Thursday Movie Picks: Amateur Sleuth

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… AMATEUR SLEUTH.

This is a fun topic and there are tons to pick from! I always like to mix classic and contemporary movies, so that’s what I’ll do again here.

SPELLBOUND (1945)

Spellbound Poster

A psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.

Any chance I can talk about Gregory Peck I’ll jump at it, ha! This is the film I fell for the ridiculously handsome classic actor with a swoon-worthy deep voice, who was only 29 at the time in his fourth feature film. It set off an obsession for the next year, now I owned pretty much ALL of his movies!

Gregory Peck Ingrid Bergman Spellbound

Can’t believe it’s a decade ago since I saw this, I have to rewatch this soon. It’s actually the first time I saw Ingrid Bergman as well, and both of them light up the screen as they fall in love. I like the double mystery of solving Peck’s character’s amnesia issue through psychoanalysis, and figuring out the killer of the real doctor. Classic Hitchcock in terms of direction, camera work, visual style, mood, etc. featuring a brief but memorable the dream sequence by Salvador Dali. I also love Miklós Rózsa‘s astounding score, perhaps my fave of all Hitchcock movies. The final sequence is indelible as well, which has been copied many times over by other filmmakers.


REAR WINDOW (1954)

Rear Window Poster

A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

I hadn’t planned on picking two Alfred Hitchcock films here, but well, he was the master of mystery noir. This one also features one of my fave classic actors, James Stewart, and another classic beauty Grace Kelly. 

This is definitely one of the best films confined in a single location, and the set design is absolutely astounding. Apparently the set was constructed specially for this movie, on the whole they built about 30 apartments and about half was fully furnished! I also love the costume design by the legendary Edith Head (notably all of Grace Kelly’s gorgeous dresses), I’m shocked she was NOT nominated for an Oscar for her work here.

Rear Window Costume Design

This movie was my January 2015 Blindspot pick, and I loved it! Despite the lighter, playful tone, the film packs a lot of interesting themes about psychology, human nature that are intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.


BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

Batman Begins poster

After training with his mentor, Batman begins his fight to free crime-ridden Gotham City from corruption.

I gotta include one of my favorite comic-book films here. Bruce Wayne aka Batman is an amateur super sleuth and crime fighter. The first of Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight trilogy shows Bruce’s foray as a detective, teaming with up with Gotham City’s police commissioner Gordon. I LOVE the dynamic between Christian Bale and Gary Oldman, two of the best actors working today.

Batman Begins -Batman Commissioner Gordon

Batman didn’t just bring down crime lord Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) but also exposed the real villain Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the radical leader of League of Shadows who wants to destroy Gotham. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of this film as a noir thriller that happens to have a superhero character in it, and I’m excited that the upcoming THE BATMAN will show the caped crusader in his detective mode than what we’ve seen in other films!

ZODIAC (2007)

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In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree.

I caught this one almost a decade after its release, which apparently didn’t do too well at the box office. It’s surprising given the star-studded cast, but then again this was a year before Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man and long before Mark Ruffalo became his fellow Avenger as the Hulk. Interesting how the three leads have now become Marvel stars!

Jake Gyllenhaal Robert Downey Jr

At almost 2.5 hours long, this David Fincher murder mystery is more of a slo-burn film but an effective and suspenseful one. There are some lighter moments too between Jake Gyllenhaal and RDJ, as the film focuses on the life of the detectives on top of being a whodunnit type film. The sinister part is that the story is based on real events in the San Francisco Bay area, adapted from Robert Graysmith’s non-fiction book of the same name (Gyllenhall played Graysmith in the film).


So which are YOUR favorite movies about amateur sleuth?

January 2015 Blind Spot: REAR WINDOW (1954)

RearWindow

I’ve been wanting to check this Alfred Hitchcock classic for ages. It seems to be unanimously loved by critics and audiences alike, which always adds a dose of curiosity to see if it would live up to its classic status.

The story centers on a wheelchair bound photographer, Jeff (James Stewart) who spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. It’s interesting that the protagonist is basically a peeping tom, which would’ve been really creepy and disturbing, but because it’s played by such a likable actor like Stewart, you can’t help but like the guy. At first he’s complaining how it’d be a chore to be confined to his apartment and not being able to go out, but after a few hours [or maybe just minutes?], he doesn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, it’s clear Jeff’s become obsessed that he doesn’t even sleep anymore, aside from the occasional dosing off in his chair.

RearWindow_JimmyStewartStewart is perfectly cast here, and his growing fixation with what he think is a murder case is quite amusing to watch. You know a guy is uncontrollably obsessed when he’d rather look out the window than make out with his stunning girlfriend, Lisa, in the shape of Grace Kelly no less. Even in a sea of ridiculously beautiful people that is Hollywood, the late actress still stands out amongst them. I’ve said in my review of To Catch A Thief that she is too beautiful it’s distracting. Well that is still true but fortunately in this movie she was given more to do than simply prance around like a model.

Here she plays a high-society fashion consultant, which is a perfect role for her and once again I’m marveling at every single thing she wears. It’s not just the clothes, though they certainly are amazing, it’s the graceful way miss Kelly wore them [pardon the pun] that made them memorable.

RearWindow_CostumeDesign

I’m shocked that the legendary costume designer Edith Head was NOT nominated for her work here. Say what?? The 1950s costumes are not only gorgeous, they’re practically iconic. I’m curious now who were the costume design nominees that year if they’re considered more worthy what Head did here.

At one of the most amusing and most action-packed scenes, whilst wearing her dainty 1950s floral dress, Lisa managed to climb a ladder up to the second floor of an apartment AND got into the unit through the window! As unbelievable as that scene was, it sure was fun to watch.

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My favorite character in this movie is Jeff’s physical therapy nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter). I love how she’s always berating Jeff for sitting around snooping on people instead of marrying his girlfriend.

RearWindow_Stella_Jeff

She got the best lines and she delivered them with such dry wit:

Stella: Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.

Stella: You heard of that market crash in ’29? I predicted that.
Jeff: Oh, just how did you do that, Stella?
Stella: Oh, simple. I was nursing a director of General Motors. Kidney ailment, they said. Nerves, I said. And I asked myself, “What’s General Motors got to be nervous about?” Overproduction, I says; collapse. When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.

My favorite scenes are when the three of them – Jeff, Lisa and Stella – are all speculating and bantering about the neighbor in question. Not surprised that John Michael Hayes was nominated for an Oscar for his screenwriting work.

RearWindow_Stella_Lisa_Jeff

Jeff: Those two yellow zinnias at the end, they’re shorter now. Now since when do flowers grow shorter over the course of two weeks? Something’s buried there.
Lisa: Mrs. Thorwald!
Stella: You haven’t spent much time around cemeteries, have you? Mr. Thorwald could hardly bury his wife in plot of ground about one foot square. Unless he put her in standing on end, in which case he wouldn’t need the knives and saw.

There’s also the conversation between Jeff and his detective friend Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) who’s vehemently skeptical about Jeff’s suspicion and his murder theory.

Lt. Doyle: Jeff, you’ve got a lot to learn about homicide. Why, morons have committed murders so shrewdly that it’s taken a hundred trained police minds to catch them.

The romance isn’t all that convincing, though in this case it’s meant to be as Jeff is unsure about how he really feels about Lisa. I feel that the romance in Hitchcock films is a hit and miss. I didn’t really buy the romance between Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief either, nor between Grant & Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest. I did love the chemistry between Gregory Peck & Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound though.

RearWindow_romance

Now, the studio set where the movie was shot is practically a character in and of itself. According to IMDb trivia, the entire film was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. One thousand arc lights were used to simulate sunlight and all the apartments in the building across from Jeff’s apartment had electricity could be lived in. That’s just incredible! Right from the opening sequence, the set look like it’s custom-made for the film, but the artificial look of it is part of the charm. Both Robert Burks and Loren L. Ryder were both nominated for Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, respectively.

So what’s the verdict?

RearWindow_VoyeurismWell I’m glad to say that this was definitely an enjoyable film that’s perhaps also rewarding on repeat viewings. I love all the interesting details even in the tertiary characters and the various personalities of Jeff’s neighbors here that adds another layer of intrigue. Of course the film also packs a lot of interesting themes and commentaries about psychology, human nature and such that’s intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.

What surprises me was how playful it is and overall the tone is much lighter than I expected. Considering this was billed as a mystery thriller, I was expecting a much more suspenseful and perhaps something more threatening. The only real tension was in the finale, which was also quite hilarious at the same time as [spoiler alert!] Jeff tried to blind the intruder by taking a series of photographs of him with his camera. Given that he had to change the light bulb every time he took a photo, you’d think the intruder would’ve had ample time to attack him! Raymond Burr cut an intimidating figure as Mr. Thorwald, though he barely had any lines in this movie.

Now, those aren’t quibbles so much as my observation. Naturally some things are quite dated but given the time it was made, it was perfect for that time. I think it’s more of a dark comedy with elements of mystery than a thriller, but it’s still a well-crafted and entertaining film nonetheless. This one certainly lives up to the hype and what one would consider an enduring classic.

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2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Rear Window? Well, what did YOU think?

What I’ve Watched in my First Week on 2013

Happy Monday all! This the first FULL work week I have for a while now, I’m definitely gonna miss the partial work week from the Holiday season, ahah.

In lieu of a weekend roundup, I thought I’d share how my movie watching has been in its first week of the new year. Actually it’s been rather slow and I haven’t been to the movie theater since The Hobbit over a week ago. Not that I miss going to the cinema, though some things are definitely meant to see on the big screen, which is why we’d go see Life of Pi next weekend.

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I miss the movie-going experience, though not the waiting-in-line part

I’ll be going to a couple of advanced screenings this week, but due to the embargo, I can’t talk about ’em yet. Let’s just say one of them is likely going to be in the running for Academy Awards nominations and the other one is a period action film starring a few very popular actors. So anyways, I’ve only seen about three movies so far and three of them were new to me.

  • The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
    ShopAroundtheCornerPoster
    The inspiration for You’ve Got Mail starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart is lovely. I didn’t know it was set in Hungary. Though the mail correspondent part wasn’t as prominent a plot as the remake, but the scene at the cafe were pretty much identical.

    I need to watch more James Stewart movies, I think The Philadelphia Story is next! Oh, I also like Frank Morgan as the store owner Mr. Matuschek!

    ..
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

    SafetyNotGuaranteedPosterI’m so glad I finally saw this. I’ve been seeing a ton of great reviews on this one, glad it was available on iTunes. All of the actors were unknown to me, but I was impressed by Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass. The story is wonderfully bizarre and it was full of quirky characters as well. Duplass (who reminds me a bit of Sean Bean) plays Kenneth, a supermarket employee who put a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel, and Plaza plays Darius, one of the three magazine employees who head out on assignment to write a story on it.

    The premise makes for off-the-wall and hilarious scenarios, but yet the story ends up being quite heartfelt, especially when it’s between Kenneth and Darius. It keeps you guessing throughout up until that whoa! ending. It’s the kind of ending that makes you stand up and cheer despite how preposterous it is, definitely one of the most original time-travel stories I’ve ever watched. If you’re looking for great, memorable characters and emotional gratification, this movie is not to be missed. I quite like the music too, my favorite part was when Kenneth sang The Big Machine with a Zither!
  • The Wings of the Dove (1997)
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    WingsoftheDovePosterI’ve been wanting to see this movie for quite a while, especially when someone mentioned about the memorable scene at the London Tube. Well, there’s that and a boat load of memorable rainy scenes in Venice too!

    It’s based on a 1902 novel by Henry James. The tagline says it all: A couple with everything but money. An heiress with everything but love. A temptation no one could resist. Helena Bonham Carter in one of her plethora of period dramas was quite bewitching as a young woman, Kate, who’s torn between love and her privileged life. She’s basically an impoverished girl who’s taken up by her wealthy aunt (Charlotte Rampling), but she’s in love with a penniless journalist Merton (Linus Roache). When she befriends a dying American heiress Millie (Alison Elliot), she concocts a plot to enable her to have her cake and eat it too, but things don’t exactly go according to plan.

    Oh, the things people in the name of love… the chemistry between Helena and Linus was scorching, but man, it’s awful and sad how far Kate is willing to do to get what she wants. It’s really a dark, twisted and poignant love story. It certainly makes for a passionate and ravishing period drama. Both HBC and Linus were captivating, Linus was quite mesmerizing, he’s got such an uncanny resemblance to Christian Bale, no wonder he was cast as Bruce Wayne Sr! Bonham-Carter was nominated for an Oscar for this role. I pretty much love all the performances, down to the supporting roles with thespians like Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling.

    It’s the kind of story that lingers long after the end credits. In fact, I kept thinking about it all night all the way until this morning. I feel like this film deserves a full write-up, which I still may do in the future. The cinematography alone is breathtaking… all in all a bewitching adaptation.
  • Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (re-watch)
    It never fails to entertain. Sean Connery + Harrison Ford pairing is just brilliant, plus there River Phoenix in the beginning as the young Indy. I wish he were still alive today, I’d rather see him than Shia in the fourth installment! Anyway, we also watched the making-of documentary which was pretty cool as Spielberg went almost scene-by-scene on various locations.


Well, glad to report that the three new ones were all very enjoyable. So what movies did you watch in the first week of the New Year?