Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

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

Broken English

Dir: Zoe R. Cassavettes. 2007. P. Posey, M. Poupaud, D. de Matteo, G. Rowlands, P. Bogdanovich. English. Romantic Comedy.

There is a moment in this film when Parker Posey is so vulnerable and desperate and beautiful that one remembers why we loved desperate crazy women in cinema before all this feel-good-about-yourself hullabaloo started.

She clutches her leaving lover, face wet with tears, slip bunched around limbs longing to fling themselves at him and loathing herself for it. Such a romantic image recalls French New Wave and American Noir as you witness an inevitable breakdown. Her love and her crazy are startling and translatable. This chemistry with herself is part of why Posey's Nora is one of the best character studies I've seen in a long time. Posey explores and exposes throwing away the funny femme characterizations she's begun to play with in bigger, less indie films and shatters herself into so many facets - sparkling like a jewel. Brilliant. Complex. Fragile, flawed and unique. The story and stories around her are just the stuff off indie romantic comedies and ultimately fill in the background of what can only be her in a focus so sharp we truly understand the phrase lovable neurotic.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Dec 29, 2007 4:12pm

Shameless - Complete Season One

BBC Television Series. 2004. Creator: Paul Abbot. Comedy/Drama.

I love British television. It's like being 8 and hanging out with the older, cooler kids on the block. The ones who aren't afraid to cuss, make rude remarks about, well, anybody and might even show their bum to a passing neighbor before running off in fits of laughter. According to your well bred American TV parents those kids are trouble and you should stay well away if you know what's good for you.

Shameless is good for you. The Gallagers are a family of trouble in Manchester with an absentee mother and a town drunk for a father. Six kids who all know tricks to survive as a family will offend, shock and even make you fall in love. There is Fiona, who plays surrogate mother and reluctant ingenue, Ian, a gay teenager whose stay in the closet keeps him from thug beatings but also gets more and more confining, Lip, a charming smart ass, Debbie, the dangerously protective 9 year old plus hyper-active Carl and adorable Liam. They will have you cheering for their escapades and mourning for their betrayals all the while their in-league neighbors help make trashy seem downright domestic.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Dec 26, 2007 3:22pm

Two-Lane Blacktop

Dir: Monte Hellman. 1971. Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Dennis Wilson. English. Cult.

In one critical scene in Two-Lane Blacktop, Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” is heard in the background. Its famous refrain runs, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Therein lies the core of Monte Hellman’s intimate, artfully photographed road movie about liberty, competition, friendship, and commitment.

Its archetypal characters bear no names. Two taciturn dragsters, the Driver (James Taylor) and the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson), scour the countryside in a scarred, souped-up ’55 Chevy. They pick up the Girl (Laurie Bird) on the road. Somewhere outside Los Angeles, they encounter an aimless yet aggressive nomad (Warren Oates) piloting a new canary-yellow muscle car, who challenges them to a race to Washington, D.C., with pink slips as the prize. They roll. Everything changes.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Dec 20, 2007 4:15pm
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