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).
In A Lonely Place
First, there’s the title. Has any movie title ever sounded so vulnerable? And that the film about a man "in a lonely place" was played by America’s hero, Humphrey Bogart, added undeniable pathos to the proceedings. Movie stars have always been confused with who they played in the films that made them famous, and after High Sierra and Casablanca Bogart would be forever known as the world weary tough guy with a heart of gold; the cynical romantic who does the right thing in the end who generations of men have wanted to emulate. Playing an emotionally wounded misanthrope with possibly psychotic tendencies was a risk for him, but in the words of Louise Brooks it was the closest performance to the real Bogart that he ever played. In her memoir of sorts, Lulu In Hollywood, she writes about how the Bogart she knew was an insecure actor forever on the sidelines of productions he didn’t star in. When the light and magic clicked to make him a star in High Sierra he became a legend henceforth and he took to acting the part in real life. But, according to her at least, it wasn’t until playing the embittered Hollywood screenwriter Dix Steele in Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place that the myth and the actor coalesced into something resembling his darker, more emotionally insecure self.
In A Lonely Place is ostensibly a murder mystery, but what haunts isn’t really the murder or even the possibility that Bogart’s character killed someone. Instead it’s the way Dix’s good qualities are forever doomed to be overshadowed by his alienating and self-destructing tendencies. He has good friends around him who, even in the face of a murder investigation where he is a suspect, refuse to give up on him. But his insecurities and "artistic temperament" wear those around him down to the point where he really is totally alone. There’s no real lesson to In A Lonely Place. In another less complicated thriller Dix would be the villain whose downfall signals the triumph of societal values over the chaos caused by anti-social malcontents. But this is a film with no solution to the problem of Dix Steele, just a melancholic depiction of a certain type of man whose great curse is to be eternally misunderstood.Continue Reading
The third film in director David Lean’s "How To Make An Epic" Trilogy, Doctor Zhivago followed The Bridge On The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia. It may not carry the same critical cache today - some find it too soapy and less "important" - but it’s just as entertaining and just as impressive as his previous two epics. This period for Lean from ’57 to ’65 followed his rather dated Criterion Collection endorsed British period of the '40s and early '50s. And then his follow up to Zhivago five years later, Ryan’s Daughter, does not quite hold up today. But his follow up to that, his final film, the underrated A Passage To India in ’84, is rather interesting and showed the seventy-something director still working with all his powers, if not quite the scope.
Doctor Zhivago could be used for any class on film symbolism. It‘s constant: the leaves falling from the sunflower, the melted snow, the electricity of the cable cars, the deliberate use of the color red standing out among the drab colors. Robert Bolt’s concise script helps to spell out the character's feelings without the actors ever having to proclaim them. It all works to boil down Boris Pasternak’s epic novel of adultery before, during, and after the Russian Revolution. In terms of history class, along with Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Franklin Schaffner’s Nicholas And Alexandra, Warren Beatty’s Reds, and Woody Allen’s Love And Death, you have everything you could ever want to know about that period in Russia, or at least everything I know about it.Continue Reading
Homer & Eddie
You know how in old classic films or screwball comedies there is usually some sort of love triangle where a guy and a gal "meet cute" and go on some ridiculous adventure together, later to get married? Well, Homer and Eddie is sort of like that scenario, only fairly depressing and in no way romantic.
Homer (James Belushi) is a slightly mentally handicapped man who has lost a bit of sense and gained a fair amount of childlike ignorance after being hit in the head with a baseball during a game when he was a boy. In the beginning of the movie he prepares himself for a long journey, saying goodbye to his desolate neighborhood and a local stray before hitting the road. His goal is to see his sick father before he kicks the bucket, though the man and his entire family have pretty much abandoned him after the case of his retardation. While hitchhiking on the freeway, he gets his suitcase and cash stolen. With no means of lodging, he wanders into a garbage dump and falls asleep in the backseat of a seemingly empty car. But in the morning, he discovers that he's not alone as the driver, Eddie (Whoopi Goldberg), was asleep in the front. After being startled by the aloof and friendly stranger, she tries once to rob him, then oddly offers up help in a half-brained scheme to locate the men who stole the money that she somehow figures is now rightfully hers.Continue Reading
I Drink Your Blood
First off, let me announce that while this film has boatloads of bloodshed and theme music that warns for danger, I think it is safe to classify it as a cult classic if you wish. The plot is amazing and reflects the vast majority of cult films where just about anything is possible. For instance, in what other genre can you see 50-ft women who trample cities, phobias of every drug imaginable, and alternate fantasies pulled from the minds of those with some of the biggest imaginations? I Drink Your Blood is a movie that would please a cult fanatic more than one of the horror genre, more specifically modern horror. Set in a small town, a group of LSD addicted hippies who belong to a satanic cult have come for a little vacation. At first, their stay is merely criticized by locals until a townsman of old age and his grandson stumble upon one of their bizarre torture rituals and discover that all is not well. When caught, the group holds the boy down and forces the old man to take LSD, causing him to later freak out and ultimately traumatizing his grandson. After witnessing the event, the young boy wanders into the woods and confronts a rabid dog, later to return and shoot the animal in order to collect some of its contaminated blood. The next morning he ventures to the local deli where the only thing on the menu, and thus the only source of food for these mean-spirited hippies, is meat pies. He injects the pies with the rabid blood, unleashing a wave of destruction as the LSD addicted hippie-zombies then blow through the town with a thirst for flesh and a phobia of water.
The only ultra-cheesy aspect of the film is the music that looms in the background when danger is up ahead. In short, it sounds like a collaboration of speedy synthesizers near the point of combustion. The costumes are great, as well as the color contrast, and especially the lighting. The film stock is a bit grainy, which works well for a film from the '70s and adds to the whole drive-in movie effect. The hair…my God, it alone holds the movie up. Never again will you see awesome styles, still lingering from the '60s, equipped with stunning sideburns and overflowing chest hair. The dialog is cheesy, but placed in the right context and certainly one-of-a-kind. I almost wish I could take a trip back to the '70s in order to see if the phrases they used actually existed in everyday speech, or if they only appeared in movies. At every corner there is some sharp object (knife, sword, dagger) or cooler tools like fire, water, and stakes to wage war between the locals and the Satanists, whose number only increases as they contaminate others.Continue Reading
A Tree of Palme (Parumu no Ki)
NOT SO PINOCCHIO A puppet named Palme made from a sacred tree and fueled by a much sought-after sap that courses through his veins as life’s blood is at the center of this animated tale. Palme, originally created to care for his creator’s sickly wife, has gone lifeless since she has passed away. And now a mysterious warrioress has shown up bearing strange fruit (or rather a strange egg). Fast on her heals is a small band of purple skinned tricloptic goggle-clad subterranean mercenaries with snorkel-like breathing apparatuses driving a six-legged motorbike of sorts! Yes, I just said all that. The warrioress’ arrival brings with her Palme’s re-awakening and a mission!
PUPPET MASTER Palme was written and directed by Takashi Nakamura. Nakamura contributed as Chief Animator for one of Anime’s most amazing spectacles, Akira. Nakamura wanted to "transcend the boundaries of animation" with this film. "I wanted to delve deep into the realm of the human soul, ethically or perhaps philosophically, taking a different approach than the rest of the anime out there."Continue Reading
Me Without You
If you've ever experienced or witnessed the heavy and sometimes odd bond that two girls can have, you will enjoy (or remain bewildered after) seeing this movie. Set in the summer of 1973, Holly and Marina are two neighbors who become best friends in a small London suburb. Holly is the only child of a very conservative Jewish family where her mother and father are still married and highly involved in her progress as an intellect. Her best friend Marina's life serves as an excellent juxtaposition. Her mother is….well, picture a woman with the spirit of a 1930s flapper and the heart of a British teen in the '60s who chain smokes and likes Valium. Her father is a globe-trotting pilot who is never around and her older brother Nat is an attractive lad with a life of his own. The two girls take an oath that summer to be "one" in a place in their minds that they've named "Harina." As time goes on, the two share all of life's disappointments and thrills, but as the girls get older and things get more complicated, the balance of their friendship changes. Holly becomes the only positive force in Marina's unstable and self-destructive existence. And while she only wants happiness for everyone she knows and loves, Holly can't help redeeming her pact and getting involved with Marina's chaotic pastimes, nor can she snuff the growing passion she has for Marina's brother.
The actresses who play the older stages of these two girls are what put the icing on the cake. Holly is played by Michelle Williams—an excellent choice for a character who is a bit mousy, intellectual, and an old-fashioned romantic. Marina is played by Anna Friel, a charismatic and colorful actress who fits the part perfectly. By the time they've hit college, still living together in a flat with other roommates, they've experienced some of the best parts of being young, which include hard drugs and casual sex. The soundtrack of the film is an excellent addition to their exhilaration, and while it is looked down upon to have it be the one of the film's best features, the spirit of this movie survives because of the sounds of The Clash, Wreckless Eric, Scritti Politti, Echo and the Bunnymen, and other landmark artists.Continue Reading
Busby Berkeley Bonus Disc (Busby Berkeley Collection)
It may seem like cheating to skip over the five films featured in the first Busby Berkeley Collection and single out the bonus disc included with the collection as a “Movie We Like,” but the very fact that Warner Brothers bothered to include the extra disc comprised solely of the musical numbers from Berkeley’s films indicates that they were eager to facilitate the pure rush of cinematic delirium that occurs when watching the crazy things back to back. Berkeley didn’t write or direct most of the films included in the box set collections that bear his name but his authorial hallmark is stamped right across all of them. He created and staged the musical numbers for the films and it’s these musical numbers that gave him immortality as one of the great film architects of glamorous spectacle and Hollywood mythology. The best of Berkeley’s musical numbers are pre-Production Code wonders of erotic reverie and paradisaical splendor. They looked like nothing that had come before though they have certainly been imitated and paid homage to by directors entranced by their bizarre majesty ever since. Berkeley turned song and dance numbers that bridged the scenes of what could have been generic studio musicals into glittering ecstatic pageants that rendered the lovely legs of chorus girls into a kaleidoscopic “ballet mechanique,” filling the entire screen in one hallucinatory art deco fantasia after another. There is beauty to Berkeley’s approach but there is also darkness that creeps in, such as in the desperate city-dwelling throngs killing, thieving, and hustling to the title song of 42nd Street. Fellow practitioners of the dark arts of Kino Delirium, Kenneth Anger and Guy Maddin, owe this guy a lot and I would assume that they would be the first to admit it.
The plots of Berkeley’s films are mostly variations on the backstage musical archetype with a make it or break it “let’s put on a show!” finale. The films themselves - such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 with stars like James Cagney and Ruby Keeler - are a lot of fun, if a little slow between the numbers. I once saw Gold Diggers… screened at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and seeing the film with booze, surrounded by the graves of Hollywood luminaries at night was several great things made more so by their combination. But it’s the musical numbers that everyone wants to see, and so to get the purest expression of Berkeley’s genius it’s nice to be able to skip right to the whiz bang heart of it and luxuriate in the delights of “We’re In the Money,” “By A Waterfall,” and the very weird and wonderful “Pettin’ In the Park,” which serves as unimpeachable evidence, if any was necessary, that the 1930s was as sexually frank an era as any before or since.Continue Reading
Alfred Hitchcock’s second to last film, the underrated Frenzy, may not rank in his top tier. I would reserve that for The Birds, Vertigo, Notorious, and the first two-thirds of Psycho. But it definitely deserves consideration for that next tier, a still high quality group of classics that may include Rebecca, Strangers On A Train, Rear Window and North By Northwest.
Returning for the first time in decades to his old stomping grounds in England, the then seventy-three year old master was able to fully embrace the sex, violence, and nudity standards that had become looser by the early 1970s. The film is shockingly explicit even when compared with say, Marnie, his sexual thriller he made only eight years earlier.Continue Reading
Blur: No Distance Left to Run
You will never convince me that there was a more definitive group for the 1990s than Blur. With a manifesto to astutely chronicle pre-millennial anxiety in sharply observant pop songs such as "For Tomorrow," "Girls & Boys," and "The Universal," they were three impossibly good looking young men (plus possibly good looking drummer Dave) with wildly different personalities who created some of the most memorable songs of the last decade of the 20th century. As is so often the case with the best bands their personal clashes made for some wildly explosive creative tension. In Damon Albarn they had a singer who looked like Leonardo DeCaprio reconfigured as an anime character—Britpop's very own Astro Boy; he of the vintage Adidas zip-up, artfully messed up hair, and burning ambition to front the biggest band in the world. His good looks and arrogant attitude were coupled with an extraordinary talent for writing catchy tunes that were every bit as good as their obvious influences—Bowie, Scott Walker, The Kinks, Syd Barrett, The Buzzcocks, et al. In Graham Coxon they had "the most talented guitarist of his generation," the indie kid obsessed with American hardcore who played raggedy chords that bled emotion and aggression all over Albarn's sterling compositions. Graham gave Damon’s songs soul and in his shy demeanor and anti-pop tendencies was seen as Albarn's main adversary within the group. Alex was Blur’s jet setting bon vivant bass player. He was gorgeous, tall, gave the best press quotes, and seemed determined to cultivate a reputation as a champagne Charlie always looking for a good time with people equally famous and beautiful. Simultaneously detestable and wholly endearing at the height of his explorations into the decadence of celebrity culture, he was also the most charming member of the group. Dave the drummer was just lucky to be there, I think, though his egghead presence gave Blur some of their singular cache as the thinking boy and girl’s pop star pin ups.
Cute boys writing old fashioned pop songs may seem kind of typical now but circa 1993 when Blur became Blur as we know them it started nothing short of a British pop cultural revolution. They hit their stride by railing against grungy yank dominance and waiving a Union Jack as a slightly ironic act of defiance. Their third record Parklife was a massive hit and their fantastic songs showcasing a scrappy post modern grab bag ideology was as influential in Britain as the first wave of punk. It was all downhill from there of course and they disappointed themselves and their original fans with a hollow if massively successful follow up LP called The Great Escape. After a year or so despairing about spawning the xenophobic watershed of Cool Britannia they managed to redeem themselves and even win over the U.S. in the process with a moody and reflective self-titled fourth album that harkened back to their scruffier beginnings. Two more records followed the last without contributions from Graham who had left the group or was kicked out. No one is absolutely sure what happened. At that point Blur was over and no one expected them to return. But rumors started circulating last year that they were going to reunite for some summer shows in England. No Distance Left To Run is a documentary chronicling their reunion shows and finds time to tell their story from their Goldsmiths Art College origins to the rise–fall–redemption– reunion story arc the band dutifully followed.Continue Reading
We’ve all seen movies that circulate around addiction, whether it be substance abuse or recreational activities. The success of their messages can either scare the pants off an audience, urging them to never go down that path, or pull recovering addicts into a reminiscing spell. But Candy is somewhat different. Directed by Neil Armfield and co-written by the novel’s author, Luke Davies, it is a story more about the addiction of being loved and its consequences than of substance abuse.
Heath Ledger plays Dan, a sensitive, almost puppy-like poet who is addicted to heroin. Candy, played by Abbie Cornish, is an artist who falls madly in love with Dan and all of his habits, including the drug. Together they think they’ve found a bliss and complacency unlike anything they’ve ever experienced that would be the envy of any romantic, as well as a "secret glue" holding their world together. Though this euphoria is aided by the opiate, the real drug they fall under the influence of is their infatuation with one another.Continue Reading