Angel Heart

Dir: Alan Parker, 1987. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro & Lisa Bonet. Mystery/Thriller.

A New York private eye (Rourke) is hired by a mysterious man (De Niro) to locate a missing crooner named “Johnny Favourite.” But as every new piece of the puzzle falls into place and voodoo works its magic -- things get more dangerous and unnerving.

Alan Parker (Pink Floyd’s The Wall) directs a film on a tight-wire, fusing Raymond Chandler with the world of the Faustian supernatural. With simple, but confident strokes, he brings such gravity to a tale that becomes otherworldly. Taking many liberties from the source material novel Falling Angels by William Hjortberg, Parker’s screen adaptation expands the scope of the reality, while doing justice to the way people really speak in the Big Apple and the Big Easy.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Feb 17, 2009 3:34pm

Basquiat

Dir: Julian Schnabel, 1996. Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Benicio Del Toro, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman. Drama.

In Julian Schnabel’s intimate portrait of an artist, Jeffery Wright exploded on the film scene as Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti artist turned international painter. The story is about his rise and fall amidst the New York elite, his friendship with Andy Warhol, and the women he loves.

After a successful painting career, Julian Schnabel (Oscar nominee for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) made his feature debut as a writer-director in this tribute to the life of his friend. His screenplay is simple, but efficient and his direction is gentle and compassionate -- bringing out wonderful performances from a brilliantly cast group of actors. He also does a great job of incorporating the music to define the times and emotions of the moment.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Apr 27, 2009 12:32pm

Copland (The Director's Cut)

Dir: James Mangold. 1997. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta. Action.

Garrison, New Jersey is a pleasant place to live. Just over the Hudson River from New York City, this calm suburb is home to many NYPD police officers. These men who spend their days fighting crime on the streets of the Big Apple built this community in order to provide a safe haven to raise their families. But thing are not always what they seem, when the cops are corrupt and the law in Garrison is whatever they deem it to be.

The story kicks off on the George Washington Bridge. Officer Ray Donlan (Kietel) decides it’s best to fake the death of his nephew, Murray “Superboy” Babith (Rappaport), to avoid what could be seen as a racially motivated murder at the hands of a cop. That decision begins the spiral what will unfold, spilling over into their humble little community.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Sep 23, 2008 5:34pm

Cradle Will Rock

Dir: Tim Robbins, 1999. Starring: Hank Azaria, Bill Murray, Ruben Blades, Joan Cusack, Susan Sarandon. Drama.

Cradle Will Rock belongs to that class of movies that don’t particularly offend anyone or bomb big enough to become a notorious flop; nor was it greeted with a ton of enthusiasm. Considering the talent involved with the film—Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, John and Joan Cusack, and Susan Sarandon, to name but a few—the mild applause the film seemed to generate upon its release was kind of like damning with faint praise. I never understood this because I find Cradle Will Rock to be a whole lot of fun, while at the same time serving as a pointed critique of the political apathy prevalent in art today.

The film tells the story of one of the most mythologized theatrical events of the 20th century. No surprise that Orson Welles was directly involved then. We’re in New York in 1937 and the city seems to be the epicenter of a massive upheaval in society at large. There is labor unrest, growing unease about global fascism, and a gnawing sense that capitalism has failed the common interests of the average citizen. (Hey, maybe the film is due for a critical re-appreciation after all…)

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Jan 21, 2010 6:43pm

Cruising

Dir: William Friedkin, 1980. Starring: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen. Gay Cinema.

When it was announced that Exorcist director William Friedkin and Serpico star Al Pacino were teaming up to make a gritty, New York police thriller in 1980, nothing grabbed the attention of cinema-goers more than the idea of Cruising--especially America's gay community at the time. Immediately considered grotesque and too dark for middle America, and exploitative, and wholly offensive to everyone else with its seeming portrayal of gay men as nothing more than leather chap-wearing, bushy mustache-sporting, sadomasochistic party animals, Cruising was quickly buried in the studio vault shortly after its quick life-span in theaters. But today the film can finally be viewed and appreciated for what it is: an over-the-top, campy, cult classic with a surprisingly engaging story, and an ambiguous twist ending that will linger with you for hours afterwards.

Al Pacino stars as Detective Steve Burns, who receives an assignment to go undercover after a serial killer starts preying on New York City's gay, S&M community. Dawning tight leathers and various colored handkerchiefs in his back pocket, Burns takes to the streets and investigates the underground clubs of Manhattan's Meatpacking District (really--no pun intended). As the detective comes closer to finding his target, he starts questioning his own sexuality and violent urges--making him a loose cannon with the police department, and an enigma amongst the sub-culture that occupies his new daily life.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Feb 12, 2009 12:15pm

Eyes Of Laura Mars

Dir: Irvin Kirshner, 1978. Starring: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones. Mystery / Thriller.

Written by the ice-cool John Carpenter and released about two months prior to Halloween, this metaphysical serial murder mystery falls gently in the middle of the writer's spectrum of work, lying somewhere in between The Fog's biblical-styled justice from beyond the grave and the dystopian realism of Escape From New York. Also on board is soon-to-be-Empire Strikes Back-director, Irvin Kirshner. The pairing of these two talents ends up giving the film that classic 1970s American paranoid vibe with a zesty twist of the paranormal.

I watched this in the midst of a Faye Dunaway kick and she doesn’t dazzle, but isn’t disappointing in the titular role. Laura Mars is a controversial fashion photographer. Laura has her fair share of critics, as well as devotees. Depicting female models in strikingly violent city landscapes nonetheless brings her fame. (Icon Helmut Newton provided the actual photographs.) Out of the clear blue sky, she gets a psychic flash and witnesses a grisly murder from the killer’s point of view. Wait, she knows the victim! Terrified, shocked, and confused she ends up falling into cahoots with Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones). The visions continue (Laura knows each victim) and the two run through the picture adding up the clues. All the colorful characters are suspect, including Raul Julia who is unpleasantly excellent as Laura’s ex-husband. Rene Auberjonois is also fabulous as Laura’s assistant. The ending, we’ll say, is classic Carpenter.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 22, 2009 4:10pm

Hannah And Her Sisters

Dir: Woody Allen, 1986. Starring: M. Caine, M. Farrow, B. Hershey, W. Allen, D. Wiest, M. Von Sydow, R. Jenkins. Drama/Comedy

Many consider Hannah And Her Sisters to be the third and best installment in Woody Allen's realistic New York "dramadies" (the other two being Annie Hall and Manhattan). While not as stylish as the previous two, and perhaps even slightly marred by some distinctly 1980's hair and wardrobe choices, the film is one of the director's most mature and dense with ideas while still balancing his knack for comedic writing.

As indicated by the title, the multiple-storied movie focuses on the love lives revolving around Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest). Hannah's husband Elliot (Michael Caine) is torn by his romantic feelings for Lee, eventually leading to an uneven affair that also has Lee re-evaluating her life with ex-professor and current lover Frederick (Max Von Sydow). Meanwhile, Hannah's ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) is a worsening hypochondriac who starts questioning the meaning of life after receiving news he might have a potential brain tumor. He also develops an interest in Holly, who is feeling secure and confidant in anything except her career or love life.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Feb 18, 2009 11:58am

It Came From Kuchar

Dir: Jennifer M. Kroot, 2009. Documentary.

I'm not sure how to begin this, so I'll try to make it linear, though the documentary is nothing but. George and Mike Kuchar are two twin brothers, born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. I can imagine their birth to be extraordinary; a lighting bolt striking their mother and producing these two electrifying individuals. That didn't really happen, but that's how it plays out in my imagination. At the age of eleven, the two were given consumer-grade 8mm cameras as gifts, but what would later become of those tools is nothing short of spectacular.

This documentary spans across generations of filmmakers and artists, mainly in the New York and San Francisco underground scenes. The interviews consist of those from the two brothers and the various "stars" of their B-movie delights, as well as people like John Waters and Christopher Coppola (brother of Nick Cage), who claim that the Kuchar brothers and their films were their first sources of inspiration. Other clips include archive footage of New York and San Francisco from the '50s to present day, as well as photos and/or interviews of various influential artists, such as Andy Warhol, Guy Maddin, and cartoonists Bill Griffith and Robert Crumb.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jul 27, 2010 2:17pm

Love at First Bite

Dir: Stan Dragoti, 1978. Starring: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Arte Johnson. Comedy.

Dracula. Disco. Delusional dufuses. That's right folks, you get the whole package with this ridiculously funny and well-dialogued farce of Dracula.

The year is 1979, and things have certainly changed in 700 years. Count Vladimir Dracula (George Hamilton) and his bug eating servant Renfield (Arte Johnson) are evicted from their castle in Transylvania to make way for government training grounds. Distressed by the notice, he and Renfield try to decide where to live. The only contact that Dracula has had with the modern world is through women's magazines, which he collects to get a glimpse of Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James)—a model whom he believes is his soul mate and a reincarnation of women he was fond of centuries ago. In order to pursue her, they travel to New York where she lives, where he will try to win her heart.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 28, 2010 5:15pm

Mad Men

Creator/Head-writer: Matthew Weiner. Starring: J. Hamm, E. Moss, J. Slattery, J. Jones, V. Kartheiser. English. TV/Drama

Set on the cusp of the advertising revolution in 1960s Madison Avenue, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men follows the exploits of the admen at a mid-level firm as its old-fashioned ways are being challenged by the popular onset of the counterculture. Advertising is America’s subterranean cultural history and most of the drama from Weiner’s show comes from contrasting our collective marketed images with the personal reality of his characters as this distinction begins to dissolve. As lead adman Don Draper (Jon Hamm) sits on a train confounded by the new Volkswagen Beetle ad from Doyle Dane Bernbach, you can feel the Age of Schizophrenia coming on. It was no accident that the Beetle became a signifier of the hippies.

William Bernbach’s major innovation was using the anti-consumerist rhetoric of fifties pop culture critics to sell more stuff. Where ads had previously promoted the supposed benefits of some object to the viewing subject, the new advertising began to redefine the subject through the object, emphasizing what that object says about its owner. As the potential buyer began to define himself by the connoted images of his desiderata, homo economicus gave way to homo consumens, man as consumer. That it has become nigh impossible to extricate ourselves from Madison Avenue’s Mephistophelean bargain can be seen by the way product placement serves to make the critique possible. Does it matter if the use of the VW Bug functions as sponsorship or objective correlative? The Marxist critique of capitalism has been reduced to comedic effect by this point – only, we’re the butt of the joke.

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Posted by:
Charles Reece
Aug 1, 2008 2:36pm
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