The Godfather

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola, 1972. Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton. Drama.

If you watch any of the terrific documentaries on films of the last fifty years (The Kid Stays In The Picture, A Decade Under the Influence, Visions Of Light, etc) you will notice there is ONE film that comes up over and over, its influence and success massive, the impact it had on the public and the industry indescribable. If you polled people, I bet it would make as many favorite ten-best lists as any other movie. If I happen upon it on TV I set sucked right in. It's the Gone With The Wind of its time.... Yes, you know what we are talking about, The Godfather. Perhaps the greatest movie ever made.

Of course this is the epic story of a post-WWII Italian American family. Vito, the Patriarch (Marlon Brando), is the head of the Corleone crime organization. The film opens at the wedding of his daughter, Connie (Talia Shire). His oldest son, Fredo (John Cazale), is a rather weakly type. His next son, Sonny (James Caan), a hothead womanizer, is the heir to take over the business. There is also an adopted Irish American son, Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall), who works as the family’s lawyer. His youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), is there with his new girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton). He is not part of the family business; as a collage graduate and a "war hero" there are expectations for greatness cast upon him. In a nutshell, The Godfather is a tale about how Michael evolves from clean-cut, all-American wanna-be to the head of the family when his father dies and his brother Sonny is murdered. And he ends up becoming even more ruthless than his father ever was.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Jul 12, 2010 12:29pm

The Day of the Locust

Dir: John Schlesinger, 1975. Starring: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton. Drama.

Adaptations of quintessentially L.A. novels tend to either work marvelously, as with L.A. Confidential, or don't quite measure up to their source material (a category I’d lump Ask the Dust into). John Schlesinger’s adaptation of The Day of the Locust was a costly misfire for Paramount Studios which spent something like 6 months on the film and a whole lot of dough. It could have been as influential as Chinatown, but it was a flop upon release, though ultimately it had some enduring appeal as a cult film in later years. Nathaniel West’s novel is generally considered to be the very best novel on Hollywood, its more grotesque inhabitants, and its tragic allure as a festering dump where dreams go to die. That makes the novel sound sobering and self-serious but this is a story about fame whores, violently degenerate midgets, sociopathic child actors, cockfights, stag films, and a movie premiere that culminates in the apocalypse. It’s brutally dark and really, really entertaining.

The movie is essentially a literal adaptation of West’s novel and it came under criticism from some quarters for being too literal. Director John Schlesinger was taken to task for supposedly ignoring the arch satire of West's depiction of Hollywood as the epicenter of greed, desperation, and idiocy, and instead ratcheting up the cartoon nihilism to a fever pitch. But when you do a story about America’s pop cultural border town that ends with a murderous orgy of celebrity blood lust I’m not exactly sure "holding back" is the way to go. The Day of the Locust is about a particular kind of American tragedy that West found on Hollywood Boulevard during the 1930s. In the dive bars and diners that lined the boulevard were hundreds of desperate people without a nickel to their name, all drawn to Hollywood in the hopes of making it big. Most, West found, couldn’t even get work as extras. He saw them as a mass of human wreckage under the movie premiere kleig lights. The dark joke beneath the glittering dream that Hollywood came to embody was exquisitely rendered by West as it was happening. The film does justice to the novel with its horror show theatrics under the palm trees and sunny skies of Southern California and ultimately it’s more creepy than campy.

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Posted by:
Jed Leland
Jun 7, 2010 11:00am

Last Tango In Paris

Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci, 1973. Starring: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Leaud. Drama.

Film acting can be defined with "before Brando" and "after Brando." Marlon Brando brought a reality and a vulnerability to the screen that had never been fully been realized by a major movie star before his startling run of influential film performances in the early 1950s. The generations of "method actors" (Dean, Newman, Hoffman, De Niro, Pacino, Penn, etc.) all cited Brando as their number-one influence on their own revolutionary work.

No other actor has given a string of film performances like the first half dozen of Brando's performances; they were monumental. The Men (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), The Wild One (1953), and On the Waterfront (1954) (for which he finally won his first Oscar) all contributed to his legend.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 19, 2010 12:51pm

Homer & Eddie

Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky, 1989. Starring: James Belushi and Whoopi Goldberg. Comedy/Drama

You know how in old classic films or screwball comedies there is usually some sort of love triangle where a guy and a gal "meet cute" and go on some ridiculous adventure together, later to get married? Well, Homer and Eddie is sort of like that scenario, only fairly depressing and in no way romantic.

Homer (James Belushi) is a slightly mentally handicapped man who has lost a bit of sense and gained a fair amount of childlike ignorance after being hit in the head with a baseball during a game when he was a boy. In the beginning of the movie he prepares himself for a long journey, saying goodbye to his desolate neighborhood and a local stray before hitting the road. His goal is to see his sick father before he kicks the bucket, though the man and his entire family have pretty much abandoned him after the case of his retardation. While hitchhiking on the freeway, he gets his suitcase and cash stolen. With no means of lodging, he wanders into a garbage dump and falls asleep in the backseat of a seemingly empty car. But in the morning, he discovers that he's not alone as the driver, Eddie (Whoopi Goldberg), was asleep in the front. After being startled by the aloof and friendly stranger, she tries once to rob him, then oddly offers up help in a half-brained scheme to locate the men who stole the money that she somehow figures is now rightfully hers.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 3, 2010 5:41pm

Me Without You

Dir: Sandra Goldbacher, 2001. Starring: Michelle Williams, Anna Friel, Allan Corduner, Trudie Styler, Kyle MacLachlan. Drama.

If you've ever experienced or witnessed the heavy and sometimes odd bond that two girls can have, you will enjoy (or remain bewildered after) seeing this movie. Set in the summer of 1973, Holly and Marina are two neighbors who become best friends in a small London suburb. Holly is the only child of a very conservative Jewish family where her mother and father are still married and highly involved in her progress as an intellect. Her best friend Marina's life serves as an excellent juxtaposition. Her mother is….well, picture a woman with the spirit of a 1930s flapper and the heart of a British teen in the '60s who chain smokes and likes Valium. Her father is a globe-trotting pilot who is never around and her older brother Nat is an attractive lad with a life of his own. The two girls take an oath that summer to be "one" in a place in their minds that they've named "Harina." As time goes on, the two share all of life's disappointments and thrills, but as the girls get older and things get more complicated, the balance of their friendship changes. Holly becomes the only positive force in Marina's unstable and self-destructive existence. And while she only wants happiness for everyone she knows and loves, Holly can't help redeeming her pact and getting involved with Marina's chaotic pastimes, nor can she snuff the growing passion she has for Marina's brother.

The actresses who play the older stages of these two girls are what put the icing on the cake. Holly is played by Michelle Williams—an excellent choice for a character who is a bit mousy, intellectual, and an old-fashioned romantic. Marina is played by Anna Friel, a charismatic and colorful actress who fits the part perfectly. By the time they've hit college, still living together in a flat with other roommates, they've experienced some of the best parts of being young, which include hard drugs and casual sex. The soundtrack of the film is an excellent addition to their exhilaration, and while it is looked down upon to have it be the one of the film's best features, the spirit of this movie survives because of the sounds of The Clash, Wreckless Eric, Scritti Politti, Echo and the Bunnymen, and other landmark artists.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 27, 2010 5:58pm

Candy

Dir: Neil Armfield, 2006. Starring: Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush. Drama.

We’ve all seen movies that circulate around addiction, whether it be substance abuse or recreational activities. The success of their messages can either scare the pants off an audience, urging them to never go down that path, or pull recovering addicts into a reminiscing spell. But Candy is somewhat different. Directed by Neil Armfield and co-written by the novel’s author, Luke Davies, it is a story more about the addiction of being loved and its consequences than of substance abuse.

Heath Ledger plays Dan, a sensitive, almost puppy-like poet who is addicted to heroin. Candy, played by Abbie Cornish, is an artist who falls madly in love with Dan and all of his habits, including the drug. Together they think they’ve found a bliss and complacency unlike anything they’ve ever experienced that would be the envy of any romantic, as well as a "secret glue" holding their world together. Though this euphoria is aided by the opiate, the real drug they fall under the influence of is their infatuation with one another.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 19, 2010 3:05pm

Pretty Baby

Dir: Louis Malle, 1978. Starring: Susan Sarandon, Keith Carradine, Brooke Shields. Drama.

If I had a dime for every time I had to defend this brilliant film, I’d be a millionaire. The film is set in the red-light district of the early 1900s in Storyville, New Orleans—a time when prostitution was beginning to be looked upon as foul by the community. Brooke Shields plays Violet, one of three children who are being raised in the brothel in which her mother Hattie (Susan Sarandon) works and resides. The house also serves as a sort of hotel for passing travelers and is stumbled upon by a photographer named Bellocq (Keith Carradine). At first, he is only interested in the women in order to study how they live and to capture their beauty and charismatic wonder with his camera. But when the 12-year old Violet begins her initiation to join the ranks of the women there, he becomes trapped in a battle with his conscience to both stop the girl from having a future in the house and to hold off his desire to keep her for himself. As for Violet, she is, after all, only a child and offers no aid in helping Bellocq make the right decision. She plays on his affection as one would expect a vain, spoiled, and fatherless girl to do. The resolution that comes to these characters does so without any sort of satisfactory closure. You’ll still be thinking about the future of people like this long after you’ve finished the film.

Now, let’s get past the controversy quickly before continuing. Yes, Brooke Shields is a 12-year old portraying a child prostitute who is artistically nude in some shots, though never performing a sexual act on screen. To most, this would be considered child pornography. But let us remember this is Louis Malle we’re talking about—a brilliant director who has a gift for delivering complex coming-of-age films as honestly and true to life as one can in cinema. Let us also remember that this film was made in the '70s when artistic expression without limitations was soon to come to an end, especially in America. Lastly, for a person in this time period, the social requirements for whom you could marry and sleep with was as far removed from today’s standards as you could imagine. With that said, I believe there is a lot more than what meets the eye with this film. I believe that it is still relevant and important in our society, and is perhaps a visual image that pairs well with songs like "House of the Rising Sun."

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 12, 2010 2:29pm

Monster’s Ball

Dir. Marc Forster, 2001. Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Mos Def. Drama.

It is a treat and a privilege to see the work of actors and directors that are versatile and consistent. Director Marc Forster has had an interesting approach to portraying damage within people, families, and romantic relationships. In movies like Stay, The Kite Runner, and Finding Neverland, we can see examples of his attempts to unify an audience with stories and feelings that no one is exempt from. But when Monster’s Ball was presented, featuring an extraordinary cast and controversial subject matter, I was more than eager to see what all the buzz was about. To say that it did not disappoint would be an understatement.

The story seems simple: two strangers meet and become romantically involved. But here is the not so simple part. Halle Berry gives an Oscar-winning performance as Leticia, a waitress who lives on the brink of eviction with her son who has a lifelong struggle with obesity. Her ex-husband Lawrence, wonderfully played by Sean Combs, is within 72 hours of execution on death row. Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank, a corrections officer specializing in assisting prisoners on death row and currently is assisting Lawrence’s last days. He lives with his son Sonny (Heath Ledger), who is also in the same profession, and his father (Peter Boyle) who retired from the same profession. His life circulates with racism, ritual, unease, bitterness, and abuse. The two meet in the most unconventional way when Leticia’s son is struck during a hit-and-run and Hank later witnesses them in distress and escorts them to the hospital where the boy is pronounced dead. From there a consuming and aggressive romance begins to unfold.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Mar 15, 2010 3:59pm

Ordinary People

Dir: Robert Redford, 1980. Starring: Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch. Drama.

Back in the day, if there was one historical injustice that could get any red blooded film-geek or cinaphile extremely agitated, it was the fact that Martin Scorsese had not won an Oscar. Of course in 2006, he finally did win for the overrated The Departed, putting that controversy to bed. But before that, film-geeks would foam at the mouth, especially knowing that the Godly director had lost twice to actors making their directing debuts.

In 1990, Goodfellas was robbed by Kevin Costner's goody-goody Western Dances With Wolves. And ten years earlier Raging Bull lost to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Feb 22, 2010 3:41pm

Who’s That Knocking On My Door

Dir: Martin Scorsese, 1967. Starring: Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune. Drama.

"A broad. You know, there are girls, and then there are broads. A broad isn't exactly a virgin, you know what I mean? You play around with them...You don't marry a broad..." -- Who's That Knocking At My Door

Who’s That Knocking At My Door, directed and co-written by Martin Scorsese, has had various names, influences, and spans of time in which it was filmed. One thing that leaves no question is that for Scorsese and Harvey Keitel’s first feature-film, it is an ambitious and carefully executed debut that will leave you wanting more. Keitel plays J.R., an average Italian-American whose idea of a good time is romping around with his friends and persuing “broads.” All that changes when he meets a beautiful and traditional girl (Zina Bethune) whose purity is so alluring that he cannot help but get involved. His Catholic classification of women to be the “Madonna or the whore” ignites an inspiration not only to be a gentleman, but also to offer up a willingness to settle for such a girl. But when a secret from her past distorts the fine lines he thought every woman could be defined by, J.R. must confront and break down everything he once understood about affection and his convictions.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Feb 16, 2010 2:39pm
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