Killer Joe

Dir: William Friedkin, 2011. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple. Mystery-Thriller.

Killer JoeIt's an unfortunate fact that the vast majority of actors who, in their prime, filled roles that were at once progressive and invigorating, turned to ones that were lackluster, if not depressing, once they reached their peak of marketability within a genre. Usually this career transition leans towards comedy--and while viewers strain to recognize adept versatility on the screen, they often find themselves quite underwhelmed. Some notable examples of such actors are Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. That being stated, in Killer Joe one can find a rare opposite in transitions. Here we find the harmless and perhaps awkward Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer, Into the Wild) and the go-to charmer of chick-flicks, Mathew McConaughey, playing two morally reprehensible characters that are not only believable but unnerving.

The plot more or less surrounds the woes of Chris (Emile Hirsch), a somewhat desperate young man of poor character who owes a Texan drug lord 6K for “misplaced dope.” To blame for the drugs going missing is Chris’s mother Adele, a woman whom he, and the rest of the family, hate. He goes to his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) for help. Ansel lives in a trailer park with his new wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) and his daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) from the previous marriage. When it becomes clear that Ansel doesn’t have the money to lend him Chris tells him of a half-brained scheme involving Joe Cooper, a detective who is self-employed as a hitman. The obvious target is Adele, who has a $50,000 life insurance policy. The money could not only pay off Chris’s debts and the $25,000 fee for Joe’s services, but the remainder could send Dottie, the sole beneficiary, to college.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 28, 2013 5:47pm

The Long Good Friday

Dir: John Mackenzie, 1980. Starring: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Eddie Constantine. Mystery / Thriller.

The Long Good FridayThe DVD box has a blurb from an old review that compares it to The Godfather, but in all actuality the very British pulp gangster flick The Long Good Friday is much closer in spirit to TV’s The Sopranos. Matter of fact, it’s fair to say that The Sopranos is a direct descendent of this crime and politics saga. Bob Hoskins, in a brilliant, star-making performance, carries the film as Harold Shand and, like Tony Soprano, he’s a two-bit street punk who has worked himself up the criminal food chain; instead of New Jersey he runs London. Like Tony, Harold fancies himself an ambitious businessman. He thinks the gaudy opulence he surrounds himself with gives him class and makes him legitimate. Also like the TV show, his wife plays a key role in his life - she’s almost a First Lady of the underworld. Unlike Tony, Harold seems to be devoted to his wife Victoria (played by the great Helen Mirren, just hitting her stride in her important run of great film and TV roles). She seems to be a little more posh than him and like his fancy boat, helps him feel like he’s arrived. Harold also has a crew of devoted lieutenants, the younger ones treat him like a father figure. Although maybe what makes these husky, bearish gangsters resemble each other most is the complicated rage that they desperately try to control. Even when they know revealing their true sociopathic nature can be bad for business, they just can’t help themselves.

With The Long Good Friday, British television director John Mackenzie, on a very modest budget, inexplicably made probably the best English gangster film ever. Inexplicable because though the guy continued to work in film and TV for decades he never made anything else of note. Nor did screenwriter Barrie Keeffe, who also came from the small screen, and who, after the acclaim for The Long Good Friday, never had another screenplay produced (he went back to TV). These two guys, along with the strong collaboration from Hoskins (who also came from TV at the time), would create such a special little gem that would help usher in a mini resurgence in home grown independent British film in the '80s (British film meaning paid for by the pound, not the dollar).

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Sep 7, 2012 1:08pm

Capricorn One

Dir: Peter Hyams, 1978. Starring: Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Hal Holbrook. Mystery/Thriller.

Capricorn One posterHow's this for an all-star 1970s line-up? Capricorn One is a kinda sci-fi, conspiracy minded, political-thriller written and directed by Peter Hyams (Peeper, Outland and the similarly themed The Star Chamber) starring the once popular Elliott Gould as a pesky reporter (as if his Philip Marlowe from Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye wanted to grow up to be Woodward & Bernstein). The three innocent astronauts with their lives on the line are played by the manly James Brolin (Westworld), the nerdy Sam Waterson (The Killing Fields) and ex-football star O.J. Simpson who became famous for... well you know. The astronauts wives include Brenda Vaccaro (Midnight Cowboy) and Denise Nicholas (Blackula). Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat from All The President’s Men) is the conniving government bureaucrat doing his authoritative three-piece-suit thing. Listed and boxed in the credits as special guest stars is the underrated and strangely attractive Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces) and Telly Savalas, taking a break from TV's Kojak. The rest of the cast is rounded out with other TV fixtures from the decade: Robert Walden, David Huddleston and David Doyle (Bosley from Charlie’s Angels). It’s not just the cast or the haircuts that make Capricorn One so beautifully '70s, it's the paranoia that has come to define so much of the work of ...

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Aug 21, 2012 5:51pm

Black Sunday

Dir: John Frankenheimer, 1977. Starring: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver. Action.

Black SundayBefore novelist Thomas Harris created the character of Hannibal Lecter for his Red Dragon book series, he had written one other novel entitled Black Sunday. It was a terrorist thriller obviously inspired by the massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The adaptation for the screen by legendary screenwriter Ernst Lehman (North by Northwest, Sweet Smell of Success) provides the setting for one of the best action flicks of the 1970s and another cool movie notch in the belt for director John Frankenheimer. Along with The Deep released the same year (’77), Black Sunday would provide the peak role for actor Robert Shaw as a big star leading man, before tragically dying of a heart attack the following year.

A kinda sexy Palestinian terrorist, Dahlia (Marthe Keller, who played a similarly spooky Euro a year earlier in Marathon Man) finds the perfect boyfriend—Vietnam Vet Mike Lander (Bruce Dern, in his full whacked-out mode) who works once a week as a Goodyear blimp pilot for the NFL. To make a point about America’s support for Israel, she convinces him to fill the blimp up with explosives and blow up the Super Bowl. (Oh yeah, the President is going to be attending the game, too). Luckily, badass Israeli intelligence agent David Kabakov (Shaw) is on her tail.

Like the adaptation of Frederick Forsyth&r...

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Jul 27, 2011 5:06pm

Deliverance

Dir: John Boorman, 1972. Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox. Mystery/Thriller.

Deliverance is a wholly original American film, directed by a Brit, an action survival thriller in the Straw Dogs mode. Ahead of its time in ’72 it precluded a number of genres that would emerge over the decades from “hillbillyxploitation” of the '70s to “torture porn” of more recent years. Films from Southern Comfort to The Descent have been explained and pitched as “Deliverance with…” No film since has been able to combine the stunning filmmaking and the shock, but not just for shock's sake. This isn’t an exploitation film, beneath the horror there is great and powerful purpose, when man takes on wild nature, he also finds out what is buried in his own nature.

Instead of an easy weekend of golfing, four Atlanta white collar guys get out of their depth with a canoe trip on a river that is slowly being damned up deep in the Appalachian mountains. The trio are linked by the family man Ed (Jon Voight); he is joined by two cronies completely out of their comfort zone, Bobby (Ned Beatty in his film debut) and Drew (Ronny Cox, Richard “Dick” Jones of Robocop). Luckily joining them in the adventures is he-man Lewis (Burt Reynolds), who seems to know what he’s doing and who is quite the Hemingwayesque philosopher as well, “sometimes you have to lose yourself before you can find anything.”

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Apr 19, 2011 3:45pm

Inception

Dir: Christopher Nolan, 2010. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe. Thriller.

Inception is the brilliant vision of the future where corporate espionage is administered through the human mind instead of the tangible environment. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a brilliant thief and fugitive who is very accomplished in the enterprise of extraction. He and his associates are the best at what they do. Their job is to essentially hack into the minds of powerful businessmen, via their dreams, to obtain secret ideas. As a way for Cobb to clear his name and pave the way to redemption, he takes a job for Saito (Ken Watanabe), a wealthy businessman who has commissioned Cobb and his colleagues, not to cull ideas from his rival, but to plant an idea – thus, inception. It is not so much the act of inception that prevents our hero from obtaining redemption but an outside element that prevents Cobb from carrying out his duty.

With amazing cinematography by Wally Pfister and film editing by Lee Smith, Inception brings to life a world in which dreams are not only within one’s mind but also exists on an entirely new dimension. Adding to that new dimension is the utterly brilliant and haunting score (which plays almost as a secondary character) from Hans Zimmer. With mind bending action, beautiful visuals, hallucinatory special effects and a break-neck pace, Christopher Nolan proves that, as a director and creative force, one does not need a comic book, a sequel or a remake to create a highly adroit and fascinating story.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Mar 11, 2011 6:43pm

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Dir: Ted Kotcheff, 1978. Starring: George Segal, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Morley. Mystery/Comedy.

As if the spectacle of a top chef's attitude was not enough, this movie has excellent dialogue and absurd murders to please viewers even more. For that reason, and many others, it is my favorite screwball comedy and one which takes a step away from traditional screwball plots, yet still remains fresh and classic. Replacing the love-triangle between a feisty woman and two men is a dessert chef who is being fought over by two individuals, though one of those pursuits is not romantic. Natasha (Jacqueline Bisset) is a famous pastry chef who's been called upon by Maximillian Vandevver (Robert Morley), an obese food critic and good friend, to make a cake for the Queen of England. Her fumbling ex-husband, Robby (George Segal), is an overnight millionaire who owns various catchy fast food chains. This, of course, allows for Natasha and her co-workers to see him as the antichrist of cuisine. While harassing her in order to pitch an idea for a chain of omelets called H. Dumpty's, he discovers that she is being wooed by a famous Swiss chef. This particular chef is the one that orchestrated the dinner for the Queen, and the two met on silly terms in a kitchen. After spending the night with him, she wakes to find that he has been murdered in his own kitchen while attempting to make her breakfast. She finds him in an oven, which she and the authorities notice is a play on his specialty dish. Since she was the last one seen with him and her ex-husband was the last one to call his home, the two become suspects for the murder. The business deals that they have in other countries don’t leave them with much time to feel threatened, and Natasha finds herself shipped off to Venice by Max in order to meet a famous Italian chef and exchange ideas. Robby ends up following her there and becomes an even bigger nuisance. Soon after, his silly and semi-romantic cat-and-mouse game is overshadowed by another murder. The Italian chef, like the Swiss one, is killed in the fashion of h...

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jan 19, 2011 12:47pm

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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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Jan 7, 2011 12:10pm

Marathon Man

Dir: John Schlesinger, 1976. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, Marthe Keller, William Devane. Mystery.

If nothing else, Marathon Man is relevant as British director John Schlesinger’s last important film. He had been a major force in English cinema in the '60s with Darling, Far From The Madding Crowd, and Sunday Bloody Sunday. In America he made one of the great "Los Angeles movies," Day Of The Locust, and one of the great "New York Movies," Midnight Cowboy (for which he won an Oscar). After Marathon Man his next dozen or so films before his death in 2003 would be completely unmemorable (with the exception of Sean Penn’s stellar performance in The Falcon and The Snowman), sadly ending such a promising career with the horrid Madonna vehicle, The Next Best Thing.

Based on a massive bestseller by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid), Marathon Man is interesting because Schlesinger is able to use the docu-street style he perfected with Midnight Cowboy and his smart, gentle approach to grown-up literature to turn out a really cool, tough, and intelligent thriller. It’s a film with a number of twists, though they don’t always add-up, on the whole it's a taut, gripping, exciting film.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Oct 25, 2010 3:46pm

Stigma

Dir: David E. Durston, 1972. Starring: Philip Michael Thomas, Harlan Cary Poe, Josie Johnson, Peter Clune. Thriller.

Shortly after the release of Durston's cult classic, I Drink Your Blood, another movie was crafted with a rampant disease as the focal point. Seeing as how I Drink Your Blood was so ridiculously good and over the top, I imagined this to be similar in plot,  but I was wrong. A young doctor named Calvin Crosse (Philip Michael Thomas) is released from prison, his crime being an illegal abortion he performed as a med-student in which the woman did not survive. Dr. Thor, his old professor, has called him to the city of Stanford in order get his help with a disease that might be affecting the town. While hitchhiking he meets Billy (Harlan Cary Poe), a handsome soldier who is returning from duty and grew up in Stanford. The two arrive and part, Billy being smothered by his family and Calvin being met with hostility from locals who don’t like newcomers, especially black ones.

Upon arriving at Dr. Thor's house, Calvin finds him dead and has nothing to go on except a tape recording left for him should the old man die before he arrived, and a note on his desk that reads "D-D?" Sheriff Whitehead (Peter Clune) moseys over to the house and meets Calvin, who becomes his mortal enemy at sight. Their issues are put on hold and Calvin gets to work trying to figure out why he was requested from his old friend. He is visited by a mysterious girl named D.D. (Josie Johnson) who was receiving help from the doctor and is distraught by the news of his death. She just so happens to be the daughter of the menacing sheriff and the new girlfriend of Billy, who turns out to be the only friend Cal has in the town.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Sep 22, 2010 3:33pm
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