Archive for the ‘thriller’ Tag

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)   Leave a comment

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In the vast wasteland of Australia’s post-apocalyptic desert, a powerful warrior liberates a harem from a water-hoarding despot with the help of a tortured nomad.

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Yep. That’s it. I could probably end my piece right here, but I’ll go a bit deeper.

Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the ground troops defending the empire of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). She heads out into the sprawling desert with a raiding party, but instead of collecting slaves or heads or gasoline, Furiosa goes astray and it’s apparent that she has another agenda. She has Joe’s wives secreted away in the cab of her fortified semi and is on her way to the Green Place, an oasis Furiosa knew as a child. The women, abducted from other tribes, served as breeders and sex slaves for the evil Immortan Joe in his mountain cave hideout. Joe holds his power over the people below with force and by controlling the most important resource, water.

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Not one drop of water on Arrak…no.

Immortan Joe and his merry band of genetic misfits discover Furiosa’s betrayal and before you can say “two men enter; one man leaves” they’re gamboling through the outback in a charming array of motor vehicles hoping to convince Furiosa and her charges to return. With a crew of war boys in mime makeup chasing her and gangs of motorcycle-straddling sand people hiding behind every rock, Furiosa needs all of her ingenuity and strength, along with a humongous cache of firearms, to repel the crazed hordes from her tanker truck and bring her charges to safety.

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“Did you say Humongous?”

Will she make it through the gauntlet without losing the rescued women? Will she get to the Green Space? Will this guy learn another tune?

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Freebird again?

There’s also Max. Did I mention Max? He’s in this too. Good old Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), whose name and demeanor bursts from the imagination of a frustrated teenage motorhead, begins this adventure as a captive of the war boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Nux gets off with a little help from silver spray paint applied to his teeth. Apparently, the weird, powder-coated Immortan Joe devotees need a constant supply of new blood, so they capture vulnerable wanderers to use as permanent blood donors. Max is strapped to Nux’s car and hooked-up to an IV to keep him in hemoglobin.

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“CALL MY AGENT!”

Max and Furiosa don’t hit it off right away. They try to kill each other until they realize their interests are better served by teaming up against the nutjob biker gang. That’s when it gets fun. Since this is a George Miller production, it’s chock full of nitrous-powered hot rods brimming with mutants with anger issues and massive car wrecks. Since I’m a fan of those, I found Mad Max: Fury Road entertaining. I’ve always loved the Mad Max franchise and hoped this would not be an exception. It isn’t. The Road Warrior/Handmaid’s Tale mashup worked and the action, for the most part, did not disappoint. I love Furiosa’s tricked-out truck cab. Her impressive armory makes sense and speaks to her strong warrior character. I also love the stilty flingy guys during the main chase sequence. In my notes, I call them pole vault warriors. That works too.

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Hieronymus Bosch, cinematographer.

I wish I could say the film crushed it all the way through, but I found the first desert chase scene lacking. I think the stunt coordinator had a wardrobe malfunction because his CGI showed. It also looked like they sped it up for some reason. It was early in the film and we didn’t know the characters yet. That lack of involvement with the story coupled with the Benny Hill-like speed increase made the segment hard to watch. I have no qualms with the later stunts though. They quenched my Mad Max thirst.

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“Say what again.”

A few character actors stood out in Fury Road. Nicholas Hoult as Nux adds a nice dimension to the film. He starts as your average war boy, but spends a good deal of the film trying to redeem himself. Since the whole Mad Max series deals with redemption, Nux fits. Riley Keough as Capable has an expressive and sympathetic face. She comes by it naturally. Elvis Presley is/was her grandfather. She says a lot without too much dialogue. Zoë Kravitz has a small, decent role, but doesn’t have much to do. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as Joe’s favorite wife, The Splendid Angharad, has a nice supporting part as the leader of the harem who sets the example for toughness among the wives. As for the bad guys, Immortan Joe lacks the verve of a Toecutter, which is odd because he played that part in the original Mad Max film. John Howard and Richard Carter play The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer and I wish they had more screen time. They have Baron Harkonnen-levels of disfigurement. Miller comes up with great baddies, then he refuses to let us see them. He also makes up great names!

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Toecutter and Immortan Joe: Together Again!

Charlize Theron as Furiosa and Tom Hardy as Max deliver. Theron looks hard and smart and fierce as a war-weary soldier who wants to go home. Hardy lets his guard down with Theron and they show great chemistry. It isn’t a romance. It’s two wounded souls recognizing each other. As soon as they realize how alike they are, Max has her back and Furiosa has his. It’s a loyalty based on loss and it works.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a terrific action film and I’m glad I finally saw it.

It’s Australia month here at Prowler Needs a Jump so get out your boomerangs!

kan
Desmond.

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Blood Simple. (1984)   Leave a comment

abby

“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.”
RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett

Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief.
COMPENSATION by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What if there’s a crime and no one’s sure who committed the crime or what the crime is? What if you think you know who committed the crime, but you’re wrong? What if you can’t find your windbreaker anywhere? Also, what if you failed Conversation 101?

The owner of a dingy bar in Texas, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating.  He hires lowlife private detective, Loren Visser (the excellent M. Emmett Walsh) to tail her and confirm his suspicions.  Abby may or may not have cheated in the past, but on her way out of town she gets chummy with Ray (John Getz), a bartender in Marty’s saloon.  Marty can’t live with the knowledge of his wife’s infidelity so he decides to do something permanent about it and asks Visser to help. He may have hired the wrong guy.

Dark, moody, and atmospheric, BLOOD SIMPLE moves at a steady pace and always moves forward. The plot isn’t complicated. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen don’t go off on tangents which allows them to focus on the four main characters and what they think is going on. That’s the point, after all. The audience knows the entire story, but each character sees only his or her part in it. With limited information, they make poor decisions. They’re not crazy or irrational, but miscommunication or lack of any communication at all leads each of the main players to make bad decisions that compound each problem and dig them deeper into trouble. It’s like a high-stakes version of the telephone game, except in BLOOD SIMPLE, that innocent exercise of passing, “Dasher and Dancer are my favorite reindeer.” on as “Ashes cause cancer. Want a beer?” becomes dangerous confusion about a possible murder.

The characters, handicapped by limited access to the whole story, talk to one another, but their conversations muddy rather than clarify and people walk away from each exchange with less information than they started with. Only the audience is privy to the entire thing. This causes tension and a desire to yell at the screen. It also makes it hard to look away.

Shot in Austin, Texas with a small budget that Joel and Ethan Coen collected door-to-door, BLOOD SIMPLE looks and sounds more expensive than it should. Barry Sonnenfeld’s shadow-filled cinematography along with skillful editing by Roderick Jaynes and Don Wiegman lift the film’s quality above the usual mid-eighties thriller. Creative visual effects and a fantastic Carter Burwell score will stick with you, as will the trademark Coen gore. This was the Coen brothers’ first feature film and Burwell’s first film score, but you’d never know it. Their clear vision ties a simple plot, a small cast, and spare sets together to make an inventive neo-noir classic.

The cast, led by Frances McDormand, all excel at restraint. There’s so much left unsaid in every conversation, the script must have consisted largely of stage directions. That said, McDormand, Getz, Walsh, and Hedaya are all wonderful character actors who can say a lot without words.  McDormand’s character, Abby, even mentions the lack of chit chat. After she says to Ray that he’s quiet like Marty, she explains, “When he doesn’t say things, they’re usually nasty. When you don’t, they’re usually nice.” That’s sweet and all, but if Ray could just finish a sentence… The dialogue we get is choice. When Visser warns Marty to keep their association to himself, Marty says,” I wasn’t about to tell anyone. This is an illicit romance–we’ve got to trust each other to be discreet. For richer, for poorer.” Visser comes back with,” Don’t say that. Your marriages don’t work out so hot.” The whole film is an exercise in understatement and it’s a subtle, brutal treat.

This piece appeared originally in the Brattle Film Notes.

Maniac (1963)   Leave a comment

maniac poster

American artist Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Matthews) stumbles into an isolated village in the Camargue region of southern France and meets Annette Beynat (Liliane Brousse).  There’s obvious chemistry between them, but Annette gets blocked by her stepmother, the sexy Eve Beynat (Nadia Gray).  Eve’s still married to Annette’s dad, but he’s out of town so Eve makes a play for Jeff.  She’s very subtle.  After Eve and Jeff go horseback riding, she takes off her blouse and asks him to towel her off.

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“Jeff? Are we still on for tonigh…oh.”

It works.  Soon, they’re making the beast with two backs all over the place and Annette’s left out in the cold.  There’s just one little problem.  Eve still has that pesky husband.  I said he was out of town, right?  Well, he is.  He’s in an asylum for the criminally insane for using an acetylene torch to kill the guy who raped Annette years earlier.

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“Just a little off the eyes.”

And you thought ONE LIFE TO LIVE was complicated.  Eve says her husband has all his marbles.  He just went a bit overboard (a bit) and if Jeff helps him escape from the sanitarium, he’ll leave the country and start a new life leaving Eve and Jeff to do the horizontal mambo as much as they want.  Sounds logical, right?  Jeff, blinded by lust, says he’d love to help a torch-wielding maniac (TITLE-DRINK!) out of the booby hatch and can we do that toweling-off thing again, honey?  Anyway, cool asylum-escaping ensues, but things go a little twisty.  Will Jeff do crimey stuff?  Will Eve’s husband find his matches?  Will Annette get a little action?  Will Eve take Jeff horseback riding again?  Please?

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“An adjustment et voilà! Ready for your close-up!”

Writer Jimmy Sangster loved LES DIABOLIQUES.  He set MANIAC and SCREAM OF FEAR in France and added a bunch of plot twists in both.  He also cast women in lead roles and made them strong and smart.  Eve’s a real multi-tasker too.  She runs a tavern while hatching an escape plot and seducing a young stranger.  Way to go, Eve!  Sangster writes realistic dialogue and the plot hums along nicely.  Director Michael Carreras and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper keep the mood tense and the atmosphere noirish.  There are some terrific night shots around the inn and later, they film a nifty climax in a cavernous quarry.

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“This is the biggest version of Don’t Break the Ice I’ve ever seen.”

This film is a hoot.  Despite the over-the-top elements of the story, it’s all very natural.  It’s naturally gruesome, but MANIAC was made by Hammer so they have to have a soupcon of gore.  It’s in the contract.   I had fun watching this one.  The cast, screenplay, location, and complexity combine to make it a fun watch and Sinbad, uh, Kerwin is a cutie.

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“Anybody else see a Cyclops?”

 

Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960)   Leave a comment

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Wow.  Where do I begin?

Peter and Sally Carter (Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford) return home from a reception given to welcome Peter as the new high school principal.  Their nine-year-old daughter, Jean tells them that earlier that day, she and her friend Lucille were at a neighbor’s home where they took off their clothes and danced naked for an old man in exchange for candy.  Let that sink in a minute.

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The innocent child thinks it was a game and isn’t terribly upset.  No one hurt or touched her.  Jean’s parents, of course, are livid and report the incident to the police.  The local sheriff tries to dismiss the charge as the ramblings of an imaginative child, but the Carters know their daughter and stick to their guns.

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Sally files a complaint with the local police.

The culprit, Clarence Olderberry, Sr. is the long-retired patriarch of the wealthiest family in town.  No one wants to ruffle their feathers since most of the folks in this small, Canadian town work in the Olderberry’s mill.  Olderberry, Jr. (Bill Nagy) tries to sweet talk the Carters at first.  When they make it clear that they still plan to press charges, he lets them know that his attorney will rip their little girl apart on the witness stand.  This is going to be ugly.  Despite that threat and the reaction of most of the people in town, the Carters insist on a trial.  All the while, Peter hears murmurs that Olderberry has done this before only to have it hushed up.

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Olderberry, Jr. threatens Peter.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you by telling you too much about the trial and aftermath.  I will say it’s riveting and realistic.  This is no sanitized Hollywood trial with a neat ending and it doesn’t end there.

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Jean takes the stand.

Horrifyingly true-to-life and scarier than any Hammer Gothic horror, NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER whacks you in the head with its frankness.  Writers John Hunter and Roger Garis keep it spare and sharp and director Cyril Frankel doesn’t waste a shot.  Unfortunately, the idea of a well-connected pedophile living next door comes off as a more genuine threat than a vampire in the village.  The acting, direction, and taut dialogue flow so naturally, it seems like someone recorded people talking and included it in the script.  Even the kids can act.

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I enjoyed this film in spite of its subject.  It’s real and well-made and I couldn’t look away.

NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER might be a rough watch for a lot of people and understandably so.  My heart was in my throat half the time.  In the other half, I was yelling at characters on the screen urging them to hurry or shut up.  It has that kind of visceral impact.  When the film ended, I had to sit down and catch my breath.  Hammer makes a hell of a thriller.

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Seriously, he’ll make you shudder.

Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)   Leave a comment

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Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde) leads a life of leisure.  He spends his days taking drives in his fashionable car, shopping, then retiring to his large country home with his wife, Monica (Mona Washbourne).  Monica, or Mony as he calls her, is somewhat older than her handsome husband and comes from a more refined social class.  Despite their differences, Mony loves her Teddy Bare and he, in turn, dotes on his elderly wife.  He is kind and solicitous toward Mony and she takes pains to teach Edward about etiquette and culture.  Everything moves along swimmingly until Mony’s attorney, Philip Mortimer (Robert Flemyng), who dislikes Edward, calls on Mony and asks her to rewrite her will, leaving Edward out.  Mony, you see, inherited great wealth when her first husband died.  Philip is pretty sure that Mony’s money, and not her charm, compelled Edward to marry her.  When the two shoo Edward out of the room to discuss Mony’s fortune, Edward fears the worst.  Edward hears that Mony will sign a new will the next morning.  Assuming the new will excludes him, Edward concocts a hasty plan.  He’ll have to move fast or lose Mony’s wealth and his carefree lifestyle.  Fear convinces Edward to act rashly.

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“Where can I find arsenic at this time of night?”

Without going into too much detail, things go poorly for both Mony and Edward.  Mony won’t be coming down to breakfast and Edward learns he may have jumped the gun a bit.  After Edward’s miscalculation, he needs another sugar momma or he’ll have to do something drastic like get a job or some such nonsense.  Enter Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood), a brassy ex-barmaid who married the boss and inherited the pub when he died.  She sold the business and now she has money, but no direction.  Edward is taken with Freda’s straightforward personality and her healthy bank account.  Edward and Freda decide to make a go of it, but she’s no fool.  She knows he’s a fortune-hunter, but she can’t help herself.  Despite her street smarts, Freda falls for Edward.

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Mmmm cute bad boy.

All this time, Philip, the attorney, hangs around Edward hoping he’ll spill the beans about Mony’s suspicious death.  Freda is having none of it though and stands by Edward until another woman enters the scene.  Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh), yet another lonely, rich woman starts to show a little too much interest in Edward and then all bets are off.

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“Freda will just love you.”

I’ve said this before, but I love the look of British films of the 1950s and 60s.  That shadowy black and white quality serves as a great backdrop for actors.  This is not a toney art film and director Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me) hangs back and lets the talented cast work.  Dirk Bogarde connives and plans and even outsmarts himself, but he does it so beautifully, you find yourself cheering for him.  Margaret Lockwood always delivers a strong performance.  She’s wonderful as the sarcastic and real Freda.  She was even nominated for a BAFTA for best British actress for her role in this film.  Writer John Cresswell based his screenplay on Janet Green’s play, Murder Mistaken.  The snappy dialogue gives Lockwood and Bogarde a chance to shine and surprises throughout the film keep you guessing.  If you’re looking for a sharp thriller with some black comedy, CAST A DARK SHADOW fits the bill.

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“A whoopie cushion?”

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)   2 comments

 

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Laura Mars might need a new eyeglass prescription.  Every so often, and without notice, she sees the world through the eyes of a serial killer.  Laura (Faye Dunaway) earns her living with her eyes.  She’s a high fashion photographer who specializes in photographing models wearing beautiful clothes in violent situations.

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The film uses Helmut Newton’s photographs as Laura’s.

She lives in a huge, penthouse apartment, wears expensive clothes, and goes to all the best parties.  Laura’s photographs and coffee table books sell like hotcakes.  She’s on top of the world.  When someone starts killing her friends, Laura’s life changes just a bit.

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Great lips.

At first, the police, led by Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) suspect that Laura is killing her associates to gain publicity for her artwork, especially when she tells them that she sees the murders…from three blocks away.  She claims to witness each crime as the murderer would.  Both authorities and her friends think she’s a loon.

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“What you talkin’ ’bout, Laura?”

I should point out that all this time, Faye Dunaway sports some happening duds.  It’s autumn in New York City and Faye’s got the tweed thing going on.  She wears a lot of cool mid-calf wool skirts with double front slits and high boots.  She also has the plaid shawl thing down.  Theoni V. Aldredge designed the costumes.  Well done, Theoni!  Clad in tight, bell-bottoms, boots, and wool blazers, Tommy Lee Jones cuts a dashing figure.  Even his mullet is impressed.

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The sheep are nervous.

The seventies lives through the music in the film as well.  Tunes by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Heatwave, Michael Zager Band, and Odyssey give the modeling sessions a Studio 54 vibe.

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After a few more bodies pile up, Laura convinces John that she’s not crazy so they fall in love after a funeral.  Sigh.  Now that the pair are a completely committed couple destined to spend their lives together, we can all relax, right?  Wrong.  Hey guys!  There’s still a killer out there playing ice pick tag.

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“I just remembered.  All my friends are dead.”

I like EYES OF LAURA MARS.  I hadn’t seen it in 432 years and seeing it again was a trip.  Did you know it was written by John Carpenter?  I didn’t.  The cool set-pieces and shots of gritty, 1970s New York give the film texture and the cast is wonderful.  Raul Julia gets to play Laura’s alcoholic gigolo of an ex-husband and he’s perfect.  Rene Auberjonois, as Laura’s handler/manager does his usual terrific job.  I like Brad Dourif in this too.  As Laura’s mumbling, semi-sketchy driver, Dourif is convincing as a guy who’s polite on the surface, but might have a head in his fridge.

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“You looked in my fridge?”

Tommy Lee Jones is pretty hunky in this role.  My daughter said, “He’s so ugly, he’s cute.”

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“I’m not ugly.”

He’s likable, intelligent, and deeper than he seems.  Dunaway plays her part well.  She’s a bit over the top, but it works.  What doesn’t exactly work is her character.  Laura Mars, a wealthy, powerful, career woman who takes sexually charged and violent pictures seems sort of shy and virginal.  A few times in the film, people remark that she’s not at all what they expected when they saw her photographs.  It’s like they have to say she’s not really like that  as a way of making the audience like her.  Oh well.

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“The game is afoot!”

All in all, EYES OF LAURA MARS is a satisfying watch.  Carpenter’s story has a fun central idea and the performances are fun.  Oh right.  The song.  Jon Peters made his bones producing the Kristofferson/Streisand film A STAR IS BORN and this film.  A former hairdresser, Peters dated Barbra Streisand during this period and the two made a few successful films together.  Back to the song.  “Prisoner”, sung by Streisand at the beginning and end of the film is a perfect showcase for that voice.  She hits every note bang on.  I know what you’re thinking, but you have to admit, the woman can sing.

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“You shoulda seen it!”

EYES OF LAURA MARS stands out because of its creative concept and solid performances.  It has no castles or bats, but it does have the main character’s friends getting stabbed in the eye, so huzzah!

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More plaid.

haunty

Ravenous (1999)   2 comments

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After serving in the Mexican-American War, disgraced Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is exiled to the backwater post of Fort Spencer in the Sierra Nevadas.  Soon after, a man stumbles into camp saying he came from a lost wagon train.  F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) claims the leader of his group, Colonel Ives led the pioneers to a so-called shortcut through the mountains where they got lost and quickly ran out of food.  Colqhoun recounts that Ives then convinced the party to eat each other.  “The day that Jones died I was out collecting wood, and when I returned the others were cooking his legs for dinner.”

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Bon appetit!

Upon hearing that there might still be survivors at Colqhoun’s camp, the small contingent from Fort Spencer set out to rescue them from the wicked Colonel Ives.  As they explore the pioneers’ digs, the men realize they’re up against a lot more than an unbalanced man.

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“You don’t like it?  Fine.  All the more for me.”

Antonia Bird (FACE) took over as director of RAVENOUS after shooting began on the recommendation of Robert Carlyle.  She does a great job of keeping up the tension.  The story, written by Ted Griffin (MATCHSTICK MEN) keeps you guessing and the performances by Guy Pearce, John Spencer, Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, and especially Neal McDonough and the utterly wonderful Robert Carlyle make the film fly by.  The script, full of dark humor and references to cannibalism and the Wendigo legend is witty and dry and the cast is well up to it.  The Wendigo, by the way, is a part man/part monster legend of the Algonquian people who say that once a man has eaten human flesh, he absorbs the strengths of those he’s eaten.  Of course, now he’s evil and is consumed (See what I did there?) with finding more men to eat.  Nummy.

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You can’t eat just one!

RAVENOUS was a neat black comedy which dipped into one of my favorite historic tales.  I’ll watch pretty much anything about the Donner Party and the shortcut referred to in Colqhoun’s story sounds a lot like Hastings Cutoff to me.  An unpredictable story, terrific acting, sharp direction, and a creepy Morricone-ish score by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman all work to make RAVENOUS a wonderful watch.  I can’t believe it took me so long to see it.

aaaamc
“Alas, poor…oh jeez.”

haunty

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