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

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

Double Indemnity

Dir: Billy Wilder. 1944. Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson. English. Film Noir.

If you know nothing about film noir, start with Double Indemnity. This classic by director Billy Wilder was among the first bona fide pictures in the postwar genre, and it contains all the essential elements – lust, greed, violence, betrayal – that animated this wondrous American style during its great epoch of the 1940s and ‘50s.

Based on a novel by hardboiled fiction forefather James M. Cain, the biting script was co-authored by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, creator of detective Philip Marlowe. The brutal, sleazy tale is recounted (in traditional voiceover style) by canny but weak-willed Los Angeles insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who is ensnared by the scheming trollop Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). The pair hatch a complicated plot to murder her wealthy husband and collect a large double indemnity insurance policy. But they don’t reckon on the acute intuition of Neff’s friend and co-worker, claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), whose “little man” in the pit of his stomach tells him something isn’t quite right.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 19, 2008 3:07pm

Kiss Me Deadly

Dir: Robert Aldrich, 1955. Starring: Ralph Meeker, Cloris Leachman. Film Noir.

In the world of noir a good mystery is so much more about the journey than the destination. I couldn’t really explain to you what was happening through every scene of Mulholland Dr. or who did what in The Big Sleep but those films are such superb examples of atmosphere as a blueprint for understanding the director’s vision that nothing is lost by not understanding every last scene or plot twist contained within. A first rate noir is more than the sum of its double crosses and knifed backs. In fact without that brilliantly unnerving atmosphere it’s just another run-of-the-mill whodunit. Noir is atmosphere certainly more than it could be called a kind of plot which is why films as conceptually different as Sweet Smell of Success and The Killing are both considered to be part of the noir canon. Kiss Me Deadly is director Robert Aldrich’s adrenaline charged mystery set in a mid-'50s Los Angeles of sun-seared nuclear paranoia. It's a detective story but it’s also about an era of America defined by its paranoia over the possibility of impending nuclear holocaust.

Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker) is a hot shot Private Investigator who makes his living snooping around and catching people with their pants down. He’s the one that the jilted wives of L.A. go to when they want proof that their husbands are cheating. It’s a dirty way to make a living or so he is constantly told but he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s out for his own gain. He likes cocktails, race cars, women, and his unbelievably cool apartment. If he had a code of ethics it probably boils down to “the ends justify the means.” A woman on the run winds up in Mike’s car one night and before too long he is embroiled in a mystery that ensnares gangsters, the FBI, a murderous blonde, and pretty soon the fate of the entire world. Everyone is after what Hammer’s girlfriend terms, “the great whatsit.” When it’s found it takes the fatalism of noir to a whole new realm.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Jul 7, 2011 5:04pm

L.A. Confidential

Dir: Curtis Hanson. 1997. Starring: K. Spacey, R. Crowe, G. Pearce, K. Basinger, J. Cromwell, D. DeVito. English. Mystery.

In 1950s Los Angeles, three cops with very different styles, try solving a multiple homicide. Along the way, they face off against each other, as well as the corruption that runs rampant in the City of Angels.

The screen adaptation by Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland (Payback), beautifully translates a very complex multi-layered story, based on the crime novel by James Ellroy. The characterization is very strong, the dialogue is razor-sharp, and the plot structure is intricate, but aptly realized. The two men won an Academy Award for their efforts.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Aug 11, 2008 3:27pm

Mildred Pierce

Dir: Michael Curtiz, 1945. Starring Joan Crawford, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, and Jack Carson. Film Noir.

Joan Crawford grabbed at life the only way she knew how—by the balls, baby. She fled a hard scrabble childhood full of the horrors to become the reigning queen of Hollywood. She defied so many odds put in front of her and she almost always came out on top. Joan was many different versions of herself throughout her life: gold digger, jazz baby, Pepsi hawker, perennial MGM shop girl, terrible, terrible mother, the greatest star the world has ever known, poster woman for mental illnesses, bizarre recipe creator, transgender identity pioneer, role model to the uneducated, black market baby taker, dubious advice giver, enemy of slovenly hippies, the world’s most famous neat freak, world class fashion don’t… she did it all. Her crazy life was her greatest work of art.

When people talk about Joan’s essential artifice (and likewise the supposedly superior talents of her chief star rival, Bette Davis) I don’t understand why they mean it in a bad way. Her artifice was the whole picture and it was riveting. It gave her a unique kind of depth. It set her apart. She didn’t want to be liked; she demanded to be worshiped. Whether in a black market stag film early in her career (as was rumored) or any number of MGM prestige pictures or in her obsessive assembling of her bizarre family set up, Joan’s way of life was to attack. Her ambition was her identity. This can be either repulsive or, if she was in the right film, it can be put to very compelling use.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Dec 20, 2008 8:20pm

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
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