Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

Films selected and reviewed by discerning movie buffs, television junkies, and documentary diehards (a.k.a. our staff).

Children of Men

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron. 2006. Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine. English. Science-Fiction.

As much as science fiction films are maligned for being the playground of geeks and fanboys, the genre has a pretty stellar track record when it comes to reinventing what we as an audience expect from the cinema. To those that saw them in their original theatrical release, films like Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner are described as "experiences" more often than as "films;" drawing out the hyperbolic sides of people, phrases like "life-changing" aren't at all uncommon.

As soon as there's a generation of filmgoers young enough to have missed it, I imagine I'll be saying the same things to them about Children of Men.

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Posted by:
Will B
Sep 29, 2008 5:18pm

Copland (The Director's Cut)

Dir: James Mangold. 1997. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta. Action.

Garrison, New Jersey is a pleasant place to live. Just over the Hudson River from New York City, this calm suburb is home to many NYPD police officers. These men who spend their days fighting crime on the streets of the Big Apple built this community in order to provide a safe haven to raise their families. But thing are not always what they seem, when the cops are corrupt and the law in Garrison is whatever they deem it to be.

The story kicks off on the George Washington Bridge. Officer Ray Donlan (Kietel) decides it’s best to fake the death of his nephew, Murray “Superboy” Babith (Rappaport), to avoid what could be seen as a racially motivated murder at the hands of a cop. That decision begins the spiral what will unfold, spilling over into their humble little community.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Sep 23, 2008 5:34pm

Collateral

Dir: Michael Mann. 2004. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mark Ruffalo. Mystery.

Max (Foxx) is a taxi driver with big dreams. Vincent (Cruise) is a freelance killer on a business trip to clean house. Tensions mount up when Vincent steps foot in Max’s cab, using him as his chauffer on a nightlong killing spree.

Michael Mann (Heat, Miami Vice) is one of the true kings of crime cinema and Collateral may be his most precise and exact tale. With the best pacing of any of his films, Mann makes great use of High-Def cameras to give the nighttime cityscape of Los Angeles a unique and dream like aesthetic.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Sep 13, 2008 3:00pm

War Dance

Directors: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. 2007. English (subtitles). Documentary / Black Cinema.

Recent attention to the children's situation in war-torn Uganda has been spoken about in art events and documentaries such as Invisible Children, and there's a reason for that – international events, especially in Africa, are becoming more and more cared for as history school books fail to cover these contemporary aspects of our global issues.

War Dance, Sean and Andrea Fine's documentary about children competing in the Kampala Music Festival, has been received ambivalent critical review. New York Times' Stephen Holden sums up the conflict:  the film "is so gorgeous that its beauty distracts from the anguish it reveals… in spite of its slickness, is an honorable, sometimes inspiring exploration of the primal healing power of music and dance in an African tribal culture."

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Sep 13, 2008 2:51pm

Scarface

Dir: Brian De Palma. 1983. Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham. Action.

As the U.S. is flooded by Cuban refugees, forced out by Fidel Castro, two criminals land in a detention camp in Miami. They are Tony Montana (Pacino) and his right-hand-man, Manny Ribera (Bauer). The two men assassinate a political target inside the camp and it opens the door for them into the drug syndicate in Florida. The story of Scarface is that of the rise of Tony Montana to become the predominant drug lord of his time.

Inspired by Howard Hawk’s 1932 Gangster classic by the same name, Oliver Stone’s screenplay has coined some of the most used nomenclature in cinema. “Say hello to my little friend” may be the most imitated line of screen dialogue in history. Having won an Academy Award previously for writing Midnight Express, Stone certainly understood the drug culture of the time. His script captures a raw truth in the way people speak and treat each other, out of their minds, railed on blow. Structurally, the film is very classically designed, much like a Greek tragedy. It explores the ambition necessary to wear the crown of power and the violent end that comes to all those who do.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Sep 13, 2008 2:44pm

To Joy (Till Glädje)

Dir: Ingmar Bergman. 1950. Starring: Stig Olin, Maj-Britt Nilsson,Victor Sjöström. Swedish. Foreign.

"Music is the goal, not the means."

Few films capture the simplicities of what is important in an artist's life. The title is taken from Schiller's "Ode to Joy," fitting for this story concerning two orchestral players. Stig is a dissatisfied musician, hating the idea of living in mediocrity, while Marta is a beautiful lady who basks in the simple joys of life. She steals Stig's hardened heart in spite of himself, and they eventually get married. He struggles with his ability to play as a violin soloist. His ambitions consume him to the point where he loses sight of his wife's patience and care. We've all seen this inner torment from the viewpoint of a husband/musician plenty of times – any biopic of an artist will tell that story. Yet what stands out about this film is Bergman's ability to portray the main character in all his flaws and weaknesses, and there's absolutely no glamour or flashiness attached. The result? Honest, rich sentiment.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Sep 13, 2008 2:34pm

Tagebuch einer verlorenen (Diary of a lost girl)

Dir: Georg Wilhelm Pabst. 1929. Starring: Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, Edith Meinhard. Silent/Foreign Film.

Had Tagebuch einer verlorenen come out before Die Büchse der Pandora, it would possibly be regarded as the superior film. The reasons filmschoolies seem to champion the earlier film are usually contextual. It had the first onscreen depiction of lesbians, it was the first collaboration between Pabst and Louise Brooks and it is, unquestionably, an amazing film. If you need further proof, the always safe and predictable Criterion released the first and Kino the latter. Viewed side-by-side, there’s little between the two films and the relatively lower stature of Tagebuch einder verlorenen seems to stem more from underexposure than under-appreciation.

With this film, Pabst presents one of the earliest (possibly the first) example of the Women in Prison film. Although technically not set in prison, the reform school setting is a common variation of the subgenre and allows for the same sorts of exploitation – sadism, lesbianism and repression of an innocent forced to endure cruel conditions. Pabst is, somewhat ironically, often praised for his sympathetic portrayals of the plights of women, but here (as with his earlier work) he seems to revel in the lurid situations he creates. Beginning with Die freudlose Gasse (1925) and continuing with Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (1927) and Büchse der Pandora (1929); Pabst’s heroines are variously unloved, duped, raped, forced into prostitution and murdered. The relentless brutality, at frequent instances, approaches camp in that Teutonic manner where comedy and horror comfortably co-exist.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Sep 8, 2008 4:03pm

Herr Arnes pengar (Sir Arne’s treasure)

Dir: Mauritz Stiller. 1919. Starring: Mary Johnson, Richard Lund, Erik Stocklassa. Silent Film/Foreign.

Subtitled “a winter ballad in 5 acts,” Herr Arne’s adventure is a bleak and beautiful masterpiece of Swedish Cinema. In the 16th century, a gang of conspiring Scotsmen are banished from the country except for their leaders, who’re locked up in a tower. They promptly escape, disguise themselves as journeymen tanners and go on a murderous rampage, looting the titular treasure from the kindly Herr Arne’s vicarage.

When they try to beat the retreat, the bellicose rogues find themselves iced in and forced to wait out the harsh winter. In the process of checking the ice, one of the evildoers (Sir Archie) falls for the sole survivor of their rampage, the young, adopted daughter of the vicar, Ellasil. She falls for him too and, before long, they figure out where their lives have intersected before. Haunted by ghostly visions, Sir Archie even recalls stabbing his beloved’s sister in the heart. And yet, their new love proves unassailable – though they’re understandably wracked with guilt and sullenly accepting of their inevitable ends.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Sep 6, 2008 6:09pm

Schatten: Eine Nachtliche Halluzination (Warning Shadows)

Dir: Arthur Robison. 1923. Starring: Fritz Kortner, Ruth Weyher, Gustav Von Wagenheim. Silent Films.

Schatten begins with a five minute introduction to the film’s players, who are trotted out like the foils in a police lineup onto an actual stage where they’re identified with intertitles. After this lengthy prologue, the film abandons the use of titles altogether and embraces the purely visual ideal of silent films (predating Murnau’s efforts which are usually credited as the first to do the same.)

In the 19th century, a slightly touched travelling illusionist performs shadow puppetry for the assembled guests at a wealthy baron’s dinner party. The host’s wife is pursued quite unashamedly by four otherworldly effeminate guests who openly and continuously wink and purse their lips. This effrontery quite rankles the woman’s husband (who looks like Orson Welles crossed with Kelsey Grammer). In one scene, the fops appear to grope the baron’s wife in a public ménage a quatre, but it turns out to be shadowplay. If this seems like bad behavior, it’s because it is. And the moral of the puppeteer’s story is brutal. Already confused and disoriented by phantasmagoric shadows, reflections and misleading silhouettes, the puppeteer’s curiously timely tale pushes the partygoers over the edge and the viewer is pulled along with them.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Aug 30, 2008 1:50pm

A Disquisition on Magnum P.I., Season 3

1982-1983. Starring: Tom Selleck, John Hillerman, Roger E. Mosley, and Larry Manetti. English. TV.

Magnum. Magnum, Magnum, Magnum, Magnum. Saying that name, (and for you, gentle reader, seeing it) just makes me feel better.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Aug 27, 2008 3:59pm
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