Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

The Boys from Brazil (1978)

September 2, 2011

“The Boys from Brazil” is by no mean a great movie, but it certainly has a hell a lot of fun. If you are a sucker for every World War II picture that typecasts everyone with a thick german accent in a sinister Nazi role, you are in for the show.

Adapted from a british novel of the same name written by Ira Levin, the plot is insidiously silly. It involves the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele aka Angel of Death (Gregory Peck) plotting a world domination plan of cloning Hitler. Stepping into the show is young Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) who dies fairly early into the movie, followed up by the old legendary Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), obviously based on the real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who now must battle the Angel of Death and stop his evil plan.

Anything involving the World War II, the Nazis and Nazi hunters has to be an entertaining movie. It has all the ingredients for the perfect backdrop of an absorbing story – you get the absolute evil, the heros, the war, the apocalypse, etc. “The Boys from Brazil” is a pioneer in the way that it paves the way for movies like “Inglorious Bastards”, Tarantino’s own parody of the genre. A movie like this kind is not to be taken too seriously, but to explore the what-if and throw in a lot of fun along the way.

In real life Joseph Mengele escaped to Brazil after the war and was last seen in Paraguay. Real life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal reportedly spent half of his post-Holocaust life trying to hunt down the Angel of Death, without success. The doctor is assumed to be dead by now given the old age. And I only wish someone would make a biopic of Simon’s manhunt of the notorious Nazi doctor!

The Boys from Brazil” is directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, adapted by Heywood Gould from a novel by Ira Levin.


Psycho (1960)

September 2, 2011

“Psycho” ages extremely well over the course of fifty years. Today some of the plot points have been reduced to cliché in parody after parody, but the movie is so well made that the artistry keeps it fresher in each viewing even after you know all the secrets, knots and twists.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) are in love. Sam is divorced and in no condition to marry Marion because most of his money goes into alimony. Marion is sick of being stuck, and when given the chance, steals $40,000 from his employer. She runs away and stops by the Bates Motel, meets the owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who lives with his ill mother. Norman is likable and handsome at the first sight, but we quickly sense something is not quite right about him. He and Marion connect in the way that they are both trapped, and hiding a secret.

Then it comes to the most famous twist at exactly 47 minutes into the movie. Hitchcock shot it in one week, with 77 camera angles, 50 cuts, and the sequence lasts only 3 minutes (I didn’t count, the figures vary from source to source). It has to be the most studied murder sequence of all time. Notice the scene when the water goes down the drain, then dissolves into an extreme closeup shot of the lifeless eye and slowly zooms out as the life is draining away from the pupil.

Does it look like I am giving a lot of plot away? If you do not know the secret yet, expect the unexpected. In fact, Hitchcock insisted that all viewers should arrive at the cinema on time, and requested that nobody should give away the secret. In a more extreme measure, after he bought the right of the original novel, he also bought every available copy of the book to avoid the secret being given away.

This is also the last black and white film by Hitchcock, who shot this cheaply with US $800,000 and in black and white to get a cheap b-movie look. Against the studio’s wish, he even employed his television crew instead of his usual team that made his other sleek thrillers to achieve this purpose. It is as much a disguise as everything from the plot, down to the characters. He toys with us, misleads us, in order to surprise us. In a way, we are as much the victims of Hitchcock as the victims of the murder in “Psycho”.

And check out the beautifully designed opening sequence of the movie on Vimeo.

Psycho” (1960) is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins.

Wages of Fear (1953)

August 20, 2011

Wages of Fear” is the international breakthrough of Henri-Georges Clouzot which won the Grand Prize of Cannes Festival in 1953. Clouzot died at the age of 69, leaving behind a small but impressive portfolio. With his two masterpieces “Wages of Fear” and “Diabolique“, he has been described by film critics as the French equivalent of Hitchcock.

What we have here is a tightly packed thriller that functions essentially as the “men on a mission” flick. The story involves 4 scoundrels, who are stuck in an unnamed poor filthy Latin American town. To get out of the situation they sign up a suicide mission to drive two full truckloads of highly explosive nitroglycerene 300 miles from the town to an oil mill caught on fire. The only way to put down the fire is to explode the mill. They will get a $2,000 reward each if they succeed, or otherwise, well, nobody will care.

The men here care nothing but the reward that will finance their escape from the desperate town. We get to know Mario (Yves Montand), a slacker who nudges off his romantic interest upon serious men business, accompanied by Jo (Charles Vanel) who is some sort of a mentor of Mario. Once they head off with the other team consisted of Luigi and Bimba, we already get to know their personalities and their motivations. The nerve cracking tension begins once the joy ride kickstarts. There is not any sort of false heroism shown here, everyone is doing exactly their personalities program them to do, and sometimes for the sake of the situation.

There are several set pieces here Clouzot could work with, one of them is a halfway built dock over a steep cliff that the trucks have to drive through. This great scene is told not with false suspense but in a meticulously edited sequence that Hitchcock would envy. We see how the first truck passes through and that adds up to the suspense to the second truck since we know exactly what they will be facing.

Technically this is a faultless film. The gorgeous black and white photography conveys more accurately if in the poetic sense the harsh weather than color photography would do. There’s a saying that black and white is able to illustrate the subject matter in a more symbolic way than the realism of color photography that we take for granted. It’s beautifully proved here.

The ending is not a happy one, but we cannot blame Clouzot when what we get nowadays are senseless happy endings in most Hollywood movies with the only function to please the audiences. And in fact, the ending makes perfect sense since this is exactly what these mindless scoundrels should behave.

“Wages of Fear” is directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, adapted by Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi from a novel written by Georges Arnaud.Buy DVD or Bluray at Criterion