Sunday, April 1, 2007

Thrilling Discoveries

Last night TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies had as their line-up Compulsion (1959) and Frenzy (1972): two movies I'd never seen or even heard of. Compulsion is based on the Leopold-Loeb case of 1924, when two intelligent and privileged young men, considering themselves above common morality, committed a heinous crime just for the thrill of outwitting the law. They didn't outwit the law and Clarence Darrow was hired by their parents to defend them. There was no question of their guilt, but Darrow, as an opponent of the death penalty, managed, in a thrilling final statement, to get them life sentences instead of being hung. It's a remarkable movie for the time, for - among other things, the homosexual undertones. The cast was incredible: Orson Welles as the Darrow-inspired defense lawyer, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman as the two accused, and E.G. Marshall as the D.A.

In 1993 a friend of mine and I spent several months trying to track down one good thriller in the cinemas. It was so frustrating; we found nothing, until... one night instead of going to see a new release, we rented the recently released video of Jennifer 8 (1992). WOW. I watched it twice in a weekend and a couple more times after that. I think that apart from the gripping story line (what an ending, it still gives me chills), the actors were so superb: Andy Garcia as the tormented cop, Uma Thurman as the blind woman who is probably the bad guy's next victim, Lance Henriksen as Garcia's cop/friend and Kathy Baker as Lance's wife. It's always a joy when a "genre" movie, like Aliens (1986), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) happen not to be just great thriller or horrors, but just brilliant movies of their own accord.

The director/writer Bruce Robinson is one of those names I always look out for. Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson is a great read if you're interested in the frustrations and achievements of an intensely handsome young actor who turned to writing and directing and attempted to survive creatively in the Hollywood film industry. He's honest and funny and still - despite a lot of drinking and smoking - a very handsome devil. According to, his new project is The Rum Diary (2008), based on a Hunter Thompson book, starring Johnny Depp. Huh. Wonder if Depp's turn as Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) is relevant to this? Well, as long as Bruce Robinson's name is attached to it, I'll be seeing it.

The other director I feel that way about is John Sayles. I watch Lone Star (1996) every few months, and that's a whole bunch of times in 10 years. But I always see something new. His other movies are must-sees too, although there are some I haven't been able to track down yet. He has a new one coming out this year: Honeydripper. Yay!!! According to postings on, it's set in 1950. Danny Glover (yay!) is a club owner/musician who is a fan of live music and is reluctant to have a jukebox in his venue. The bar next door has one and is doing great business. Glover decides to bring in a famous guitar-player. That's it! The soundtracks to his movies are always great, with original music usually by Mason Daring. I play the Lone Star soundtrack constantly. That's the thing about a favourite movie: it's so great to have the soundtrack at hand to bring back the feeling of the film when you are at work or otherwise engaged. The other film composer I listen to endlessly is Ry Cooder. I've worn out the double-CD set of his film music already! Oh... one more thing: John Sayles Thinking in Pictures: The Making of the Movie Matewan is another really interesting and generous read.

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