Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Steve Grzesiak ""

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Steve Grzesiak

Although I'm not involved in the film industry in any capacity, nor do I have a blog dedicated to films, I am a lifelong film fan who grew up on an odd mixture of Clint Eastwood and Laurel & Hardy films. My tastes now lie mostly in 1960s and 70s crime films, recent South American cinema, and 1980s and 90s action films. Really, I'll try just about anything, truth be told.

I regularly post film-related tweets, in-between stuff about eating and sport, here and I also post almost daily film reviews on my Letterboxd page.

Coma (1978, directed by Michael Crichton)
Michael Crichton's organlegging medical thriller is a film that he himself described as being a bit like a Western. I can't say that thought ever occurred to me on the many occasions I've watched Coma and now, having thought about it for a few minutes, I can't say there are many similarities.
There is a fantastic cat-and-mouse chase through Genevieve Bujold's hospital that sees her pursued by hoodlum Lance LeGault, in arguably his most famous role outside of playing gruff army Generals on long-running action TV series. That reminded me of the climax chase between Richard Benjamin and Yul Brynner in another Crichton film, Westworld. Except that isn't even a full-on Western. So, what the hell was Crichton talking about?
Bujold's reasons for becoming nosy about the unexplained comas at her hospital are initially shaky ground on which to build this film's plot, but once she starts getting chased, barked at by Michael Douglas, and slips in to a sinister research facility, Coma becomes a terrific suspense thriller with a superb ending.

Union Station (1950, directed by Rudolph Mate)
The French Connection was far from being the first film to feature a thrilling chase scene involving an elevated train. While Gene Hackman hurtling his way recklessly through New York City is a rightly memorable scene, William Holden's pursuit on and off the Chicago L is pretty good as well. A superbly filmed scene that comes to a somewhat improbable and inadvertently amusing ending, it's perhaps the highlight of Union Station but it's far from being the only reason why this film deserves to be remembered or rediscovered.
Lyle Bettger as a vicious kidnapper deserves to be remembered as one of the very best film noir antagonists as he slaps his way through any woman that gets in his way, while Nancy Olson's rightly nosy young secretary would be the basis for one of her frequent pairings with Holden. Not terribly easy to get hold of at an affordable price unless it has been restored to the dustier areas of Netflix, this is a consistently exciting way to spend 80 minutes.

Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964, Bryan Forbes)
After the recent sad passing of Richard Attenborough, it was additionally quite sad to see a lack of mentions for his stunning performance in Seance On A Wet Afternoon. Playing the shrinking violet husband to Kim Stanley's domineering and frighteningly intense psychic, he almost disappears into the set when on the receiving end of her tirades. What a quite magnificent actor he was - and the same could be said of Stanley.
For many, Stanley was frustratingly picky about the projects she chose, and you can understand that frustration after witnessing her performance here. It wouldn't be even slightly surprising to me Elizabeth Taylor was inspired by her for the following year's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? This film's turn from what looks like an eerie supernatural drama into a kidnapping suspense thriller is one of the many masterstrokes that it has - the ending, however, is the best of them. A brilliant film.

Transsiberian (2008, Brad Anderson)
Transsiberian is one of those cases of a film extremely well received critically compared to a rather apathetic reaction from audiences, a reaction that was reflected in this film's box office. Brad Anderson's adventure thriller is one that might chug towards a slightly disappointing and predictable climax, but much of what happens before that is anything but predictable.
The narrative decision taken to remove one of the characters for a long stretch in the middle of the film is one that creates all manner of possibilities, and Anderson explores them expertly. It could just be that I'm a completely gullible fool (work with me on this) but the unpredictability of Transsiberian is what really drew me in. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer's leads are an unusual pair to have leading a film such as this as well, while Eduardo Noriega gets to show why he's now one of the better villains for hire around. It all looks as wonderful as you would expect, too.

A Perfect Getaway (2009, David Twohy)
David Twohy slipped A Perfect Getaway out between his two sequels to Pitch Black and really it deserved a lot better than to be overshadowed by that pair. His psychological thriller might seem from the outset as though it's going to be another fairly standard serial killer horror-thriller, but a suspense drama of outstanding quality emerges.
It's all brightened up by some surprisingly lively and amusing dialogue with some particularly marvellous exchanges between the always excellent Steve Zahn and Timothy Olyphant ("Got my skull rebuilt with space-age titanium!"), and for a while you are left wondering exactly what it is that you're watching. It might all go predictably silly at the end but the major twist is well done, even if it's not especially surprising, and a handful of excellent performances make this a really enjoyable romp that deserved a fair bit more attention.

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