The Runaways

Dir: Floria Sigismondi, 2010. Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon. Drama.

A great rock n’ roll film doesn’t have to get everything right. There really isn’t a way around the clichés of telling the classic rock biopic tale. It’s always the same. Scrappy young kids create sparks playing together in the garage. They play shows in divey little clubs and then a sleazy impresario comes along to whip them into shape and acts as Svengali, enabler, and all around brow beater. After several go nowhere sessions in the studio they get that one song right and then cue the montage of their steady climb up the charts followed by too much partying, band feuds, solo albums, and then the inevitable implosion. Whether it’s a documentary about the Sex Pistols, The Filth & The Fury, or the fictional Ladies & Gentlemen…The Fabulous Stains the classic rock n roll narrative rarely veers off course. The Runaways is a great rock film, which is not to say it works on every level. It’s a disjointed film of mostly excellent individual scenes and adrenaline pumping performances. Don’t expect real insight into the collaborative nature of a band or really any aspect of the Runaways’ story that isn’t directly associated with Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, and Kim Fowley. The other girls in the band might as well not even exist. But do expect tough girls in tight jeans and leather jackets, 1970s Sunset Strip sleaze, and a deeply romantic portrait of teenage girls making rock n’ roll records and taking on a music industry that didn’t know what to do with them.

The Runaways doesn’t shy away from what made the band unique. Some reacted to the raw sexuality in The Runaways as if it was exploitive and that makes zero sense to me. As the scarily good Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley says, “This isn’t about women’s liberation! It’s about women’s libido!” Calling the honest depiction of teenage sexuality exploitive is condescending and misguided. The director, Floria Sigismondi, never loses sight of the fact that these are young women discovering the world and themselves together. It’s not cynical at all and is in fact much less offensive than the virgin/whore pop star thing that caters only to men.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Aug 13, 2010 2:58pm

The Social Network

Dir: David Fincher, 2010. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Brian Barter. Drama.

I watched The Social Network with a few expectations:

1) Knowing it was directed by David Fincher told me it would look stylishly dark (though, how and why for a movie about computer geeks remained a mystery).

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Jan 7, 2011 3:19pm

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Dir: Anthony Minghella, 1999. Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett. Drama.

A lot of directors working today try to ape Hitchcock. His films are the gold standard for artful forays into psychological terror. Christopher Nolan is just the latest celebrated director trying to tap into a rich vein of Hitchcockian malice for his own films. But while Nolan succeeds with astonishing set-pieces within his films—think of the face-to-face interrogation room sequence between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight—his films are, for the most part, long on disorienting gimmicks and rather low on psychological depth. He also doesn’t go near the subject of sex and Hitchcock’s films are full of sex—sexual obsession, sexual dread, sexual paranoia—the one exception being sexual fulfillment which seemed to exist only within the arms of his most beautiful and iconic star couplings in films such as Notorious and To Catch a Thief.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a first-rate Hitchcockian exercise from the late director Anthony Minghella and it has all of the corrosive sexual dread you could ask for as well as a disturbingly convincing subtext on the kinds of identity games Americans are always involved in. It’s glamorous and dark and manages to top Hitchcock in at least one respect—its undercurrent of eroticism is explicitly homosexual.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Nov 24, 2010 11:06am

The Wanderers

Dir: Philip Kaufman, 1979. Starring: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen. Drama.

WanderersThat period in American history as the country moved from the Eisenhower conformism of the ‘50s to the freedom of the ‘60s has made for some wonderful films (American GraffitiBaby It’s You), even if they often prove to be overly wistful. The Philip Kaufman film The Wanderers, based on Richard Price’s great novel, captures this period perfectly. It takes place in 1963 and though these teenagers of the Bronx who are the film's subject do stop to watch some JFK assassination news, they have no idea that a cultural youth quake could soon open them up to a whole new world. Not since West Side Story had gang life been as romanticized as it was in the ‘70s with the T-Birds of GreaseThe WarriorsThe Hollywood Knights andThe Lords of Flatbush (only of note because of the presence of a pre-stardom Henry Winkler and Sylvester Stallone). Though perhaps now a cult film because of years of people discovering it on cable, The Wanderers really is a lost gem and the best of its genre.

In a newly integrated Bronx neighborhood, Ritchie (Ken Wahl, an actor who had the toothy good looks and acting chops to be a big star, but his personal life derailed his career) leads the Italian American gang the Wanderers. He’s a stud and has his sights on bohemian chick Nina (played by the adorable Karen Allen), but when he ...

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Aug 31, 2011 4:55pm

The Woodsman

Dir: Nicole Kassell, 2004. Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def, David Alan Grier, Benjamin Bratt. Drama.

Redemption is a complex thing. Our quest to find and observe it is even more multifaceted and often biased. We are drawn to stories where characters have redeeming qualities or, at the end of some relevant venture, find redemption in an act, thought, or belief. Usually this is something that your average person can relate to; a person coming into the dizzying territory of adopting a sense of selflessness or virtue—maybe making some wrong right. But who can relate to a story where someone who has done something as deplorable as molesting a child strives to find a way to redeem himself? Who even thinks they can sit through a film where this is obviously the end goal? Unfortunately the answer could very well be not many, but The Woodsman, should one feel comfortable enough with their own sense of self, is one of the finest stories about this quest that is not only overlooked, but avoided.

Kevin Bacon takes on the most dynamic role of his career thus far as Walter, a man just released from a 12-year prison sentence for molesting pre-teen girls. He finds work at a lumber yard run by Bob (David Alan Grier), who takes him on simply because he inherited the company and knows that Walter gave years of excellent service to his father. Though he has the jaded look of a man who has obviously come from prison, his coworkers are unaware of his crimes and don't care to pry except for Mary-Kay (played by singer-songwriter Eve), the office secretary who wants to know everyone's business and makes false friends in order to do so. In the midst of his daily routine Walter meets Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick), a spunky blonde struggling to hold her own in a male-dominated field. Her seen-it-all demeanor and harmlessly invasive conversation leads her to be his only confident and, in time, lover.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Mar 11, 2014 2:25pm

The Wrestler

Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2008. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood. Drama.

Director Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) returns to his roots by making a film with a bare-bones look reminiscent of his debut Pi. Aronofsky makes a far less polished film than its predecessors, as far as aesthetic design, focusing on performance above all else. The Wrestler is less plot driven than it is about the nature of desires, regret and one “broken down piece of meat”'s last shot at athletic glory.

Mickey Rourke (Barfly, Angel Heart) headlines the film as the wrestler in question, Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Although he did some supporting work in such films as Tony Scott’s Domino and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, it is as the title character of this film that Rourke put himself back on the Hollywood map. As a man fighting against time, desperate for one last shot at life in the spotlight before his body fails him, Rourke plays Robinson with unflinching honesty. It is one of those performances when actor and character become so integrally linked that it feels as if you're watching true life unfold. It is a brave and unabashed performance. One of the year’s finest.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jun 29, 2009 2:03pm

This Is England

Dir: Shane Meadows. 2006. Starring: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley. English. Drama.

Twelve year old Shaun is having a shite day. Upon arriving to school, he’s relentlessly taunted by his classmates. He gets into a fight with another boy and has to face the torturous principal. On his way home, he encounters a group of fun loving skinheads (not the Racist kind) who continue to poke fun at the small boy. That is until the leader of the group steps in and decides that Shaun needs a break.

The tenacious Shaun is quickly made a member of the tribe despite a little bit of friction from some of the other members. The group spends their days smoking cigarettes, having a few pints, listening to Ska and Reggae and committing petty acts of vandalism. Shaun finally has some people he can call friends.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Mar 3, 2008 3:10pm

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

Under the Skin

Dir: Carine Alder, 1997. Starring: Samantha Morton, Claire Rushbrook, Rita Tushingham, Christine Tremarco. Drama.

What does this film, Control and Morvern Callar all have in common? They all feature arresting performances by Samantha Morton, as well as a wonderful soundtrack. I've concluded that Morton's acting career is a solid, aggressive work of art, and that the possibility of being disappointed with her does not exist. However, with Under the Skin, I think one can view her finest performance. It seems obvious that she takes direction well, but with Carine Alder's film, I believe she provided something extraordinary. Her efforts to connect with the character, and really push to bring something daring to the screen, is very inspirational. As for the director, who is a woman and unfortunately has not directed a feature film before or after this one, I also give my highest praise.

The film focuses on the lives of two sisters, Iris (Samantha Morton) and Rose (Claire Rushbrook). The two are like oil and water. Rose was named after their mother's (Rita Tushingham) favorite flower, while Iris bears the name of one with mixed meaning. They've just been informed that their mother has either 3 weeks or 3 months to live. When she does pass, the dramatic and pregnant Rose waits around for crocodile tears that never come. Iris seems untouched by her mother's death, but there is something about her that makes you believe she is devastated. They make arrangements to have her cremated and begin splitting her belongings between the two of them. Rose was the closest to her, and therefore feels entitled to just about everything. The only thing Iris wants is the ring her mother wore, which Rose steals, claiming that she can't find it in the house. While rummaging through her mother's things Iris finds a fur coat, her wig, and a pair of cheap sunglasses. As you see her putting them on, you get the sense that she'll never be the same again.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Nov 3, 2010 4:43pm

Volver

Dir: Pedro Almodovar. 2007. Starring: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Yohana Cobo. Spanish. Comedy/Drama.

Warm and wonderful, Pedro Almodovar's Volver resonates with his favorite subjects:  women, secrets and the transformative power of love. Framed with light suspense, rich imagery and sensuous color are amazing performances by the entire cast, most notably a voluptuous Penelope Cruz. Her courageous and spirited Raimunda is a struggling mother stuck in a bad marriage and bravely fulfilling the role of matriarch, not only to her sister and daughter but to a community of women loosely tied by tradition and committed through love. When her mother reappears as a ghost, Raimunda's life gets infinitely more complicated.

Violence and religious mysticism are catalysts and cards to the emotional evolution of all the characters but are hardly the point. As secrets are unveiled, the once shelled lives become full again with redemption and understanding and life seems to right itself, as if waiting for the perfect miracle. The weak become strong, the strong - weak, youth gains wisdom and age renews its joy for life.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Jan 28, 2008 3:29pm
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