Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

3:10 To Yuma

Dir: James Mangold. 2007. Starring: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale. English. Westerns.

The Western is showing signs of regained life, and no picture is a better example of the renascent genre than 3:10 to Yuma. Inspired by an Elmore Leonard story and originally filmed in 1957 with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, the remake sports compelling performances by its leads, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

The notorious murderer and robber Ben Wade (Crowe) is captured, and struggling farmer Dan Evans (Bale) accepts an offer of $200 to join a motley posse and pack the criminal onto a train to the state prison at Yuma. During an arduous, violent journey, the group is menaced by renegade Indians, rogue lawmen, and Wade’s gang, and the charismatic, deadly Wade presents a threat all by himself.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 23, 2008 2:43pm

A Star is Born (1937)

Dir: William A. Wellman. 1937. Starring: Janet Gaynor, Norman Maine, May Robson. English. Drama.

A Star is Born. What a title. It promises greatness, wish fulfillment and a kind of immortality. What could sustain such a fire? What could possibly bring forth such legendary light? Even a star has humble beginnings and we meet our speck of star dust in a provincial home on a snowy day in Smalltown, USA. It is classic Americana movie making that marries depression era silents to the slow emerging prosperity of WWII America still harboring a romantic vision of manifest destiny.

There is an embittered aunt, a struggling pop, a bright but unformed kid brother, but most importantly and impressively a wise grandmother played with brilliance by May Robson. If you ever need inspiration watch her speech to Janet Gaynor's young and determined Esther, as she encourages her to follow her dreams of being an actress in Hollywood. It practically sings with the spirit of the wild west, not to mention female empowerment.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Jan 21, 2008 3:54pm

Zodiac

Dir: David Fincher, 2007. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr. English. Drama. Mystery/Suspense.

Zodiac is a smart, taut, and engrossing film about the titular, self-named serial killer who terrorized Northern California in the late ‘60s. The murderer, who was never caught, remains a phantom in David Fincher’s drama; the director of Se7en instead focuses his versatile camera on the men whose pursuit of the elusive, taunting psychopath evolves into obsession over the course of years.

After a bang-up opening – Zodiac’s second attack – the film enters the newsroom of the San Francisco Chronicle, where crime-beat reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) learn of the killer’s bravado letter to the paper. Soon, a murder in San Francisco pulls lead investigator Dave Tosci (Mark Ruffalo) into the vortex. The action follows the three men as they become increasingly consumed while leads dry up, a key suspect appears, and Zodiac mocks the police and the press as the case drags on.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 19, 2008 3:14pm

Double Indemnity

Dir: Billy Wilder. 1944. Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson. English. Film Noir.

If you know nothing about film noir, start with Double Indemnity. This classic by director Billy Wilder was among the first bona fide pictures in the postwar genre, and it contains all the essential elements – lust, greed, violence, betrayal – that animated this wondrous American style during its great epoch of the 1940s and ‘50s.

Based on a novel by hardboiled fiction forefather James M. Cain, the biting script was co-authored by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, creator of detective Philip Marlowe. The brutal, sleazy tale is recounted (in traditional voiceover style) by canny but weak-willed Los Angeles insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who is ensnared by the scheming trollop Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). The pair hatch a complicated plot to murder her wealthy husband and collect a large double indemnity insurance policy. But they don’t reckon on the acute intuition of Neff’s friend and co-worker, claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), whose “little man” in the pit of his stomach tells him something isn’t quite right.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 19, 2008 3:07pm

Ace In The Hole

Dir: Billy Wilder. 1951. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling. English. Film Noir.

Though it doesn’t revolve around a murder or a heist, Ace in the Hole remains a definitive film noir. Bitter, caustic, and unremittingly dark, it prophesied our age of journalistic madness as it focused on a literal “media circus” developed by a story-hungry press.

In a virtuoso performance that equals his turn in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a down-on-his-heels newsman who desperately takes a job at a tank-town Albuquerque paper. He stumbles on the headline of a lifetime after the owner of a roadside diner is trapped in an abandoned mineshaft while hunting for Indian artifacts. Envisioning a Pulitzer Prize and a return to the big time in New York, Tatum ruthlessly controls the story, befriending the terrified victim (Richard Benedict), romancing his slatternly wife (Jan Sterling), and cynically working local authorities and big-city editors. Then things start to come apart…

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 19, 2008 3:02pm

Witchfinder General

Dir: Michael Reeves. 1968. Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy. English. Horror.

Witchfinder General is a small classic of English horror that only recently saw re-release in its intended form. Originally distributed as The Conqueror Worm, to capitalize on the Edgar Allan Poe vehicles of its star Vincent Price, Michael Reeves’ film has previously been seen with incongruous narration and extraneous nudity added and its original score excised. A 2007 DVD restoration righted these wrongs, and it can now be experienced in all its chilling glory.

In 17th century England, chaos descends as civil war rages between King Charles I’s Parliamentarians and Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. “Witchfinder” Matthew Hopkins (Price) roams the countryside extracting “confessions” from accused witches and collecting a fee for each hanging and drowning, abetted by the sadistic torturer and rapist John Stearne (Robert Russell). A young coronet in Cromwell’s insurgent army (Ian Ogilvy) and his fiancée (Hilary Dwyer) become entangled with the murderous Hopkins.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 19, 2008 2:55pm

Once

Dir/Wri: John Carney. 2006. Starring: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova. English. Romance, Comedy, Musical.

Once is a love story masquerading as a musical disguised as a documentary. It is pure bliss from start to finish. Two lost souls find one another through music and then nudge each other back into life. I never once thought about the budget (which was tiny) or the acting (by 2 musicians) or even the director (who is amazing because he is completely invisible). From the opening scene where one of our heroes is unabashedly singing out his broken heart to its counterpoint towards the end where the other quietly lets out her own, I was snugly fitted into the camera lens that follows, captures and reveals them at tender, quiet, and charmingly awkward moments.

The movie is 60 percent music but it doesn't feel like a musical. It feels like a movie with a really good soundtrack. Better than any montage, each song is laden with romantic reminiscence and searching allowing us to stretch closer to the characters . This leaves enough mystery, enabling the story to unfold without compromise. If you hate the singer/songwriter Once might not be for you. But if you have an ounce of sentiment and a dash of a want-to-be-musician jones this is it.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Jan 16, 2008 5:28pm

The Day Today

BBC Television Series. 1994. Creators: Christopher Morris, Aramando Iannucci. Comedy.

I hate satire. Yeah, there, I said it. Get over it. One percent of the time satire is funny. Most comedic satirists believe all you have to do to be funny is be satirical. This is wrong. You must also be funny. Which they forget. Luckily, that one percent does exist and that one percent is The Day Today.

Created by Christopher Morris and Armando Iannucci, The Day Today is as silly as it is relevant. Much like The Daily Show, The Day Today is a spoof television news program that satirizes (I promise that will be the last time I use that word) both current events and the news programs that provide them. From anchors "losing" the news to making interviewees suck helium to discredit their statements, The Day Today puts all other subversive TV programs to shame. Did I also mention this was where Alan Partridge was created?

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Posted by:
Eric Branscum
Jan 12, 2008 5:59pm

Blood Simple

Dir: Joel Coen. 1984. Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh. English. Mystery.

I have this wacky theory that all Coen Brother movies are comedies. Even the ones that aren't comedies (this theory was proven wrong with No Country for Old Men). But even one of their bleakest films, Blood Simple, in all its revenge fueled violence and mayhem, still plays out like a Ealing Studios comedy. To fully defend my stupid (and most likely wrong) theory I'd have to give away too much of the plot, but basically every character in the movie thinks they know exactly what is going on despite the fact that they are, in reality, completely clueless to what is really happening. This all comes to a head in a final scene that if it wasn't so edge-of-your-seat, nail-bitingly tense, you'd laugh out loud. Or maybe not, what do I know?

Regardless of my pretentious genre-swapping, jibba-jabba Blood Simple is a great film. A well paced, methodically told story that seems ridiculously confident for a debut film. All of the Coen Brother aesthetics we've grown to love are there (clearly they have not progressed):  wonderful dialog, inventive camera work, and a love for southern folk. M. Emmet Walsh gives a particularly creepy performance as a hit man who will do anything if it pays right and is legal ... well, if it pays right. It also features cinemas greatest "Howdy" exchange between two passing cars.

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Posted by:
Eric Branscum
Jan 12, 2008 5:54pm

Un Couer en Hiver

Dir: Claude Sautet. 1992. Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Beart, Andre Dussollier. French. Drama.

I don't know if I have the academic background to write this particular review. Claude Sautet 's subdued genius of Un Couer en Hiver is threaded with music and art references I know nothing about. Yet, as an uninformed viewer I was no less affected by the interplay of silence, music and color to tell this elegant and slyly unique tale of love, betrayal and discovery through the eyes of an unlikely muse.

Un Couer may be seen as the birth of a great artist, or the tale of two (metaphorical) brothers and one love, but mostly it is the story of Stephane, a reserved violin maker who is a partner in a world class violin repair and design business within the elite sphere of classical music. His associate, the effortlessly dynamic Maxime, handles the buying, selling and deal making. He meets and greets the artists - is informed and affable while the reserved and intense Stephane is called when the violin needs a fine ear and fine repair. His passion is his control and within the first 3 minutes of the film you are under a spell so unexpected as to wonder about it days afterwards due to the brilliance of actor Daniel Auteuil.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Jan 7, 2008 3:15pm
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