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 one of 2008’s most original visions, JCVD is the story of movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme returning to his home in Brussels and getting stuck in the middle of a bank robbery.
Writer Frederic Benudis and co-writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri create a truly unique and ambitious film working as part docudrama, part crime caper. The storytelling is crafted so that the film operates on multiple levels, making it something unlike what we have seen before.Continue Reading
Quiz Show is a quintessential tragic American story. The great subject of the film is television and the point at which it came to define American culture for better or worse (mostly worse). With television itself having an almost operatic power as a thematic backdrop, the film tells the story of a son tarnishing his family’s good name, the architects of television’s pop cultural dominance cynically duping an entire nation, the casual anti-Semitism of the 1950s, the cultural clash of WASPs and ethnic New Yorkers, and a young Washington investigator who wants to make a name for himself and winds up destroying his friend in the process.
The year is 1958. An NBC quiz show called 21 is a national obsession that 50 million people tune into each week to see what they think is an honest display of intellectual acumen and knowledge. What they don’t know is that the show’s producer, Dan Enright (played by character actor David Paymer), in cahoots with the show’s principal sponsor Geritol and with the implicit approval of NBC itself, is fixing the results of the show to boost the ratings. The film begins as the current reigning champ of 21, Herbert Stempel (played with wiry desperation by John Turturro), is given the boot for being too goofy looking, too unrefined, and, though they won’t say it, it’s clear that he is too Jewish. As the president of NBC muses, they want a guy on 21 who looks like he can get a table at 21. Enter the elegant, educated, and super dreamy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes playing the Ralph Fiennes type) who innocently drops by NBC to try out for a different game show at the behest of his friends. When Enright and his sleazy sidekick Albert Freedman (played by Hank Azaria) spot him, they can barely contain themselves. Charles Van Doren is from a celebrated American literary family. His father Mark (played by the recently deceased Paul Scofield) is an English professor at Columbia University, where Charles also teaches. Charles has amazing hair and Ivy League manners. He is the perfect little lamb for Enright to lead to the proverbial slaughter.Continue Reading
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.Continue Reading
A shell-shocked Vietnam veteran “Jacob Singer” (Robbins) finds his sanity begin to crumble as he sees demons coming out of the woodwork, trying to destroy him. He meets up with his old comrades trying to discover what sort of experiments the military did to them.
Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay is darkly spiritual and explores the mysteries of the mind. It is shocking, strange, and rides the line of sanity. The script is well structured and has a far darker tone than Rubin’s preceeding film, Ghost. Its use of time and space manipulations to unfold a mystery is very well done.Continue Reading
Loosely based on his autobiography written from behind bars, Chopper is the story of legendary Australian criminal Mark "Chopper" Read who garnered fame with his claim that he had killed up to seventeen people.
Andrew Dominik’s screenplay adaptation is wonderfully colorful and peppered with Aussie colloquialisms, while also being naturalistically brutal and raw. It is the type of story that pulls no punches and hits you in the face like a locomotive.Continue Reading
The 4th Man
Castration, murder, bisexuality, a man posed suggestively on a crucifix, and the line of dialogue, "Through Mary to Jesus," during an orgasm are just a few highlights from what I think might be one of the most devoutly Catholic films I have ever seen: Paul Verhoeven's The 4th Man. Actually, the film might just be trying to make some sort of statement about the "artist as Christ." I can't be too sure. Either way, and more importantly, it's a richly atmospheric thriller that's as unforgettably funny as it is horrific.
Jeroen Krabbe stars as Gerard Reve, an alcoholic, Catholic novelist from Holland who has risen to considerable fame for being an artist who "lies the truth." After an egotistical Q&A celebrating his work in Vlissingen, he is seduced by Christine Halsslag (Renee Soutendijk) who insists that he spend the night at her hotel/hair salon before returning home. While drawn to Christine ("You have the body of a young boy"), Gerard immediately receives both symbolic and blatantly grotesque warnings of danger through his dreams and encounters with some of the town's people. He chooses to ignore them; however, when he finds out that Christine is also involved with a man named Herman (Thom Hoffman), the writer decides he must have Herman even if it kills him. While sort of playing Christine to get closer to Herman, Gerard stumbles onto some information about the woman's past that might unveil a more terrifying reality than any of his fantasies.Continue Reading
Carve Her Name With Pride
Honestly, I picked this one up because of the cover. The title struck me, as did the image of a flaxen-haired beauty brandishing a handgun. This is the true life story of British spy Violette Szabo (Virginia McKenna). Since her real life was gussied up for this film, I am simply going to refer to the film, not her life. Widowed in 1942 (her husband was a French soldier), she is propositioned to act as a liaison between British and French troops. Being fluent in French and athletics, she was a swell candidate. We follow her journey from 1940-1944. It’s a nice time-warp to a period when evil was so easily defined. Nazis? Yes, EVIL! Torn between her only daughter and fulfilling her civic duty, she quickly decides to leave the former behind and finish what she felt her husband had been fighting for. We follow her to her unfortunate end in 1944.
I found the film highly enjoyable, in part from the very subtle camera work and non-invasive directing. In a scene when Violette is handed her husband’s death letter by her mother, we simply see a door close. This was a very subdued and nice touch that goes along with the slight tension throughout the film. We don’t see her reaction to her husband’s death, and more importantly we never see McKenna overact. Her military training is fun to watch. Akin to a less nefarious Le Femme Nikita situation. Training montage, nasty drill instructor, and hijinks all included. There is a very striking scene of her wandering the streets of a German occupied French city while on her first mission. A stark contrast to the lightness of her home life in London.Continue Reading
An ex-con straight out of prison travels from the U.K. to sunny Los Angeles to uncover the hidden truth of his only daughter’s mysterious death in a fiery car crash. What he finds is a world that is completely foreign to him and he goes on a rampage to settle the score.
The screenplay by Lem Dobbs is a gritty, darkly comic take on the classic revenge film—a sort of American version of Mike Hodge’s classic Get Carter. The script is lively and uniquely told, providing some wonderfully original moments and dialogue.Continue Reading
In Julian Schnabel’s intimate portrait of an artist, Jeffery Wright exploded on the film scene as Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti artist turned international painter. The story is about his rise and fall amidst the New York elite, his friendship with Andy Warhol, and the women he loves.
After a successful painting career, Julian Schnabel (Oscar nominee for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) made his feature debut as a writer-director in this tribute to the life of his friend. His screenplay is simple, but efficient and his direction is gentle and compassionate -- bringing out wonderful performances from a brilliantly cast group of actors. He also does a great job of incorporating the music to define the times and emotions of the moment.Continue Reading
When I read the play "Born Yesterday," a comedy written by Garson Kanin, I was dying to watch the adapted classic film. The tale itself is so simple yet brilliant: a Pygmalion story. A man shapes a woman into his likeness and then falls in love with her. Add on a backdrop set in post-World War II in a hotel with a view of the White House, and the story becomes politically analytical. Kanin weaves his characters and elements together so flawlessly, in a manner that asks the audience to think about morality, social class, relations between the sexes, and intelligence subconsciously, while watching the plot unfold.
I finally had a chance to watch the film, and Judy Holliday and William Holden arrested my attention full-heartedly.Continue Reading