Vertigo

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1958. Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Tom Helmore, Barbara Bel Geddes. Classics.

Back in 1958 Vertigo was considered a misfire from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, but now over 50 years later, with a strong restoration and a number of clever reissues, many deem it one of Hitch’s best films and maybe his most personal. Like Notorious before it, underneath the suspense it’s a love story, but a twisted kind of love, obsession. Jimmy Stewart finishes off his Hitchcock trifecta after The Man Who Knew Too Much and Rear Window (not counting the much earlier Rope), putting a twist on his everyman and giving one of the most complicated psychological performances of his career. Vertigo also proves to be career peaks for the stunning Kim Novak and for film composer Bernard Herrman. If you can get past some of the plottyness of the film's first act Vertigo proves to be a film worth obsessing over.

The film is based on the novel The Living And The Dead by the French writing team of Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud, who also wrote the deliberately Hitchcockian thriller Les Diaboliques (whose film version by Henri-Georges Clouzot had a big impact on Hitch and helped to push him in the more shocking direction that lead to Psycho and later Frenzy).

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Sean Sweeney
Mar 25, 2011 11:17am

Borat

Dir: Larry Charles, 2006. Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, Pamela Anderson. Comedy.

On paper Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan could be considered nothing more than a bold stunt, but in actuality it’s one of the more subversive and gutsy “mainstream” films of recent years and one of the funniest. Borat was one of the three alter egos that actor Sacha Baron Cohen played on his television program, Da Ali G Show (first in England and then for HBO). Cohen would slip into these extremely absurd characters and interact with real people, unaware that they were being put on. Like the old show Candid Camera, half the comedy comes from people’s reactions to the often crude character's comments, but the best laughs come from the intense commitment that Baron Cohen gives these characters. Borat may say inane things, but the intelligence creating what he says is at the highest level.

Like the show, the movie Borat uses a lot of real people and improvised situations. But to fill it out, some actors and a cast have been added, and it works. Part of the fun is trying to figure out what’s real and what was staged. Borat is a clueless, almost sweetly innocent yet completely misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic Kazakhstan reporter. The film begins as a mockumentary as he leaves his third-world village for some reporting in New York with his rotund producer Azamat (American actor, Ken Davitian). In New York he interviews some saps on American customs, and engages in some classic “fish outta water” comedy (he thinks the hotel’s elevator is his actual room). Eventually, after seeing an episode of Baywatch, he becomes obsessed with Pamela Anderson and the two set out for California so Borat can bag her as his new wife.

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Sean Sweeney
Mar 18, 2011 10:47am

Three The Hard Way

Dir: Gordon Parks Jr, 1974. Starring: Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly, Jay Robinson, Alex Rocco. Black Cinema.

One of the goofiest flicks of the Back Exploitation era, for gratuitous comic book quality, Three The Hard Way features the superstar teaming of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly, who manage to shoot and karate chop dozens of people in the process of trying to stop a neo-Nazi millionaire’s plot to poison the water supply with a serum that kills blacks (whites are immune to it). As imagined, everything about this film is over the top; it’s Shaft times three, but director Gordon Parks Jr. is not his father, so it’s actually an entertainingly epic, low-rent affair (Parks Sr. directed Shaft and was a majorly acclaimed photographer). Don’t question the plot too closely or look under the rug, just sit back and enjoy the inane violent fun.

Monroe Feather (Jay Robinson, better remembered as Dr. Shrinker from the Saturday morning Krofft Supershow) wants to be known as more than just an evil fascist industrialist, so with the aid of Dr. Fortrero (Richard Angarola) and their seemingly giant army of gunmen, they put their poison water plan into effect, going after the water supply of Los Angeles, Detroit, and DC. Luckily music mogul Jimmy Lait (Brown) gets wind of it and tracks down the two baddest dudes he knows, a player with a big gun, Jagger Daniels (Williamson), and a kung fu master, Mister Keyes (Kelly). Somehow Feather hears about our heroes and sends his goons after the badass trio and seems to be aided by the corrupt honky police force, as well. Out of nowhere a massive shoot out takes place in a car wash, the super friends take a goon prisoner and with the help of three motorcycle riding, topless dominatrixes (a black, white and Asian woman) get the full lowdown on the which water supplies they need to protect. In a couple of cool action scenes, each guy fights off a Nazi army in each of the three cities (three the hard way!). Finally leading to a showdown with Feather himself.

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Sean Sweeney
Mar 17, 2011 3:38pm

The Loved One

Dir: Tony Richardson, 1965. Starring: Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, Rod Steiger, Anjanette Comer. Classics.

Besides being one of the funniest, yet strangest comedies ever made, The Loved One may be the greatest satire of life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and has one of the most eclectic, but well used casts of all time (including Jonathan Winters in dual roles, Robert Morse, Milton Berle, Rod Steiger, John Gielgud, Paul Williams, Tab Hunter, Roddy McDowall…oh, and Liberace). Morse plays Dennis Barlow, a young British poet who shows up in Los Angeles to visit his uncle, Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud), a film studio worker. After the uncle dies Dennis gets involved with Aimee (Anjanette Comer), an employee at the sinister funeral home, Whispering Glades.

Based on the book by the big-time British novelist Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), The Loved One was adapted for the screen by the American satirist Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove) and the haughty author and critic Christopher Isherwood (A Single Man). To make this motley crew even more improbable it was directed British filmmaker Tony Richardson who arose to much acclaim during the “angry young man” movement of British filmmaking in the late '50s and early '60s and won an Oscar for Tom Jones. But after The Loved One, he was never able to find his filmmaking footing. The film was shot beautifully in black and white, giving a crisp, yet gothic look to the Los Angeles locations, by legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Bound For Glory) and it was edited by the soon-to-be-major director of the '70s, Hal Ashby (Harold And Maude, Coming Home). All of these very improbable voices came together to create one of the more unique films of the decade.

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Sean Sweeney
Mar 11, 2011 5:55pm

Gone With The Wind

Dir: Victor Fleming, 1939. Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel. Classics.

For 40 years, until of the era of the blockbuster (beginning with Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., and perhaps The Sound Of Music and The Godfather before them), Gone With The Wind was the ultimate blockbuster. Other films may have passed it in overall box office, but that’s because ticket prices have risen. No film had more people go see it in its day than Gone With The Wind. And yes, it’s a melodramatic soap opera with an eerie romantic schoolgirl crush on the Old South, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is impeccably crafted with one of the most stunning performances by an actress in film history.

Based on Margaret Mitchell’s massive Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the fall of the antebellum American South, Gone With The Wind follows the young Southern belle, Sacrlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), through her many marriages, before, during, and after the Civil War. The dashing and worldly Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is the man for her, but like any spoiled creature, she wants what she can’t have. The stiff, but proud Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) is the object of her near obsession, but he is engaged to her kindly cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland).

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Sean Sweeney
Mar 8, 2011 3:03pm

Dark Of The Sun

Dir: Jack Cardiff, 1968. Starring: Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, Yvette Mimieux, Pater Carsten, Kenneth More. Action.

As of writing, the tough as nails action flick Dark Of The Sun is still not available in the U.S. on DVD. To see it at home you have to endure an old pan n’ scan VHS edition, which is reportedly edited (for violence) from the original cut that graced cinemas in the late '60s. Also known as The Mercenaries, even with the low quality options, it’s worth watching. Filled with spectacular African locations, cool action, solid performances, and, most importantly, a wildly inventive score by the French composer Jacques Loussier, Dark of The Sun is a lost gem that deserves to be rediscovered.

Less preachy in its mission than more recent films like Blood Diamond, the social statements about race and economic exploitation of Africa are there, but Dark Of The Sun is more concerned with action. Ultra-cool Rod Taylor (The Birds) plays Captain Bruce Curry, a mercenary in the Congo. He is hired to retrieve a load of diamonds deep in the mountains and, while there, rescue a group of white company workers about to be attacked by rebel soldiers (Simbas). Aided by his top man, Sergeant Ruffo (American football star Jim Brown), and a drunken British doctor Wreid (Kenneth More), they put together a team of Congolese soldiers led by a nasty German Nazi officer, Henlein (Peter Carsten). Along the way they pick up a saucy Belgian care worker, Claire, who has some obvious chemistry with Curry (Yvette Mimieux, Taylor’s love interest a decade earlier in The Time Machine) and fight though UN roadblocks, rebel soldiers, and airplanes.

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Sean Sweeney
Mar 4, 2011 1:57pm

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Dir: Milos Forman, 1975. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito. Drama.

When it’s all said and done Jack Nicholson has probably had the most iconic film career of all time. He may have more important films and performances under his belt than any other American actor, including such film giants as Bogart or James Stewart. He helped to define the late '60s and '70s with roles in Easy Rider, Chinatown, and Five Easy Pieces. He’s worked with a diverse group of directors including Kubrick, Antonioni, Kazan, Ken Russell, Mike Nichols, and Arthur Penn (though the outcome was some of his least successful films of the era). Nicholson has continued through the decades since with relevant work in films like Reds, Terms Of Endearment, The Departed, Prizzi’s Honor, and About Schmidt, as well as the blockbuster, Batman. Even with such a giant filmography, one film still defines him and remains his most signature performance, Randle P. McMurphy in Milos Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Producer Michael Douglas originally bought the rights to beatnik-turned-LSD-guru Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel as a vehicle for his father Kirk, who starred in a New York stage adaptation. As the years passed with the film not getting made, eventually Kirk was deemed too old and unbankable. In stepped Nicholson and Czechoslovakia-born director Milos Forman known for his two Czech new-wave flicks, Loves Of A Blonde and The Firemen’s Ball, as well as for his ultra-hip American debut, Taking Off. Like so many films before it (from Charlie Chaplin to Midnight Cowboy) it often takes a foreigner to appreciate and understand the American spirit.

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Sean Sweeney
Mar 2, 2011 12:08pm

Psycho

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1960. Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam. Classics.

Inspired by the critical and commercial success of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s arthouse shocker, Les Diabolique, Alfred Hitchcock took a break from his big budget Technicolor thrillers to make a little horror film called Psycho. Like the French film, he would shoot on a shoestring budget and in black & white. After the massive success of his previous film, North By Northwest, most of the suits at the studio thought their cash cow was off his rocker. Forgoing most of his big money crew he had worked with for years, he used the team from his anthology TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, knowing they could work fast and cheap and would be more open to some of the new radical tricks Hitchcock was hoping to try out. With no one understanding what the master had up his sleeve, in the end, Psycho has proved to be one his biggest hits and one of the most influential films of all time.

Perfectly taut and compact, every line of Pyscho's dialog, every camera movement, and even the casting is all carefully constructed for the scare and suspense payoffs to come. Based on a then little read novel with the same title by Robert Bloch (Strait-Jacket), Hitchcock burned through a couple of screenwriters before Joseph Stefano got the vibe he was looking for. Bloch was inspired by the horrific true-life serial killer Ed Gein (whose ghastly crimes would inspire a number of films from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Motel Hell).

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Sean Sweeney
Feb 25, 2011 4:07pm

My Bodyguard

Dir: Tony Bill, 1980. Starring: Chris Makepeace, Adam Baldwin, Matt Dillon, Martin Mull, Ruth Gordon. Drama.

Before the success of Fast Times At Ridgemont HIgh and John Hughes’ condescending acne epics, the teen movie genre barely existed. In the late 1970s, the early teen years were usually either scary (Over The Edge) or whimsical (A Little Romance). The terrific film, My Bodyguard, manages to combine both and then split the difference. Journeyman actor Tony Bill made a very effective directing debut with My Bodyguard, it’s now considered a minor classic of the teen genre. He would follow it up with the awful Dudley Moore/Mary Tyler Moore weeper, Six Weeks, but then redeem himself with the interesting cult flick, Five Corners. Since then he has become a reliable TV director.

Clifford Peache is a typical teen movie nerd - shy, sensitive, and unpretentious (played by Chris Makepeace who did an even wimpier version of this character a year earlier in Meatballs). Clifford’s father manages a fancy Chicago hotel where he lives with his kooky Grandma (played by Martin Mull and Ruth Gordon, their eccentricities are a little sitcomy and are the least memorable parts of the film). The good stuff happens at school where Clifford, the new kid, gets off to a rocky start with the resident bully, Moody (Matt Dillon), who continues to sadistically harass Clifford and the other school nerds. One kid at school has even the bullies spooked, Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), a hulking outcast who was said to have killed his brother. After Clifford learns from a teacher that his brother died by accident, he begins to stalk Ricky, eventually employing him as his bodyguard against Moody. The two end up bonding and help each other become better people and all that.

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Sean Sweeney
Feb 21, 2011 2:37pm

The Hand

Dir: Oliver Stone, 1981. Starring: Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill. Horror.

A half decade before his breakthrough films Salvador and Platoon would make Oliver Stone a major director with a political conscience, The Hand proves to be an odd film for Stoneaphiles. It’s his second following his unwatchable low budget horror flick, Seizure, and it works well as a suspenseful psychological horror thriller, but more importantly it proves that no matter how ridiculous the material Michael Caine makes anything worth watching.

Caine plays a successful comic book artist in Vermont. He and his younger wife (Andrea Marcovicci) are having marital problems - his wife wants to go to New York City to study at a groovy yoga center, he just wants to be left alone. He loses his hand in a freak car accident, which is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. The hand is never found. He is forced to get a mechanical prosthetic glove. After his wife leaves him, he takes a job teaching at a central California college. He begins an affair with a student (Annie McEnroe) and gets a yahoo drinking buddy (Bruce McGill, D-Day in Animal House and later a respected character actor in films like The Insider). Suddenly people around him start to turn up dead (including director Stone playing a wino). They are murdered on screen by a walking hand, but it may all be in Caine’s head. Is he actually doing the killing?

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Feb 18, 2011 6:19pm
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