Blindness

Dir: Fernando Meirelles, 2008. Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael García Bernal. Mystery/Thriller.

A friend's mother used to have one of those tacky plates expressing homilies hanging up on her kitchen wall. Hers read, "Lord, if you can't make me thin, please make all my friends fat." There's a sort of religious fanatic's wish fulfilling fantasy expressed in that message, namely: "I don't want to be happy, but others to be more miserable." Only, it doesn't quite get the desire for power correct; more accurately, it should've read, "make my friends fatter than me." Peter Parker would've hardly captured the dork imagination had he only been given the strength of his high school arch-nemesis, Flash Thompson. No, he needed to become vastly superior. A thought experiment regarding this fantasized superiority complex comes by way of Fernando Meirelles' film adaptation of Nobel-laureate Jose Saramago's novel, Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (An Essay On Blindness). I haven't read the book (too busy with comics), but it sounds pretty close to the film's.

The story takes place in the not-too-distant future in an unnamed city where an epidemic of "white blindness" breaks out. The afflicted characters describe the blindness as swimming through milk, and the grey shapes fading into a white fog digitally created for the camera eye reinforce this description. A more allegorically rich name for the film might've been The Ganzfeld ("whole field"), since the affliction bears a close resemblance to the old gestalt effect of creating a sort of snowblindness with a homogeneous distribution of light across the retina. The ganzfeld parallels the redistribution of power relations among the blind and the seeing within the story. As it were, "seeing the light" no longer has any beneficial effects for the sighted (just as belief in a god has no real moral benefits for the religious, if the millennia-old Christian support for torture is any indication).

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Posted by:
Charles Reece
May 12, 2009 3:55pm

The Bourne Ultimatum

Dir: Paul Greengrass. Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Joan Allen. Mystery/Thriller.

The last (for now) of the Bourne trilogy, which turns out to be the most intriguing of the three due to its critical approach towards Hollywood’s demand for viewer identification. Based on Robert Ludlum’s series of novels, the distinguishing feature of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), keeping him from being just another fantastic superspy in the mold of James Bond, is that while his super-abilities come from his secretive training, his morality comes from no longer being able to recall the ends for which he was trained. Thus, the narrative thrust of the trilogy:  in trying to find out who and what he is and why a top secret offshoot of the C.I.A. wants him dead, he tries to make amends for various assassinations he performed, but can only remember as abstractions without their ideological intent.

So as not to condemn the entire C.I.A., there are good guys (Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons and Joan Allen as Pamela Landy), who recognize the wrongs perpetrated on Bourne by the ultra-clandestine offshoot, Operation Black Briar, and real bad guys (David Straithairn as Deputy Director Noah Vosen and Albert Finney as Dr. Albert Hirsch), who do everything they can, including killing innocent civilians, to keep the conspiracy under wraps. In terms of the action spectacle, the film delivers (although there is an extended sequence involving cellular technology that reminded me of that tedious Ben Affleck actioner where he spends an hour and a half with a phone to his ear). As with 007, the object of the audience's fantasy is clearly delineated, only with a face that suggests more B.M.O.C. at your average Mid-Western fraternity than international espionage. But the film is tuned to Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers in that the final reveal has the viewer questioning his or her fantasized identity rather than giving into the lure of diversionary entertainment. * SPOILER ALERT * Upon going face-to-face with Dr. Hirsch, Bourne achieves total recall, remembering that he willingly gave himself over to the Operation, proving his allegiance by willingly killing an unknown captive for no other reason than he's told to. * END SPOILER ALERT *

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Posted by:
Charles Reece
May 11, 2009 12:58pm

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

Changeling

Dir: Clint Eastwood, 2008. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Jeffrey Donovan, John Malkovich. Mystery/Thriller.

I think motherhood has been good for Angelina Jolie. Before she started adopting orphans and having kids of her own she was best known as an Oscar-winning knife enthusiast who made out with her brother on television. Well, whatever else that sexy little home wrecker does with her time I now know that she’s also a first class actress who really taps into a primal maternal connection to the sad, sad story at the heart of The Changeling. Fans of true crime and L.A. history should find a lot to get excited about here. It’s a haunting story centered around Jolie’s incredible performance as a mother of a missing child who deals with some extraordinarily weird circumstances above and beyond her heartbreaking loss, and takes on a corrupt L.A.P.D. in the process.

Our story starts in 1928 in a lovingly evoked Los Angeles of a bygone era complete with street cars, rain swept downtown boulevards teeming with pedestrians, and roller skating telephone operators. Jolie, looking like an art deco maven chiseled out of a painting, plays Christine Collins—a single mother raising her nine-year-old son Walter in a middle class neighborhood of L.A. She comes home from work one day to find her house completely empty. At first bewildered she calls the police to report Walter missing and is told that they won’t bother sending any officers over because it’s just not a priority and that furthermore he’s probably just outside and will turn up soon. Days, weeks, and months go by and Walter still has not turned up. Collins finds the L.A.P.D.’s response to her crisis to be incompetent at best and hostile at worst.

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Posted by:
Jed Leland
May 7, 2009 4:42pm

JCVD

Dir: Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008. Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soualem. Mystery/Thriller.

In one of 2008’s most original visions, JCVD is the story of movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme returning to his home in Brussels and getting stuck in the middle of a bank robbery.

Writer Frederic Benudis and co-writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri create a truly unique and ambitious film working as part docudrama, part crime caper. The storytelling is crafted so that the film operates on multiple levels, making it something unlike what we have seen before.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 7, 2009 4:25pm

Jacob’s Ladder

Dir: Adrian Lyne, 1990. Starring: Tim Robbins, Danny Aiello, Elizabeth Pena. Mystery/Thriller.

A shell-shocked Vietnam veteran “Jacob Singer” (Robbins) finds his sanity begin to crumble as he sees demons coming out of the woodwork, trying to destroy him. He meets up with his old comrades trying to discover what sort of experiments the military did to them.

Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay is darkly spiritual and explores the mysteries of the mind. It is shocking, strange, and rides the line of sanity. The script is well structured and has a far darker tone than Rubin’s preceeding film, Ghost. Its use of time and space manipulations to unfold a mystery is very well done.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Apr 29, 2009 4:28pm

The Limey

Dir: Steven Soderbergh, 1999. Starring: Terrance Stamp, Peter Fonda, Luis Guzman, Lesley Ann Warren. Mystery / Thriller.

An ex-con straight out of prison travels from the U.K. to sunny Los Angeles to uncover the hidden truth of his only daughter’s mysterious death in a fiery car crash. What he finds is a world that is completely foreign to him and he goes on a rampage to settle the score.

The screenplay by Lem Dobbs is a gritty, darkly comic take on the classic revenge film—a sort of American version of Mike Hodge’s classic Get Carter. The script is lively and uniquely told, providing some wonderfully original moments and dialogue.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Apr 27, 2009 12:47pm

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

U-Turn

Dir: Oliver Stone, 1997. Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte. Mystery / Thriller.

"Bobby Cooper" (Penn) is a wandering gambler whose car breaks down in some lost Southwestern town where he’s pulled into a web of lies, deceit, and murder.

Oliver Stone (W) directs one of his most re-watchable and entertaining films in a long and ambitious career. He creates a sinisterly fun Neo-Noir within the confines of a funky cowpoke town. The film maintains a strong mood throughout, with special attention paid to the details, and at a pace that never lets up.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Apr 9, 2009 11:45am

A History of Violence

Dir: David Cronenberg, 2005. Starring: Viggo Mortenson, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt. Mystery/Thriller.

Tom Stall is a peaceful diner owner living in a small town with his wife and children until one day a group of dangerous men show up, unwinding a mystery.

Based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vincent Locke, Josh Olson’s subtle screenplay is taut, raw and engrossing. Because the subject matter is so dark and without a hint of the supernatural, it would be hard to tell it came from a comic book. But all in all, it is one of the best adaptations from the medium to hit the big screen so far.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Mar 18, 2009 12:17pm
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