Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

Frontiere(s)

Dir: Xavier Gens. 2007. Starring: Karina Testa, Aurelien Wiik, Samuel Le Bihan. French/German. Horror.

For a country not known for redefining or even perpetuating the horror genre, the French are starting to step up to the plate and show the world how it’s done. In recent years, we’ve seen several little horrifying gems come from a place better known for idiosyncratic comedies, dark fairytales and, essentially, the definition of modern cinematic storytelling. Such films include Irreversible, Haute Tension, Inside, and this film – Frontiere(s).

First of all, I have to thank Phil Blankenship for motivating me to check this one out. I had read a really good review in a recent issue of Fangoria yet I wasn’t convinced. Apparently, it was apart of the “8 Films To Die For” festival that takes place in November (that could very well be the reason I didn’t take this one too seriously upon discovery). It wasn’t until my conversation with Phil that I really took notice.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Jun 2, 2008 5:42pm

Cleo From 5 to 7

Dir/Writer: Agnes Varda. 1962. Starring: C. Marchand, A. Bourseille, D. Davray, D. Blanc, M. Legrand. French. Drama/Foreign.

What defines the feminine experience? What does it mean to live, breathe, and die as a woman? Agnes Varda questions mortality through the eyes of a beautiful young woman on the edge of success in 1960's Paris. Cleo has been to the doctor and is waiting for the diagnosis, though she's convinced it's cancer. We follow her in real time for two hours and stand as witness to the fullness and frivolousness of a life coming to terms with itself.

Death and despair compel the coquettish Cleo into existential searching meeting with friends, lovers and strangers and we see her precise steps into and out of an other's preconceived perception. Coy lover, whimpering child, precocious beauty, passionate collaborator, old friend and lovely stranger: Cleo is all of these but then so much more as you realize she is fast forwarding the journey to find herself the anchor that she desperately needs to face her death and to fight for life.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
May 31, 2008 3:13pm

The Delirious Fictions of William Klein - Eclipse from Criterion

Dir: William Klein. 2008. English. Smut/Cult.

One word.... FINALLY! Here's to hopes that Klein's name will extend out of the art house arena (and out of the jungle of highly sought out rare/bootleg versions of his films) ... thanks to Criterion's Eclipse imprint we can finally view three of the most aesthetically unique films of the 60s and 70s. An ex New Yorker that set up in Paris in the 40s, photographer William Klein embodied the bold and iconic early 20th century art styles, a visionary that sought to change how artists made art and how audiences viewed it. Edgy political and social commentary, haute-monde fashion experiments, a brilliant eye for composition and insightful narratives (and films that attracted the like of Serge Gainsbourg as one of his gonzo character creations!)...This is the psychedelic world of William Klein!...

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Posted by:
Amoebite
May 21, 2008 8:42pm

American Psycho (2000)

Dir: Mary Harmon. 2000. Starring: C. Bale, W. Defoe, R. Witherspoon, C. Sevigny, J. Lucas, and J. Leto. English. Mystery/Thriller.

Based on the bestseller by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho tells the dark tale of sociopath Wall Street trader, Patrick Batemen’s (Bale) slide into insanity and an insatiable need to slaughter.

Christian Bale provides a virtuoso performance that launched him as an adult leading man. From one moment to the next, he is distant and unreadable and on a dime, becomes manic and frenzied. He is both frightening and funny, which is always a great combination in an anti-hero.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 14, 2008 3:18pm

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
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