Movies We Like
Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff
Films selected and reviewed by discerning movie buffs, television junkies, and documentary diehards (a.k.a. our staff).
After the current vogue for having famous people play eminent people has lost its cachet among Oscar voters, what roles will we remember the nominees for? From 1929 to1942, six of the thirteen Academy Awards for Best Actor were awarded to actors playing real historical personages, from Henry VIII to “Yankee Doodle Dandy” songwriter George M. Cohan. Occasionally flaring up once every decade, the trend of remunerating actors for successful impersonations had almost gone into remission until recently. In 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006 the statue was awarded for the most uncanny imitation of a deceased celebrity. In the Best Actress category the statistics are even more consistent; during the 2000s only two of the past awards have gone to actresses playing fictional characters. This year celebrated stage actor Frank Langella is nominated for portraying Richard Nixon in Ron Howard’s screen adaptation of the play Frost/Nixon. Considering Howard is the first filmmaker to perfect a “direct-by-numbers” technique, the likelihood of the red-headed former star of Happy Days walking away with a little gold man looks likely.
Before Langella was Tricky Dick, he sailed the West Indies as the ruthless pirate Dawg Brown in the 1995 action swashbuckler Cutthroat Island. Dawg’s corsair father leaves Dawg and his brothers a massive hidden treasure as their patrimony, but divides the map to the loot amongst his sons to insure the fair division of the horde. But avaricious Dawg seeks to deprive his brothers of their inheritance and he urges his brother Harry to hand over his map or walk the plank. Harry dies, but not before passing on his map (hidden in a brainy location) to his voluptuous daughter Morgan Adams (Geena Davis). Morgan takes her father’s place as captain of his galleon, although most of the crew is skeptical of her competence. To gain their trust she promises them an equal share of the treasure. Unfortunately, Morgan’s section of the map is in Latin, forcing her to go ashore in Jamaica where she is a wanted woman. On land she finds a dashing con artist (Matthew Modine) who can read the map, but might also steal her heart. Together they try to escape the forces of Dawg and the larcenous Royal Navy conspiring against them to steal their treasure.Continue Reading
When 24 Hour Party People came out, I overheard a lot of dour Raincoat types leaving the theater expressing their wish that whole film had been about Ian Curtis and not those awful acid house Blue Tuesdays or whatever was going on after Ian Curtis' death, at which point their lot zoned out 'til the credits. I thought of how awful that would be - a film about Joy Division. Biopics are always so suspect. Myth-making, made-for-cable garbage with chest-beating and hammy impressions instead of acting... you know, the kind of thing the Oscars are made of. Thankfully, Control is not like that.
Control is directed by Anton Corbijn, which I didn't know till the end. Whatever you think of the guys videos, he has an eye for arresting (if sometimes comically dour) imagery. He's also Dutch and therefore a natural fit for Joy Division’s world which is black and white and eternally wintery, even in the summer – like World War II movies.Continue Reading
When it was announced that Exorcist director William Friedkin and Serpico star Al Pacino were teaming up to make a gritty, New York police thriller in 1980, nothing grabbed the attention of cinema-goers more than the idea of Cruising--especially America's gay community at the time. Immediately considered grotesque and too dark for middle America, and exploitative, and wholly offensive to everyone else with its seeming portrayal of gay men as nothing more than leather chap-wearing, bushy mustache-sporting, sadomasochistic party animals, Cruising was quickly buried in the studio vault shortly after its quick life-span in theaters. But today the film can finally be viewed and appreciated for what it is: an over-the-top, campy, cult classic with a surprisingly engaging story, and an ambiguous twist ending that will linger with you for hours afterwards.
Al Pacino stars as Detective Steve Burns, who receives an assignment to go undercover after a serial killer starts preying on New York City's gay, S&M community. Dawning tight leathers and various colored handkerchiefs in his back pocket, Burns takes to the streets and investigates the underground clubs of Manhattan's Meatpacking District (really--no pun intended). As the detective comes closer to finding his target, he starts questioning his own sexuality and violent urges--making him a loose cannon with the police department, and an enigma amongst the sub-culture that occupies his new daily life.Continue Reading
A childless-couple, with no hope of their own, decides to kidnap one of furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona’s eight babies. But once they do, life takes a serious turn, giving them much more than they bargained for.
In this early effort by the Oscar-winning Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men), the duo makes a timeless classic of the absurd. The script is hugely original and chock-full of many memorable lines. There is no scene-wasting as these people’s lives spin out of control with pitch-perfect tone throughout.Continue Reading
Lewis John Carlino’s screenplay is sparse, but strong. Unlike newer action films, the script takes its time to give you a sense of the isolation and loneliness that comes with being a professional killer. The story provides two strong characters of vastly different backgrounds that share a similar sensibility. The result is an exciting and dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.Continue Reading
No Country for Old Men
A series of unfortunate events unfold in a small desert community when a drug deal near the Rio Grande goes sours, bringing a dark whirlwind into their lives.
Adapted from the novel by famed American author, Cormac McCarthy, the Coen brother’s screenplay is tight, authentic and really able to utilize a story with three leads.Continue Reading
The Midnight Meat Train
The only thing more frightening about Midnight Meat Train the film, is the way the film itself was treated by the powers that be. Apparently, the ‘train’ came to a screeching halt when Joe Drake (President of Lions Gate) forced a poor turnout to this film by way of limiting the release to roughly 100 budget theatres in order to draw attention to schlock garbage like The Strangers, which could be seen in multiplexes across the country. In my humble opinion, if properly marketed, Midnight Meat Train could’ve sparked the next huge horror franchise. But then again, I like my horror films dirty, dark and dreadful. Not the kind of things that shiny studio films are made of.
Midnight Meat Train opens with a disturbing encounter on an anonymous subway in an anonymous city, which we’re made to believe is New York. This is where we meet our big bad villain superbly played by ex-footballer, Vinnie Jones. And thus begins our train ride into the dark annals of the human mind… led by your conductor, Mr. Clive Barker.Continue Reading
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
We’ll never know for sure, but audiences may have fared better last year if Harrison Ford had directed the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Why not have let Mark Hammil try his hand at helming The Phantom Menace? Most fourth installments have little cinematic merit and do dismally at the box-office (Alien Resurrection, Batman and Robin, if you needed more examples.) So, if you’re a studio executive and you’ve still got three kids from two different marriages to put through college, what can you possibly do to make your third sequel work? Have a completely inexperienced lead actor from the franchise direct it, which is what happened when Leonard Nimoy assumed directorial duties for the second time on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, his first proverbial rodeo being Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. And here’s why Leonard could do what Steven, George, Jean-Pierre, and Joel could not: actors who are committed to the franchise have spent years reading scripts by other writers thinking, “If I was writing this, this would be so much better.” They’ve got a cache of ideas to benefit the series, rather than an interloping director approaching the project as an opportunity to put his mark on the franchise. The Voyage Home was the second highest grossing film of the series and a popular film with fans of the TV show and Star Trek neophytes alike.
The film documents a particularly bad day in the history of the Federation. Not only is the entire crew of the Enterprise on trial for disobeying orders and various assorted hijinks (plot remnants from the second and third films), the survival of Earth is threatened by a highly destructive alien probe that only speaks one language: humpback whale. Unfortunately, Earth’s largest mammals became extinct at the end of the 21st century. It looks like the probe’s unintentional annihilation of the planet is imminent, that is until Spock gets a wacky idea to time travel back in time to the 1980s and abduct some Earth whales to bring back to the future so they can tell the probe what it can do with itself, in whale song. The highly likeable middle section of the film takes place in modern day San Francisco and employs the person-from-the-future-out-of-water scenario to great comedic effect. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s talent for pitch-perfect timing and deadpan delivery is a welcome relief from the depressing eeriness of The Search for Spock. Dr. “Bones” McCoy is back to his sassy self after having spent the entirety of the previous film going crazy sharing his brain with Spock’s immortal soul and the writers allow themselves some political commentary by introducing some Cold War humor via Commander Pavel Chekov’s character. The ensemble’s ease with the material and their characters was undoubtedly facilitated by being directed by one of their own, and the atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie is reminiscent of the quality that made the Rat Pack so popular, but without the misogyny and the alcoholism. If you like laughs, good times, or both, Star Trek IV is a journey to the outer reaches of fun at warp speed.Continue Reading
It is hard to review this movie and not mention the tragic death of its writer/director Adrienne Shelly. For a young woman in the 90's she was an unsung hero, portraying women who didn't want to be beautiful, or famous or even in love. Hal Hartley used his muse to create a female Woody Allen - funny, smart and confused by her own search for the unnameable. Ms. Shelley never failed in being simply interesting while taking in strange events and strange worlds unfolding around her. She emanated compassion with a steely sense of self preservation. I missed her presence for many years and when I heard about Waitress I felt her new day was coming and long over due. The violent crime against her fills me with such anger. That her future of telling her own stories is gone fills me with pain. There is no poetry in her death but because of who she was in the history of film there is a strong reminder that women must be ever vigilant against those who would silence us.
Waitress has enough of her compassion, hilarious practicality plus delicious pies to keep any viewer satisfied. Our young heroine, Keri Russell, is less than overjoyed at finding herself pregnant by her domineering and abusive husband. She falls into an affair with her doctor and dreams of making an escape by entering a pie contest which would free her from her unhappy story. Her fellow waitresses provide touching and absolute comic genius thanks to Cheryl Hines and Shelley herself. Nathan Fillion and Jeremy Sisto are no simple caricatures as the doctor and husband and as a bonus Eddie Jemison gives a unique and slightly sociopathic performance of spontaneous poetry reading as Shelly's courting beau. However, the jewel of casting is Andy Griffith as the grumpy diner regular. What a joy to see this veteran actor have some real fun and still make us feel like he could be the Pops that would teach us how to fish.Continue Reading
Out of Sight
Out of Sight is the story of a bank robber (Clooney) and his loyal sidekick (Rhames) who bust out of prison and abduct a U.S. Marshal (Lopez) on their way to heist millions in diamonds from an ex-con billionaire (Brooks).Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) directs a film that defies genres, making one of the most unique crime films in modern cinema. It’s both an interesting double-crossing caper and a brilliant romantic-comedy. Elliot Davis’ cinematography is fluid, mainly hand held, capturing wonderfully large and small moments alike. He makes great use of the color palette to differentiate the many locations, from the humid plains of a Florida prison to the gritty streets of steely Detroit. Scott Frank’s screenplay is smart, funny, and filled with crackling dialogue delivered by wonderfully colorful characters. There is no novelist who creates more endearing, seedy underworld characters to adapt to the big screen than Elmore Leonard. There is always a haze of gray in the morality of the characters-- whether it is the law or their criminal counterparts. It’s worth noting that some of the best scenes are additions made by Scott Frank. They fit so well within the paradigm of the world that it is impossible to discern which ones they are.
Anne V. Coates’ great use of non-linear editing throws us around in time and space, dolling out dimension to the large cast of personalities. Making great use of jump cuts and freeze frames, Out of Sight has the rhythm and style of a French New Wave film. David Holmes’ score is ultra-hip and reminiscent of crime cinema of 1970s, giving it a happy-go-lucky air.Continue Reading