Tag Archives: murderer

Strangers on a Train – Review

7 Apr

While on the set of Strangers on a Train, Alfred Hitchcock told the cast and crew that this was truly his first movie. Of course, that wasn’t actually the case. Hitchcock was making silent films before going on to classics like The 39 StepsRope, and Infamous. What Hitchcock meant by this was this was his first film where he could fully explore themes that were taboo at the time, while also telling a suspenseful story full of action and mystery. Strangers on a Train is definitely an interesting film in Hitchcock’s filmography. It was the start of a string of movies that would go on to change film history for the better, and was one of the first instances that showed how much of a story Hitchcock could tell without using dialogue.

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Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is an amateur tennis star on his way to meet his wife, Miriam (Laura Elliot), to discuss matters of their divorce. While on the train, Guy meets a fellow traveller named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who has a very strange idea he’d like to share with Guy. Bruno believes that the perfect murder could be committed by a team of two, where one person murders the other person’s victim. Guy humors Bruno, but never actually thinks he’d follow through with his ludicrous plan. Unfortunately, Bruno is not a person to doubt, so when he murders Guy’s wife, Guy is forced to live his life evading Bruno and his desperate attempts to have Guy murder his father. Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), Guy’s wife to be, discovers this absurd plot and starts to help Guy put a stop to Bruno’s nefarious schemes. When this proves unsuccessful, and Bruno reveals a more sinister plan he has up his sleeve, Guy is forced to take action to clear his name and protect his family.

Before we get to the nitty gritty of Strangers on a Train, this movie succeeds greatly entertainment wise, and holds up really well today, as most Hitchcock movies do. We don’t call Hitchcock the Master of Suspense for nothing. This movie is full of great suspense and action that keeps the viewer engaged the entire movie. Certain scenes really stand out like when Bruno is staring down Guy during a tennis match or even the scene where the two men first meet. Don’t even get me started on the climax. Hitchcock understood what it meant to make a great set piece, and the climax is not only extremely satisfying, but also loud and intense. It worked great with all of the quiet menace that was spread throughout the movie. There’s also plenty of that great, dark Hitchcock humor. There’s something hilarious about watching two giddy old women talking about planning a murder.

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Everyone in this movie do great jobs with their characters. Farley Granger plays the unassuming protagonist very well, and Ruth Roman gives a strong performances as his lover trying to keep him on track. The real scene stealer, and I’m sure anyone would agree with this, is Robert Walker. There’s something really sleazy about the way he plays Bruno and he becomes one of Hitchcock’s most memorable villains. The character of Bruno is pretty interesting. He’s not some dastardly guy who deserves any kind of revenge. He’s a spoiled, demented brat who just loves causing chaos. He’s dangerous because he will do whatever he has to to get what he wants, and Walker really nails it.

Like I said before, this movie provided Hitchcock with material to explore things that were forbidden in Hollywood, but of course the Master of Suspense is also pretty masterful with subtlety. For one thing, there’s a motif of doubles all throughout the movie. There’s two men part of the conspiracy, two bespectacled women in danger, two murders, and even two players on a tennis court. Hitchcock was very interested with the duality of humanity and the moral gray area that most certainly exists. There’s also a very clear homoerotic vibe coming from Bruno. Hitchcock made it clear in the movie and confirmed it later that Bruno was attracted to Guy in a homosexual kind of way. That was most certainly a big no-no in Hollywood, but it’s something that just makes the characters and movie deeper than it could have been.

Strangers on a Train doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of other Hitchcock films like Rear Window or Vertigo, but it is still an exceptional movie. There’s plenty of action, suspense, and menace to keep anyone entertained. Robert Walker completely steals the show as one of the most memorable villains I’ve seen in a long time, and Hitchcock’s subtle exploration of taboo themes adds an extra layer to enjoy. Strangers on a Train is objectively defined as a classic, and it has certainly earned that title.

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Monster – Review

13 Dec

Between 1989 and 1990, a Daytona Beach prostitute named Aileen Wuornos killed 7 men in cold blood. While Wuornos isn’t America’s first female serial killer, she is the first one that got this amount of attention thanks to the media and her reputation as psychotic. It goes without saying that there have been a few documentaries, books, and other works dedicated to Wuornos, but none have had the impact that Patty Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster had. Instead of focusing on the crimes themselves, Jenkins decided to focus on Aileen as a human and what drove her to do such horrible things. If that doesn’t sound interesting enough to grab your attention, Charlize Theron’s transformation into Wuornos surely is.

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Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) is a prostitute working the streets in Florida who has just about completely given up on her life, that is until she meets a woman named Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Selby is a lesbian and has strong feeling for the straight Wuornos, who at first turns her down, but soon finds out just how nice it is to be loved and the two start an unlikely relationship. Money soon becomes tight after Aileen decides to quit being a prostitute, so she hits the streets once again but instead of sleeping with anyone she begins to murder them and steal their money and their cars. Aileen feels this is all justifiable since she believes that all of these men are going to rape her, but her story begins falling apart and soon she won’t be able to keep this cold blooded secret from Selby or law enforcement.

I’m gonna start with the weakest part of this movie so I can dedicate the rest of this review to what is so overwhelmingly positive. The narrative flow of Monster is very weak and makes it kinda hard to follow at times. Aileen Wuornos killed people between 1989 and 1990, but there is no indication as to how much time has passed between scenes. It could be an entire year of 3 weeks for all I know. If you’re making a movie about a very specific amount of time, it’s important that the audience feels that this amount of time has passed. By the end of the movie, I didn’t really feel like I’ve been with the characters for over a year. This is actually a pretty major complaint since it actually affected how the movie flowed and made the overall narrative feel pretty choppy.

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But really, what is the main reason anyone is really interested in seeing Monster for? It’s obviously to see what is one of the best onscreen performances you will ever see. I don’t even know if Charlize Theron was actually in this movie. There was no evidence onscreen that she was ever there. Theron completely succeeds at transforming herself into Aileen Wuornos. Not only is the make up applied perfect, but also the fact that she gained a decent amount of weight and mimicked Wuornos’ facial expressions and ticks in a creepily authentic way. It’s an almost incomparable performance that, to me, should make Theron one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood. While I really can’t say enough about Theron’s performance, I also have to give a lot of credit to Christina Ricci for giving a performance on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. She’s a timid, almost pathetic, character that is played out wonderfully.

Something else this film succeeds in is putting an interesting twist on the cinematic views of a serial killer. Many films make their serial killer subjects, whether they be real or not, into something inhuman. What Patty Jenkins does with Monster is show Aileen Wuornos as a tragic human being. Make no mistake, though. Jenkins in no way condones or tries to defend what Wuornos did, but she does sprinkle a theme concerning circumstance and environment into the film. This kind of puts this movie into an interesting sort of category where it doesn’t focus on the horrors of the murders, but the horrors of this woman’s life and actions.

Narratively, Monster may not be the strongest movie out there, but this film is ultimately a character study. Charlize Theron gets so deep into her role as Aileen Wuornos, it’s truly unsettling, but it’s also a relief that Patty Jenkins showed a different kind of side to what we normally see in films about serial killers. Everyone will agree that what Wuornos did was despicable and wrong, but what was done to her was also despicable and wrong and, especially in a time when there are more and more mass killings, maybe this is a good topic to talk about.

The Element of Crime – Review

15 May

Well, here we are again. I really can’t seem to stay away from the works of film making extraordinaire and 100% grade-A nutcase, Lars von Trier. This time, like I previously did with Steven Soderbergh and sex, lies, and videotape, I’m going to be looking at von Trier’s first effort at a feature film. While having done some short films before this, this is the one that introduced his odd style and uncomfortable atmosphere that would be present in most of his movies. So, let’s take a trip back to 1984 with The Element of Crime.

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While in Cairo, Detective Fisher (Michael Elphick) goes to see a psychiatrist due to completely losing the memory of his last case. While there, he undergoes hypnosis, which unlocks the part of his mind that is hiding the information he desires. This memory is of a dystopian Europe, where poverty, anarchy, and violence rule the streets. After visiting his mentor, Osborne (Esmond Knight) and discussing his book on solving crime, he is called to investigate a murder perpetrated by the “Lotto Murderer.” In order to solve the case, Fisher employs the method that Osborne wrote in his book “The Element of Crime,” and that is to get into the head of the murderer until you finally understand them. As Fisher delves deeper into the case, he soon finds himself losing touch with himself and finding more in common with the murderer.

Like many of von Trier’s movies, The Element of Crime is very big on style. The only problem is that it lacks in just about every other department. The entire film is tinted yellow or orange, which gives it a very distinct look. What makes it even cooler is that there will be splashes of blue thrown in, whether it’s the static on the tv or the lights hanging overhead. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a movie that looks like this one, and that’s still a pretty high complement when movies tend to look like other movies. The dystopian Europe is shown through such a horrific lens, that it will be hard to forget moments of this movie and its overall style. Still, that isn’t enough to make a movie great.

 

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I challenge anyone who’s watching this movie for the first time to tell me what’s really going on. If you can, than you’re a better person than I’ll ever be. There’s nothing wrong with a movie whose goal is to confuse the audience, but there should always be some sort of payoff. The Element of Crime simply makes no sense. I get that it’s about a police detective that’s getting too deep into the mind of a killer, but that’s about all I really get. The acting is all fine and a lot of the dialogue is actually very smart, but it doesn’t really amount to anything much since I had no idea what was happening.

The Element of Crime is the first part of a thematic trilogy about dystopian Europe. The other two films are Epidemic and Europa, which I have previously reviewed. I haven’t seen Epidemic, but The Element of Crime is really nothing when standing up against Europa. Still, you have to give credit where credits due, and this debut film was important in showing what Lars von Trier was capable of creating, if even just giving a glimpse of it. It put him on the spotlight and since then, his style and skill have only been improving.

As far as debut films go, The Element of Crime certainly isn’t the best, and the reason why it’s included in the Criterion Collection sort of remains to be seen. Perhaps it’s just the fact that it’s the first feature film for von Trier, and they can’t really seem to stay away from him. In my opinion, this is a pretty shallow effort that looks gorgeous on the surface, but there’s not really anything backing it up. This is only a film to see if you’re a huge fan of Lars von Trier’s work, but even then I guarantee that you’re going to be disappointed.

Frailty – Review

23 Apr

To get into the mind of a serial killer can be close to an impossible task. With everything going on in the world, there can be many triggers that can change a seemingly normal and functioning mind into that of a psychotic and murderous lunatic. This is the strongest part of the film Frailty, the directorial debut of the well known character actor Bill Paxton and the feature screenwriting debut of Brent Hanley. This movie made a big mark when it was released in 2001, with people like James Cameron, Sam Raimi, and Stephen King all hailing it as one of the best horror films to come out in years. This is a powerful movie that would’ve been a perfect psychological thriller if it wasn’t for a god awful ending that has the potential to spoil the entire experience.

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In the present day, FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) is called into the office late one night because a man calling himself Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) says he has important information on the serial killer known as the “God’s Hand Killer.” According to Fenton, his brother Adam, who has recently committed suicide, is the killer. The evidence for his claims dates back to 1979, where the younger Fenton (Matt O’Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are living a simple yet happy life with their widower father (Bill Paxton). That happiness is destroyed one night when their father claims to have been visited by an angel with the instructions to collect a grouping of holy weapons then find and destroy demons that are walking the earth disguised as humans. As the bodies begin to pile up, the young Fenton becomes more and more uncomfortable with his father’s “mission” and knows that somehow he has to put a stop to it. In the present time, as an older Fenton recants this story, Agent Doyle begins to suspect that something isn’t right with this mysterious visitor in the night.

The first two thirds of this movie are really something special in the most dark and twisted kind of way. What we have is a brutally clever and psychological story about a man who seems to lose all sense of reality, and in doing so completely shatters the psychological well being of his two young sons. This makes for a very interesting story that was made scary by its realism. Anyone who reads up on serial killers knows that for a lot of them, God is a major factor in their twisted psyches. This isn’t to say that all serial killers murder people because of God, but there have been instances in the past where the phrase “God told me to do it” has been uttered. It didn’t have to be God that made Fenton’s father feel the need to kill. The whole point of interest is that he went from a normal human being to something a whole lot worse, but Frailty almost plays this in a way where we don’t want to hate the killer.

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As I was saying, and let me really emphasize this, the first two thirds of the movie are note perfect and part of the reason is because of the superb acting on display. Matthew McConaughey doesn’t really have a huge part, but his acting is entirely believable and appropriately eerie. Bill Paxton steals the show as the perfect father who’s own supposed mental breakdown changes him into a totally different person. The part that Paxton is in is complicated, having the duty to portray a serial killer who the audience is supposed to understand and feel for in a way. He is still totally off the walls and makes for a frightening human being. Even the two kids, Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter, do commendable work, which I really wasn’t expecting.

All’s going well so far. Then… Oh, then… A third act comes along that ruins the movie in a way that an ending has never done to me before. I don’t want to spoil anything, although it’s really difficult not to. There’s so much I want to say about this god awful joke of an ending. To summarize, let’s just say that it takes everything that was really cool, scary, and interesting and completely throws it all out the window for some bullshit twist. Ever since The Sixth Sense, it seems almost obligatory that psychological thrillers of this kind have some kind of twist to them. Well, the difference between The Sixth Sense and Frailty is that the twist of Shymalan’s masterpiece is tricky and thought provoking instead of stupid, like what we see in Frailty.

I don’t want to say that Frailty is a bad movie solely because of the ending, because that wouldn’t be fair. In all honesty, Frailty is an above average psychological thriller that people seem to have forgotten. It deserves the praise that it’s gotten from people like Sam Raimi and Stephen King, but I can’t help but be really bothered that someone thought the ending was a good way to wrap up the story. I don’t want to dissuade anybody from seeing Frailty because it really is a good experience, just be ready when the ending completely throws you off due to the writer’s need to try to make the movie more thought provoking than it really needed to be.