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).
Back in ’77 the film Sorcerer was considered a mega-bomb, both artistically and financially. Coming off the mammoth success of both The French Connection and The Exorcist, it would mark the beginning of an enormous career decline for director William Friedkin. However in retrospect, Sorcerer is one badass action thriller and one of the most underrated films of the '70s.
By the end of the decade many of Friedkin’s peers, that great class of '70s film directors who set a new benchmark with their important and revolutionary films earlier in the decade, seemed to get bitten with the overindulgent bug. After years of hitting it out of the park, a number of these "geniuses" created what were considered duds with would-be epics. Spielberg had the loud 1941, Scorsese made the boring musical New York, New York, Coppola put forth the unwatchable One From The Heart, and Bogdanovich had a string of disasters. And of course Michael Cimino, after the success of The Deer Hunter, would help to sink a whole studio with his artsy Western Heaven’s Gate (which was derided for years, but more recently has found a new wave of critical support). Then it was Friedkin's turn to swing for his home run. For his epic he would do a remake of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot's adventure movie, Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages Of Fear). Clouzot had of course also done the greatest French mystery thriller of all time, the more Hitchcockian than Hitchcock Les Diaboliques (Diabolique). Friedkin developed the remake for superstar Steve McQueen to head the international cast. Sorcerer was green-lighted with a budget that in its day made it a big, big event movie. But unfortunately McQueen got sick and then died and the film never made back its bucks. But what ended up on the screen is wildly spectacular filmmaking.Continue Reading
Ludwig Wittgenstein is perhaps one of the more neurotic and bizarre philosophers that I’ve read thus far. Seeing any kind of interpretation of his life and measures of reason would be an oddly enjoyable migraine. Thankfully, our good friend Derek Jarman made a sort of homoerotic comedy that attempts to interpret his life and philosophical debates. I took the risk and gave it a try simply because Jarman himself seems to be a bit of a philosopher (perhaps if he had a favorite, it might be Wittgenstein). In what films I have seen of his, all of them tend to be laden with personal unease from his psyche. In that sense, his films are very exclusive and cater to his beliefs and sexuality. Watching Wittgenstein was sort of like sitting in a room with the director debating various issues and it just so happens that his side of the argument is better served through tangible images, rather than words.
To make a long story short, you might not enjoy Wittgenstein if you don’t care for his philosophy (or philosophy in general), much less a farce of it. Aside from the content, the film’s style might also be off-putting. It’s sort of like a stageless play where everything is set against black, similar to Lars von Trier’s Dogville, but even more minimal in terms of props and stage design.Continue Reading
To be considered the "second coming" of anything is a huge weight to carry upon one’s shoulders. Caravaggio is the story of Michelangelo Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), a painter who is seen as the new Michelangelo amongst his supporters, and a priest who discovered him while he was a teenage prostitute. The film shifts between three stages of Caravaggio’s life: his adolescence, his middle-aged years, and finally, his last few days on his deathbed where he dies slowly, in agony and in exile. The entire film is set in a timeless Vienna, part regal and part modern, which seems to be the norm in Jarman’s films.
In his adolescence, Caravaggio (Dexter Fletcher) is a hustler, using his paintings to make extra money on the streets or taking direction from his "guardian" to return home with the male buyers when their interest is not in his paintings. His work is mainly mimetic and consists of still-lifes of fruit or people, and eventually falls into the hands of a priest whose church looks after Caravaggio once he becomes gravely ill for the first time. He then begins a sort of commission for the church in exchange for money and support, ironically or purposefully similar to the late Michelangelo in reality. This sponsorship continues into his adulthood, but his work changes from the simply mimicry of objects and people into the bold representations of them. With each painting, he uses live models to recreate sorrowful, if not gruesome details of the human condition.Continue Reading
The Day of the Locust
Adaptations of quintessentially L.A. novels tend to either work marvelously, as with L.A. Confidential, or don't quite measure up to their source material (a category I’d lump Ask the Dust into). John Schlesinger’s adaptation of The Day of the Locust was a costly misfire for Paramount Studios which spent something like 6 months on the film and a whole lot of dough. It could have been as influential as Chinatown, but it was a flop upon release, though ultimately it had some enduring appeal as a cult film in later years. Nathaniel West’s novel is generally considered to be the very best novel on Hollywood, its more grotesque inhabitants, and its tragic allure as a festering dump where dreams go to die. That makes the novel sound sobering and self-serious but this is a story about fame whores, violently degenerate midgets, sociopathic child actors, cockfights, stag films, and a movie premiere that culminates in the apocalypse. It’s brutally dark and really, really entertaining.
The movie is essentially a literal adaptation of West’s novel and it came under criticism from some quarters for being too literal. Director John Schlesinger was taken to task for supposedly ignoring the arch satire of West's depiction of Hollywood as the epicenter of greed, desperation, and idiocy, and instead ratcheting up the cartoon nihilism to a fever pitch. But when you do a story about America’s pop cultural border town that ends with a murderous orgy of celebrity blood lust I’m not exactly sure "holding back" is the way to go. The Day of the Locust is about a particular kind of American tragedy that West found on Hollywood Boulevard during the 1930s. In the dive bars and diners that lined the boulevard were hundreds of desperate people without a nickel to their name, all drawn to Hollywood in the hopes of making it big. Most, West found, couldn’t even get work as extras. He saw them as a mass of human wreckage under the movie premiere kleig lights. The dark joke beneath the glittering dream that Hollywood came to embody was exquisitely rendered by West as it was happening. The film does justice to the novel with its horror show theatrics under the palm trees and sunny skies of Southern California and ultimately it’s more creepy than campy.Continue Reading
A Place In The Sun
The "American dream." Many of the WWII GIs and their wives thought they were living it. It was the goal. A place of respect in society. Materialism. Love. It was all promised…Or so they thought. The flaws in the dream were gradually exposed throughout the '50s and especially into the '60s. One of the first to do so was the great filmmaker, George Stevens, a WWII vet himself (he shot some of the most important war footage ever recorded, the liberation of Paris and the Nazi camp in Dachau). Using Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, as a springboard, Stevens showed the horror of the ambitious dreamer (it was also made into a rarely mentioned film by Josef von Sternberg in 1931).
What is now considered Stevens' so-called American Trilogy begins with A Place In The Sun and then goes on to include his greatest masterpiece, Shane, and then James Dean’s final film, the overlong Giant. He would follow up the cycle with the touching, but stagy, The Diary Of Anne Frank, in ’59. Unfortunately his disastrous biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told, in ’65 would more or less send him into early retirement as a director (he would pop out once more, five years later, for the Warren Beatty snoozer, The Only Game In Town). A Place In The Sun, in retrospect, is the perfect peek into the dark side of America in 1951. George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), a modest, steady young man, accepts a job from his rich uncle at a factory. He gets involved with a mousy co-worker, Alice (Shelley Winters), eventually knocking her up, a major inconvenience when he meets and falls for the boss’s wealthy, fast lane daughter Angela (Elizabeth Taylor at her most stunning). The two have an intense chemistry for each other. George gets a taste of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but he is stuck with his whiny pregnant girlfriend who is basically blackmailing him into marriage. George will do whatever it takes to get rid of Alice so he can get his share of what he thinks the world owes him.Continue Reading
Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974
Ever wish you could meet a strong-willed Japanese feminist from the '70s? Now's your chance. Director Kazuo Hara introduces us to a woman named Miyuki Takeda—his former lover, and one of the most impressive subjects to ever be captured on film. After leaving him and taking their child to travel from mainland Japan to Okinawa, Hara decides that the only way to stay connected with her and understand what happened in their relationship is to document her and those who enter her life after their time together. So from 1972 to 1974, Hara frequents Okinawa to film her, doing so with grace and capturing some amazing footage of locals as well.
In 1972, Miyuki begins a new relationship with a woman named Sugako. His presence throughout this segment caused tension and unease with the couple as their disoriented and sometimes abusive relationship unfolds onscreen. In this section of the documentary we are able to see an enormous transformation with Miyuki. Not only has she decided to abandon all aspects of her personality that would classify her as a "good wife," but also everything and anything that could prevent her or her son from becoming anything short of radical.Continue Reading
Guilty pleasures - or in the book world they are often referred to as beach books or popcorn or even junk food - you enjoy eating them or watching them or reading them but they have no nutritional content to them. The late '80s and early '90s were full of serviceable guilty pleasures, usually in the guise of thrillers. The genre hit its critical peak with the overrated Michael Douglas flick Fatal Attraction in '87 (that movie actually got a best picture Oscar nomination and that was back when they had a mere five elite films nominated). Superstar bum-flasher Douglas continued his reign as victim to the ladies lust, hitting his apex in '92 with the sleazy homophobia of Basic Instinct. Of course director Paul Verhoeven had done the same story much more effectively with his Dutch film, The 4th Man, ten years earlier.
Video cassettes and cable helped make the suspense genre a staple of movie watchers' subconscious. You may or may not remember the titles, but the films were popular in some form or another, ingested like a bag of potato chips, enjoyed that evening and forgotten the next day. Blink, Color Of Night, Dream Lover, The Last Seduction, Jennifer Eight, The Final Analysis, Jagged Edge, Suspect, Pacific Heights, blah blah blah, the list of title goes on. But for some reason there is one that I always remember. I guess I enjoyed it more than the others...Malice.Continue Reading
High Plains Drifter
Oh, the seventies, the best decade for movies ever! So often I see a film from that period and think, "they would never allow that to happen in a movie today." Case in point: High Plains Drifter. The year, 1973. This was a big movie for Universal, a big budget film. It was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood, who at that time was the biggest megastar in the world. Clint was playing the "hero" of the picture. Now you won't see this from a megastar in a movie today: in the first ten minutes or so he goes and rapes a woman, brutally in the light of day, while the people of the town ignore her plea for help (in Clint's defense, later in the film she comes back for more).
That's not the only naughty shenanigan Clint gets into. Clint's stranger, the new man in an unusually picturesque seaside Western town, is hired by the town's business class to protect their property from some revenge-seeking tough guys who recently got out of jail (those same business owners once employed them and when they got out of control, framed them and sent them to jail). And now Clint is the town's new protector and he seems to be hell-bent on his own kind of revenge against the town, in the form of humiliation. He takes advantage of his open tab to spend, he appoints the town little person as town sheriff and then, in preparation for the returning outlaws, he makes the town paint itself red (even the church is forced into being covered in paint).Continue Reading
Nénette et Boni
Sublime and well-stylized, Nenette et Boni is like being trapped in the mind and lucid dreams of a French teenage boy in present day. Obviously one cannot think of male youth in France as one exact personality, so to help get a better understanding of Boni, let’s just say that he meets the equivalent of a "bro" here in the States. Boni (Gregoire Colin) is obsessed with the macho lifestyle that has been heavily influenced by current American hip-hop. He shares the general ode to womanizing, nice things, rough sex, and especially the overall "I do as I please" sort of moral. He lives in his deceased mother's house and is out of contact with his father, who moved away with his younger sister Nenette after their parents’ divorce. During the day he operates a pizza truck and spends every moment of his free time fantasizing about a married woman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who runs local bakery with her husband (Vincent Gallo).
Nenette (Alice Houri) is his estranged sister who has recently run away from her boarding school. As a minor with nowhere to go, she returns to her childhood home only to greet her disgruntled and immature brother with disdain. He agrees to let her hide out in the home only because she confesses that she is carrying a child, but he consistently bullies her and threatens to send her back to their father, comically nicknamed "Mr. Light Bright" for owning a decorative lighting store, which Boni vandalizes on occasion. But throughout their re-acquaintance, new tensions are added by their father who wants Nenette to return home when he discovers that Boni is hiding her in his ex-wife’s home. So here an odd allegiance takes place between them, fueled both by their mutual hatred for their father and the new marriage-like domestic roles that they've taken on.Continue Reading
"Cinema is not magic. It’s a technique and a science. A technique born of science and the service of a will. The will of the workers to free themselves." — Irma Vep
When you come from a culture that has accepted a standard of taste, how do you produce something radical? Irma Vep is the story of Rene Vidal (Jean-Pierre Leaud), a director who has fallen out of favor in French cinema. The film juxtaposes two stances of French cinematic taste: those who see old-fashioned and beautiful cinema to be superior, and those who detest the old and want to make room for the new. In attempts to revitalize his career, Rene decides to direct a silent re-make of Louis Feuillade’s silent film, Les Vampires (1915). In choosing a woman to play the film’s heroine, Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire), he wants to find someone with the grace of a feline and the edge of a thief, ultimately deciding not to use a French actress.Continue Reading