Category Archives: thriller

THE AMERICAN (2010)

You cannot deny the existence of hell. You live in it. It is a place
without love.

Ok, so I will watch any movie with George Clooney in it. I even suffered thru Leatherheads (2008) and that was painful! But no such experience with The American, which is based on the novel “A Very Private Gentleman” by Martin Booth. This is a stylish and artsy thriller. The plot is quite simple and the pace is slow at times. There is lots of coffee drinking and gun building and not that much dialogue. But the acting is stellar and the movie is gorgeously shot and directed by Anton Corbijn, whose background in photography shines thru.

I am no good with machines

Jack (George Clooney) is an assassin with a burnout and a newfound respect for life. His last job did not end well. Because of the “no friends” policy, it ended even worse for his Swedish lady friend. Now he is on the run hiding from gun-toting Swedes with vengeance. Jack’s contact in Rome, Pavel (Johan Leysen), suggests hiding in an Italian hilltop town while the Swedish problem is taken care of. Jack is determined to quit his killing ways, but agrees to take a last job building a custom-made assassin rifle. He obviously missed the memo, which said that it is always bad when somebody tells you to consider something as your last job. Jack heads for the hills. While having secret rendezvous with a mysterious assassin Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) about the last job, Jack manages to have heart-to-hearts with a local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and use the services of the local brothel. Jack becomes drawn to another lost soul, the gorgeous prostitute Clara (Violante Placido). They fall in love. That’s when the past and the angry Swedes catch up with Jack. Thankfully the rifle is finally ready and delivered to the buyer, so Jack gets ready to move on. But are Jack and Clara able to find peace together or was Jack right to be suspicious about the purpose of the rifle?

   It’s Jack

This movie was filmed in the gorgeous Abruzzo region of Italy. In Castel del Monte the town’s dentist closed his practice and had a message on his answering machine explaining that he was “unavailable, due to his appearance in a Hollywood film.” When shooting the market scene in Sulmona the actor playing the cheese lady got a lesson from the real cheese vendor how to sell cheese. This proud vendor did not care that the crew was in the middle of shooting the scene; she saw that the actor was doing it wrong and walked into the scene to give directions.

The American provides a new harder look for George Clooney. A loner who is suffering long-term consequences of his past life – a role he has not played before. Anne Carey, who is one of producers of The American, says that audiences trust Clooney. She also points out that Clooney is an iconic actor and audience trust was very important with this character.

One step too many

Anton Corbijn directed this movie in a style of a western, with influences from Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. Corbijn was attracted to the screenplay because it deals with seeking redemption and morally changing your life. How a gun chances a man was also an interesting theme to Corbijn.

Violante Placido (Clara) has said that she finds the ending endearing. She thinks that all of us can come to a point when we think our life cannot change, so in that’s sense the characters can give you the possibility to realize that you can free yourself.

Come away with me

I found The American to be a sad story about a man who wants to change, but at the end the universe is against it. The lesson of this movie might be that while the past is past and you can change, sometimes you are like Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights and just cannot catch a break.

Cuby and the Blizzards – Window of my Eyes

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No. 74 THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Well, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming?

The Silence of The Lambs opens with a scene in the woods. Mist is gathering. A young woman is jogging alone. The caption says “Near Quantico”. Eerie music is playing. The camera cuts to the woman’s feet pounding the ground faster and faster. Then the focus shifts back to her face and then to the surroundings. And back to the feet again. The music is building up the promise that something horrible will happen at some point. Suddenly somebody is running to her yelling her name. When he turns around, we see FBI on his cap.

What a brilliant opening scene! And to think that the original idea for the first scene was a drug bust. But thankfully Jodie Foster, who plays Clarice Starling, managed to convince the director Jonathan Demme to change that scene.

                                                             Do you spook easily, Starling?

The Silence of The Lambs is one of the best crime dramas to this date. It was the first crime movie to win five Oscars and it has inspired so many movies. Entertainment Weekly voted it as the fourth scariest film of all time. And I wholeheartedly agree. I have chills even thinking about Dr. Lecter and his taste for meat – human meat.

                                                             My precious…

This movie is based on a novel by Thomas Harris. It tells a story about a rookie FBI agent, who is sent by a veteran agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit to interview a psychopathic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Dr. Lecter used to be a brilliant psychologist. He also has an uncanny ability to get inside your head. Agent Crawford warns Starling not to share any personal information with Dr. Lecter. She does it anyways. However, doing so she manages to get Dr. Lecter to help the FBI to catch a loose serial killer “Buffalo Bill”, who kidnaps young women and skins them. But she is also letting Dr. Lecter loose inside her head.

I have chills and they are multiplying…

The screenplay is full of suspense and witty lines. The acting is excellent. Jodie Foster is great as the young agent, who has so much to prove in a male world of FBI. Not to mention that this movie created one of the most memorable villains in the movie history – Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It is so easy to forget that Hopkins only has a little bit more than 16 minutes of screen time, so powerful and memorable is his interpretation of this cannibalistic serial killer. When Hopkins read the script for the first time, he had a hunch that Lecter’s personality would fascinate people. But even he could not imagine the lengths that this fascination would reach. Hopkins read the script 250 times (only his part) to get to know his character. This is something he does with all his roles. He was able to convince Jonathan Demme and the costume designer Colleen Atwood that in the scenes when Lecter is moved from Baltimore, he should be wearing a white jumpsuit instead of the normal yellow or orange to make his character feel more clinical and unsettling. I think that summons up Dr. Lecter quite well. You are scared of him, but at the same time Anthony Hopkins makes you feel sorry for Dr. Lecter’s circumstances. That truly is great acting!

                                                                 I am having an old friend for dinner…

Jonathan Demme uses impressive directorial shots and thus manages to catch the suspense masterfully. One of the best scenes is towards the end of the movie is which Demme uses twin frames of Clarice ringing a doorbell and FBI agents charging into a house. Another reason why this movie is so memorable is the score by Howard Shore. It accentuates the script. Like in all the good movies, all the separate aspects work well together. Even though this movie scares me, I do feel compelled to watch it again from time to time.

Don’t forget your phone call… Is it coming from inside the house???!!!

No. 55 NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

I never discuss love on an empty stomach

Neither should you – I think – as only bad things happen then. Half of your brain is thinking of food and not running on full power. You don’t necessarily make the most rational decisions then – at least I don’t. But that aside – the original line in the North by Northwest script was actually “I never make love on an empty stomach”, but that had to be edited as it was ahead of its time. Nowadays nobody would even bat an eyelid at that! How times have changed!

North by Northwest was filmed in 1959 – at a very different era. The cold war was a reality. Moviemaking was different back then – there were no computer made special effects. Somehow the movies filmed back then now look more glamorous even though we have much more sophisticated techniques now. The men looked like real men and the women looked like elegant temptresses. This movie is a bit slow-paced as one has gotten so used to the spectacular special effects and fast-paced action movies where things seem to happen at 100 miles per hour; but it still holds your attention all the way thru. And to be frank I actually enjoyed the slower pace as you have time to concentrate on the characters’ expressions and almost see the wheels turning when they think what to do next. It is actually quite relaxing. The movie is fantastically shot by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock whose attention to detail is amazing. Every scene has hidden meanings. I am sure I missed crucial elements that make this movie one of the Greatest Movies. Like the last scene in the movie when the train that is carrying Cary Grant’s and Eva Marie Saint’s characters shoots into a tunnel. Just before that you see them kissing on a bed. And no, I did not make the connection – I wish I would be that smart. Instead, I watched the Behind-the-Scenes documentary on the DVD!

North by Northwest is like Mad Men meets CIA. Cary Grant’s character Roger Thornhill looks like a tanned, suave ad man / gentleman spy; who likes to suit up. If this is ever remade – please, don’t – I could see George Clooney running towards the cornfield and smooth talking to a dangerous blonde on a train [I am sure now it would be some kind of a bullet-train]. In the movie CG’s character is mistaken for a government agent [who later in the film we learn does not really exist], while taking a business meeting in “Mad Men style” with some tasty looking Martinis. From this misunderstanding starts the chase thru the country by trains, planes and automobiles – from New York to Mount Rushmore. It seems that Roger Thornhill is being chased by everybody. Not to forget about the blond oh-so-dangerous-vixen, who does some different kind of chasing! And Roger Thornhill is ready for wife number 3. But not before some spellbinding twists and turns that are Alfred Hitchcock’s trademarks.

This film also features probably the most famous chase scene ever – Cary Grant’s character is being chased by a crop-duster plane in the middle of nowhere where there is nowhere to hide. Run, Boy, Run!

Would you buy a holiday from Alfred Hitchcock?

This is truly a movie where all the little things matter. Like the matchbook, that Cary Grant’s character tosses downstairs from the balcony towards the end of the movie. And how it ends up at the feet of one of the bad guys, who actually lifts it up without looking at it and not realizing that it has R.O.T (Roger O – O stands for nothing – Thornhill) on it. The whole time I found myself holding my breath – and grinning at the initials…

I also love that Cary Grant’s character is so self-conscious that in the first scene of the film he asks his secretary to put a note on his desk in the morning, which says “Think Thin!” How times have not changed that much!

This movie is worth watching as long as you pay attention to every little detail; that is where the cleverness of this movie lies. Not my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie, but enjoyable watching.

War is hell – even if it is a cold one.

No. 94 PULP FICTION (1994)

I do love the taste of a good burger

And so do I – love the taste of a good old-fashioned American cheeseburger – nothing beats that. The only thing I disagree with Samuel L. Jackson’s character is the choice of the drink with that burger. Sprite with a burger – really? To me the drink that “hits the spot” with a burger is a Coke.

I decided to start watching the “100 Movies” list with Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction – DVD which I actually own. Though I have not watched it for years. Pulp Fiction is considered one of the most influential films of the 1990s with its pitch-black humor and pop-culture touchstones. The film has withstood the test of time — and I think will continue to do so even though a five-dollar milkshake is no longer a joke.

    What’s so special about foot massage?

Once again I was reminded how clever this movie actually is. It is violent like all other QT’s movies, but it is so cleverly written and shot that it holds you from the first scene to the very last. All the main characters are believable and fantastically delivered. They are no saints by any means, but they all show a little bit of vulnerability and – that much talked about – likeability factor. I especially love Samuel L. Jackson’s bible-quoting mob hit man Jules Winnfield. Now there is a man with a mission – obviously his mission drastically changes during the movie. The story unfolds through many twists and turns like a puzzle, which in the beginning might not make any sense but at the end paints a clear picture how all the characters’ lives are intertwined with each other and how one little action causes a ripple effect that changes everybody’s lives.

The movie starts with a scene in a coffee shop in which a young couple – Honey Bunny and Pumpkin – discusses how to better their lives by choosing smarter places to rob. After Pumpkin points out that nobody ever robs coffee shops [yes – wonder why?!], they decide to act on that impulse and rob the place they’re in. From that point on when Pumpkin jumps up waiving his gun around and shouts, “This is a robbery”, you know that this can only go one way – from bad to worse. So clever is the storyline that you find out only at the end of the movie how that situation is dissolved.

QT himself has been quoted saying that Pulp Fiction was always meant to be a comedy. It does have comedic undertones throughout. But for me the most comedic scenes are in “The Bonnie Situation” towards the end of the movie. “The Bonnie Situation” starts with the unfortunate event of Vincent [played by John Travolta] accidentally shooting Marvin in the car in broad daylight while they are driving thru the Valley, where the all-around bad guy Marcellus Wallace, for whom both John Travolta’s Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson’s  Jules Winnfield work, has no friendly places. Even the whole premise of the situation that develops from now on, is so absurd that this does make you laugh or at least grin. Who can watch without laughing the last scene when Vincent and Jules walk out of the first scene’s coffee shop wearing t-shirts and shorts while stuffing their guns into their shorts and still managing to look badass?

If you have never seen Pulp Fiction, I suggest that you watch it. If not for the movie itself then for the killer soundtrack it has. And it does give a whole new meaning to going to powder your nose

Dusty Springfield – Son of a preacher man