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25 underrated political thrillers

Rebecca Clough Jan 13, 2017

Samuel L Jackson, Colin Farrell, Kirk Douglas, Denzel Washington and more, as we explore underrated political thrillers...

Ask someone for their favourite political thrillers and you’re likely to get a list of Oscar-winning classics, from JFK to The Day Of The Jackal, Blow Out to Argo. But what about those electrifying tales that have slipped under the radar, been largely forgotten or just didn’t get the love they deserved? Here are 25 political thrillers which are underappreciated but brilliant.

See related Star Wars: Episode IX lands Jurassic World director 25. The Amateur (1981)

Generally, the first hostage to get shot in a heist movie is considered insignificant; luckily this time the young woman killed by terrorists has a devoted boyfriend who vows to avenge her death. Charles Heller (John Savage) already works for the CIA, so he’s able to use secret information to blackmail his bosses into
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An Oscar Winner Has His Day Supporting a Brilliant Woodward and a Heavily Made-Up Hoffman

Martin Balsam: Oscar winner has ‘Summer Under the Stars’ Day on Turner Classic Movies Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winner Martin Balsam (A Thousand Clowns) is Turner Classic Movies’ unusual (and welcome) "Summer Under the Stars" featured player today, August 27, 2013. Right now, TCM is showing Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes (1971), a box-office flop starring Sean Connery in his (just about) post-James Bond, pre-movie legend days. (Photo: Martin Balsam ca. early ’60s.) Next, is Joseph Sargent’s thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). Written by Peter Stone (Father Goose, Arabesque) from John Godey’s novel, the film revolves around the hijacking of a subway car in New York City. Passengers are held for ransom while police lieutenant Walter Matthau tries to handle the situation. Now considered a classic (just about every pre-1999 movie is considered a "classic" these days), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was
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Gregory Peck from ‘Duel in the Sun’ to ‘How the West Was Won’: TCM schedule (Pt) on August 15 (photo: Gregory Peck in ‘Duel in the Sun’) See previous post: “Gregory Peck Movies: Memorable Miscasting Tonight on Turner Classic Movies.” 3:00 Am Days Of Glory (1944). Director: Jacques Tourneur. Cast: Gregory Peck, Lowell Gilmore, Maria Palmer. Bw-86 mins. 4:30 Am Pork Chop Hill (1959). Director: Lewis Milestone. Cast: Gregory Peck, Harry Guardino, Rip Torn. Bw-98 mins. Letterbox Format. 6:15 Am The Valley Of Decision (1945). Director: Tay Garnett. Cast: Greer Garson, Gregory Peck, Donald Crisp. Bw-119 mins. 8:15 Am Spellbound (1945). Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, Bill Goodwin, Norman Lloyd, Steve Geray, John Emery, Donald Curtis, Art Baker, Wallace Ford, Regis Toomey, Paul Harvey, Jean Acker, Irving Bacon, Jacqueline deWit, Edward Fielding, Matt Moore, Addison Richards, Erskine Sanford, Constance Purdy. Bw-111 mins. 10:15 Am Designing Woman (1957). Director: Vincente Minnelli.
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Review: "Mr. Lucky: The Complete Series" On DVD From Timeless Media Group

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By Harvey Chartrand

Mr. Lucky: The Complete Series is now available for the first time ever as a 4-dvd box set from Timeless Media Group… all 34 episodes, with a running time of about 840 minutes. Mr. Lucky– created by writer/director Blake Edwards (Peter Gunn) – ran for only one season (from 1959 to 1960), even though it was a hit with viewers.

This adventure/crime drama is a sort of Peter Gunn Lite, featuring a lush, organ-powered theme song by Henry Mancini (a bonus CD of Mr. Lucky’s soundtrack is included in the set), an assortment of shady characters aboard a floating casino, and competent acting by series regulars John Vivyan (as suave professional gambler Mr. Lucky), Ross Martin (as his sidekick and business partner Andamo), Pippa Scott (as Mr. Lucky’s girlfriend Maggie Shank-Rutherford) and Tom Brown (as Lieutenant Rovacs, Mr. Lucky’s
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DVD Review: "Peter Gunn:- The Complete Series" Released By Timeless Video

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By Harvey F. Chartrand

Peter Gunn: The Complete Series is now available for the first time ever as a 12-dvd box set from Timeless Media Group… all 114 episodes, with a running time of over 58 hours.

Peter Gunn – created and produced by Blake Edwards – ran for three seasons – from 1958 to 1961. This classic detective show was a delightful blend of film noir and fifties cool, featuring a modern jazz score by Henry Mancini (a bonus CD of the soundtrack is included in the set), outbreaks of the old ultra-violence, a gallery of eccentric and sleazy characters (usually informants, gangsters and Beat Generation bohemians), and great acting by series leads Craig Stevens (as Gunn), Lola Albright (as his squeeze, sultry nightclub singer Edie Hart) and Herschel Bernardi (as Gunn’s friend and competitor Lieutenant Jacoby, who seems to work all by himself 24 hours a day
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DVD Review: Jack The Giant Killer

Jack The Giant Killer

Stars: Kerwin Mathews, Judi Meredith, Torin Thatcher, Walter Burke, Don Beddoe, Barry Kelley, Dayton Lummis | Written by Nathan Juran, Orville H. Hampton | Directed by Nathan Juran

Every now and then you get a film with a title so cool you just know it’ll never live up to all of the spectacular scenes your mind has just concocted upon seeing the painted DVD cover. It’s largely the fate of ’70s B-movies like Blacula and The Thing With Two Heads which relied on exploitative posters and gimmicky concepts to reel their audiences in, but occasionally you’ll get a couple from the mainstream.

Jack The Giant Killer, alas, is one such movie. A slight and inoffensive 1962 fantasy adventure produced in the heyday of the classic Ray Harryhausen claymation monster movies like Jason and the Argonauts, the film has an interesting set-up (boy saves princess from giant,
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The Recruit

The Recruit
Reflecting our nation's current ambivalence about the CIA -- which is neither as hostile as it was during and after the Vietnam War nor as gung-ho as it was in the early days of the Cold War -- "The Recruit" follows the lead of 2001's "Spy Game". The filmmakers strive for an old-fashioned spy thriller while acknowledging the immorality and cold-bloodedness demanded by the clandestine organization. The top-billed Al Pacino and Colin Farrell bring plenty of emotional oomph to their shallow and routine characters, but audiences may find these spy games somewhat disappointing.

The film's major twist is telegraphed early and often, so it hits with the impact of a soft pillow. The film's strength lies in director Roger Donaldson's depiction of the recruitment and training of potential CIA agents. This does generate dramatic heat, while an edgy romance between Farrell and fellow trainee Bridget Moynahan produces its own kind of sparks. All of which may add up to a modest boxoffice success.

Pacino's veteran agent Walter Burke has two maxims: "Trust no one" and "Nothing is what it seems". This goes double, of course, for audiences watching movie thrillers. However, the decision by writers Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer to allow Walter to repeat these phrases constantly, while feeding the overall atmosphere of paranoia, does undermine many of the film's double reverses.

Farrell's James Clayton, a computer whiz with an appealing rebellious streak, gets recruited by Walter, who shepherds him through training at a CIA boot camp called "the Farm." Walter lures James to the Company with the tantalizing prospect that his father, killed mysteriously in a plane crash in South America a decade earlier, was himself a "spook." This also fulfills the tried-but-true gambit of the veteran officer serving as a father figure to the green rookie.

All recruits eye one another nervously. James and fellow recruit Layla (Moynahan) quickly develop a hot-and-cold sexual attraction made all the more difficult by their re-education as liars and sneaks. Meanwhile, Zack (Gabriel Macht) arouses James' suspicions, possibly because he's too all-American blond. Their training sessions represent the film's strongest moments as everyone works to master the lethal arts. It's Harry Potter's wizards school for antisocial grown-ups.

Once the film abandons the Farm to move all the characters back to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., the film veers into a much more conventional mode. Plus, we're already prepped not to trust or believe anyone's mission -- not James', not Layla's and not, for that matter, Walter's.

Pacino has gotten to the point in his career that he can get away with a one-note performance such as this because he plays that one note so beautifully. It's terrific fun to watch him tear into his outsized character with such relish. Farrell has to work awfully hard to hold his own in scenes with Pacino. Not without his own charisma, however, Farrell does manage. Moynahan, meanwhile brings cool intelligence and heated eroticism to Layla, letting us read her enigmatic behavior more than one way.

Donaldson is slowly working his way through the federal government in search of thrillers. Having done solid and gripping films about the White House ("Thirteen Days") and the Pentagon ("No Way Out"), he certainly finds a new way to deal with the old war horse that is the CIA. (He may have his work cut out for him when he hits the Department of Agriculture, though.) But the script betrays him in the second half with sheer silliness. Spies talk to one another over the open lines of a cell phone, and an agent sneaks into another agent's office while she is at lunch. The third act of betrayal and double betrayal is such a foregone conclusion that even James and Layla getting back together after their romance down on the Farm adds little spark.

The film does benefit from Stuart Dryburgh's crisp lensing and Andrew McAlpine's meticulous renditions of such inner sanctums as CIA headquarters and the creepy realm of the Farm.


Buena Vista Pictures

Touchstone Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment

Credits: Director: Roger Donaldson; Screenwriters: Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Mitch Glazer; Producers: Roger Birnbaum, Jeff Apple, Gary Barber; Executive producers: Jonathan Glickman, Ric Kidney; Director of photography: Stuart Dryburgh; Production designer: Andrew McAlpine; Music: KIaus Badelt; Costume designer: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor; Editor: David Rosenbloom. Cast: Walter Burke: Al Pacino; James Clayton: Colin Farrell; Layla: Bridget Moynahan; Zack: Gabriel Macht; Ronnie: Mike Realba.

MPAA rating PG-13, running time 115 minutes.

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