Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

Cinema 16: European Short Films, Vol. 1

Dir: Various. 2007. Starring: Lynne Ramsay Jr., Sándor Badár, Nathalie Press. Misc. languages, English subtitles. Short Films.

16 shorts, 16 stories, 16 tales that prove shorts can have as much power as feature films. What makes these shorts stand out from others is the attention to detail, since shorts tend to be more focused. The styles vary as each work holds its own, and while it is interesting to see famed directors' shorts (often their first or beginning works), the ones that are from lesser-known directors are most refreshing. Yet– watching the works of directors such as Christopher Nolan or Lars Von Trier gives viewers more insight into what their visions were in a more attentive short form.

I was most inspired by "Before Dawn", by Hungarian director Balint Kenyeres. Simply told through its stunning visuals, the story is about refugees hiding in a high wheat field. The premise itself is challenging, and the way it unfolds is powerful and compelling. The cinematography is haunting, as the title may reveal.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
May 12, 2008 3:23pm

Jackie Brown

Dir: Quentin Tarantino. 1997. Starring: P. Grier, R. Forster, S. L. Jackson, R. DeNiro, M. Keaton, B. Fonda, C.Tucker. English. Action.

Jackie Brown (Grier) is a struggling middle-aged flight attendant who gets popped smuggling laundered cash into the country by a two eager-beaver cops (Keaton & Bowen). They give her two choices—prison or her help nabbing weapon’s dealer, Ordell Robbie (Jackson). But they don’t account for a third option—with the help of stand up bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Forster), Jackie plans to out con everyone one of them.

Based on Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, Jackie Brown is a beautifully woven intermixing of characters and styles of two very talented dark comedy writers. Tarantino’s most significant change was with the title character—making her a black woman, rather than Italian. I think this change made the film almost like a Blaxploitation movie for the modern age. It’s as if Grier’s character, “Coffy,” had to conform as she grew older, but was still not a woman to mess with. The plot is clever and the dialogue, razor sharp.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 10, 2008 4:34pm

Blast of Silence

Dir: Allen Baron. 1961. Starring: Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker. English. Film Noir/Mystery.

If Albert Camus had made a film noir, it would have been very much like Allen Baron’s little-seen 1961 feature Blast of Silence. This low-budget jewel, which enjoyed a critical renaissance after a 1990 screening at the Munich Film Festival, is less a thriller than it is an existential exploration. In many ways, it anticipated Martin Scorsese’s equally dark New York drama Taxi Driver by a decade.

Writer-director Baron had originally cast Peter Falk as hit man Frankie Bono, but wound up playing the part himself after Falk took his career-making role in Murder Inc. Resembling a less feral George C. Scott, Baron is extremely effective as the solitary, dead-eyed assassin, who arrives in New York City at Christmastime to eliminate a troublesome small-time mobster. After a chance meeting, the lonely, embittered killer is drawn to a girl from his past (Molly McCarthy). But he still has a contract to fulfill, and his world begins to unravel as he stalks his prey.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
May 7, 2008 4:22pm

Amores Perros

Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu. 2000. Starring: E. Echevarría,G. García Bernal, G. Toledo. Spanish. Cine en Espanol.

Alejandro González Iñárritu may be best known for his film Babel (2006) or 21 Grams (2003), but his first feature film, Amores Perros, shows his ability in weaving stories together through the commonality of human suffering. Made in his home country, Mexico, the film is set in Mexico City, featuring three stories that are connected by a single car crash. Within these stories contain intensified, passionate characters with tales of love, loss, and dogs.

In the first, Octavio becomes involved with the dog-fighting business in order to make money so he can run away with his sister-in-law Susana and begin a new life. This plan falls out of reach as tragedy pursues, and the story ends with more than the loss of dreams.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Apr 26, 2008 5:24pm

Un Chant d'Amour

Dir: Jean Genet. 1950. Starring: Java, André Reybaz. Silent. Gay Cinema/Short /Silent /Foreign.

French writer Jean Genet made his only film, Un Chant d'Amour (A Song of Love), in 1950, but because of its explicit and homosexual content, it was banned and later disowned by Genet. Now, we are fortunate to witness its release and wide distribution. Jean Genet, like Kenneth Anger, used classic cinema's formalities to tell the story – and within that we are like the prison-guard character in this film – voyeuristically deemed the romantic and erotic desires of men who, in their absolute loneliness, can only dream of each other. The walls retain their physical isolation, but somehow their fantasies materialize through masturbatory sexual acts and sharing cigarette smoke through the tiny holes in the wall.

The characters, repressed and alone, interact in the most poetic and arresting ways. Most interesting to watch is the prison guard's journey, whose turn of motives are surprising yet beautiful. The images are shot in the classic black-and-white fashion, and the silent factor contributes to the driving visual style. To both the experimental film viewer and the classic cinema audience –here's a film that we are privileged to watch – earnest, original, and authentic in its very own right.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Apr 26, 2008 5:02pm

Five Obstructions

Dir: Jørgen Leth. 2003. Starring: Jørgen Leth, Lars Von Trier. English with some Danish/French/Spanish. Documentaries.

In Five Obstructions Lars Von Trier challenges one of his idols, Jørgen Leth, to remake his 1967 Danish short film, The Perfect Human, five times with certain restrictions. This film documents the conversations between the two directors, footage of the new short films, behind the scenes and on-location footage, interspersed with footage of the original Perfect Human. Each film is in a different location with some different styles. The result is a look into the creative process and demonstrates creativity flourishing even under the shadow of restriction.

At the beginning of the film you get the impression that Von Trier is a mad scientist and Leth is the subject for some gruesome experiment. During the conversational segments, Von Trier sets up rules, or obstructions for Leth. Many of the rules presented as a means of punishment, with the expectation that the resulting film will be a disaster, and that Leth will suffer during the process. Von Trier does little to hide his intent to make the process hell for Leth. For the second film Leth is even sent to the worst place on earth he’s ever been, while not showing any of the atrocities seen there. To further the mad scientist image, Von Trier even seems upset that Leth isn’t suffering enough during the production of these films. Throughout the film Von Trier acts as if he isn’t getting what he wants despite the fact that the resulting films are quite successful. The underlying reasoning for Von Trier's attempts to torture Leth would seem to be to get him to learn something new and challenge him. At the end of the film there is a sense that Von Trier is being cryptic and deceitful about how he feels the experiment pans out. Throughout the film Jørgen Leth maintains a relatively positive attitude and achieves incredible results in spite of each obstruction. At times he seems hesitant. When he is told to make a cartoon, he expresses hate for cartoons. He makes a cartoon anyways and it looks amazing. Each of the films Leth creates is quite innovative and progressive, leaving the viewer desiring to see the next one. Leth illustrates a willingness to go with anything. The end result is that Leth seems to be the one in control, not the other way around.

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Posted by:
Amoebite
Apr 5, 2008 4:22pm

Looking For Langston

Dir: Isaac Julien. 1988. Starring: Ben Ellison, Matthew Baidoo. English. Experimental/Black/Gay.

A beautifully photographed film on various aspects of black male sexuality in western culture is revealed within the “pseudo-documentary exploration of the life of Langston Hughes” [note to self: don’t believe the hype], Looking For Langston.

It’s a short film but it rushes headlong and moves easily and quickly between archival television footage of Langston Hughes reading with jazz combo accompaniment, archival photographs/footage of Harlem and various Harlem Renaissance figures (and some non-Renaissance figures such as Robert Mapplethorpe) along with faux-archival footage and images which are interspersed, broken up, explained and explored with readings from the works of poets Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill visually mated to scripted black & white fantasy sets of nightclub, bedroom and outdoor scenes populated by black men (and a few white men) as a means of touching on, and exposition of, the effects of racism, classism, desire, exploitation and threats of violence and STDs in relation to Anglo/American gay black men.

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Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Apr 5, 2008 4:08pm

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Dir: Wallace Worsley. 1923. Starring: Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller. Silent/Horror.

A true ‘must-see’ of silent cinematic majesty, Hunchback stars the unbelievably talented Lon Chaney, an innovator of pantomime and makeup artistry. The film is based on the Victor Hugo novel about Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer who falls in love with Esmeralda, a gypsy girl.

It is a classic story that is further accentuated by enormous sets, complex lighting and Chaney’s amazing ability to express suffering, humiliation,and desire for the understanding of a kindred soul. It should be noted that Chaney’s great skill at displaying identifiable human emotions under grotesque disguises can be partly attributed to the need to communicate with his deaf-mute parents. His body language and gestures are the center of this movie. He demonstrated his prowess at making us FEEL the character’s emotions in film after film until his death in 1930 after his final appearance in his only sound film The Unholy Three,a remake of an earlier silent film that he starred in. Anybody even remotely interested in the movies before they spoke should see this.

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Posted by:
Amoebite
Mar 31, 2008 5:29pm

Tout Va Bien

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin. 1972. Starring: Y. Montand, J. Fonda, V. Caprioli, E. Chauvin. French / English. Foreign.

French founders of the politically active filmmaking Dziga Vertov Group, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Pierre Gorin, made Tout Va Bien in1972, their 2nd to last collaboration together.

This film certainly falls far from the category of escapism. You, the viewer, are going to have to examine not only the constructs of filmmaking itself, but also the economy of contemporary society and the political ideologies behind it. Sound like a handful? You can be assured that every movement within the frame, every insert, every cut, is deliberate and Brechtian in every formal quality. The staging shows people moving from one room to another through a cross-section of the building, emphasizing the strike at a sausage factory that is observed by an American reporter (Jane Fonda) and her husband, a has-been, French New Wave film director (Yves Montand).

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Mar 31, 2008 5:20pm

August Rush

Dir: Kirsten Sheridan. 2007. Starring: F. Highmore, R. Williams, T. Howard, K. Russell, J. Rhys Meyers. English. Drama.

Family films are precious commodities. Slapstick plus smart humor have been winning combinations for many years now while the sentimental tearjerkers have taken a back seat. Lately, however there have been a few jewels emerging that are not only appropriate for young audiences but will entrance their parents as well. August Rush is a lovely music filled Orphan Annie/Oliver tale with sincere performances, intelligent, economical writing, a wonderful score and charming cinematography.

Two young and talented strangers meet and fall in love under a full moon in New York but are separated by fate and an overly controlling father the very next day. We learn that the young lady, an accomplished cellist named Lyla Novecek has become pregnant and that her star crossed lover, Louis Connelly, waits every night under the Washington Arch. After Lyla has an accident around her due date her father takes the opportunity to take the healthy newborn boy and put him up for adoption while telling Lyla that he didn't survive. Twelve years later we see the young and vibrant rock musician, Louis, has become a suit wearing businessman still stifling under a broken heart and broken dreams while Lyla is quietly teaching music without playing it herself.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Mar 31, 2008 5:05pm
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