Animal Factory

Dir: Steve Buscemi, 2000. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke. Drama.

Animal Factory is the story of a young man (Furlong) who gets prosecuted for drug dealing. He is sent to a maximum-security prison, putting his life and soul at stake.

Edward Bunker and John Steppling’s screenplay is raw to the bone writing—not trying to spice up the dialogue, rather providing a very realistic cadence to the way these prisoners speak and interact. The screenplay is based on Bunker’s novel, which was inspired by his own stints in the penitentiary. Modern audiences mostly know the author as “Mr. Blue” in Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 21, 2009 1:31pm

Antichrist

Dir: Lars von Trier, 2009. Starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Cult.

Antichrist is one of the most misunderstood films that comes to mind. Lars von Trier is perhaps one of the most misunderstood directors; often written off as an auteur with enough support and gusto to start a film movement (Dogme 95), but not enough modesty to disregard pretensions. The notion to be moved by this argument is null at best if one allows themselves to be absorbed by Antichrist and to accept it as something to be critiqued, if not admired. To do this, admittedly, requires more than one viewing—the first being one that inspired audiences to flock from their seats. This was no doubt due to the disturbing sequences of violence, grizzly eroticism and a message about female nature that was, to most, anti-women. This review offers a proposal to revisit the film with a pair of fresh eyes for those who have seen it and a theorized way to introduce yourself to it for those who have not.

There are many ways to reinterpret the film or to approach it with a more critical eye. The easiest would be to view it as a fairy tale with overtly religious overtones. Comparatively it's in the style of a German fable—which is always direct and quite bleak, and appropriate here since the majority of the film was shot there. Like a storybook, the film is separated into four chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Title cards with primitive etchings set the precedent for something to be absorbed in pieces, later to be given deep thought. The prologue and epilogue are in black and white and set to Georg Friedrich Händel's Lascia ch'io pianga. In the prologue we find a slow-motion and dreamlike erotic portrait of a husband (Willem Dafoe) and wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the throes of passion. Meanwhile, their infant son wanders from his crib and nursery to an open window and plummets to his death—dying during his parents' climax.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Dec 10, 2013 1:49pm

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

Cry-Baby

Dir: John Waters, 1990. Starring: Johnny Depp, Amy Locane, Susan Tyrrell, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Iggy Pop. Cult.

If I had to sum up Cry-Baby in a sentence for someone, I would say that it is the wet dream of John Waters. Not since Kenneth Anger has there ever been someone who plays on the homoeroticism of hairless leather-daddies and rockabilly culture with such style. The movie also has what I would consider to be a dream cast for Waters, with Johnny Depp leading the pack. There's also his late muse, Ricki Lake, and small performances by Iggy Pop, Mink Stole, Joe Dallesandro, and a cameo by Willem Dafoe. To boot, the soundtrack is also outrageously good, featuring some of my favorite doo-wop, rockabilly, and psychobilly songs.

To compare this gem with other greaser vs. socs movies would be placing an emphasis on the more typical parts of the story; a nice town in 1950s suburbia is split in two, with its elite on one side and the trailer-trash on the other. But you have to remember that this is not The Outsiders or Grease, nor a jailhouse/Elvis flick. In fact, it's a parody of such movies. Waters takes the road-rebel genre and turns it into an opportunity to direct an over-the-top musical about teenagers and star-crossed love. The result is a story about a young man named Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Johnny Depp), a juvenile delinquent who prides himself on the ability to shed a single tear when confronted by his emotions. Behind him, sporting leather jackets with his name on the back, is his gang, referred to by the town as “drapes.” Perhaps the name comes from the emotional curtain of hair that keeps half of their faces in shadow. There's his plump and pregnant sister, Pepper (Ricki Lake); the fiery Wanda (Traci Lords); and the oddest couple to ever hit the screen, Milton (Darren E. Burrows) and his gal, Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire). Their rivals on the playground are the suburban “squares,” and like other movies with the same theme, these characters are given little screen time and are presented as the enemy. The starlet among them is Allison (Amy Locane), a blonde who's seen as the most talented and beautiful among the rich. Allison and Cry-Baby lock eyes while getting a polio shot in the gymnasium. The sight of her makes him shed a tear, and the rest is history.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 3, 2011 5:12pm

The Loveless

Dir: Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery, 1982. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Gordon, Marin Kanter, Tina L'Hotsky. Cult.

The evolution of the road-rebel is brought to the screen in this directorial debut from Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, The Hurt Locker). Technically, this is the film that also introduces Willem Dafoe and has him as the star amongst an unusual '80s cast. I say unusual because you have a blend of actors who've made a decent name for themselves by '82 and ones who definitely show promise in the film, and yet this was their only role. Some were from Georgia, where the film is set, so I guess it makes sense that, for the film's simplicity, actors who normally would have been extras were used for key roles. What satisfied me the most about this film was (a) being aware that a woman directed/wrote it, and (b) it has a slow plot that forces you to stop looking for action and absorb all the messages and scarce dialogue within it.

Willem Dafoe plays Vance—a young biker with dirty fingernails and sensational tomcat essence who is adored by several passing ladies. We see him solo at first, marveling at the blacktop and defined only by it and his Harley. He and his buddies are on their way to Daytona and have stopped in a small Georgian town to repair one of their member's bikes. Without the harsh juxtaposition between this group and the locals, I don't think the film's message would be as clear. Both the townspeople and the bikers have a uniform—one pastels and the other leather. Seeing the differences between the two made me expect a war - which eventually does come in the film's climax, but not as I expected it. Many people found the film quite boring, but I'm sure they missed the subtleties that really make it a wonderful debut. For instance, Vance's status as the ringleader is evident in his manner and dress. He doesn’t exactly respect the locals, nor does he expect it from them. On the shoulder of his leather jacket are silver stars, like a general. The men he rides with are not exactly his friends, but rather people he met while in prison. The only thing they share is the love of a beautiful automobile. Without their quest to cause havoc on the way to the largest roadster gathering, all sense of brotherhood would be lost.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 27, 2010 5:41pm
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