Living in Oblivion

Dir: Tom DiCillo, 1995. Starring: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James LeGros. English. Comedy/Drama.

An artist painting about art. A writer writing about writing. Here is a film from a filmmaker about filmmaking. Yes, this film may appeal most to all filmmakers of any trade, but aside from its low-budget-independent-film-reference-allure, the film is just as funny as it is smart and can be enjoyed by a wide audience.

Filmmaking in the independent scene is not an easy trade. Boom microphones find their shadows in shots. Good craft service can be hard to come by. The camera assistant might not understand how to keep a shot in focus. Your actress will do her best performance when the camera is not on. And, you can wake up sweating, from this terrible nightmare.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 30, 2009 2:19pm

Alphaville

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, 1965. Starring: Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine. French. Foreign/Science-Fiction.

This is one science fiction film unlike any other. Jean-Luc Godard’s unique French New Wave sensibilities have combined science fiction with film noir, creating a multi-layered, French Surrealist work.

The premise is philosophical and metaphysical, where the main character, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), is a trench-coat wearing agent from the “Outlands.” He is in search of a missing agent, Henry Dickson, and is also looking to kill Professor Von Braun, the creator of Alphaville. Then he is set to destroy Alphaville or the controlling computer, Alpha 60, a sentient computer that outlaws love, poetry, and emotion. One of Alpha 60’s rules is that instead of people asking “why," they should only say "because," and therefore those who show any signs of emotion are interrogated and executed. Caution seeks the assistance of Natasha Von Braun (Anna Karina), the professor’s daughter, who claims she does not know the meaning of “conscience” or “love.” He ends up falling in love with her, his quest of destroying the computer-mentality to replace the human race by Alpha 60 more evident than ever. The unpredictability of his emotions stems a whole new adventure and ultimate discovery for both him and Natasha in his fight for free thought and individuality.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 30, 2009 1:56pm

The Mirror

Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975. Starring: Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova. Russian. Foreign.

The Mirror is absolutely the most poetic film I’ve seen. Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia’s famous director, sewed the film together like fragments, creating a loose, non-linear, autobiographical tale full of childhood memories. The film contains newsreel footage and poems by Tarkovsy’s father, Arseny Tarkovsky. It is a personal, unique film, now highly regarded as one of Tarkovsky’s best works and masterpieces. His work, often a struggle with the Soviet authorities, is well-realized and committed – he has only made seven feature films out of his 27 years as a filmmaker, and each one of them is finely crafted and boldly uncompromised. Here is one of my favorites.

The film begins with Alexei’s son Ignat. The film revolves around his thoughts and his world, and the narrator reads poems reminiscent of a man’s relationships with his mother, ex-wife, and son. The mother, Maria, is a proofreader in a printing press. She is first shown in the countryside during pre-World War II. The rural countryside is one of Tarkovsky’s landscapes – the homes and the land featured in the film are gorgeously drenched in nature, yet also contain an element of isolation. Tarkovsky’s use of nature refers to his childhood memory of war that caused many to evacuate Moscow to the countryside.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 15, 2009 3:09pm

Panic in Needle Park

Dir: Jerry Schatzberg, 1971. Starring: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn. English. Drama.

This is a film that speaks without fringe: no fancy lighting, no overblown plot, no music cues, not even a satisfying conclusion. It is a dark and human depiction of real characters, in a very real situation.

Panic in Needle Park is a story of two people who fall in love in the triangular intersection of Broadway and 72nd St. in New York City’s “Needle Park” – also known today as Sherman Square. Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne adapted the screenplay from James Mill’s novel Panic in Needle Park. In Al Pacino’s second film appearance, he portrays a small-time hustler and drug addict named Bobby who becomes the solace and lover of homeless girl Helen, played by Kitty Winn. The two young lovers become involved in the downward spiral of heroin and betrayal. Heroin invades their passion for each other, yet it becomes their drive to stay together.

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Tiffany Huang
Jul 6, 2009 11:46am

Chinatown

Dir: Roman Polanski, 1974. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston. Mystery/Thriller.

This movie is not ranked on the top of AFI’s "Greatest American Movies" of all time for nothing. Every single aspect and element of this film - from its direction, cinematography, script development, performances, editing, to its art direction - is outstanding. When you take a director such as Roman Polanski, add a writer like Robert Towne, and have actors such as Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, it’s almost a done deal. What leads this film to excel beyond excellence is its profound content and complex, multi-leveled storyline. Its underlying historical significance concerning the 1930s water rights in Los Angeles has also earned the film to be selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1991.

The story is set in the 1930s. J.J. “Jakes” Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, is a Los Angeles private investigator hired by Evelyn Mulwray to spy on her supposed cheating husband, who is the city’s chief engineer for the water department. Soon after the initial investigation, Gittes finds that this woman is an impersonator of Evelyn Mulwray. He plunges into the case to discover the complex twists and turns of a murder involving incest and municipal corruption, which somehow all relate to the city’s water supply. How far do people in power go to keep themselves in that position? Follow Gittes’ investigation to find out.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jun 11, 2009 3:44pm

Meet Me In St. Louis

Dir: Vincente Minnelli, 1944. Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor. Musicals.

Judy Garland, in my book, has always been one interesting persona to watch on screen. Her eyes glitter when she sings, she is always bathed in some wonderful soft light, and somehow the camera is always doing the best dolly moves when she’s on screen. She’s also a separate entity from the real world, so it seems. Her films, just as fascinating to me as Busby Berkeley musicals, are no less from the escapist realm. It’s amazing that 1945 marked the end of World War II, and, well, also produced the completely irrelevant musical, Meet Me In St. Louis. Meet Me in St. Louis is directed by Vincente Minnelli, who married Garland after working with her on set. The story is set in St. Louis, Missouri, in the year before the 1904 World Fair. The middle-class Smith family leads a comfortable and happy life. The four daughters are equally charming in their own separate ways. There’s Rose, Esther (Garland), Agnes, and the youngest, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien). The family anxiously awaits the World’s Fair in their hometown, yet the father breaks the news that they must move to New York City to find a job. The story follows the family’s devastation in the end of summer through their lessons of life, love, and family well into the Christmas holidays, where they make the decision that breaks or makes their bond as a family.

The film features some tunes and dance-numbers, just as pie in the sky as the daughters’ names, including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Boy Next Door,” and “Under the Bamboo Tree."

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jun 3, 2009 4:39pm

On the Waterfront

Dir: Elia Kazan. 1954. Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, and Lee J. Cobb. Classics.

Elia Kazan is one of the most passionate and intelligent directors of classic cinema. Even surrounded by controversy in his time, he continued to make films in which he knew exactly what he wanted to say to the American audience, who emitted a mixed response towards the film.

On the Waterfront is no exception. The idea of the screenplay, written by Budd Schulberg, was formed after The New York Sun put out an expose series about a 1948 murder of a hiring boss on the New York waterfront. The stories, reported by Malcolm Johnson, explained the corruption, extortion, and killings of  everyday life on the waterfront. The protagonist of the film, Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, is an ex-prizefighter who becomes a longshoreman. His character is based on real-life longshoreman Anthony DiVincenzo, who recounted his story to writer Budd Schulberg. This is not a typical mob-story. It deals with the Waterfront Crime Commision, was filmed on location around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, and alludes to issues of loyalty and truth within post-war American society.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jun 1, 2009 12:12pm

The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. I

Dir: Kenneth Anger, 2006. Starring: Kenneth Anger, Gordon Gray, Bill Seltzer, Sampson De Brier, Marjorie Cameron. English. Shorts.

Wordless imagery, saturated colors, avant-garde, myth-ridden – a few of a handful of terms to describe Kenneth Anger’s short films. His work is dazzling, surreal, and certainly a hallmark that pioneered the very language of music videos.

Prior to this UCLA Film Archive high definition digital transfer, these early films of Anger were difficult to view. This collection of work is only a part of his work; several others can be found in Volume II. Here, we have his early works, Fireworks, Puce Moment, Rabbit’s Moon, Eaux d’Artifice, and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, each savory in magical moments, imagination, rituals, and pop-song splendor.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
May 21, 2009 1:58pm

Code Unknown

Dir: Michael Haneke, 2000. Starring: Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Alexandre Hamidi. French & others. Foreign.

Few directors choose to take risks within cinema, and when they do, they reveal ideas in the most intriguing and significant ways. Michael Haneke, in his film Code Unknown, definitely gives his viewers something to take home, long after they’ve watched it. Like a string of Venn-diagrams, the film is a series of segments loosely tied by the intersection of characters in Paris, France, and the subtext goes far beyond just that. The scenes allude to the missed communication within a society blinded by tension caused by differences in race, age, class, and backgrounds in a disheveled European nation. Here is the rare portrayal of Paris as an intellectual discourse, and while less violent compared to Funny Games or Caché, the film is still pointedly bold, high-minded, and socially aware.

What does “code unknown” really mean? We find out a glimpse of this answer in the beginning scene, set in a school of deaf children. A girl is acting out a scene in front of her classmates. They guess what she is attempting to convey:  “Alone?” “Hiding in place?” She shakes her head at each conjecture. The simplicity combined with mystery of this scene is an appropriate overture for the rest of the film.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
May 13, 2009 6:46pm

Born Yesterday

Director: George Cukor, 1950. Starring: Judy Holliday, William Holden, Broderick Crawford. English. Classics.

When I read the play "Born Yesterday," a comedy written by Garson Kanin, I was dying to watch the adapted classic film. The tale itself is so simple yet brilliant: a Pygmalion story. A man shapes a woman into his likeness and then falls in love with her. Add on a backdrop set in post-World War II in a hotel with a view of the White House, and the story becomes politically analytical. Kanin weaves his characters and elements together so flawlessly, in a manner that asks the audience to think about morality, social class, relations between the sexes, and intelligence subconsciously, while watching the plot unfold.

I finally had a chance to watch the film, and Judy Holliday and William Holden arrested my attention full-heartedly.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Apr 27, 2009 12:18pm
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