Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Dir: Ridley Scott. 1982/2007. Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer. English. Sci-Fi.

What is “human?” That’s the basic question posited by Ridley Scott’s visionary science fiction opus, release in 2007 in a 25th-anniversary “final cut,” the director’s third pass at the film.

Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick and set in the dark, rain-soaked Los Angeles of 2019, the tale follows “blade runner” Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he pursues and attempts to terminate four “replicants” – genetically-engineered humanoids – who have violently escaped an off-world colony and returned to earth. Deckard becomes increasingly conflicted about his murderous job and doubtful about his own identity, as he falls in love with a replicant (Sean Young) and begins to realize that his prey may be more human than he believed.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 2, 2008 3:06pm

Changeling

Dir: Clint Eastwood, 2008. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Jeffrey Donovan, John Malkovich. Mystery/Thriller.

I think motherhood has been good for Angelina Jolie. Before she started adopting orphans and having kids of her own she was best known as an Oscar-winning knife enthusiast who made out with her brother on television. Well, whatever else that sexy little home wrecker does with her time I now know that she’s also a first class actress who really taps into a primal maternal connection to the sad, sad story at the heart of The Changeling. Fans of true crime and L.A. history should find a lot to get excited about here. It’s a haunting story centered around Jolie’s incredible performance as a mother of a missing child who deals with some extraordinarily weird circumstances above and beyond her heartbreaking loss, and takes on a corrupt L.A.P.D. in the process.

Our story starts in 1928 in a lovingly evoked Los Angeles of a bygone era complete with street cars, rain swept downtown boulevards teeming with pedestrians, and roller skating telephone operators. Jolie, looking like an art deco maven chiseled out of a painting, plays Christine Collins—a single mother raising her nine-year-old son Walter in a middle class neighborhood of L.A. She comes home from work one day to find her house completely empty. At first bewildered she calls the police to report Walter missing and is told that they won’t bother sending any officers over because it’s just not a priority and that furthermore he’s probably just outside and will turn up soon. Days, weeks, and months go by and Walter still has not turned up. Collins finds the L.A.P.D.’s response to her crisis to be incompetent at best and hostile at worst.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
May 7, 2009 4:42pm

Chinatown

Dir: Roman Polanski, 1974. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston. Mystery/Thriller.

This movie is not ranked on the top of AFI’s "Greatest American Movies" of all time for nothing. Every single aspect and element of this film - from its direction, cinematography, script development, performances, editing, to its art direction - is outstanding. When you take a director such as Roman Polanski, add a writer like Robert Towne, and have actors such as Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, it’s almost a done deal. What leads this film to excel beyond excellence is its profound content and complex, multi-leveled storyline. Its underlying historical significance concerning the 1930s water rights in Los Angeles has also earned the film to be selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1991.

The story is set in the 1930s. J.J. “Jakes” Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, is a Los Angeles private investigator hired by Evelyn Mulwray to spy on her supposed cheating husband, who is the city’s chief engineer for the water department. Soon after the initial investigation, Gittes finds that this woman is an impersonator of Evelyn Mulwray. He plunges into the case to discover the complex twists and turns of a murder involving incest and municipal corruption, which somehow all relate to the city’s water supply. How far do people in power go to keep themselves in that position? Follow Gittes’ investigation to find out.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jun 11, 2009 3:44pm

Collateral

Dir: Michael Mann. 2004. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mark Ruffalo. Mystery.

Max (Foxx) is a taxi driver with big dreams. Vincent (Cruise) is a freelance killer on a business trip to clean house. Tensions mount up when Vincent steps foot in Max’s cab, using him as his chauffer on a nightlong killing spree.

Michael Mann (Heat, Miami Vice) is one of the true kings of crime cinema and Collateral may be his most precise and exact tale. With the best pacing of any of his films, Mann makes great use of High-Def cameras to give the nighttime cityscape of Los Angeles a unique and dream like aesthetic.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Sep 13, 2008 3:00pm

Heat

Dir: Michael Mann, 1995. Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight. Action.

Heat is a self-proclaimed “Los Angeles crime saga” about a master crew of thieves and the dedicated police officers who try to keep them in check.

Based on a real criminal and inspired by his own TV movie, L.A. Takedown, Michael Mann directs one of the all-time great cop and robber films with Heat. He takes a highly established genre and digs in deeper—finding the truth and parallels between those who enforce the law and those who break it. Heat explores the sacrifices both sides have to make in order to do the job—mainly causing dysfunction at home. You can see years of preproduction that goes into Mann’s vision—building from earlier works as director of Thief (1981) and producer of TV’s Miami Vice.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 7, 2009 4:05pm

Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers & Their Times

Dir: Peter Jones & Mark A. Catalena, 2009. Starring: Dorothy Chandler, Harry Brant Chandler, Norman Chandler. Documentaries.

It drives me crazy when people say that Los Angeles has no history. I have no idea what that means because I don’t think I’ve ever been to an American city as steeped in its illustrious glittering and haunted past as L.A. It’s a history that is certainly taken for granted and poorly managed—it seems every year brings with it another historic landmark that bites the dust here—but the city (and really the entire country) have been so shaped by L.A.’s past that you will never be able to exorcise all the ghosts here. There are too many of them. And the people who ran the city from its inception made decisions whose results we are still burdened with today.

The Chandler family and their paper, The Los Angeles Times, are a good example of this. From the very beginning the paper was designed as a mouthpiece for the voice of Harrison Gray Otis, an ardent capitalist who used the paper to prop up his friends in the business community and attack his enemies from the world of labor. By using The Los Angeles Times as a forum for attacking unions Otis helped ensure that L.A. would have a cheap supply of labor without threat of these workers organizing. When a group of union members bombed the L.A. Times building and killed scores of Times employees Otis became that much more virulent in his crusade against organized labor. (You can see a monument to the workers who died in the blast erected just after it happened in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.)

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Jul 21, 2010 11:12am

Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection

Dir: Charles Burnett. 1977. Starring: Henry Gayle Sanders, Kaycee Moore. English. Black Cinema.

Killer of Sheep is a beautifully simple urban tale of an African-American community set in Los Angeles' Watts district during the1970s. Yes, the 1960s held a cultural revolution for racial freedom, but history often assures us that problems lie on far more complexities than just a cry for racial freedom. Every community has its individual fight and here we follow Stan, frustrated with the monotony of working at a slaughter house, and how it affects his life at home.

Noteworthy of the film is how personal it feels. It makes sense – Charles Burnett wrote, produced, shot, and directed it with a budget of less than $10,000 with the help of many close friends and family. The result is a natural, humanistic style. It takes a lot of courage for a director to let a story work inside out, and that's where the simplicity lies. Emotion is often wallpaper when complicated plots involve twists and turns. Instead, here, we are embraced in moments within relationships, moments of hardship, moments of tenderness, and moments of family-hood.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Feb 2, 2008 3:01pm

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

The Day of the Locust

Dir: John Schlesinger, 1975. Starring: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, William Atherton. Drama.

Adaptations of quintessentially L.A. novels tend to either work marvelously, as with L.A. Confidential, or don't quite measure up to their source material (a category I’d lump Ask the Dust into). John Schlesinger’s adaptation of The Day of the Locust was a costly misfire for Paramount Studios which spent something like 6 months on the film and a whole lot of dough. It could have been as influential as Chinatown, but it was a flop upon release, though ultimately it had some enduring appeal as a cult film in later years. Nathaniel West’s novel is generally considered to be the very best novel on Hollywood, its more grotesque inhabitants, and its tragic allure as a festering dump where dreams go to die. That makes the novel sound sobering and self-serious but this is a story about fame whores, violently degenerate midgets, sociopathic child actors, cockfights, stag films, and a movie premiere that culminates in the apocalypse. It’s brutally dark and really, really entertaining.

The movie is essentially a literal adaptation of West’s novel and it came under criticism from some quarters for being too literal. Director John Schlesinger was taken to task for supposedly ignoring the arch satire of West's depiction of Hollywood as the epicenter of greed, desperation, and idiocy, and instead ratcheting up the cartoon nihilism to a fever pitch. But when you do a story about America’s pop cultural border town that ends with a murderous orgy of celebrity blood lust I’m not exactly sure "holding back" is the way to go. The Day of the Locust is about a particular kind of American tragedy that West found on Hollywood Boulevard during the 1930s. In the dive bars and diners that lined the boulevard were hundreds of desperate people without a nickel to their name, all drawn to Hollywood in the hopes of making it big. Most, West found, couldn’t even get work as extras. He saw them as a mass of human wreckage under the movie premiere kleig lights. The dark joke beneath the glittering dream that Hollywood came to embody was exquisitely rendered by West as it was happening. The film does justice to the novel with its horror show theatrics under the palm trees and sunny skies of Southern California and ultimately it’s more creepy than campy.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Jun 7, 2010 11:00am
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