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

Alphaville

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, 1965. Starring: Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine. French. Foreign/Science-Fiction.

This is one science fiction film unlike any other. Jean-Luc Godard’s unique French New Wave sensibilities have combined science fiction with film noir, creating a multi-layered, French Surrealist work.

The premise is philosophical and metaphysical, where the main character, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), is a trench-coat wearing agent from the “Outlands.” He is in search of a missing agent, Henry Dickson, and is also looking to kill Professor Von Braun, the creator of Alphaville. Then he is set to destroy Alphaville or the controlling computer, Alpha 60, a sentient computer that outlaws love, poetry, and emotion. One of Alpha 60’s rules is that instead of people asking “why," they should only say "because," and therefore those who show any signs of emotion are interrogated and executed. Caution seeks the assistance of Natasha Von Braun (Anna Karina), the professor’s daughter, who claims she does not know the meaning of “conscience” or “love.” He ends up falling in love with her, his quest of destroying the computer-mentality to replace the human race by Alpha 60 more evident than ever. The unpredictability of his emotions stems a whole new adventure and ultimate discovery for both him and Natasha in his fight for free thought and individuality.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 30, 2009 1:56pm

Bad Timing

Dir: Nicolas Roeg, 1980. Starring: Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell, Harvey Keitel. Drama.

Bad Timing does more than paint a picture of obsession between two incompatible lovers. It explores the inevitable consequences that occur when two people don't know how to walk away from their doomed relationship.

Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) is an American psychoanalyst and professor with a position in Vienna. He profiles powerful people for a living and interacts with commoners in a very pretentious and cold way. Milena (Theresa Russell) is the American wife of a Czech diplomat who approaches Alex at a party. Their story is told in two parts, beginning with Milena's attempt to commit suicide. After taking a large amount of pills she calls Alex to say goodbye. He goes to her apartment, calls an ambulance, and is questioned for several hours at the hospital by Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) and his team. Alex can't seem to figure out why he's being interrogated about the lifestyle of a woman he claims to be merely friends with. It is announced that Milena has overdosed and is in a coma, and something about his story and her critical condition just doesn't add up. From the time he claims she called him in distress to the time it took for him to arrive at her home and call for help, there's a questionable series of hours that are unaccounted for. Through a series of flashbacks, the film goes through their toxic love affair, ending with the detective's efforts to try and figure out if her attempted suicide could have been prevented, or if it was an attempt at all.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 6, 2011 4:38pm

Blast of Silence

Dir: Allen Baron. 1961. Starring: Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker. English. Film Noir/Mystery.

If Albert Camus had made a film noir, it would have been very much like Allen Baron’s little-seen 1961 feature Blast of Silence. This low-budget jewel, which enjoyed a critical renaissance after a 1990 screening at the Munich Film Festival, is less a thriller than it is an existential exploration. In many ways, it anticipated Martin Scorsese’s equally dark New York drama Taxi Driver by a decade.

Writer-director Baron had originally cast Peter Falk as hit man Frankie Bono, but wound up playing the part himself after Falk took his career-making role in Murder Inc. Resembling a less feral George C. Scott, Baron is extremely effective as the solitary, dead-eyed assassin, who arrives in New York City at Christmastime to eliminate a troublesome small-time mobster. After a chance meeting, the lonely, embittered killer is drawn to a girl from his past (Molly McCarthy). But he still has a contract to fulfill, and his world begins to unravel as he stalks his prey.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
May 7, 2008 4:22pm

Blood for Dracula

Dir: Paul Morrissey, 1974. Starring: Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Vittorio De Sica, Maxime McKendry, Arno Juerging, Cult.

When I caught wind that Andy Warhol produced trashy cult films in the '70s, I rushed to find everything available. Trash, Heat, and Flesh were introduced to me first, and all of these are directed by Paul Morrissey. What's also funny about this movie and all of the Morrissey/Warhol collaborations is that they star one of Warhol's troubled muses from his photography career, Joe Dallesandro. There is also a rumored cameo from Roman Polanski, but I've been too in awe of the cheesy story to keep an eye out for him. Blood for Dracula is perhaps one of the cooler variations of Bram Stoker's Dracula tale. This is due, in part, to Udo Kier's sickly performance as the famed blood-sucker. In short, it is a version that presents the villain in a pathetic light, which ultimately turns the entire move into a satirical mess. Count Dracula and his dying sister are in a bit of a bind. Both are extremely ill and fear that the next slumber they have in their tombs will be their last. Unlike most other Dracula tales, these two require a special kind of blood to feast on: the blood of a virgin. Just when their future looks bleak due to all the promiscuous girls in town, the Count's servant convinces him to have a vacation in a city with more religious convictions. They decide on Italy, and upon arrival, hear of a family with four marriageable daughters who are interested in suitors.

Before they arrive, the parents (Vittorio De Sica, Maxime McKendry) of the four girls decide to coach their daughters and emphasize the importance of the Count's inquiry and his request for a virgin bride. Little do they know that two of their daughters have frequent rendezvous with their manservant, Mario (Joe Dallesandro). Once the Count arrives, he goes through some trouble explaining the coffin he has brought with him and is escorted around the grounds in a wheelchair because he's so weak. He also goes through many comical efforts to remind his hosts that he has a special diet. One of the funniest and most pitiful scenes is when he is desperately in need of nourishment and his servant returns with bread soaked in a girl's blood. It has this odd and somewhat intentional resemblance to a drug addict blissfully indulging in his latest "hit." When the need for blood becomes unbearable, he moves in for the kill and begins visiting the two daughters who are the most attractive. It just so happens that these two are the ones who are involved with Mario and their blood makes him sicker than he was before. Everything boils down to the other two daughters. He creates a bond with the eldest, and she is the one who is honest about her past suitors, thus ultimately of no use to him. The only one left is the youngest, who the parents claim is too young to marry, and is also a prude. But before he can get to her, Mario beings to snoop around and notices that his two lovers' behavior has grown more than mysterious since Dracula's arrival.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Dec 27, 2010 5:18pm

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

Cleo From 5 to 7

Dir/Writer: Agnes Varda. 1962. Starring: C. Marchand, A. Bourseille, D. Davray, D. Blanc, M. Legrand. French. Drama/Foreign.

What defines the feminine experience? What does it mean to live, breathe, and die as a woman? Agnes Varda questions mortality through the eyes of a beautiful young woman on the edge of success in 1960's Paris. Cleo has been to the doctor and is waiting for the diagnosis, though she's convinced it's cancer. We follow her in real time for two hours and stand as witness to the fullness and frivolousness of a life coming to terms with itself.

Death and despair compel the coquettish Cleo into existential searching meeting with friends, lovers and strangers and we see her precise steps into and out of an other's preconceived perception. Coy lover, whimpering child, precocious beauty, passionate collaborator, old friend and lovely stranger: Cleo is all of these but then so much more as you realize she is fast forwarding the journey to find herself the anchor that she desperately needs to face her death and to fight for life.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
May 31, 2008 3:13pm

Cries and Whispers

Dir: Ingmar Bergman, 1972. Starring: Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Erland Josephson, Liv Ullmann, Kari Sylwan. Foreign.

"In the screenplay, it says that red represents for me the interior of the soul. When I was a child, I imagined the soul to be a dragon, a shadow floating in the air like blue smoke....But inside the dragon, everything was red." -- Ingmar Bergman

For most of Ingmar Bergman’s career, the decision to shoot in black and white, both before and after Cries and Whispers, has been one of choice and trust. The delight of seeing his vision in color is not simply based on color itself but of his use of it in the film. Like a poet, Bergman decided to look past what color can mean for the eyes alone, to its purpose to help us understand and appreciate life, death, and the soul.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Feb 16, 2010 2:50pm

Days of Heaven

Dir: Terrence Malick. 1978. Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard. English. Drama.

The tale is simplicity itself: A young man (Richard Gere), his girl (Brooke Adams), and his spunky kid sister (Linda Manz) flee trouble in Chicago and find harvesting work on a wheat farm owned by a wealthy Texan (playwright-actor Sam Shepard). The couple, who are masquerading as brother and sister, learn that the farmer is terminally ill, and the young man encourages the woman to marry the farmer so that they can claim his fortune after he dies. Confusion, suspicion, disaster of near-Biblical proportions, and tragedy ensue.

Were it not for Manz’s deadpan voiceover narration, this pictorial masterwork could almost be a silent film – director Terrence Malick’s spectacular images tell the story. Shot by Nestor Almendros, who won an Oscar for his painterly cinematography (with an assist from the supremely gifted Haskell Wexler), Days of Heaven is among the most gorgeous features ever made. Filmed mostly in twilight’s “magic hour,” the film is bathed in hues of lavender and gold. It’s a rapturous visual poem that shocks the eye with its beauty.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Dec 19, 2007 4:00pm

Dillinger is Dead

Dir: Marco Ferreri, 1969. Starring: Michel Piccoli, Anita Pallenberg, Gino Lavagetto, Annie Girardot. Foreign.

The essay by Michael Joshua Rowin included with this film seems to approach the film's historical aspects, presenting its theme as an overflowing aggression from the director in the turbulent '60s. Rowin addresses the fact that Ferreri - unlike his peers Antonioni, Pasolini, Bertolucci, and Fellini - made films that went against the norm and were arguably ahead of their time. For Ferreri, the '60s meant the drastic change in the importance of politics and culture, which was replaced by materialism, technological stimulus, and constant protest. He claims that Dillinger is Dead is Ferreri's “angriest” work, and that its masculinity shines through its use of a war-friendly atmosphere, "weak" female characters, and phallic symbols. There is no argument that Ferreri was tackling the changes in his world in a way that requires some delving into and critique. My review of Dillinger is Dead is not to go against those made by Rowin and other critics, but to give a different understanding of the lead character. From someone who is familiar with the films of Ferreri's peers, and other Foreign New-Wave directors, there was something fantastic about this film that has nothing to do with political and social change—a quality that is a bit more universal and relevant.

The protagonist of the film doesn't have a name outside of the script, in which he's named Glauco. He manufactures gas masks and is dissatisfied with his work. A colleague gives a long metaphorical monologue on the need to protect people from a deadly society and the alienation that has derived from such protection. Glauco returns home to find a cold and mediocre meal left for him and a beautiful wife who would rather nod off on pills than join him at dinner. Glauco returns to the meal and refuses to eat it. He has a vision of steak and starts to make his own gourmet dinner from a cookbook. While searching for ingredients in the kitchen, he stumbles upon a pile of old magazines in a cupboard. He notices an object wrapped in a dated newspaper. Inside is an old and rusted gun, and the paper is the front page that announced the violent death of Public Enemy # 1, John Dillinger. The gun fascinates him, and it appears to belong to the notorious criminal. He starts to take it apart as he cooks, oiling every part of it and adoring its complexity. His maid, Sabina, enters the story as a lazy, but pretty young woman who doesn’t seem to do any housework. He watches television, soaking in a world that he's removed from—a world with changing technology and young girls who are interviewed on make-up and miniskirts.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 25, 2011 6:18pm
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