The Social Network

Dir: David Fincher, 2010. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Brian Barter. Drama.

I watched The Social Network with a few expectations:

1) Knowing it was directed by David Fincher told me it would look stylishly dark (though, how and why for a movie about computer geeks remained a mystery).

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Jan 7, 2011 3:19pm

Catfish

Dir: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010. Starring: Megan Faccio, Melody C. Roscher, Ariel Schulman, Yaniv Schulman. Mystery.

I don't know if Catfish is a documentary or not, but it doesn't really matter--the impression it leaves would be the same regardless. If all the action on screen is real, then it might be the most perfect set of natural circumstances to tell an emotional story with in history (which in itself should earn the directors some awards for capturing). If it isn't, then we have a cleverly written film containing some powerful acting performances that say something meaningful about how social networking can shape our love lives. Fiction or not, Catfish tells the truth.

Yaniv "Nev" Schulman is a photographer living in New York City. Shortly after one of his photos makes the cover of a major publication in 2007, he receives a painting of it from an eight-year-old girl in rural Michigan named Abby. He eventually receives e-mails from her, and within the opening minutes of the film becomes Facebook friends with her and the rest of her family and friends. But the online bonding gets a bit more intense with Abby's older sister, Megan. The two start sending each other flirty online messages, eventually even talking on the phone and casually addressing one another as "babe" in their text messages. Nev's brother Ariel, and his friend Henry, document the long-distance relationship. At some point, the filmmakers raise the question of online identity. From there, Nev finds himself in a mystery that's at once utterly realistic and too far out for real life--but who really knows what's going on in this film?

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Paul Losada
Jan 7, 2011 12:10pm

Timecrimes

Dir: Nacho Vigalondo, 2007. Starring: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo. Cine en Espanol.

Timecrimes is sort of like a darker version of that "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons where Homer's toaster becomes a time machine and he keeps screwing up the future by altering the past. It starts off with a similarly dimwitted protagonist and comic dialogue, anyway, but then unexpectedly evolves into an effectively puzzling thriller that, once you think you know where it's going, manages to twist its way into a place you never could have predicted, but which only makes sense. BloodyDisgusting.com calls it, "One of the best time travel movies of all time," and I'll agree in that it's one of the most uniquely satisfying and intelligent I've ever seen.

Héctor and Clara just moved into a new home privately located in a scenic forest in Spain, and Héctor begins noticing some bizarre signs no less than a few seconds into the film. The phone rings but no one appears to be on the other end. He calls the number back but only gets a voicemail asking for a security code. "How can anyone know this number?" he asks his wife. "We just moved in." Later, while lounging on the front lawn and taking in views of the forest with his binoculars, he sees a woman stripping off her clothes. Venturing into the woods for a closer look, Héctor is suddenly attacked by a scissor-wielding maniac covered in bloody bandages. He makes a run for it, eventually stumbling on a high-tech looking science lab. He finds a radio and calls for help, where a scientist named El Joven guides him to a safer part of the building. But what Héctor finds determines his fate in ways he, and I doubt any audience watching, could predict.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Dec 27, 2010 6:12pm

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

Dir: Chuck Russell, 1987. Starring: H. Langenkamp, P. Arquette, R. Englund, L. Fishburn, J. Saxon. Horror.

My appreciation for the 3rd installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise skyrocketed after watching Christopher Nolan's Inception. Yes, it takes itself less seriously. Hell no, it never received any Oscar buzz. Yes, it's outright cartoonish at times, And, no, you can't convince me I've lost my mind for thinking this (if I'm insane you wouldn't be able to win an argument with me anyway). A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors is actually the more sensible, and even more creative film. Re-watching it again recently, I was in awe of its inventiveness with dream logic, and its surreal special effects and production design. It also establishes an idea within two minutes that Nolan completely fails at with 148: that death within a dream has high consequences.

Nightmare 3 ignores whatever happened in Part Two, and so it's not required viewing beforehand (though none of it will make a bit of sense to those who never saw the original Nightmare on Elm Street). The film opens with a teenage artist named Kristen (Patricia Arquette in her first feature-length role). She's mixing coffee grounds with Coke to stay awake, and building a model of a certain creepy house on Elm Street she keeps visiting in her dreams. Soon enough, we're in it with her after she falls asleep, and she's attacked by a razor-gloved, dream-stalking serial killer known as Freddy Krueger. She wakes up in her mother's bathroom holding a razor with slit wrists.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Dec 24, 2010 12:32pm

Totally F***ed Up

Dir: Gregg Araki, 1993. Starring James Duval, Roko Belic, Susan Behshid, Jenee Gill, Gilbert Luna. Gay Cinema.

I grew up enjoying Gregg Araki's films, but I don't think I quite appreciated them until recently. I always saw him as a cult filmmaker--notable for helping to pioneer the New Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s, but for also telling his stories with a gaudy, B-movie aesthetic that seemed equal parts Russ Meyer and John Waters. I didn't always relate to the lost, Los Angeles-inhabiting teenagers who made up the casts of his films, but I was fascinated by their world of drugs, sexual confusion, and goth/industrial music (and their complete boredom with all of it). Watching Totally F***ed Up now, I find myself compelled by all the same qualities, but also far more touched with Araki's understanding and concern for whom I can only describe as fairly typical teenagers.

The film focuses on a group of gay teens who all seem to have too much free time on their hands. They lounge around pools while chain-smoking cigarettes, take pills and stumble around in empty parking garages, and talk about their complicated relationships while playing children's board games. Andy, a firm believer that love does not exist, is starting to question otherwise after he meets an older college student who wants to be the next Dennis Cooper. Michele and Patricia want a baby, and decide to try their luck with a turkey baster and a bowl of their friends' semen. Tommy isn't looking for a serious commitment with anybody--casually hooking up with random strangers like it's the 1970s. Steven is a budding filmmaker documenting his friends' world, and undergoes a crisis with his lover, Deric, after an older man seduces him with a bootleg tape of a Nine Inch Nails show. "If it was any other band, I probably would have said no," Steven laments later.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Dec 14, 2010 5:09pm

Straight Time

Dir: Ulu Grosbard, 1978. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Harry Dean Stanton, Theresa Russell, Gary Busey. Drama.

Edward Bunker is probably one of the most criminally (no pun intended) neglected writers in American history. Best known for his role as Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs, the character wasn't a huge stretch for him. He worked as a career criminal from the time he was a teenager up through his forties. He also wrote a slew of books that depict convict life with searing realism--real ball-kickers of stories that remain thrillingly authentic today. In the late '70s he helped adapt his novel, No Beast So Fierce, for the screen, which resulted in this somewhat shockingly little-known film starring Dustin Hoffman. Why such little fan-fare for it? My guess is that it was just a bit too real at the time.

Hoffman plays Max Dembo, a convict freshly released from prison for armed robbery. He meets with his sociopath of a parole officer (M. Emmet Walsh), who reminds him that just one step out of line will earn a one-way trip behind bars again. Max insists he's ready to play it straight in a newly reformed life--and we believe him. He speaks earnestly, and a few minutes later in screen time he lands a job at a recycling plant, and even scores a date with a sweet-natured secretary (Theresa Russell). But it doesn't take long for his chances at a normal life to crumble; a meeting with a buddy from the old days (played brilliantly by a doe-eyed Gary Busey) sets off a heart-breakingly unfair chain of events. I'll only mention a few keywords that should drum up some interest for the last two-thirds of the movie: "shotguns," "Harry Dean Stanton," "jewelry store heist," and "freeway nudity."

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Oct 5, 2010 5:26pm

Deadgirl

Dir: Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel. 2008. Starring: Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Michael Bowen, Candice Accola. Horror.

I checked out Deadgirl as an experiment. There was no way anyone could make a film about a zombie sex slave and elevate it beyond an unbelievable, exploitative sleaze-fest of misery the trailer painted it out to be. At best, I would walk away from it knowing how NOT to make a horror film; at worst, I'd say "yuck" and take a long hot shower afterward. But I also had to see it because it was the first movie idea I heard in a while that actually made me think I could say "yuck." As horror fans, we're all trying to find the next high--the next stomach-churning gross out, or even better, a story that might actually send a genuine chill of fear down our spines after we thought we've seen it all. Deadgirl delivers the heeby-geebies more effectively than I predicted, but probably not in the way the filmmakers intended. Underneath an odd attempt to create a coming of age story, there's a social commentary being made on how terrifyingly clueless teens might be today on what it means to be a "man."

Unpopular, more likely to smoke a joint than pick up a football, and too inept to talk to girls, Rickie and J.T. at least start the story off as ordinary teenage misfits. When cutting school for a day for some old-fashioned beer-drinking and petty vandalism at the local abandoned insane asylum, however, they find something that proves to be a right of passage neither quite imagined for themselves: a naked girl strapped to a table in the dank and decrepit basement of the hospital. Rickie wants to run away and pretend they were never there, but J.T. gets a more deviant idea. "We could keep her," he says. What's the moral thing to do? Well, that question gets hazy once they realize the girl is sort-of-but-not-really dead. The real trouble begins, though, when word gets out to more boys at school. I'll just say that a whole lot more gets lost than friendship (and virginity).

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
May 19, 2010 12:19pm

The 4th Man

Dir: Paul Verhoeven, 1983. Starring: Jeroen Krabbe, Renee Soutendijk, Thorn Hoffman, Geert de Jong. Dutch. Foreign.

Castration, murder, bisexuality, a man posed suggestively on a crucifix, and the line of dialogue, "Through Mary to Jesus," during an orgasm are just a few highlights from what I think might be one of the most devoutly Catholic films I have ever seen: Paul Verhoeven's The 4th Man. Actually, the film might just be trying to make some sort of statement about the "artist as Christ." I can't be too sure. Either way, and more importantly, it's a richly atmospheric thriller that's as unforgettably funny as it is horrific.

Jeroen Krabbe stars as Gerard Reve, an alcoholic, Catholic novelist from Holland who has risen to considerable fame for being an artist who "lies the truth." After an egotistical Q&A celebrating his work in Vlissingen, he is seduced by Christine Halsslag (Renee Soutendijk) who insists that he spend the night at her hotel/hair salon before returning home. While drawn to Christine ("You have the body of a young boy"), Gerard immediately receives both symbolic and blatantly grotesque warnings of danger through his dreams and encounters with some of the town's people. He chooses to ignore them; however, when he finds out that Christine is also involved with a man named Herman (Thom Hoffman), the writer decides he must have Herman even if it kills him. While sort of playing Christine to get closer to Herman, Gerard stumbles onto some information about the woman's past that might unveil a more terrifying reality than any of his fantasies.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Apr 28, 2009 5:36pm

Detour (1945)

Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945. Starring: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald. Film Noir.

Film students across the world come to be familiar with Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour because it's one of the first examples of the "noir" genre; it makes clever use of its low budget and it offers a classic, if simplistic, story on how men and women can manipulate each other into horrendous actions. While all of these are the reasons why the film still holds up today, it's also more fun to think of Detour as the 1940s equivalent of Stranger Than Paradise or Clerks. Super low-budget and completely pioneering in its time for depicting human behavior, this is a film that can still prove to people that quality films can be made outside of Hollywood.

The story opens up on a grizzled and paranoid-looking Al Roberts, who staggers into a diner somewhere in the barren remoteness of Southern California, just outside of Los Angeles. He reacts harshly when somebody in the diner plays a particular song on the jukebox and, after apologizing and being nearly kicked out, he drinks his coffee and begins to tell his story over narration.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Mar 25, 2009 1:02pm

Manhattan

Dir: Woody Allen, 1979. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep. Comedy/Drama

Manhattan could be America's most moving film about the genuine love between a forty-something-year-old intellectual and a 17-year-old high school student. Well, it's about a bit more than that, but the central storyline is moving in ways few people can quite articulate, but are quick to call "brilliant." Both completely modern yet seemingly timeless, Woody Allen's 1979 film provides a picturesque tribute to one of the world's great cities, as well as a bold statement on finding romantic happiness in not so widely agreeable places.

Allen stars as Isaac Davis, a single father and writer living in Manhattan, who most would consider depressed. Involved in what he considers a meaningless relationship with the underaged Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), friends Yale (Michael Murphy) and Emily (Anne Byrne Hoffman) are concerned Isaac is wasting his life away with the girl while writing junk television shows. Isaac starts to re-evaluate his situation, however, after meeting Yale's mistress Mary (Diane Keaton). At first repelled by her "pseudo-intellectualism," he quickly develops an interest while her affair with Yale becomes more intense.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Feb 18, 2009 1:11pm
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