Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

Catch Me if You Can

Dir: Steven Spielberg. 2002. Starring: L. DiCaprio, T. Hanks, C. Walken, M. Sheen, A. Adams, J. Garner. English. Drama.

Catch Me if You Can is the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr. (DiCaprio) who, by the tender age of seventeen, cut over $2.5 million dollars worth of fraudulent checks and was one of the FBI’s most wanted. Frank travels the globe, taking on such identities as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and an attorney. Always on his tail is fraud expert Agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks) from the Bureau.

Although a story of a con man on the run from the law, the way this story is told, it comes across more like a fairy tale about the impetuousness of youth. Steven Spielberg’s direction is flawless in maintaining this tone throughout, telling a “crime story” that is amazingly playful. John Williams’ hip retro score and the great momentum of Michael Kahn’s editing add to this happy-go-lucky sort of attitude. The vibrant color palette, fantastic sixties costume and production design, and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, all contribute to make up this wonderful “true story of a real fake.”

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Oct 6, 2008 5:35pm

Fearless

Dir: Peter Weir. 1993. Jeff Bridges, Rosie Perez, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Hulce, John Turturro & Benicio Del Toro.

From the surreal opening frames of “Max” (Jeff Bridges) wandering vacantly through a cornfield, that gives way to an inferno filled with plane wreckage, you know you’re in for a unique cinematic experience. The actor aptly described the film’s opening as if director “Peter (Weir) laced the popcorn with acid.”

Fearless is a tale of a San Francisco architect (Bridges) who is one of the only survivors of a downed flight headed for Houston. He loses his best friend and business partner and comes out of the flames feeling invincible. He is deemed the “good Samaritan” by the media, after helping lead people to safety. But he returns home to find himself emotionally isolated from his family. The only comfort he can find coming from helping a suicidal woman (Perez), after her baby perished in the wreck.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Oct 2, 2008 4:57pm

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
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