Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

Animal Factory

Dir: Steve Buscemi, 2000. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke. Drama.

Animal Factory is the story of a young man (Furlong) who gets prosecuted for drug dealing. He is sent to a maximum-security prison, putting his life and soul at stake.

Edward Bunker and John Steppling’s screenplay is raw to the bone writing—not trying to spice up the dialogue, rather providing a very realistic cadence to the way these prisoners speak and interact. The screenplay is based on Bunker’s novel, which was inspired by his own stints in the penitentiary. Modern audiences mostly know the author as “Mr. Blue” in Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 21, 2009 1:31pm

The Beastmaster

Dir: Don Coscarelli, 1982. Starring: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn. Fantasy.

Beastmaster is classic of early '80s swords and sorcery films. Providing all of the staples of the genre, as well as providing some head scratchingly original material. Although it's one of those action films that you really need a sense of humor to appreciate, (Beastmaster is a total B movie) there is a coherent enough story line, interesting characters, and some pretty decent effects for the time, making it clear why this film has, over the years, gained a growing cult following. The Beastmaster begins with 3 disfigured witches peering into a cauldron and casting spells. After seeing a vision, they inform Maax, an evil high priest (Rip Torn) that he will be slain by the king's unborn child. Maax, in order to sacrifice the baby, sends one of his witches late at night to the child's bedside with a cow. The witch transfers the baby into the cow's womb with magic and escapes with the child to a remote place. Just as the witch is finishing her ritual, about to deal the killing blow, she herself is killed by a passing peasant with a bladed boomerang.

The peasant then returns to his village with the child and begins to raise the boy. In his childhood the boy, now named Dar, discovers that he has a telepathic ability to speak with animals and see through their eyes. Soon after the boy Dar becomes a fully grown Beastmaster, played by Marc Singer, his entire village is destroyed by savage, animalistic, barbarians. Dar then does the only thing any respectable Barbarian, animal controlling, orphan would do. He begins a quest for revenge.

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Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jul 20, 2009 5:11pm

The Mirror

Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975. Starring: Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova. Russian. Foreign.

The Mirror is absolutely the most poetic film I’ve seen. Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia’s famous director, sewed the film together like fragments, creating a loose, non-linear, autobiographical tale full of childhood memories. The film contains newsreel footage and poems by Tarkovsy’s father, Arseny Tarkovsky. It is a personal, unique film, now highly regarded as one of Tarkovsky’s best works and masterpieces. His work, often a struggle with the Soviet authorities, is well-realized and committed – he has only made seven feature films out of his 27 years as a filmmaker, and each one of them is finely crafted and boldly uncompromised. Here is one of my favorites.

The film begins with Alexei’s son Ignat. The film revolves around his thoughts and his world, and the narrator reads poems reminiscent of a man’s relationships with his mother, ex-wife, and son. The mother, Maria, is a proofreader in a printing press. She is first shown in the countryside during pre-World War II. The rural countryside is one of Tarkovsky’s landscapes – the homes and the land featured in the film are gorgeously drenched in nature, yet also contain an element of isolation. Tarkovsky’s use of nature refers to his childhood memory of war that caused many to evacuate Moscow to the countryside.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 15, 2009 3:09pm

Viy (Spirit of Evil)

Dir: Konstantin Yershov & Georgi Kropachyov, 1967. Starring: L. Kuravlev, N. Varley, A. Glazyrin. Horror/Fantasy.

Viy (Spirit of Evil) is a classic Russian horror film based on a story of the same name by the acclaimed Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. It is a dark, yet humorous film set in medieval times, in the Russian countryside, and it involves demons, witches, and wayward priests.

The story begins with three traveling priests who, after being on their journey for some time, decide that it would be better to find a house to sleep in instead of a field. They soon find an old farmhouse and knock on the gate. The call is answered by an old crone who instructs the priests that if they are to sleep in the farm they must all sleep in separate places.

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Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jul 13, 2009 3:15pm

Voltaic: Paris, France

Concert Film Of Bjork’s Volta Tour. Starring: Bjork & Company…

Not being a fan of most concert films I usually watch them with a large grain of salt. I tend to find myself let down. However, in the case of Bjork’s newest release, Voltaic, I found myself pleasantly surprised.

Voltaic has been released in various packaging. You can find it solo on CD, a CD/DVD package and a Limited Edition two CD/two DVD version as well. FANCY! I would highly recommend the Limited Edition package for the most Bjork for your buck. It contains the studio recording, the Volta mixes [featuring mixes by RATATAT, MODESELEKTOR and SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO], two concert films [Paris, France and Reykjavik, Iceland], and the Volta music videos.

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Posted by:
Joey Jenkins
Jul 13, 2009 2:45pm

Elizabeth

Dir: Shekhar Kapur, 1998. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Christopher Eccleston. Drama.

Elizabeth is the story of England’s most notorious Queen as she transforms from a free-spirited young woman into an ice-cold leader, battling opposition from enemy states and the Catholic Church.

The tightly plotted screenplay by Michael Hirst (Uncovered) is one of the most dynamic period dramas I have come across. It covers historical truth, while still maintaining a high level of dramatic scenarios and relationships.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 13, 2009 1:35pm

Panic in Needle Park

Dir: Jerry Schatzberg, 1971. Starring: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn. English. Drama.

This is a film that speaks without fringe: no fancy lighting, no overblown plot, no music cues, not even a satisfying conclusion. It is a dark and human depiction of real characters, in a very real situation.

Panic in Needle Park is a story of two people who fall in love in the triangular intersection of Broadway and 72nd St. in New York City’s “Needle Park” – also known today as Sherman Square. Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne adapted the screenplay from James Mill’s novel Panic in Needle Park. In Al Pacino’s second film appearance, he portrays a small-time hustler and drug addict named Bobby who becomes the solace and lover of homeless girl Helen, played by Kitty Winn. The two young lovers become involved in the downward spiral of heroin and betrayal. Heroin invades their passion for each other, yet it becomes their drive to stay together.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 6, 2009 11:46am

Requiem for a Dream

Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2000. Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans. Drama.

Requiem for a Dream is the story of lives on the downturn, spiraling into desperation and addiction.

Based on the novel by American writer Hubert Shelby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn), Requiem is about the struggle of vice in the existence of four people. Aronofsky writes a tight and interesting screen adaptation with a strange timelessness, keeping much of the slang used decades before. Look for a great cameo by Shelby as a sadistic white-trash prison guard.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 3, 2009 2:55pm

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Dir: Jim Jarmusch, 1999. Starring: Forest Whitaker, John Torney. Cult.

A contract killer (Whitaker), who lives his life in accordance with the “Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai,” becomes targeted by his mob bosses after a job goes wrong, leaving a witness behind.

Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Night on Earth) creates a film unlike any other with Ghost Dog. He manages to blend the coda of Kurisowa’s films about Feudal Japan with the characters and locales of an American mobster movie. In concept it may sound like the potential for a trainwreck, but in the hands of one of the leaders in independent cinema, it makes for truly original filmmaking. Jarmusch does a great job of utilizing this mixture of genres, not relying on cookie-cutter stereotypes, but rather, finding a way to flip everything on its head. The result is colorful characters that exist in a reality that is fresh and not found anywhere else.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 3, 2009 2:27pm

Man With a Movie Camera

Dir: Dziga Vertov, 1929. Cinematography: Mikhail Kaufman. Silent Film.

Man With a Movie Camera is an experimental film directed by Dziga Vertov. In this film Vertov was attempting to create an "absolute language of cinema" that is "based on its total separation from the language of literature and theatre." Dropping the use of actors, story lines, sets, and inter-titles, the result is a video diary made up of very powerful imagery.

Although this is an experimental film, and Vertov used a wealth of cinematic trickery (variable camera speeds, dissolves, split-screen effects, the use of prismatic lenses, stop motion etc.). The subject matter is of the everyday sort, or rather, the exposure of some of the more esoteric aspects of day to day life. The viewer is taken to see the heart of factories, a salon, a childbirth, and many other places where we normally might not go, we are shown a snapshot of urban life in a Russian city in 1929.

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Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jun 29, 2009 4:17pm
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