04 October 2010

Fall Suspense and Thrillers

Autumn Suspense and Thrillers
By Kristin Battestella

What better way is there to spend a stormy autumn evening then with some cool mystery, heady suspense, classic thrillers, or spy hijinks? 

The Asphalt JungleThe Asphalt Jungle – John Huston’s (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) brooding 1950 noir starts slow, but the wonderful cast twists and turns this complex, intricate heist tale into a grand, sharp tongued classic.  Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar, Dr. Strangelove), Supporting Oscar nominee Sam Jaffe (Gunga Din, Ben Hur), and a budding, forties styled innocent but no less femme Marilyn Monroe (Some Like it Hot) lead the viewer on the murderous city scene as the dark, intricate lives and crimes blur together into one tragedy and double cross after another.  The ensemble is exceptional, everyone’s corrupt, you can’t trust anyone, and it makes for damn fine film.

Color of Night – Yes, the uncensored glimpse of Bruce Willis’ (Die Hard, Moonlighting) wang brought a lot of negative attention to director Richard Rush’s (The Stunt Man) 1994 thriller.  The psychological run around and build up of hints, however, outshines the kinky drivel and the more obvious plot points here.  The poor editing and numerous chopped up editions hurt this mystery more than anything else did, but not all the steamy nineties erotic scenes have stood the test of time either. Thankfully, the ensemble cast- including Leslie Ann Warren (Clue), Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap), Brad Dourif (Lord of the Rings), and Lance Henriksen (The Terminator) is very good-especially when plot holes and weak dialogue fails them.  There’s not a lot of repeat value once you’ve figured this one out but it’s a lot of fun guessing the twists or shouting at the inconsistencies on that first viewing. Although there’s yet to be a definitive DVD edition, give this one a chance.

Red Riding TrilogyRed Riding: 1974, 1980, 1983 – Directors Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited), James Marsh (Man on Wire), and Anand Tucker (Shopgirl) have crafted an exceptional trilogy based on the novels by David Peace and adapted by Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).  This morbid tale based on real life events captures the scope of corruption, gruesome violence, depression, and emotions.  Each film can be viewed separately, but this is indeed a trilogy with all three completing a much larger puzzle. The varying styles, great period music, and Yorkshire brooding are wonderfully filmed. Performances by Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) Sean Bean (Sharpe), Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz), Mark Addy (The Full Monty), David Morrissey (Blackpool) and the rest of the ensemble are exceptional.  We follow each of our protagonists even though they can’t possibly surface in these disturbing waters much less win out.  This series is not for the faint of heart, and subtitles are required thanks to plenty of whispers and soft sounds. Although Red Riding is a very heavy series, depressing, and confusing in some spots, Americans should definitely see this fine multi layered piece twice if you can stand it.  Law and Order: Special Victims Unit wishes it could get away with this kind of disturbing magic.  Hollywood simply does not know how to make this kind of film, and I can’t imagine Ridley Scott attempting to top this wonderful piece with a big screen remake. Please don’t bother! This may be the best recent series on either side of the pond-I haven’t looked forward to an ending and jumped up and down for it this much since Trainspotting.

The 39 Steps (2008) – No, this is not the Hitchcock classic, but I don’t know why this recent adaptation starring a Cary Grant-esque Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5) and lovely Lydia Leonard (Jericho) gets no love.  Director James Hawes (Doctor Who) takes some historical liberties, absolutely, but the period music and World War I styles add to the Scottish action and locales.  An American version would have Hannay and the hottest 18 year olds updated to today with terrorism in L.A., oil mania, and more transportation chases then you can shake a stick at.  Though silly, fun, and too fast in some places, the mystery and chemistry keep this one entertaining from beginning to end.  I could have done without Penry-Jones’ super bleachy blonde hair, but the period espionage action here makes me again wish that the Bond reboot had been period as well. And why not continue the good here in another Hannay telefilm?

Touch of Evil – Orson Welles’ 1958 noir classic has its fair share of cinema history and infamy.  Unprecedented tracking shots and Charlton Heston (The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur) as a Mexican-what the heck is going on here?  A damn fine, complex thriller that’s what.  Naturally, the editing and pacing suffers from all the studio interference and recuts, but Welles’ (Citizen Kane) corrupt Captain Quinlan and the ambiguous mistreatment of Janet Leigh (Psycho) keeps the suspense wonderfully seedy.  Oscar winner Henry Mancini’s (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther) music also ups the onscreen ante.  All this heady crime and its Marlene Dietrich (Morocco, Witness for the Prosecution) who almost steals the show along with a creepy Mercedes McCambridge (All the Kings Men).  I could do without all the aforementioned Mexican stereotypes, but the 112 minute restored version honoring Welles’ original vision is worth another look.

The Usual Suspects (Special Editon)The Usual Suspects – I suppose now everyone knows how this 1995 thriller directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men) and starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, L.A. Confidential) ends.  Yes, repeated viewings may pick up a few flaws, but if you haven’t seen this one in awhile, give it a second look with fresh, intelligent eyes.  Better yet, if you can find a viewing virgin who doesn’t know the end thanks to all the spoofs or parodies- make the popcorn and turn out the lights.

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