Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

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

A Clockwork Orange

Dir/Wri: Stanley Kubrick. 1971. Starring: M. McDowell, P. Magee, M. Bates, A. Morris, M. Gover. English. Science-Fiction.

A classic tale of boy loves violence, loses violence, and reunites with violence. Alex de Large (Malcolm McDowell) is a romantic hero for a decidedly unromantic age, represented here by a Moddish parallel universe. When all things, including humans, lose their intrinsic qualities, becoming place holders in the stimulus-response equations of a totally administered world, even the most barbarous of acts, if freely chosen, can take on a heroic hue. Not exactly a comforting thought, that one. Thus, Kubrick enhances audience identification with Alex’s creative acts of resistance via a first-person voice over, visualizing his sadistic reveries (as in a masturbatory sequence involving Beethoven’s 9th), and shooting his violent deeds through an extreme wide angle lens which tends to slightly distort everything around our humble narrator.

Alex’s fun comes to an end when he’s betrayed by his droogs after having killed a lady. After 2 years in prison, Alex charms his way into an experimental procedure at the Ludovico lab, which via behavior modification instills in him an aversion to sex and violence, as well as his beloved 9th, which happened to be the background music to one of the videos he was forced to watch. He can look, but he can no longer touch, his feelings now associated with a crippling nausea. Having been turned into a normal(-ized) citizen, Alex is released back into society. The violence he perpetrated in the first act is inflicted back on him by his former victims to which he can only respond with learned helplessness. Through the repercussions of the last creative act left to him, an attempt at suicide, the world is restored of violent personal meaning to the familiar tune of Ludwig van.

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Posted by:
Charles Reece
Jan 7, 2008 2:59pm

The Big Knife

Dir: Robert Aldrich. 1955. Starring: Jack Palance, Rod Steiger, Ida Lupino, Shelly Winters. English. Classics.

I get a real kick out certain big, strapping, "man's man" actors: Heston, Mitchum, Lancaster, Hayden and, most importantly, Jack Palance. Palance could work his way through those 50s monologues of seine-styled verbiage like Rosalind Russell on meth. If the modern-day film audience has trouble with his histrionic delivery, it’s surely because of the contemporary bias for realism within acting. To me, he's like the artist who manages to find the perfect curved line when representing action. Cartoonish? Maybe, but any comic book fan can tell you about the pleasure of a broad stroke. I prefer to look at that old-style melodramatic acting in which Palance excelled as the representation laid bare, a modernist nod to the fact that what's going on isn't real, but the emotions and thoughts are. He is the brutal signifier. And he was never better than in Aldrich's The Big Knife, a more masochistic film pleasure you’ll not likely find. The script is by James Poe, based on the play of the same name by Clifford Odets, whose work, when properly adapted as it is here, makes the more famous Tennessee Williams adaptations look like Sundance productions.

Palance plays a big-time Hollywood actor who's had his dreams replaced, piece by piece, with factory-line assembled product. Unfortunately for him, he knows what art is, but the Factory, in the body of Rod Steiger (one of the few actors who could go toe-to-toe with Palance up the tower of babble), has something on the actor, namely that he killed a child while driving drunk. Palance makes too much money for Steiger's hack producer, so he's forced to sign another 7-year contract of servitude. Due to his infidelity to both his art and their relationship, the actor’s wife, played by noir-babe Ida Lupino, is living separate from him with their child, and has threatened to leave for good if he signs on again. The misery becomes even more turbid when, like a pig to mud, Shelly Winters, playing the girl who was with Palance on that drunken night, threatens to reveal his dirty secret to the gossip columns. Steiger, not wanting to lose his golden goose, tries to get Palance to help kill Winters. The screen threatens to implode each time Palance and Steiger take a breath before launching into another tirade. With the aid of a bunch of booze, a lascivious harpy draining Palance's moral center (played by barrel-browed Jean Hagen), and a whole slew of master-servant dialectics between the royalty (Palance, Steiger) and their hanger-ons (the great character actors Everett Sloane and Wesley Addy, among others), the film reaches its moribund conclusion.

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Posted by:
Charles Reece
Jan 7, 2008 2:41pm

Solaris

Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972. Starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis. Russian. Foreign/Sci-Fi

Solaris was Tarkovsky’s first foray into Science Fiction. Tarkovsky was a big fan of soft science-fiction, the kind that deals with deep moral and philosophical questions instead of focusing on laser rifles, improbable monsters and shiny robots. The film is rather loosely adapted from a novel by Stanislaw Lem and, predictably, the end result was not to Lem’s liking, partly because Tarkovsky took the story and thoroughly made it his own while retaining aspects familiar to Lem’s fans.

The plot concerns a mission to a space station surrounding an oceanic world they’ve named Solaris. A psychologist, Kris Kelvin, is sent to assess the deteriorating situation on the station as scientists kill themselves and apparently go insane without fail. He is to return and recommend future action, possibly shooting radiation into the planet, possibly ending the experiment.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Jan 7, 2008 2:30pm

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Dir: Ridley Scott. 1982/2007. Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer. English. Sci-Fi.

What is “human?” That’s the basic question posited by Ridley Scott’s visionary science fiction opus, release in 2007 in a 25th-anniversary “final cut,” the director’s third pass at the film.

Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick and set in the dark, rain-soaked Los Angeles of 2019, the tale follows “blade runner” Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he pursues and attempts to terminate four “replicants” – genetically-engineered humanoids – who have violently escaped an off-world colony and returned to earth. Deckard becomes increasingly conflicted about his murderous job and doubtful about his own identity, as he falls in love with a replicant (Sean Young) and begins to realize that his prey may be more human than he believed.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 2, 2008 3:06pm

Eastern Promises

Dir: David Cronenberg. 2007. Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel. English. Drama/Crime

Eastern Promises is a film that stars an American playing a Russian thug, a Frenchman playing a Russian Enforcer and an Australian playing a British midwife. This is something that I feel only David Cronenberg could pull off.

In recent years, Cronenberg has gone away from his far out sexual fantasies and strange characters involving very strange situations to something a little more straight forward. To say that doesn’t mean that that is a bad thing. With this new, more conventional approach to storytelling, Cronenberg and his cast shine in this tale of crime, betrayal and search for the truth.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Dec 31, 2007 5:53pm

The Fountain

Dir: Darren Aronofsky. 2006. Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn. English. Sci-Fiction/Drama.

I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream. I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream more than The Fountain. But I can't really compare Darren Aronofsky's two latest releases; it simply wouldn't be fair! The Fountain is a challenge that takes on a re-definition of science fiction, attempting to span 1,000 years and intersecting three parallel stories. It is certainly a task to admire. Aronofsky searches life's biggest questions - love, death, spirituality, existence - all while trying to go beyond typical science fiction films that were plot-driven by technology and science. He notes, "the interesting things are the ideas; the search for God, the search for meaning."

The film is personal and honorable in how simple yet intricate the story is. While I found it hard to involve myself in the more ancient sections of the film, and also thought using a cancer-stricken loved one as a character seems slightly redundant, but in the end mankind (in the general sense) is truly redeemed.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Dec 31, 2007 3:50pm

The Conformist (Il Conformista)

Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. 2006. Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Enzo Tarascio. Italian. Foreign.

I've never read the novel "The Conformist" by Alberto Moravia, but I can bet that Bernardo Bertolucci's film Il Conformista is a faithful adaptation of the story. The film explores a truly profound relationship between the individual and societal ideals, dealing with Fascist Italy in both an intellectual and artistic sense.

I'd have to say, the best way to watch this film is with your own company or maybe another if you are ready to embark on a heavy, heavy journey. The film is a mind trip - allowing the viewer to question the individual's values, society, civil responsibility, and dependence.Yet it doesn't stop itself there - the photography by Vittorio Storaro is breathtaking and true to its story. The style is so noteworthy that the film is praised in Visions of Light, a documentary honoring cinematographers as artists, and for good reason. Each moment is dedicated to the sorrow of an Italian under governmental pressures.The rich colors, camera angles, and camera movement accentuate Italian expressionism in every sense.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Dec 31, 2007 3:45pm

The Kingdom

Dir: Peter Berg. 2007. Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Ashraf Barhom, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman. English. Action

When my mom gets pissed she watches Die Hard. She cackles and punches the air and I can see her falling in love with Bruce Willis a little each time. She gets so worried about all those people and his poor feet, but then he kicks those pompous, spoiled, rich, foreign bastards ass and the world is a little safer and easier to bear. When my step dad gets angry - and I mean the silent, stewing, breath-holding, heart attack courting angry, he watches Desperado. He is El Mariachi in Antonio Banderas form sidling up to and blowing the heads off of spoiled, rich, foreign bastards with a busty Salma at his side. What could be better? What rosier glasses to see the world through when you are in a snit?

My justify and release anger movie of the week is The Kingdom. First it's just a good movie. The script is tight with just enough workable action movie traits to keep me entertained and involved. The characters are familiar - you've seen them a dozen times before in different movies and different combinations and here they are again, ready to hang tough and go all the way. In The Middle East no less! But wait. Something's different. The fearless leader - god bless you Jamie Foxx - really is smart and not just some kid with a chiseled jaw pretending to problem solve. The feisty female/ berserker is my on-again girl crush, the AWEsome Jennifer Garner. Chris Cooper, once again pulling his weight, and Jason Bateman whose struggle to survive is is a fist in your heart, fill out the team work roster.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Dec 29, 2007 4:19pm
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