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

Sexy Beast

Dir: Jonathan Glazer, 2000. Starring: Ray Winstone, Sir Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane. Mystery/Thriller.

After spending lives in ill repute, Gal and Aitch, along with their wives, have found peace in the hills of Spain, until a former colleague crashes the party and all hell breaks loose.

Ray Winston (The Departed) plays “Gal,” a soft-spoken teddy bear of a man just trying to enjoy a calm life in Spain with his ex-porn star wife. As much as he wants a peaceful existence, the London mob has no plans to let this skilled safecracker walk away from the show.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Mar 16, 2009 1:39pm

Winter Kills

Dir: William Richert, 1979. Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins. English. Mystery/Thriller.

William Richert’s first feature was every young filmmaker’s dream. He was to direct Winter Kills, a big budget thriller based on a novel from best-selling author Richard Condon, starring Hollywood stars Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Eli Wallach, and Anthony Perkins as well as international luminaries Toshiro Mifune and Tomas Milian. He assembled a crew of professionals including Vilmos Szigmond, the cinematographer of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Robert Boyle, the production designer on three Hitchcock films. And he started dating the film’s female lead, model Belinda Bauer. On its release Winter Kills received rave reviews from The New York Times and The New Yorker, yet after a week it was pulled from theaters. What sinister force didn’t want the public to see it?

In the film Bridges plays the only scion of a wealthy and well-connected family with an enduring involvement in politics. 19 years ago his brother was the President of the United States, until he was shot by an unknown sniper. Now, the location of the murder weapon is uncovered and Bridges must use the money and power that he has distanced himself from. Huston plays his eccentric, megalomaniac father and Perkins is the enigmatic “man behind the curtain” who might be the only one who knows the truth. The pace of Winter Kills is unrelenting, yielding more secrets and false leads with every twist, then swiftly doubling back and denying them. In its desire to reconcile the characters’ contradictory testimonies, the film quickly becomes a black comedy satirizing the ineffectual inquiry into the JFK assassination and its consequent conspiracy theories, but the rising body count and spasms of sudden violence keep Winter Kills a riveting thriller as well.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Mar 5, 2009 12:57pm

Paranoid Park

Dir: Gus Van Sant, 2007. Starring: Taylor Momsen, Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu. Mystery.

Gus Van Sant is nominated for Best Director at this year's Academy Awards for his moving bio-pic Milk, but that wasn't the only film Van Sant directed this year. Last March his indie film Paranoid Park opened around the country in a limited release. The film flew under the radar when it was in theaters and it was later overshadowed by the big budget Milk, but Paranoid Park is a beautiful film that deserves its time in the spotlight. The film is another one of Van Sant's dreamy, meditative character studies similar to his two previous films Last Days and Elephant. Visually the film has a slow entrancing rhythm that is accentuated by an eclectic, beautiful score. The cast is mainly non-professional actors that Van Sant found on the internet, and their performances bring a delicate honesty to the story.

The film is about a young teen named Alex who wants to hangout at the local skate park but, in doing so, he experiences a life altering accident. As the film progresses we see Alex internally struggling with this enormous secret he has, a secret that soon isolates and estranges him from almost everyone he knows. Van Sant is less interested in moving the plot along than he is in observing and capturing his characters' state of mind. In Paranoid Park Van Sant captures that middle school state of mind like no other director has, as the film unfolds we slowly start to realize that Alex is carrying that burden of knowledge that so many adolescents learn in their mid teens:  that life can be overwhelmingly difficult and often unfair. My favorite scene in the film is when Alex meets a good friend for coffee and, in their conversation, his friend just might provide him with a solution of how to lift the burden that is weighing so heavily on his conscious. Invest time in this film and let it cast its quiet spell on you.

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Posted by:
Eric Kench
Feb 18, 2009 12:38pm

Angel Heart

Dir: Alan Parker, 1987. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro & Lisa Bonet. Mystery/Thriller.

A New York private eye (Rourke) is hired by a mysterious man (De Niro) to locate a missing crooner named “Johnny Favourite.” But as every new piece of the puzzle falls into place and voodoo works its magic -- things get more dangerous and unnerving.

Alan Parker (Pink Floyd’s The Wall) directs a film on a tight-wire, fusing Raymond Chandler with the world of the Faustian supernatural. With simple, but confident strokes, he brings such gravity to a tale that becomes otherworldly. Taking many liberties from the source material novel Falling Angels by William Hjortberg, Parker’s screen adaptation expands the scope of the reality, while doing justice to the way people really speak in the Big Apple and the Big Easy.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Feb 17, 2009 3:34pm
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