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).
Blast of Silence
If Albert Camus had made a film noir, it would have been very much like Allen Baron’s little-seen 1961 feature Blast of Silence. This low-budget jewel, which enjoyed a critical renaissance after a 1990 screening at the Munich Film Festival, is less a thriller than it is an existential exploration. In many ways, it anticipated Martin Scorsese’s equally dark New York drama Taxi Driver by a decade.
Writer-director Baron had originally cast Peter Falk as hit man Frankie Bono, but wound up playing the part himself after Falk took his career-making role in Murder Inc. Resembling a less feral George C. Scott, Baron is extremely effective as the solitary, dead-eyed assassin, who arrives in New York City at Christmastime to eliminate a troublesome small-time mobster. After a chance meeting, the lonely, embittered killer is drawn to a girl from his past (Molly McCarthy). But he still has a contract to fulfill, and his world begins to unravel as he stalks his prey.Continue Reading
Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu may be best known for his film Babel (2006) or 21 Grams (2003), but his first feature film, Amores Perros, shows his ability in weaving stories together through the commonality of human suffering. Made in his home country, Mexico, the film is set in Mexico City, featuring three stories that are connected by a single car crash. Within these stories contain intensified, passionate characters with tales of love, loss, and dogs.
In the first, Octavio becomes involved with the dog-fighting business in order to make money so he can run away with his sister-in-law Susana and begin a new life. This plan falls out of reach as tragedy pursues, and the story ends with more than the loss of dreams.Continue Reading
Un Chant d'Amour
French writer Jean Genet made his only film, Un Chant d'Amour (A Song of Love), in 1950, but because of its explicit and homosexual content, it was banned and later disowned by Genet. Now, we are fortunate to witness its release and wide distribution. Jean Genet, like Kenneth Anger, used classic cinema's formalities to tell the story – and within that we are like the prison-guard character in this film – voyeuristically deemed the romantic and erotic desires of men who, in their absolute loneliness, can only dream of each other. The walls retain their physical isolation, but somehow their fantasies materialize through masturbatory sexual acts and sharing cigarette smoke through the tiny holes in the wall.
The characters, repressed and alone, interact in the most poetic and arresting ways. Most interesting to watch is the prison guard's journey, whose turn of motives are surprising yet beautiful. The images are shot in the classic black-and-white fashion, and the silent factor contributes to the driving visual style. To both the experimental film viewer and the classic cinema audience –here's a film that we are privileged to watch – earnest, original, and authentic in its very own right.Continue Reading
In Five Obstructions Lars Von Trier challenges one of his idols, Jørgen Leth, to remake his 1967 Danish short film, The Perfect Human, five times with certain restrictions. This film documents the conversations between the two directors, footage of the new short films, behind the scenes and on-location footage, interspersed with footage of the original Perfect Human. Each film is in a different location with some different styles. The result is a look into the creative process and demonstrates creativity flourishing even under the shadow of restriction.
At the beginning of the film you get the impression that Von Trier is a mad scientist and Leth is the subject for some gruesome experiment. During the conversational segments, Von Trier sets up rules, or obstructions for Leth. Many of the rules presented as a means of punishment, with the expectation that the resulting film will be a disaster, and that Leth will suffer during the process. Von Trier does little to hide his intent to make the process hell for Leth. For the second film Leth is even sent to the worst place on earth he’s ever been, while not showing any of the atrocities seen there. To further the mad scientist image, Von Trier even seems upset that Leth isn’t suffering enough during the production of these films. Throughout the film Von Trier acts as if he isn’t getting what he wants despite the fact that the resulting films are quite successful. The underlying reasoning for Von Trier's attempts to torture Leth would seem to be to get him to learn something new and challenge him. At the end of the film there is a sense that Von Trier is being cryptic and deceitful about how he feels the experiment pans out. Throughout the film Jørgen Leth maintains a relatively positive attitude and achieves incredible results in spite of each obstruction. At times he seems hesitant. When he is told to make a cartoon, he expresses hate for cartoons. He makes a cartoon anyways and it looks amazing. Each of the films Leth creates is quite innovative and progressive, leaving the viewer desiring to see the next one. Leth illustrates a willingness to go with anything. The end result is that Leth seems to be the one in control, not the other way around.Continue Reading
Looking For Langston
A beautifully photographed film on various aspects of black male sexuality in western culture is revealed within the “pseudo-documentary exploration of the life of Langston Hughes” [note to self: don’t believe the hype], Looking For Langston.
It’s a short film but it rushes headlong and moves easily and quickly between archival television footage of Langston Hughes reading with jazz combo accompaniment, archival photographs/footage of Harlem and various Harlem Renaissance figures (and some non-Renaissance figures such as Robert Mapplethorpe) along with faux-archival footage and images which are interspersed, broken up, explained and explored with readings from the works of poets Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill visually mated to scripted black & white fantasy sets of nightclub, bedroom and outdoor scenes populated by black men (and a few white men) as a means of touching on, and exposition of, the effects of racism, classism, desire, exploitation and threats of violence and STDs in relation to Anglo/American gay black men.Continue Reading
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
A true ‘must-see’ of silent cinematic majesty, Hunchback stars the unbelievably talented Lon Chaney, an innovator of pantomime and makeup artistry. The film is based on the Victor Hugo novel about Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer who falls in love with Esmeralda, a gypsy girl.
It is a classic story that is further accentuated by enormous sets, complex lighting and Chaney’s amazing ability to express suffering, humiliation,and desire for the understanding of a kindred soul. It should be noted that Chaney’s great skill at displaying identifiable human emotions under grotesque disguises can be partly attributed to the need to communicate with his deaf-mute parents. His body language and gestures are the center of this movie. He demonstrated his prowess at making us FEEL the character’s emotions in film after film until his death in 1930 after his final appearance in his only sound film The Unholy Three,a remake of an earlier silent film that he starred in. Anybody even remotely interested in the movies before they spoke should see this.Continue Reading
Tout Va Bien
French founders of the politically active filmmaking Dziga Vertov Group, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Pierre Gorin, made Tout Va Bien in1972, their 2nd to last collaboration together.
This film certainly falls far from the category of escapism. You, the viewer, are going to have to examine not only the constructs of filmmaking itself, but also the economy of contemporary society and the political ideologies behind it. Sound like a handful? You can be assured that every movement within the frame, every insert, every cut, is deliberate and Brechtian in every formal quality. The staging shows people moving from one room to another through a cross-section of the building, emphasizing the strike at a sausage factory that is observed by an American reporter (Jane Fonda) and her husband, a has-been, French New Wave film director (Yves Montand).Continue Reading
Family films are precious commodities. Slapstick plus smart humor have been winning combinations for many years now while the sentimental tearjerkers have taken a back seat. Lately, however there have been a few jewels emerging that are not only appropriate for young audiences but will entrance their parents as well. August Rush is a lovely music filled Orphan Annie/Oliver tale with sincere performances, intelligent, economical writing, a wonderful score and charming cinematography.
Two young and talented strangers meet and fall in love under a full moon in New York but are separated by fate and an overly controlling father the very next day. We learn that the young lady, an accomplished cellist named Lyla Novecek has become pregnant and that her star crossed lover, Louis Connelly, waits every night under the Washington Arch. After Lyla has an accident around her due date her father takes the opportunity to take the healthy newborn boy and put him up for adoption while telling Lyla that he didn't survive. Twelve years later we see the young and vibrant rock musician, Louis, has become a suit wearing businessman still stifling under a broken heart and broken dreams while Lyla is quietly teaching music without playing it herself.Continue Reading
In Germany in the 1970s, a group of young leftists calling themselves the Rote Armee Fraktion (more commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang) coalesced around their shared opposition to the perceived conservative bias of Germany's post-war government (which included former Nazis) and the right wing media exemplified by Axel Springer's media which opposed the student opposition movement and their goals of fighting racism, sexism, police brutality and imperialism. The RAF trained in Jordan alongside the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and then used their newly acquired techniques to wage violent actions against the German police, U.S. military bases, and the Springer Press before most key members were killed or committed suicide (depending on who you believe).
Raspberry Reich portrays a group of modern leftists, inspired largely by the RAF (as well as the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army) to adopt their radical views. Their leader is a strong-willed woman named Gudrun. To prove their dedication to subverting the patriarchy, she teaches that "heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses" and forces her followers to engage in sex with one another. Gudrun speaks/barks in gayified leftist slogans including commands like "Put your Marxism where your mouth is" and "The revolution is my boyfriend" (the latter of which she tells her former boyfriend when he resists her demands to have sex with another gang member).Continue Reading
A Room With a View
There has never been a more perfect film than Merchant Ivory's lush and lavish, A Room with a View. Visually it offers more than a simple view; instead there is a grandiose explosion of natural and cultural beauty traveling from the historical vistas of Florence to the opulence of the English countryside. Adapted with wit and wisdom from E.M. Forster's novel of the same name, A Room with a View explores the mingling of Britain's emerging middle class with the slowly dying aristocracy during the picturesque Edwardian Age. Similar in theme, adaptation and age to the tragically redeeming Howard's End, View tenders a gentler more fairy tale touch.
Filled with immortal performances by actors who would soon dominate the cast of truly great films for the next twenty years and counting, we are treated to study after study of the pomposity and passion in human nature. Romance, humor and a sensitivity to our frailties permeate every frame. Whether it is a bloody crime of passion between unknown but unforgettable Italians in the square, the giggling girlish adventures of two aged maidens in a foreign city, a kiss among poppies (that might just be the best kiss in cinematic history) or the heartbreaking politeness of a rejected suitor in a drawing room each moment is filled with timeless, laughable, lovable humanity.Continue Reading