Category Archives: Thriller

#331 The Departed

(2006, Martin Scorsese)

“When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

Once upon a time, Martin Scorsese had a tendency to cast Robert De Niro in every movie he made. However, as De Niro got older and more cynical, Scorsese has latched onto another actor to be his lead man – Leonardo DiCaprio. And today, we’ll be taking a look at one of the first major collaborations between the two: The Departed, a remake of Hong Kong action movie Internal Affairs.

In an Irish neighbourhood in South Boston, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), head of the Irish mob, approaches a boy in a local shop and steadily trains him up to be a mole in the police. Cut to several years later, and the boy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), has successfully made his way into the Special Investigations Unit of the Massachusetts State Police, where he leaks information to Costello to help him resist arrest.

However, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), a fellow new recruit, has been sent undercover to infiltrate Costello’s crew due to his own familial connections with organised crime. Gradually, both men become aware of each other and they race to discover the other’s identity before their own cover is blown.

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#320 The Big Heat

(1953, Fritz Lang)

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better”

Today I’m reviewing a film noir! Awwwww yeaaaaaah!

The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford as Dave Bannion, a police detective investigating the death of fellow officer Tom Duncan. After a woman named Lucy (Dorothy Greene) tips him off that the case may not be as open-and-shut as it first seems, she soon turns up dead. Bannion begins investigating further, and finds himself receiving threatening phone calls, and a confrontation with a local mob boss results in the death of his wife. Now Bannion is on the trail of the truth, both for justice and for revenge! Read the rest of this entry

#316 The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie

(1976, John Cassavetes)

“I’ve got a golden life. Got the world by the balls”

I’ve encountered John Cassavetes exactly twice before on this blog in two films from 1968, one starring him and another directed by him. In Rosemary’s Baby, he had the dubious honour of casually announcing that he’d raped his wife in her sleep, and his movie Faces was a drab, meandering mess of a movie that said nothing and spent too long doing that. So my hopes aren’t exactly high for The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.

Ben Gazzara plays strip club owner Cosmo Vitelli, who goes out to celebrate being free of a mob debt and ironically ends up back in debt to the mob due to gambling too much of his money away. In order to pay his debt, the mob demands that Vitelli take on a hitman job, to kill a Chinese bookie who’s been causing problems for the mafia. Read the rest of this entry

#315 Fatal Attraction

(1987, Adrian Lyne)

“I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!”

We’ve looked at a lot of movies recently that I’ve not been overly impressed with (Run Lola Run being an exception), and that’s a shame. It began to wear me down and start to lose my enthusiasm to watch new movies on the list. And then I watched Fatal Attraction.

Michael Douglas stars as Dan Gallagher, a successful New York attorney who meets a local magazine editor called Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). While Dan’s wife and daughter are away for the weekend visiting her parents, Dan has a one-night stand with Alex, which quickly turns out to have been a bad idea. Alex suddenly won’t stop calling, and begins to stalk Dan, which gradually escalates, putting his family in danger.

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#313 The 39 Steps

(1935, Alfred Hitchcock)

“I know what it is to feel lonely and helpless and to have the whole world against me, and those are things that no men or women ought to feel”

Hitchcock was an awesome director, as we’ve already established here on SvTM, but I find that much of his best work came during his later years as a filmmaker, and I’ve found it harder to get into some of his earlier British work. But I’m not giving up, as today we’ll be looking at another of his early British works and seeing how well it holds up today. Let’s examine The 39 Steps.

In typical Hitchcock style, The 39 Steps is about a man who ends up wrongfully accused of something he doesn’t fully understand. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian on holiday in London, attends a performance by Mr Memory, a performer who claims he can remember all manner of facts. During the performance, shots are fired, and Hannay finds himself trying to help a woman named Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim), who reveals herself to be a spy, prompting Hannay to end up in an adventure of espionage and mystery.

The 39 Steps is a movie from Britain made before 1990. As a result, it suffers the same problem as every other pre-1990 British movie suffers from – it’s incredibly stiff and awkward. Character interactions are persistently marred by an insistent politeness and an obsessive fear of showing any kind of emotion. This, of course, affects the film before it even begins. It’s most notable in Hannay’s rather flat response to a random woman following him home and announcing that she’s a spy, which feels like a big thing that would elicit more questions than he seems willing to ask.

Fortunately, Hitchcock managed to tap through it a little. Just a little, mind, but it’s something. Some of the dry wit does feel dry in a way that’s genuinely amusing, there’s a sense of attraction between Hannay and his unwitting partner, Pamela (Madeline Carroll), and there are plenty of action-packed moments to hold the film together.

That said, The 39 Steps is a confused movie. While it’s not hard to follow by any means, there’s a feeling that things don’t piece together nearly as well as they do in later Hitchcock movies. Pamela is introduced quite late in the movie, an encounter with a mysterious professor seems to happen too soon, and generally moving from one scene to another feels slightly haphazard, as if it was all made up on the fly.

I think part of the reason the movie flows as well as it does despite these issues is because Hannay is a likeable protagonist. A witty and sarcastic chap, Hannay faces up to a lot of the weirdness he ends up wrapped up in with humour and quips. He clearly isn’t too pleased by what’s happened, but he seems to take it in his stride, and the audience ends up coasting along with him. At times his reactions can feel a little unrealistic and silly, but he’s so likeable that you really don’t care.

I also felt that much of the movie’s set pieces were hugely entertaining, from Hannay sliding across a train carriage to escape pursuers to a scene where he’s forced to give a political speech because he ducked through the wrong door at the wrong time. The central mystery is also intriguing enough that it keeps the film moving even when the film seems determined to not give you a direct answer.

The conclusion was also immensely satisfying, bringing everything full circle and wrapping things up nicely enough, leaving some ambiguities to keep us thinking even after the credits have rolled. It doesn’t answer everything but it concludes things nicely enough.

Overall, The 39 Steps is a good movie, but suffers from British stiffness that prevents it from being a great one. Makes for a good career starter for Hitchcock though.

Starring Robert Donat, Madeline Carroll, Lucie Mannheim & Godfrey Tearle
Written by John Buchan (novel) and Charles Bennett & Ian Hay
Produced by Michael Balcon
Music by Jack Beaver & Louis Levy
Cinematography by Bernard Knowles
Edited by Derek N. Twist

Favourite Scene: The scene where Hannay finds himself mistaken for a political candidate is hugely entertaining.
Scene That Bugged Me: A gunshot being stopped by a book continues to be implausible.

Watch it if: You want to see some of Hitchcock’s history
Avoid it if: You need the title explained to you immediately

#312 Run Lola Run

Lola Rennt
(1998, Tom Twyker)

“Everything else is pure theory”

Quite often I’ll find myself amusingly pointing out how 80s certain 80s movies are. This is not a bad thing. Back To The Future is an immensely 80s movie that is also great fun. But rarely do I apply this to 90s movies. It’s rare for me to point at a movie and say “this movie is so 90s”. Trainspotting and The Matrix are rare exceptions, as is Run Lola Run, which is possibly the most 90s movie ever made.

Run Lola Run is about a woman named Lola who runs a lot in the movie. There you go, there’s your plot. Oh, okay, here’s more. Lola (Franka Potente) receives a phone call from her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s gotten himself involved in some unspecified criminal scheme and now owes some gang members a large sum of money that he left sitting on the subway. Lola now has twenty minutes in which to retrieve the money, or replace it, and so she races to help him. The movie shows three attempts at this, varying in Lola’s success.

So yeah, this is the most 90s movie ever made. It’s like Trainspotting switched its drug of choice to ecstasy and slept with The Matrix, resulting in this child. It messes around with styles and genres, it has a thumping club soundtrack, it features “cool” youth as its central protagonists and goes out of its way to make itself appear as stylish as humanly possible.

And you know what? It works! That thumping club soundtrack drives the film, injecting it with so much energy that you feel the pressure of Lola’s running. You almost feel like you’re running along with her, and this feels as tense and as exciting as you’d expect it to be. It works so well in the movie’s favour since, well, most of it is about Lola racing against the clock.

There’s also some stunning cinematography on show here. The movie employs a number of different filming styles to represent different things – Lola initially running out of her apartment building is animated, scenes involving Lola’s father and his mistress are filmed in a shaky handheld camera style, some scenes are long takes, while others are heavily cut as if it was an Edgar Wright movie. It’s easy to think that this mashing of styles could potentially lead to confusion and disorientation, but it doesn’t. It instead creates a dizzying thrill ride of a movie.

Story-wise, Run Lola Run is fascinating. We never know if the three attempts Lola makes are Groundhog Day style loops, if they’re alternate realities, or if they’re simply three versions of what could have happened. Cases can be made for Lola being both aware and unaware of the different attempts – Lola is inexperienced with a gun in the first run, but is mysteriously good with one in the second – and it leaves an awful lot of unanswered questions by its end. But they’re questions that are left open to interpretation, allowing the viewer to craft theories forever over the myriad possibilities.

This is both a good and a bad thing, however. While it’s certainly good because it gives value to repeated viewings, as you can attempt to figure out the mysteries, there’s still a sense of emptiness in regards to the whole movie. It asks a lot of questions, but does it mean to ask them or are they the result of plot holes papered over by the stylish exterior?

However, this is pretty much the only complaint I have about the movie, and even then it’s pretty vague as criticisms go. On the acting front, Lola is a very likeable character and Potente is fantastic at playing the huge array of rapid-fire emotions she goes through, and carries us through the film in the best way possible. And, what can I say, I guess I like super stylish 90s movies.

Run Lola Run is fantastic. After a few weeks of tearing apart films I simply couldn’t get into, it was refreshing to watch a film that felt exciting, tense and hugely entertaining from start to finish. If, like me, you love 90s cinema, this is one you can’t miss.

Starring Franka Potente & Moritz Bleibtreu
Written by Tom Twyker
Produced by Stefan Arndt
Music by Tom Twkyer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
Cinematography by Frank Griebe
Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy

Favourite Scene: Too difficult to pick a single scene, but possibly the wealthy banker’s car regularly crashing into some thugs, which amused me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The bed chat was a little bizarre and unexplained.

Watch it if: You like stylish 90s movies
Avoid it if: You don’t like pounding club soundtracks driving a movie

#285 LA Confidential

(1997, Curtis Hanson)
“It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got. Justice.”

For some reason, this review appears to be missing from the spot it’s supposed to be in, and I don’t know what went wrong. So please forgive it from posted way out of order, I only just discovered this!

I love me some detective thrillers. I love detectives and mystery and crime and thrillers so much that I think I might marry the entire genre one day. So I’m happy today because I get to review a nice little classic crime thriller. Happy days.

LA Confidential is about three detectives that get involved in a web of corruption and deceit following a mass murder at a local café called The Nite Owl. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a young sergeant determined to be the most honourable police officer, attempting to live up to his famous detective father. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a violent cop who likes violently attacking men who beat women, and sees the Nite Owl killings as personal due to the death of his former partner. Finally, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a charming narcotics officer who receives kickbacks for providing information about celebrity arrests to Hush-Hush Magazine, and gets involved when one of his schemes results in the death of a young actor.

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#289 Jacob’s Ladder

(1990, Adrian Lyne)

“The only part of you that burns in Hell is the part of you that can’t let go of life”

I am a big fan of the Silent Hill video game series, at least in terms of its earlier entries, and one major inspiration that the developers have cited over the years was a little independent American thriller movie from the early 90s called Jacob’s Ladder. So imagine my joy when it turned up on the 1001 Movies list. But how good is this psychological thriller and is its cult success justified?

Jacob’s Ladder is set in the late seventies, where Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a Vietnam veteran now working as a postman in New York with his girlfriend Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena). During the war, he experienced an episode where members of his division started experiencing abnormal behaviour, and in his present life, he seems to suffer severe hallucinations, and begins to get increasingly paranoid that demons are coming to kill him. He sets out to discover the truth for himself, and stop the nightmarish hallucinations once and for all.

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#282 Blue Velvet

(1986, David Lynch)

“Don’t you fucking look at me!”

David Lynch is well-known for making some very odd movies, but not all of his movies are dreamlike drug trips where character names change and mutant alien babies cry for eternity. Sometimes he’ll make a movie like Blue Velvet, which is actually a pretty standard mystery movie. Mostly.

Returning from college to visit his hospitalised father, Special Agent Dale Cooper eccentric student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a severed ear and decides to investigate. Using information given to him by a local detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), Jeffrey discovers a dark underbelly to his hometown occupied by mysterious nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and violent sadomasochist criminal Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).

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#281 Open Your Eyes

(1997, Alejandro Amenabar)
Abre los ojos

“Open your eyes”

In 2002, Cameron Crowe made a movie called Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz. It got mixed reviews, and it did reasonably well, telling a very strange tale of romance with a bit of good old-fashioned mindfuckery thrown in for good measure.

It was also a remake, which not many people know. You see, Cameron Crowe took the entire storyline from a Spanish movie from the nineties called Abre los Ojos, aka Open Your Eyes. He also swiped one of its main cast members (Cruz) and put her in the same role as the original. Today, we’re looking at that movie, and ignoring Vanilla Sky entirely because that’s not on the list. Sorry about that.

Open Your Eyes is a hard film to describe. It’s about a man named Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) who is a rich, good-looking kid living in Madrid. He’s known for womanising and generally being a bit of a smug bastard about how good-looking he is. We switch between him going about his day and enjoying his life to him sitting in prison and talking to a psychiatrist (Chete Lera) while wearing a prosthetic mask.

During the course of the movie, Cesar flirts with a woman named Sofia (Cruz), who happens to be the girlfriend of his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez), while simultaneously trying to avoid a crazy, jealous former fling named Nuria (Najwa Nimri). During the course of the movie, Cesar climbs into a car with Nuria, who then immediately crashes the car, horribly disfiguring him. And then things kinda go a little bit haywire…

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