooting for, usually the good guys. Of course, there are some films, where you are supposed to be on the criminals’ side, because they are oh so charming, just lovable rogues who don’t really harm anyone. In this film, it is also clear who you should be rooting for, but I was very much in the corner of the bad guy, which is why the foreseeable ending disappointed me so.

The Inspector is played by John Williams, the actor, not to be confused with the infinitely better known John Williams, the composer.

It’s a real shame that Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 (two years after this film was made) and thus ended her career. She was quite a good actress. And yes, also rather easy on the eyes.

I Confess – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, Juli 23rd, 2010

Review:

A German refugee in Canada commits murder and confesses to his priest Montgomery Clift. When it comes to light that Clift benefited from the death and he becomes a suspect, he must decide whether to follow his church’s rules and keep quiet. Alfred Hitchcock later disowned the film and said he should never have made it, but there is actually a lot to like in this psychological drama. The issue is engaging and it is pure joy to see Clift act his way through it, relying solely on facial expressions to convey his emotional turmoil. The ending had to be changed from the stage play in order to pacify the censors and thus naturally is rubbish, but apart from that, this is a very good film.

Random Observations:

I Confess at the IMDb

I’ve liked Karl Malden ever since I first saw him in Patton, but I was unimpressed by his performance here.

The film was made in more innocent times, when Catholic priests were actually still considered morally decent…

The film was shot (partly) on location in Quebec, so maybe that is why Hitchcock, who was notoriously displeased with shooting outside a studio, later dismissed it.

Since the villain is German, it follows naturally that he must have been evil and wicked and crazy. Maybe times weren’t more innocent.

This concludes week two of American Cinema of the 1950s Appreciation Month (or whatever it was called). What we have learned so far is that Hitchcock is at his best, when he trades in his thriller chops for some actual drama, and that Gene Kelly is best when he is making more jokes and dancing less.