Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

The Wrestler

Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2008. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood. Drama.

Director Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) returns to his roots by making a film with a bare-bones look reminiscent of his debut Pi. Aronofsky makes a far less polished film than its predecessors, as far as aesthetic design, focusing on performance above all else. The Wrestler is less plot driven than it is about the nature of desires, regret and one “broken down piece of meat”'s last shot at athletic glory.

Mickey Rourke (Barfly, Angel Heart) headlines the film as the wrestler in question, Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Although he did some supporting work in such films as Tony Scott’s Domino and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, it is as the title character of this film that Rourke put himself back on the Hollywood map. As a man fighting against time, desperate for one last shot at life in the spotlight before his body fails him, Rourke plays Robinson with unflinching honesty. It is one of those performances when actor and character become so integrally linked that it feels as if you're watching true life unfold. It is a brave and unabashed performance. One of the year’s finest.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jun 29, 2009 2:03pm

The Ice Storm

Dir: Ang Lee, 1997. Starring: K. Kline, J. Allen, S. Weaver, T. Maguire, C. Ricci, E. Wood, K. Holmes. Drama.

Set over 1973’s Thanksgiving weekend, The Ice Storm is the tale of a group of suburban families in Connecticut dealing with ever shifting social mores and sexual desires.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Rick Moody, James Shamus’ screenplay adaptation is a dark but truthful examination of the American family. It is well structured with highly dimensional characters, never bowing down to the oversimplification of human behavior. Rather, he gives them each their own voice and distinctive point of view.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jun 29, 2009 1:19pm

Watership Down

Dir: Martin Rosen, 1978. Starring: J. Hurt, R. Briers, M. G. Cox, S. Cadell, H. Andrews, Z. Mostel. Children's.

Watership Down is a beautifully animated film, based on the novel of the same name, written by Richard Adams. It tells the story of a group of rabbits who, much like humans, has their own religion, language, and culture. It evokes a classic English gothic world of green meadows, hallucination, and the grim, shadowy, underbelly of human nature...errm, I mean, rabbit-nature.

The story begins when Fiver, a young rabbit with prophetic abilities, has a vision of the destruction of the peaceful warren in which the rabbits all live. Fiver and his older brother, a rabbit named Hazel, make an attempt to persuade the other rabbits to leave to warren and run for safety, but the chief rabbit of their warren dismisses their ideas and sends them away. Fiver and Hazel, both firm in their belief in Fiver's prophetic abilities, decide to leave the warren on their own with a small group of other like-minded rabbits.

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Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jun 15, 2009 3:06pm

Blood of a Poet

Dir: Jean Cocteau, 1930. Starring: Lee Miller, Enrique Rivero, Jean Desbordes, Feral Benga. Foreign.

Jean Cocteau, one of the great multi-talented artists of the 20th century is given free reign in his first film. His approach is whimsical and free improvisational; a childlike freedom hangs in the air of this film, even as it addresses rather dark subject matter. The result is a series of powerful images that still seem fresh nearly 80 years later.

Experimental and surrealistic in nature, Blood of a Poet is not a film for individuals who seek clear and definite story lines, to say the least. Rather this is a film that should be considered as a work of art, and not as a traditional movie. That is not to say that these are a series of meaningless images - this is essentially a poem in the form of a film. A series of Cocteau's own reflections...as Cocteau puts it ,"a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body."

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Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jun 15, 2009 2:44pm

Chinatown

Dir: Roman Polanski, 1974. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston. Mystery/Thriller.

This movie is not ranked on the top of AFI’s "Greatest American Movies" of all time for nothing. Every single aspect and element of this film - from its direction, cinematography, script development, performances, editing, to its art direction - is outstanding. When you take a director such as Roman Polanski, add a writer like Robert Towne, and have actors such as Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, it’s almost a done deal. What leads this film to excel beyond excellence is its profound content and complex, multi-leveled storyline. Its underlying historical significance concerning the 1930s water rights in Los Angeles has also earned the film to be selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1991.

The story is set in the 1930s. J.J. “Jakes” Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, is a Los Angeles private investigator hired by Evelyn Mulwray to spy on her supposed cheating husband, who is the city’s chief engineer for the water department. Soon after the initial investigation, Gittes finds that this woman is an impersonator of Evelyn Mulwray. He plunges into the case to discover the complex twists and turns of a murder involving incest and municipal corruption, which somehow all relate to the city’s water supply. How far do people in power go to keep themselves in that position? Follow Gittes’ investigation to find out.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jun 11, 2009 3:44pm

Little Murders

Dir: Alan Arkin, 1971. Starring: Elliott Gould, Marcia Rodd, Vincent Gardenia. Comedy/Cult.

Violence! Hilarity! Violence, again! Breathers on the phone! What the hell is going on here? That’s right: it’s “America during the war.” Vietnam War. But let’s face it; America has been enamored with violence since our cursory inception. This here tale just happens to take place in the late 60s/early 70s.

Alfred is a self-ascribed "apathist." He doesn’t care either way about, well, everything. As long as he can take his photographs, there are no problems. Constantly tormented and accosted by Manhattan street thugs for apparently no reason, he idly complies and daydreams his way through the relentless beatings until his assailants wear themselves out. Along comes Patsy. Witnessing one of Al’s beatings from her apartment window, she heads down the elevator to help him out. Alfred slyly walks away amongst the compounding brouhaha as if nothing has happened and continues snapping his pics with self-satisfying glee. Patsy is appalled. Shocked. “What kind of a man are you?!” she indignantly exclaims. Well one thing leads to another and they’re off dating. Imbibing in the standard bourgeois dating procedures of the time - golf, tennis, ‘a day at the lake’ - Alfred remains apathetic, content with verbal gestures such as “I really think I could trust you.” Violence? Hang on...

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Jun 11, 2009 3:02pm

Network

Dir: Sidney Lumet, 1976. Starring: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall. Drama.

Network has cemented its place as one of the finest and most enduring examples of American cinema. A satirical look into the media industry and its effect on the human condition, a film that unflinchingly makes points and claims that, in 1976, may have seemed like comedic exaggeration, yet today are accepted norms. Prophetic and eloquent, a film whose undying relevance seems to resonate with growing intensity as time moves on...

"This story is about Howard Beale, who was the network news anchorman on UBS-TV." This is the narrated introduction to the film. Beale, played by Peter Finch, has recently learned of his imminent firing from the station and announces his plan to commit suicide in a future broadcast, live on television. This creates a huge uproar at the corporate level and, soon after Frank Hackett, the Executive Senior Vice President of the network, appears (played by Robert Duvall) to fire Beale on the spot.

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Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jun 8, 2009 7:49pm

Meet Me In St. Louis

Dir: Vincente Minnelli, 1944. Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor. Musicals.

Judy Garland, in my book, has always been one interesting persona to watch on screen. Her eyes glitter when she sings, she is always bathed in some wonderful soft light, and somehow the camera is always doing the best dolly moves when she’s on screen. She’s also a separate entity from the real world, so it seems. Her films, just as fascinating to me as Busby Berkeley musicals, are no less from the escapist realm. It’s amazing that 1945 marked the end of World War II, and, well, also produced the completely irrelevant musical, Meet Me In St. Louis. Meet Me in St. Louis is directed by Vincente Minnelli, who married Garland after working with her on set. The story is set in St. Louis, Missouri, in the year before the 1904 World Fair. The middle-class Smith family leads a comfortable and happy life. The four daughters are equally charming in their own separate ways. There’s Rose, Esther (Garland), Agnes, and the youngest, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien). The family anxiously awaits the World’s Fair in their hometown, yet the father breaks the news that they must move to New York City to find a job. The story follows the family’s devastation in the end of summer through their lessons of life, love, and family well into the Christmas holidays, where they make the decision that breaks or makes their bond as a family.

The film features some tunes and dance-numbers, just as pie in the sky as the daughters’ names, including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Boy Next Door,” and “Under the Bamboo Tree."

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jun 3, 2009 4:39pm

The Servant

Dir: Joseph Losey, 1963. Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, James Fox. Gay/Drama/Classics.

Not counting the fairly recent 300, the '60s produced my favorite gay films:  Basil Dearden’s Victim, Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George, and particularly Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter's The Servant. The three form a trilogy to my mind: all are British; like the kitchen sink realism of the period, they foreground class in their sexual politics; both The Victim and The Servant feature Dirk Bogarde, the finest of cerebral actors, making you feel every thought his characters have; Losey trained and will always be closely aligned with Robert Aldrich. Although Aldrich was more of a bare-knuckles kind of director, his film shares with the more intellectual Losey an approach to sexual identity and politics that I prefer: as a just-so given, full of suggestion, and with a good deal of nuance.

Compare the matter-of-fact presentation of lesbianism in Sister George -- where the indignities heaped upon its protagonist, June 'George' Buckridge, are more common, a fact of modern existence -- to the more literal minded identity politics of Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. In the latter case, oppression becomes a matter of sexual identity, whereas in the former, said identity is just another method those in power might use as a means for subjugation. Not that there's anything wrong with the more particularized morality of Philadelphia in principle (Victim is, in fact, a much better example), but unless one already sympathizes with its gay protagonist, the story remains one about the Other. Aldrich’s film requires no such identification, but is instead a reflection of power itself, irrespective of the particularities of sexual orientation or gender.

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Posted by:
Charles Reece
Jun 3, 2009 2:41pm

China Syndrome

Dir: James Bridges, 1979. Starring: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas. Thriller.

This 1979 thriller is a frightening look into the threat of nuclear fallout, a concept that appears to have been somewhat marginalized in the current state of popular consciousness. Once in awhile I find that it is a swell idea to reinforce the state of one's own nuclear paranoia with an evening movie devoted to the subject. The China Syndrome is the perfect film for such an occasion.

Jane Fonda stars as Kimberly Wells, an ambitious "soft news" reporter who finds herself in the right place at the wrong time when an unexplained mishap occurs at a Southern Californian Nuclear Power plant while reporting on a series about energy production. It is here that her cameraman Richard Adams, who is played by Michael Douglas, secretly films the incident from an observation room as it takes place behind soundproof glass in the control room down below. As Wells and Adams embark on an investigation as to what actually happened in that control room and attempt to air their story they find themselves ensnared in a web of deception and resistance.

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Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jun 1, 2009 12:25pm
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