Category Archives: Thriller

Nobody Does It Better – The Cult Film Crazy James Bond Quiz

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Here’s a new quiz to excite and delight you all featuring your favourite James Bond escapades. 1 point for each correct answer!:

  1. Scaramanga was played by which sadly now departed actor?
  2. What was the character’s unusual feature?
  3. A Goldeneye is a type of which creature?
  4. What was the name of the huge henchman with large metallic teeth in Moonraker?
  5. Name the Bond girl who comes out of the water in Dr No?
  6. Which Bond flick features voodoo activity?
  7. In which James Bond movie does Bond get embroiled in a fracas with a South American drug cartel led by Franz Sanchez?
  8. Odd Job was the brilliantly evil sidekick with a deadly spinning hat in which movie?
  9. Who played Bond’s nemesis Blofeld? (1 point for each!)
  10. Name as many actors as you can who’ve played James Bond. (1 point for each!)

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The Birds (1963)

Director – Alfred Hitchcock

Writers – Daphne du Maurier (original story), Evan Hunter (screenplay)

Alfred Hitchcock, it is known, was not always very kind to the women in his life; The Birds could well be seen as a commentary on that issue.

It almost feels as if the real birds in the film are a manifestation of the state of mind of the female characters within it. The shreiking hysteria that erupts as a swarm of canaries squawk down a chimney and out of the fireplace (perhaps some kind of symbolic opening or another) is echoed by the women who squeal in fright and despair as the birds flock around them, clouding their views. This is not an outlook that I share, but it is a perception of the content of the film.

The birds slowly congregate at a children’s playground, a place also often frequented by women. The male lead, Rod Taylor, is frightened and cautious when he passes, taunted by the calls and cries of the birds. Perhaps it is a rise in feminism itself that underpins the film? The male figures do not seem to like it very much when the women speak out, but instead feel attacked and trapped by the shrill calls. To suppose that Hitchcock is criticising women because of this does not take into account that he could also be sympathetic to their cause. His female lead, Tippi Hedren, of course, was adored by him, and a they step carefully around the caustic cawing crows, they creep around the very concept of women’s liberty, but also maintaining a social order and sense of gender roles. Nature itself is responding to the imbalance that industrialisation has imposed upon it, and it is clear that if you push too hard, the opposing side will push back. Tread carefully, and don’t get your feathers in a flap.

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Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985) Poster

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

Some films are so finely detailed that they require repeat viewings to appreciate  the extent of their content. This is more than true of Brazil, which manages to squeeze an entire retro-futuristic city into its compact time frame, replete with hallucinogenic dream sequences featuring giant samurai warriors, talking brickwork, and other flights of fancy, along with a serious message behind the wickedly grinning facade.

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You could consider Brazil to be ‘Monty Python Does 1984’, but there are many essential differences between it and those elements. There aren’t any knights who say “NI!” or giant feet crushing anybody from above, for starters. 1984 itself is a critique of blind obedience to authoritarian regimes. Instead, Brazil mocks the mayhem of tangled bureaucracy. People are chewed up by long working hours, an oppressive political system, and excessive red tape. There are certainly bullying security to enforce the rules, keep people in their place and suppress the rebel terrorist threat, but these are nothing compared to the web of repression woven by emotionally blackmailing management. Desk clerk Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is in charge of the thankless task of processing data concerning suspected dissenters. He discovers an error in the system that has led to a wrongful arrest, and seeks to do the right thing by rectifying it. This, in itself, causes problems, something that the regime does not like. Everything must run smoothly and according to the rules. As one domineering technocrat bawls at Sam when he goes to express his concern about a mishap, “Mistakes?! We don’t make mistakes!” In as unbending a system as this, people get swallowed whole.


Sam is disillusioned and also becomes enamoured by a woman who he has dreamed about, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), but who he weirdly happens to then meet. She takes him away on a voyage of discovery, sprinkled with danger and adventure along the way, as well as meeting the actual dissenter, a rebel plumber by the name of Harry Tuttle (a riproaring Robert de Niro at his very best), and invoking the disapproval of his best friend Jack Lint (a wonderfully malevolent Michael Palin). We explore the very nature of escapism, and how our daydreams can become reality, but we have to be very careful about how we pursue them.

Brazil is a truly haunting film that reveals some bitter truths about the modern condition (and the ending is to die for!).

TL-R

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The Usual Suspects (1995)

Director – Bryan Singer
Writer – Christopher McQuarrie

Once in a while, a film comes along that takes you, and the world, completely by surprise. It creeps up on you without fanfare and then pounces on you unawares. The Usual Suspects is one of those films.

It has an exceptionally good line-up, but at the time, the actors were relatively unknown. Gabrielle Byrne plays a moody, no nonsense, yet moral criminal Dean Keaton. Benicio Del Toro is the husky, messed up Fred Fenster. Stephen Baldwin gives us a pithy Michael McManus. Kevin Pollack is Todd Hockney, a creeped out crim always watching his back. Chazz Palminteri is the irascible, irritable Dave Kujan of US Customs and Pete Postlethwaite puts in a magnificently malevolent performance as Kobayashi. They are all on top form, giving the film a great collaborative feel. However, the guy who steals the show (and that’s not all) has to be Kevin Spacey as the humble Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, who pins all of the pieces of this jumbled tale together, and makes it into the convincing, if (perhaps deliberately) confounding hit that it is. The premise is that one of the five criminals in a police line-up has wronged the legendary master criminal named Keyser Söze. Söze takes his revenge by setting up the criminals in a heist that takes them out one by one, each one suspecting the other of being the elusive Keyser Söze himself, but we never quite find out if they’re right. Or do we?

It is all eminently engaging, fun and cool! But who is Keyser Söze?

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The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Exterminating Angel (1962) Poster

Director – Luis Buñuel

Producer – Gustavo Alatriste

Writer – Luis Buñuel

A quiet uprising of servants is fomenting as they talk about leaving while a banquet for the decadent upper middle classes is held. The everyday quirks and eccentricities of the stuffy rich elite slowly emerge, as do their hidden desires and prejudices. Windows are smashed, trays are dropped by discontented servants who promptly leave, and what’s that under the table?

The guests of the feast comment on the rude behaviour of the servants, and each other, chattering and sniping with some cracklingly witty, barbed lines, and then more mysterious matters begin to occur. The dinner guests find themselves stuck in an uncomfortable situation, unable to free themselves, frozen by some strange compulsion. Their encumbered state means that they become desperate and competitive for survival, cantankerously pecking at one another for status and authority. The smarter and more sympathetic of the group attempt to fathom the circumstances of the mystery, but it evades their wits, and some even end up losing them.

The group becomes sequestered in its own tempestuous world that exists within the confines of the stately mansion, not considering any of the activities happening outside. Their closed world offers them no sanctuary, it is just a stale, stagnant pool to listlessly stew in. Some may be affronted by the delineation of the upper classes in such a clear, unfettered way, which was just what Buñuel intended. He pulls no punches, and exposes the rotten core of their empty, hypocritical existences in a highly original and innovative way. Recommended to those who don’t like to be spoon-fed with obvious, predictable slush.

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Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo (1958) Poster

Director – Alfred Hitchcock

Writers – Alec Coppel (screenplay), Samuel A. Taylor (screenplay), Maxwell Anderson (uncredited), Pierre Boileau (original story), Thomas Narcejac (original story)

There are some films that stick with you long after you finish watching them, ingraining themselves into your memory with their iconic imagery. Vertigo is one of those films, as unsettling as the psychological condition of the title. The down-trodden detective Scottie, a stern, dignified Jimmy Stewart, is tasked with tracking a mesmerising young woman, Madeleine, played by a striking Kim Novak, who happens to be the wife of his friend, and who is suffering from suicidal tendencies that his friend wants Scottie to protect her from.

The film is all about the act of falling – falling in love, falling from grace, and literally falling, on a number of occasions.

Then there’s THAT reverse zoom dolly shot, a benchmark in cinematography that manages to depict the head-spinning condition of acrophobia spot on. The soaring Bernard Hermann score enhances this feeling too, swirling and out of time, claustrophobic and breathless. The shimmering images and uneasy plot will disturb and disorientate you, just as the director intended. Vertigo is a head-spinning experience.

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