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

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

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

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 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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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Mar 11, 2011 5:55pm

Totally F***ed Up

Dir: Gregg Araki, 1993. Starring James Duval, Roko Belic, Susan Behshid, Jenee Gill, Gilbert Luna. Gay Cinema.

I grew up enjoying Gregg Araki's films, but I don't think I quite appreciated them until recently. I always saw him as a cult filmmaker--notable for helping to pioneer the New Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s, but for also telling his stories with a gaudy, B-movie aesthetic that seemed equal parts Russ Meyer and John Waters. I didn't always relate to the lost, Los Angeles-inhabiting teenagers who made up the casts of his films, but I was fascinated by their world of drugs, sexual confusion, and goth/industrial music (and their complete boredom with all of it). Watching Totally F***ed Up now, I find myself compelled by all the same qualities, but also far more touched with Araki's understanding and concern for whom I can only describe as fairly typical teenagers.

The film focuses on a group of gay teens who all seem to have too much free time on their hands. They lounge around pools while chain-smoking cigarettes, take pills and stumble around in empty parking garages, and talk about their complicated relationships while playing children's board games. Andy, a firm believer that love does not exist, is starting to question otherwise after he meets an older college student who wants to be the next Dennis Cooper. Michele and Patricia want a baby, and decide to try their luck with a turkey baster and a bowl of their friends' semen. Tommy isn't looking for a serious commitment with anybody--casually hooking up with random strangers like it's the 1970s. Steven is a budding filmmaker documenting his friends' world, and undergoes a crisis with his lover, Deric, after an older man seduces him with a bootleg tape of a Nine Inch Nails show. "If it was any other band, I probably would have said no," Steven laments later.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Dec 14, 2010 5:09pm

Two-Lane Blacktop

Dir: Monte Hellman. 1971. Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Dennis Wilson. English. Cult.

In one critical scene in Two-Lane Blacktop, Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” is heard in the background. Its famous refrain runs, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Therein lies the core of Monte Hellman’s intimate, artfully photographed road movie about liberty, competition, friendship, and commitment.

Its archetypal characters bear no names. Two taciturn dragsters, the Driver (James Taylor) and the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson), scour the countryside in a scarred, souped-up ’55 Chevy. They pick up the Girl (Laurie Bird) on the road. Somewhere outside Los Angeles, they encounter an aimless yet aggressive nomad (Warren Oates) piloting a new canary-yellow muscle car, who challenges them to a race to Washington, D.C., with pink slips as the prize. They roll. Everything changes.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Dec 20, 2007 4:15pm
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