Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

Beau Brummel

Dir: Harry Beaumont. 1924. Starring: John Barrymore, Mary Astor. Silent Films.

Beau (né George) Brummell, whilst little known today, was a major force in 19th century politics and fashion. Born when courtly circles were filled the ostentatiously foppish Macaronis, Brummell revolutionized English grooming by not wearing a wig, brushing his teeth daily, and developing an understated but well-tailored look known which became known as Dandyism.

In the film, John Barrymore (Drew’s grandpa aka “The Great Profile”) plays Brummel (here, with one “l” for some reason.) He pines for Lady Margery, played by 17-year-old Mary Astor (who was having an affair with the notorious 42-year-old ladies’ man and whoremonger behind the scenes). Lady Margery’s ambitious mother has other ideas, however, and rejects the low-born Beau Brummel in favor of the blue-blooded Lord Alvanley, Colonel of the Tenth Hussars.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Mar 19, 2008 7:59pm

Payday

Dir: Daryl Duke. 1972. Starring: Rip Torn, Ahna Capri, Michael C. Gwynne. English. Drama.

Country music fans will get a bang out of this well-acted 1972 feature, an unfairly neglected picture (happily just issued on DVD) with a terrific high-energy performance at its heart.

Rip Torn stars as Maury Dann, a second-rate country singer whose life is playing out like one of his songs. The film follows Maury over the course of a couple of days, as he, his band, his devoted driver (Cliff Emmich), his manager-fixer (Michael C. Gwynne), and his blowsy girlfriend (Ahna Capri) travel from a low-rent honky-tonk gig to a marquee show in Nashville. Along the way, Maury gobbles speed (and shares some with his mother!), guzzles whiskey, screws anything that moves, picks up a dimestore clerk turned neophyte groupie (Elayne Heilveil), and generally rampages over everyone in his path.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Mar 12, 2008 3:19pm

Margot at the Wedding

Dir/Wri: Noah Baumbach. 2007. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, Zane Pais. English. Comedy.

Dark and funny, this bitter little comedy comes with sharp pointy teeth and a soft underbelly. Margot at the Wedding is an intellectual smörgÃ¥sbord without overindulging in “smart” references, plot curve balls, or even winning attempts of redemption.

Margot, a married and successful writer living in Manhattan, travels by bus with her son, Claude, to her family's Long Island home for her estranged sister's wedding. We quickly learn that Margot (Nicole Kidman) is tightly wound, very smart, and incapable of not saying exactly what she's thinking even if - especially if -  it's cruel. As they arrive at the house on a short cliff by the sea we meet her mellow new age sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her fiance (Jack Black) who is sightly less than impressive. Margot can barely contain her disdain and you feel a change of air pressure within her sister's family unit which also includes her own teenage child, Ingrid, from a previous relationship. Soon, we realize that Margot's oozing destruction comes form her own life crisis and that she's really come to meet her lover, escape her own life and attempt a change in course.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Mar 5, 2008 4:21pm

This Is England

Dir: Shane Meadows. 2006. Starring: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley. English. Drama.

Twelve year old Shaun is having a shite day. Upon arriving to school, he’s relentlessly taunted by his classmates. He gets into a fight with another boy and has to face the torturous principal. On his way home, he encounters a group of fun loving skinheads (not the Racist kind) who continue to poke fun at the small boy. That is until the leader of the group steps in and decides that Shaun needs a break.

The tenacious Shaun is quickly made a member of the tribe despite a little bit of friction from some of the other members. The group spends their days smoking cigarettes, having a few pints, listening to Ska and Reggae and committing petty acts of vandalism. Shaun finally has some people he can call friends.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Mar 3, 2008 3:10pm

Zebraman

Dir: Takashi Miike, 2004. Starring: Sho Aikawa, Kyoka Suzuki, tons of CGI-jellybean aliens. Asian Cinema.

I know most folks immediately shy away when I say it’s directed by the maestro of mayhem, Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, the Dead Or Alive series, Audition, and over 70 (!!!) other movies); and it’s finally being put out domestically by an outfit, foreign exploitation/ultra-gore distributors, Tokyo Shock Cinema, for which I have a soft spot in my ugly, mean heart, but Zebraman [or, more properly, “Zee-Borah-Mahnu”] quickly reveals itself to be super-campy fun and vaguely family-friendly (no disembowelment or graphic torture, honest!) in a way not seen from Miike since the uneven kiddie fantasy Great Yokai War or the gorgeous piece of art that is Bird People In China (one of the few films I can say without hesitation must be watched by everyone who loves movies).

Whereas Bird People made its pretentions obvious to all, Great Yokai War somewhat and Zebraman very explicitly are aimed (in the sense of appealing to AND in the weapon sense) directly at adults reared on monster/fantasy/superhero movies and television, making them terrific fare for dorks like me and you. C’mon, admit it, you know you are…

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Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Mar 3, 2008 3:01pm

The Conversation

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola. 1974. Starring: Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, John Cazale. English. Suspense/Thriller

Though Francis Ford Coppola is best known as director of bona fide American classics such as the Godfather and Apocalypse Now, The Conversation may be his purest offering of artistic expression. And though not autobiographical, the film is certainly personal and undeniably haunting.

Gene Hackman stars as Harry Caul, a lonely surveillance expert hired by a mysterious agency to record a seemingly benign conversation between a young couple. Though Caul is meant to remain unattached and unconcerned with the contents of the conversation, he soon finds himself becoming personally involved, fearing for the safety of the couple and the possibility that he may unwittingly play a role in their demise.

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Posted by:
Amoebite
Mar 3, 2008 2:44pm

Crooklyn

Dir: Spike Lee. 1994. Starring: Alfre Woodard, Delroy Lindo, Zelda Harris, Carlton Williams. English. Black Cinema/Comedy/Drama

Crooklyn is a love letter from Spike Lee to his youth. Co-written with his sister Joie and brother Cinque, it draws from memories of their childhood growing up in Brooklyn. It is the story of the Carmichael family made up of a jazz musician father, an overworked and harried schoolteacher mother and 5 children. Seen from the eyes of ten year old Troy, the only daughter, we see the chaos and turbulent joy, frustration and sorrow of the Carmichael family. The movie plays like impressions with abrupt shifts from comedy to drama and has no political or dramatic motivation other than a look at life through the eyes of a child. Even without this the movie provides a true emotional arc and one is absorbed by the nostalgic and slightly foreign era where children are not afraid to play in the streets or confront crazy neighbors. Nobody walks around shaded by hooded sweatshirts and assuming menacing anonymity simply for their own protection. The only drug users are two ridiculous glue sniffers who are the neighborhood's sad joke.

When we follow Troy, who visits her relatives in Virginia, there is a wonderful shift of perspective as the differences in environment and behavior are cataloged and deciphered through her eyes. You can feel the strength of her mother rise to the surface as she adapts and dismisses affection and manners from her southern family. There is no arguing her demand to go home and, once there, she must draw on that strength again to see herself and her family through tragedy.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Feb 27, 2008 3:39pm

Touki Bouki (The Hyena's Journey)

Dir: Djibril Diop Mambéty. 1973. Starring: Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang. French. Black Cinema/African Cinema/Foreign.

Two poor, restless University students in Dakar (Mory and Anta) attempt to raise the funds to move to Paris in search of a better life. To accomplish this end, they engage in petty thievery and steal some expensive threads from a rich, gay fellow who's picked up Mory and taken him back to his palatial estate. In the process of raising funds they ride around on a motorcycle adorned with a cow's skull.

The tone is langourous and playful, similar to Godard's Pierrot Le Fou or Malick's Badlands. Unlike the didactic types in many of Mambéty's peers' films, Touki Bouki's protaganists are merely two characters in a diverse milieu which views neo-colonialism vs. African traditionalism with a fair amount of ambiguity. The visuals are pretty stunning too. There are a lot of shots of the heroes riding around the city and countryside on the aforementioned motorcyle and in a beautiful, customized Citroën 2CV. There are a lot of great threads and vibrant colors fill most of the stylishly composed frames.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 23, 2008 3:51pm

Yeelen (Brightness)

Dir. Souleymane Cissé. 1987. Starring: Issiaka Kane, Aoua Sangare.Bambara. Black Cinema/African Cinema/Foreign/Fantasy.

Niankoro, a young man in the powerful Malian Kingdom, is relentlessly pursued by his evil sorcerer father Soma in this mythological tale set in the 1200s. It seems Niankoro has stolen secret knowledge reserved exclusively for a secret society of old men with the intention to share it openly. He seeks out his father's twin and fellow sorcerer, Djigui Diarra, for protection. Niankoro's travels take him through the lands of the cosmologically-oriented, cliff-dwelling Dogon and the Peul, whose king enlists Niankoro's aid in protecting them from raiders and giving him a child - which he does (although not through magic) and Niankoro picks up a wife in the process. Niankoro avoids his father but Soma won't back down, however, and the confrontation between father and son becomes inevitable.

Cissé attended the Moscow School of Cinema and Television on a scholarship and Yeelen, based on Bambara legend, is very reminsicent of the Soviet films of Tarkovsky or Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami with a slow, methodical pace and lots of quiet space. Salif Keita and Michel Portal's score is minimal and used sparingly. The use of magic is handled similarly without flashy special effects along the lines of Tarkovsky's Stalker or Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock. There's ritualistic drinking, sniffing and smoking of various unnamed substances and Cissé depicts everything with an appropriate sort of hazy, dreamlike detachment. For a genre not generally known for restraint, this is one of the calmest films you'll ever see.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 23, 2008 3:45pm

Flag Wars

Directors: Linda Goode Bryant, Laura Poitras. 2003. English. Black Cinema/Documentaries

Set in Columbus, OH and filmed over 4 years, Flag Wars is not only a film about gentrification, but also of racism, homophobia, and privilege. Throughout the film, you will follow Linda Mitchell as she fights for both her home and her life, Chief Baba Olugbala Shango Obadena as he struggles to keep a simple sign with his name above his door, and Jim Yoder and Nina Masseria as they face hate crimes and resistance from their neighbors. You will meet African-American families who have lived in their homes for 40 years and now face the fear of losing them to a wave of mainly white, gay professionals looking to rehab properties and better the neighborhood. While one side strides toward change, the other enjoys a life established long ago. Flag Wars shows us, quite literally, the middle of the road where the two sides meet....

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Posted by:
Amoebite
Feb 23, 2008 3:33pm
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