Little Murders

Dir: Alan Arkin, 1971. Starring: Elliott Gould, Marcia Rodd, Vincent Gardenia. Comedy/Cult.

Violence! Hilarity! Violence, again! Breathers on the phone! What the hell is going on here? That’s right: it’s “America during the war.” Vietnam War. But let’s face it; America has been enamored with violence since our cursory inception. This here tale just happens to take place in the late 60s/early 70s.

Alfred is a self-ascribed "apathist." He doesn’t care either way about, well, everything. As long as he can take his photographs, there are no problems. Constantly tormented and accosted by Manhattan street thugs for apparently no reason, he idly complies and daydreams his way through the relentless beatings until his assailants wear themselves out. Along comes Patsy. Witnessing one of Al’s beatings from her apartment window, she heads down the elevator to help him out. Alfred slyly walks away amongst the compounding brouhaha as if nothing has happened and continues snapping his pics with self-satisfying glee. Patsy is appalled. Shocked. “What kind of a man are you?!” she indignantly exclaims. Well one thing leads to another and they’re off dating. Imbibing in the standard bourgeois dating procedures of the time - golf, tennis, ‘a day at the lake’ - Alfred remains apathetic, content with verbal gestures such as “I really think I could trust you.” Violence? Hang on...

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Jun 11, 2009 3:02pm

The Arrangement (1969)

Dir: Elia Kazan, 1969. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Deborah Kerr, Richard Boone. Drama.

Thanks to my co-worker Jackie for throwing this one my way after telling her how much I enjoy Richard Lester’s Petulia.

Here’s another success from jack-of-all-trades Elia Kazan. This time around he’s mining the tumult of the white-collar male psyche amidst 1960s america. This was a time when veteran and rookie American filmmakers were absorbing the groundbreaking editing and storytelling techniques of European behemoths like Bertolucci, Bunuel & Bergman, and regurgitating them into something wholly new. Something prime Americana. This particular example is a great meeting place for leaders of the old guard (Kazan, Douglas & Kerr) rubbing elbows with a dash of the then-newer crop (Dunaway). This vehicle ends up working as a social mixer for the classic styles of Kazan’s past and the fresh ideas coming in from across the Atlantic. The resulting product nests roughly between the realms of a classic melodrama and a surrealist psychological satire.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
May 18, 2009 1:27pm

The Mind Benders

Director: Basil Dearden, 1962. Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Mary Ure, John Clements. Mystery/Thriller.

“This story was suggested by experiments on 'The Reduction Of Sensation' recently carried out at certain universities in the United States.” This baleful warning, with Cold War overtones written all over it, begins the queasy British thriller The Mind Benders. Although influenced by real occurrences in the US, this particular story takes place in Oxford, UK. Written the same year as the Ipcress File (the novel, not the film), it’s very hard to ignore the similarities between the two stories. Both focus primarily on espionage, brainwashing, sensory deprivation, etc...The Mind Benders feels more like an extended 2-part episode of The Avengers, sans Emma Peel (dang). In that I mean it feels more like two separate films with two major themes:  Free Will and True Love.

This is another DVD that I picked up from the looks of the cover. Expecting a pulp trash sci-fi schlocker, which is usually my cup of tea, I was inadvertently presented with a sophisticated and multi-layered low budget psychological thriller.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
May 7, 2009 5:02pm

Carve Her Name With Pride

Dir: Lewis Gilbert, 1958. Starring: Virginia McKenna, Paul Scofield, Jack Warner. War Movies.

Honestly, I picked this one up because of the cover. The title struck me, as did the image of a flaxen-haired beauty brandishing a handgun. This is the true life story of British spy Violette Szabo (Virginia McKenna). Since her real life was gussied up for this film, I am simply going to refer to the film, not her life. Widowed in 1942 (her husband was a French soldier), she is propositioned to act as a liaison between British and French troops. Being fluent in French and athletics, she was a swell candidate. We follow her journey from 1940-1944. It’s a nice time-warp to a period when evil was so easily defined. Nazis? Yes, EVIL! Torn between her only daughter and fulfilling her civic duty, she quickly decides to leave the former behind and finish what she felt her husband had been fighting for. We follow her to her unfortunate end in 1944.

I found the film highly enjoyable, in part from the very subtle camera work and non-invasive directing. In a scene when Violette is handed her husband’s death letter by her mother, we simply see a door close. This was a very subdued and nice touch that goes along with the slight tension throughout the film. We don’t see her reaction to her husband’s death, and more importantly we never see McKenna overact. Her military training is fun to watch. Akin to a less nefarious Le Femme Nikita situation. Training montage, nasty drill instructor, and hijinks all included. There is a very striking scene of her wandering the streets of a German occupied French city while on her first mission. A stark contrast to the lightness of her home life in London.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 27, 2009 1:22pm

Pretty Poison

Dir: Noel Black, 1968. Starring: Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld. Cult.

Returning from nearly a decade of making films in Europe, Anthony Perkins stars as Dennis Pitt, a mysterious young man with a history of being emotionally disturbed. Like many character actors who had such iconic roles as Perkins (see Psycho), it’s hard to imagine him as anyone else. But in retrospect it is easier to see him as the great talent that he was. Simultaneously charming, terrifying, and maniacal. A slapstick master to boot.

Dennis’s parole officer, Azenauer (the late John Randolph), sets the cautionary tone in the first 5 minutes with his predictive warning to Dennis: ”You’re going out into a very real and tough world. It’s got no place for fantasies.” Not only warning Dennis but we, the audience too. There is a lot of misconception and confusion thrown our way over the next 90 minutes. Dennis settles into a New England industrial town where he meets Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld). Its rural Massachusetts locale isolates it from the tumultuous atmosphere of city life during the 1960s. Essentially in a bubble, this film could’ve been made anywhere, in any time, and I think that’s the real strength of the story.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 27, 2009 12:07pm

Eyes Of Laura Mars

Dir: Irvin Kirshner, 1978. Starring: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones. Mystery / Thriller.

Written by the ice-cool John Carpenter and released about two months prior to Halloween, this metaphysical serial murder mystery falls gently in the middle of the writer's spectrum of work, lying somewhere in between The Fog's biblical-styled justice from beyond the grave and the dystopian realism of Escape From New York. Also on board is soon-to-be-Empire Strikes Back-director, Irvin Kirshner. The pairing of these two talents ends up giving the film that classic 1970s American paranoid vibe with a zesty twist of the paranormal.

I watched this in the midst of a Faye Dunaway kick and she doesn’t dazzle, but isn’t disappointing in the titular role. Laura Mars is a controversial fashion photographer. Laura has her fair share of critics, as well as devotees. Depicting female models in strikingly violent city landscapes nonetheless brings her fame. (Icon Helmut Newton provided the actual photographs.) Out of the clear blue sky, she gets a psychic flash and witnesses a grisly murder from the killer’s point of view. Wait, she knows the victim! Terrified, shocked, and confused she ends up falling into cahoots with Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones). The visions continue (Laura knows each victim) and the two run through the picture adding up the clues. All the colorful characters are suspect, including Raul Julia who is unpleasantly excellent as Laura’s ex-husband. Rene Auberjonois is also fabulous as Laura’s assistant. The ending, we’ll say, is classic Carpenter.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 22, 2009 4:10pm

Merci Pour le Chocolat (a.k.a. Nightcap)

Dir: Claude Chabrol, 2000. Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dutronc. French. Foreign/Drama.

I must admit this is the first Chabrol film that I have seen, and what a delight it is! Browsing the racks of the Foreign DVDs I couldn’t help but notice how many of his films star the charming Isabelle Huppert (8 to be exact), whose performance as the Yin to Dustin Hoffman’s Yang in I Heart Huckabees took me aback. Coupled with Mark Wahlberg’s role, this was the most enjoyable factor of said film. Back to Merci...

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the plot logistics, so I’ll try and make a good assessment of the main themes. Primarily this film’s story is about trust, deceit, and the malleability of the family unit. It doesn’t tackle these topics with too much severity and, in conjunction with its beautiful locations, soft colors, and hazy look, the whole thing goes down very smoothly, like a warm cup of hot chocolate. I need to hand it to Chabrol for portraying such heavy topics in a light manner, which is a rare feat to pull off.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 20, 2009 4:33pm
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