Category Archives: Thrillers
AT CLOSE RANGE-United States-1986
Directed by James Foley
Story by Elliott Lewitt and Nicholas Kazan
Screenplay by Nicholas Kazan
Christopher Walken once said that he’s made movies that people have never seen. He expanded further on that statement by saying that he’s made movies that even he hasn’t seen. I don’t think that At Close Range would fall into the latter category, but it could easily fall into the former. This one always seems to be the one movie, that when you’re having a conversation about Walken and his movies, that people will shake their heads and say, “No, I don’t think I ever saw that one.” It’s sad, because it’s easily one of Walken’s best performances as an actor and a damn good movie in its own right.
Life in a hick town…
Sean Penn (Mystic River, I Am Sam) is Brad Whitewood, Jr. Brad lives with his mother and grandmother and brother Tommy in a small town in Pennsylvania. Brad is muscular and his hair is coiffed in the image of a bad boy and he does the things that a typical teenage boy might do in a town where there’s not much to do in the first place; i.e. hang out with his brother Tommy (real-life sibling Christopher Penn, Reservoir Dogs, True Romance) and his friend and drive them around town checking out girls and instigating harmless trouble. Life is always the same in Brad’s town; a place where you go nowhere and you enjoy the ride whether you like it or not.
But one day Brad’s father walks in…
Let’s rephrase that last phrase a bit, shall we? Brad’s father, Brad Sr., doesn’t just walk in; Brad Sr. walks in like he owns the place. It doesn’t matter whether he does or not. It doesn’t even matter if he’s welcome there; Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter, Catch Me If You Can) is slick redneck charm wearing cool shades and a suave smile and he’s wrapped in a leather vest and blue jeans and looking like he fucking owns the room, the house, the street and the damn world in between. Brad Sr. is a thief and he lives the good life while people like Brad’s mother sweat for every penny they earn and when Brad Jr. takes one look at daddy and his life there is no turning back for that boy. “Daddy, please take me under your wing and teach me how to steal tractors and crack safes. I want to eat lobster while everybody else is eating hamburger steak. I can be a good student, daddy. I know I can.”
Then there was the girl…
I would be completely sexist if I were to say that it’s always the pretty girls that get you into trouble but there’s just no avoiding it because this time it is the pretty girl that gets Brad Jr. into trouble. Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson, Benny and Joon, Fried Green Tomatoes) is sweet and pretty with a cute smile and coltish legs and she loves Brad Jr. and they want a life together and the only way they are going to have a life together is if they have money and the way they are going to have money is if Brad Jr. can become a part of daddy’s gang of thieves. It’s a vicious circle with a lot of bumps and grinds with some rape and murder thrown in for good measure.
Did I mention murder?
Like many thrillers before it, murder is the pivotal scene in At Close Range. It’s murder by drowning; Brad Jr. is a witness and Brad Sr. looks at him and he puts his finger to his lips and he says shhhh…
I could go on and on about At Close Range. I could rave about the acting, which from Penn and Walken is amazing and from the rest of the cast is average at worst. I could rant about the story which, while it drags a bit in places, had me drawn like a moth to a flame. I could rant about this and I could rave about that; but if I tell you all about the movie you’re not going to want to see it for yourself. You’ll be just like all those other people who say “No, I don’t think I ever saw that one.”
At Close Range deserves better than that.
When Christopher Walken works with guns in film, he checks them himself before each scene for safety reasons and his own personal ease. During the scene when Sean Penn sticks a gun in Walken’s face, Walken checked the gun before the scene started. Before the director had the chance to say “Action”, Penn ran off camera and shouted, “Give me the other gun!” He immediately returned to Walken and started the scene. This is the cut that made it into the movie, and Walken was really terrified.
The role of Brad Whitewood, Sr. was originally offered to Robert De Niro, who turned it down because he felt the character was too dark.
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- “Stand Up Guys” Christopher Walken on taking a break from weird (denverpost.com)
- The Rundown (Action Movie Week) [Review from theipc] (thebishopreview.com)
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- The Inimitable Christopher Walken Says He Doesn’t Have a Computer. Why Would He? (betabeat.com)
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Directed by John Boorman
Screenplay by James Dickey
Based on the novel by James Dickey
I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of how I was going to review this movie. It’s a classic, there’s no doubt about that. But every time I watch it I always find myself asking one question: deliverance from what or from whom? For Lewis (Burt Reynolds) the answer is clear. His deliverance is from the ordinary, the mundane life that comes with living in the big city. The chance to explore a part of nature, the Cahulawassee River, before it is dammed up and forever lost is something that he cannot deny himself. But what of the other three; what is their moment of deliverance? You can understand why I have trouble reviewing this film.
But then I realized that maybe that’s exactly what director John Boorman and writer James Dickey wanted of us, the viewer. They wanted us to wonder, to ponder, to think on something as simple as the title of this film and its meaning. That would merely serve to make the ride even more thrilling. Is the deliverance for the four a way of life far from the very mountain people that they encounter? I believe that each person who has ever watched this film has come away with a different perspective on it than the person before them. On the surface, Deliverance is a thriller about canoeing, hillbillies and backwoods murder. Dig deeper and it becomes so much more than that. Isn’t that the measuring stick against which all great films are placed?
Billy Redden, the boy with the banjo liked Ronny Cox, and disliked Ned Beatty. When at the end of the dueling banjos scene, the script called for Billy to harden his expression towards Drew Ballinger, Cox’s character, he was unable to fake dislike for Cox. To solve the problem, they got Beatty to step towards Billy at the close of the shot. As Beatty approached, Billy hardened his expression and looked away – exactly as intended.
To minimize costs, the production wasn’t insured – and the actors did their own stunts. (For instance, Jon Voight actually climbed the cliff.)
“Dueling Banjos” was the first scene shot. The rest of the movie was almost entirely shot in sequence.
Ned Beatty’s first film.
“Dueling Banjos”, which won a Grammy for Best “Original” Song, is simply a bluegrass version of “Yankee Doodle”.
- Zardoz by John Boorman and Bill Stair (mikemonaco.wordpress.com)
- Latest specs for ‘Deliverance: 40th Anniversary Edition’ (dutchburt.wordpress.com)
- “Deliverence” Review (1972) (chinchillacritics.com)
- Preparing for the apocalypse (hieronymous.typepad.com)
- February Folk Alliance Conference to Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Deliverance with Special Guest Ronny Cox (prweb.com)
- When played on Tesla coils, “Dueling Banjos” sounds even more ominous [Video] (io9.com)
- Update: Celebration of ‘Deliverance’ anniversary (dutchburt.wordpress.com)
- Dueling Banjos (oyiabrown.com)
- Keep Your Focus on What’s Most Important: Inbox Deliverability (blogs.constantcontact.com)
- Breaking Down Deliverability: What’s It All About? (blogs.constantcontact.com)
- Where did THAT come from? (twolfgcd.wordpress.com)
- Burt Reynolds joins “How Sweet It Is” (dutchburt.wordpress.com)
- Brian De Palma and Jason Statham to Remake Burt Reynolds Thriller ‘Heat’ (slashfilm.com)
- DVD Review: Impasse (blogcritics.org)
- Jon Voight & Elliott Gould Join the Showtime Pilot ‘Ray Donovan’ (tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com)
- First Progressive chemo week (imstillbreathin.com)
- Dueling Economic Banjos Offer No Deliverance (activistpost.com)
Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Joel and Ethan Coen
There are two ways that you can look at Blood Simple and both ways would be correct. The first is that it’s one of the greatest debut films ever made. The other is that it’s the best ‘you’re screwing my wife and by golly you’re going to pay’ film made in quite a long time. You literally need a score card to keep track of the crosses and double crosses in this film. Let’s see, Ray is sleeping with his boss’ wife, Abby. Marty, the boss, wants both of them dead. So he hires Loren Visser, a private detective to do the dirty deed dirt cheap for the tune of $10,000.00. I’m stopping right there. I’ve said way too much already and God knows who might be watching. Simply put, Blood Simple is a magnificent piece of film noir that could only come from the mind of Joel and Ethan Coen.
All that aside, what I enjoyed most about the film was spotting the little things that have become trademarks of the classic Coen Brothers films. For instance, at the beginning, we hear the narration of M. Emmet Walsh in the same way we hear the narration of Sam Elliot at the beginning of The Big Lebowski (1998), and Tommy Jones at the start of No Country for Old Men (2007). It’s no accident that all three characters are southern. How about the scene in the field when we see the overhead shot of the car as Ray tries, at first unsuccessfully, to start his car? Put him in an empty parking lot and add some snow and you’ve got the scene with William H. Macy in Fargo (1996). What about the mysterious car trailing Ray near the end? Again, I refer you to The Big Lebowski. I’m certain that there are other things that I might have missed, but I haven’t watched every Coen Brothers film. At least, not yet I haven’t, but that’s another tale for another time. The bottom line is that Blood Simple is not only a brilliant debut, it’s just brilliant, period.
A teaser trailer for the film was shot long before the movie was in production. It featured Bruce Campbell (filling in for the role later played by Dan Hedaya) bloody and crawling down the road, just like the movie.
Holly Hunter had auditioned for the role of Abby, but turned it down because she was performing a play in New York at the same time. So she encouraged her roommateFrances McDormand to go and audition for the role.
The title is based on a phrase from the Dashiell Hammett novel ‘Red Harvest’, in which “blood simple” is a term coined to describe the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations.
- ‘Raising Arizona’ 25th Anniversary: 25 Things You Didn’t Know About The Coen Brothers’ Classic Comedy (news.moviefone.com)
- Guest Post – Accomplished Directors and Their Film Debuts (alleyesonscreen.com)
- Coen brothers – Joel David Coen – Ethan Jesse Coen (einflussreicheleute.wordpress.com)
- Envy Presents 5 by 5: My 5 Favorite Films by My 5 Favorite Directors (3/5) (melrook.wordpress.com)
BLOW OUT-United States-1981
Written and Directed by Brian De Palma
Blow Out is a masterpiece of a suspense movie. John Travolta is brilliant in the role of Jack Terry. A sound man for movies, Terry is on a bridge one night listening and recording different night sounds on his tape recorder (this is the 80’s; we still used tape back then). Suddenly, Jack hears a car coming across a bridge, out of control. He hears a bang and then the car goes into the water below. He rescues a young woman from the car, but is unable to save the other passenger. At the hospital he tells his story to the police; what he saw, what he did and most importantly what he heard. The police and another man tell him to forget all about the woman in the car as if she was never there. It turns out that the man who was killed in the accident was the governor of the state and likely the next President of the good old United States of America. They tell Jack that surely he doesn’t want the governor’s family embarrassed by finding out he had his hand up some woman other than his wife’s skirt. But that’s not the issue with Jack; the issue is what he heard and not what he saw. Did Jack hear a gunshot before the tire blew out? The bigger question is that if that is indeed what he heard, how he is going to get anyone to listen. Pretty soon, he finds himself and Sally (the woman in the car) in the middle of a conspiracy that puts the both of them in grave danger.
Blow Out is a film that brings me back to a time when Brian De Palma was a master of the suspense film. Blow Out borrows heavily from the infamous Chappaquiddick incident involving Senator Edward Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The only difference being that in Blow Out it’s the politician and not the “mistress” who dies in the accident. The point here is not in the similarities, but in the way De Palma directs this film as if the camera were grafted to his hand. There are scenes in the film where the tension builds so high you think the screen is going to snap in two.
Before Pulp Fiction made him a household name again, and before you could hear his name without hearing the words ‘Scientology’ or ‘jet plane’, Blow Out was easily the best performance of John Travolta’s career. It was the first film of his that shows us that there was a lot more to the man than Vinnie Barbarino and Welcome Back Kotter episodes. Blow Out is Travolta’s moment in the sun and he makes the best of it in every scene.
In the role of Sally, Nancy Allen proves that she can go from bitch (Chris Hargensen in Carrie) to bimbo in two seconds flat. There is a sweetness to her performance that almost makes you forget the real reason she was in the car in the first place. Dennis Franz is appealingly slimy as Manny, her somewhat partner in crime. The creepiest performance in the film comes from John Lithgow as the assassin on the trail of Jack and Sally. I personally don’t think any actor can play menacing as naturally as Lithgow.
Blow Out not only alludes to the Chappaqiddick incident; it also alludes to Watergate and the Kennedy assassination. But the main theme above all that is the movie-making process in and of itself. The matching of sound to film, the editing process and the end result of it all. With Blow Out, De Palma has made his masterpiece. This is his film through and through.
- Jason Statham Will Star in Brian De Palma’s Remake of HEAT (geektyrant.com)
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Directed by Jim Sheridan
Screenplay by David Loucka
Watching Dream House is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and discovering that there are pieces missing. You look for them, to no avail, only to have them reappear at a later time, as if they were there all along. Daniel Craig stars as Will Atenton, a seemingly successful editor for a seemingly successful publishing company, who quits his job so that he can spend more time with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their young daughters, Trish and Dee Dee. All is well with the family and the film focuses on their happiness, only to shatter it when Will makes a shocking discovery about the house and its previous tenants. To reveal this secret would give away the entire second and final act of the film. Therein, lays the problem with the film as a whole. This revelation and the earlier ‘missing pieces of the puzzle’ scenes combine to make a foreshadowing that nearly ruins the ending of the film.
Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz are both quite good in their roles, and their chemistry as husband and wife is convincing. They fell in love on the set and eventually married. It makes me wonder how much of their real selves that they put into their roles. Naomi Watts gives a credible, if somewhat underplayed performance as their neighbor who knows far more about the house’s past than she lets on. Watts has always been an actress who acts with her eyes and that is no exception here.
In all, Dream House could have very well been an exciting entry in the thriller/psychological horror genre. If only the missing pieces of the puzzle hadn’t been revealed so soon; alas, too bad.
Christian Bale and Brad Pitt were considered for the role of Will.
Erik Van Looy was originally set to direct.
Director Jim Sheridan fought with Morgan Creek‘s head Jim Robinson continuously on the set over the shape of the script and the production of the movie. After Sheridan re-shot some scenes because they did not go down well with test audiences, Morgan Creek took away the film from Sheridan’s hands to re-cut it themselves. As a result, they created the trailer which many felt gave away too many of the movie’s secrets. As a result, Sheridan, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz refused to promote the film to the press.
- Dream House – Video Interviews With Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz And Naomi Watts (dreadcentral.com)
- Rachel Weisz: ’360′ To Be Released in 2012! (justjared.buzznet.com)
- ‘Dream House’ saddled with fixer-upper script (today.msnbc.msn.com)