Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

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

The Films of Michael Haneke (Boxset)

7 Essential Works By the Master of Discomfort

Michael Haneke is one of the most innovative and exciting filmmakers currently working. His films can be extremely shocking and, at times, graphically violent. But unlike most thriller directors, Haneke chooses to downplay his violence. Haneke prefers a cold austerity to the melodramatic hysterics that characterize modern thrillers. His characters are cold and unfeeling, resulting in an atmosphere of psychological turmoil, emotional paralysis, and impending doom. His paradoxical approach to violence instills an unnerving tension within any well-balanced viewer, and this tension quickly turns into utter terror. Haneke thwarts his viewers of their moment of cathartic release:  that tantalizing moment in which viewer and filmmaker can share a moralizing sigh of relief and say, “Ah, wasn’t that horrible?” No one is bailed out of a Haneke film; instead, the viewer must deal with and eventually accept the bleak situation that confronts him.

Haneke’s unapologetic approach to cinema expects more from its audience than your normal pure entertainment thriller or horror film. When watching Haneke’s films, despite the discomfort we feel, we must never alienate ourselves from the violent acts depicted on screen (and in the specific case of Funny Games, we are even encouraged to play along). His films always provoke social thought and personal introspection. Ultimately, Haneke wants his viewers to ask more questions, and to view this tiny world and all its complexities with a more critical eye. Oh, and yes, they are quite riveting to watch as well…

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Posted by:
Joey Izzo
Dec 19, 2007 4:27pm

Help!

Dir: Richard Lester. 1965. Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr. English. Music.

Yes, it’s silly. For their second film with director Richard Lester, the Beatles abandoned the black-and-white, documentary-derived naturalism of A Hard Day’s Night for luscious color and a goofy plot spoofing the secret agent thrillers of the day. But Help! exhibits the energy and charm of its predecessor, thanks to its musical stars, who get a chance to cavort on some exotic locations.

The outline of the droll script may have been written on the back of a postage stamp. The Fab Four, playing “themselves” as before, are stalked by members of an Eastern cult, whose sacrificial ring has fallen into the hands (onto the hand?) of one Ringo Starr. An inept but nonetheless thoroughly mad scientist also covets the gem. The Beatles run from London to the Alps to the Bahamas in a fruitless attempt to elude their pursuers, abetted by a smitten priestess of the cult.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Dec 19, 2007 4:13pm

Hearts of Darkness

Dir: Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper. Starring: Francis Ford Coppola. English. Documentaries.

Francis Ford Coppola said of Apocalypse Now at its 1979 premiere in Cannes, “The way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment. And little by little we went insane.” That madness is what you see in Hearts of Darkness, an extraordinary documentary about the film’s torturous, quixotic shoot.

With her own crew, Coppola’s wife Eleanor documented her husband’s protracted struggle to complete his epic about the Vietnam War; her footage is the basis of Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper’s feature. She came away with an intimate picture of the feature’s near-catastrophic progress, or lack thereof. Shooting in the Phillipines, Coppola replaced a lead actor after filming began; saw helicopters on loan from Ferdinand Marcos’ army diverted to fight rebels in a real civil war; witnessed the destruction of a main set in a ruinous typhoon; and was forced to halt production when one of his key players suffered a near-fatal heart attack. And then the volatile Marlon Brando showed up, overweight and unprepared for his role as the monstrous Colonel Kurtz.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Dec 19, 2007 4:09pm
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