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).
Not counting the fairly recent 300, the '60s produced my favorite gay films: Basil Dearden’s Victim, Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George, and particularly Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter's The Servant. The three form a trilogy to my mind: all are British; like the kitchen sink realism of the period, they foreground class in their sexual politics; both The Victim and The Servant feature Dirk Bogarde, the finest of cerebral actors, making you feel every thought his characters have; Losey trained and will always be closely aligned with Robert Aldrich. Although Aldrich was more of a bare-knuckles kind of director, his film shares with the more intellectual Losey an approach to sexual identity and politics that I prefer: as a just-so given, full of suggestion, and with a good deal of nuance.
Compare the matter-of-fact presentation of lesbianism in Sister George -- where the indignities heaped upon its protagonist, June 'George' Buckridge, are more common, a fact of modern existence -- to the more literal minded identity politics of Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. In the latter case, oppression becomes a matter of sexual identity, whereas in the former, said identity is just another method those in power might use as a means for subjugation. Not that there's anything wrong with the more particularized morality of Philadelphia in principle (Victim is, in fact, a much better example), but unless one already sympathizes with its gay protagonist, the story remains one about the Other. Aldrich’s film requires no such identification, but is instead a reflection of power itself, irrespective of the particularities of sexual orientation or gender.Continue Reading
This 1979 thriller is a frightening look into the threat of nuclear fallout, a concept that appears to have been somewhat marginalized in the current state of popular consciousness. Once in awhile I find that it is a swell idea to reinforce the state of one's own nuclear paranoia with an evening movie devoted to the subject. The China Syndrome is the perfect film for such an occasion.
Jane Fonda stars as Kimberly Wells, an ambitious "soft news" reporter who finds herself in the right place at the wrong time when an unexplained mishap occurs at a Southern Californian Nuclear Power plant while reporting on a series about energy production. It is here that her cameraman Richard Adams, who is played by Michael Douglas, secretly films the incident from an observation room as it takes place behind soundproof glass in the control room down below. As Wells and Adams embark on an investigation as to what actually happened in that control room and attempt to air their story they find themselves ensnared in a web of deception and resistance.Continue Reading
On the Waterfront
Elia Kazan is one of the most passionate and intelligent directors of classic cinema. Even surrounded by controversy in his time, he continued to make films in which he knew exactly what he wanted to say to the American audience, who emitted a mixed response towards the film.
On the Waterfront is no exception. The idea of the screenplay, written by Budd Schulberg, was formed after The New York Sun put out an expose series about a 1948 murder of a hiring boss on the New York waterfront. The stories, reported by Malcolm Johnson, explained the corruption, extortion, and killings of everyday life on the waterfront. The protagonist of the film, Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, is an ex-prizefighter who becomes a longshoreman. His character is based on real-life longshoreman Anthony DiVincenzo, who recounted his story to writer Budd Schulberg. This is not a typical mob-story. It deals with the Waterfront Crime Commision, was filmed on location around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, and alludes to issues of loyalty and truth within post-war American society.Continue Reading
The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. I
Wordless imagery, saturated colors, avant-garde, myth-ridden – a few of a handful of terms to describe Kenneth Anger’s short films. His work is dazzling, surreal, and certainly a hallmark that pioneered the very language of music videos.
Prior to this UCLA Film Archive high definition digital transfer, these early films of Anger were difficult to view. This collection of work is only a part of his work; several others can be found in Volume II. Here, we have his early works, Fireworks, Puce Moment, Rabbit’s Moon, Eaux d’Artifice, and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, each savory in magical moments, imagination, rituals, and pop-song splendor.Continue Reading
The Professional (known as Leon in its European version) is the tale of a quiet, simple man who kills for a living. Once his drug dealing neighbors are executed by a gang of crooked cops, Leon takes their surviving daughter under his wing and begins teaching her the ropes of his business.
Writer-Director Luc Besson (The 5th Element) revisits the world of professional assassins that put him on the international map with his earlier tale, Le Femme Nikita. With The Professional, he gives a new and fresh take on the genre by exploring a strange and beautiful relationship between a hired gun and a little girl seeking revenge. The script is tight and well paced, while Besson’s direction is perhaps the best in his long career. The action direction is amazingly well done, most especially in the blaze of glory final act.Continue Reading
The Royal Tenenbaums
Following his indie breakthrough Bottle Rocket and his critically acclaimed sophomore effort Rushmore, director Wes Anderson creates the most complete film of his career so far. Written by him and Owen Wilson, the script is top-notch, running the gamut of human emotion while finding the humor in its flaws. The characters are unique and complex, the cast is full of brilliant actors, and the film is directed beautifully.
Screen legend Gene Hackman (Unforgiven) plays the family’s patriarch, “Royal Tenebaum”-- a man of high intelligence but lacking in morals and scruples. A disgraced and disbarred lawyer, Royal dupes his family into believing he is dying of cancer in order to find his way back into their lives. Hackman is an actor who always delivers, but, in this, plays one of the most unique and hilarious characters in his very long and impressive career.Continue Reading
The Arrangement (1969)
Thanks to my co-worker Jackie for throwing this one my way after telling her how much I enjoy Richard Lester’s Petulia.
Here’s another success from jack-of-all-trades Elia Kazan. This time around he’s mining the tumult of the white-collar male psyche amidst 1960s america. This was a time when veteran and rookie American filmmakers were absorbing the groundbreaking editing and storytelling techniques of European behemoths like Bertolucci, Bunuel & Bergman, and regurgitating them into something wholly new. Something prime Americana. This particular example is a great meeting place for leaders of the old guard (Kazan, Douglas & Kerr) rubbing elbows with a dash of the then-newer crop (Dunaway). This vehicle ends up working as a social mixer for the classic styles of Kazan’s past and the fresh ideas coming in from across the Atlantic. The resulting product nests roughly between the realms of a classic melodrama and a surrealist psychological satire.Continue Reading
Few directors choose to take risks within cinema, and when they do, they reveal ideas in the most intriguing and significant ways. Michael Haneke, in his film Code Unknown, definitely gives his viewers something to take home, long after they’ve watched it. Like a string of Venn-diagrams, the film is a series of segments loosely tied by the intersection of characters in Paris, France, and the subtext goes far beyond just that. The scenes allude to the missed communication within a society blinded by tension caused by differences in race, age, class, and backgrounds in a disheveled European nation. Here is the rare portrayal of Paris as an intellectual discourse, and while less violent compared to Funny Games or CachÃ©, the film is still pointedly bold, high-minded, and socially aware.
What does “code unknown” really mean? We find out a glimpse of this answer in the beginning scene, set in a school of deaf children. A girl is acting out a scene in front of her classmates. They guess what she is attempting to convey: “Alone?” “Hiding in place?” She shakes her head at each conjecture. The simplicity combined with mystery of this scene is an appropriate overture for the rest of the film.Continue Reading
The Girl Can’t Help It
The Girl Can’t Help It is a pop art explosion of retina melting Deluxe Color insanity built around several incredible performances from some of rock 'n' roll’s earliest and best groups. It could have been just another teensploitation picture meant to capitalize on American teenage culture of the mid-1950s and the “fad” of rock 'n' roll music, but in the hands of director Frank Tashlin it becomes a delirious candy colored satire of the music industry and the commoditization of sex to sell records.
Frank Tashlin started his career as an animator for Looney Tunes, and it is said that his cartoons were more like films and his films were more like cartoons. There is a gleeful anarchic streak that runs through his movies, and the clever satire of American life that was his directorial hallmark can be as essential to understanding the America of the 1950s as the work of Douglas Sirk (Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows). Tashlin worked with a lot of musical comedy performers that we consider pretty hokey now (Bob Hope, Martin & Lewis, Doris Day) but it’s surprising how smart and genuinely funny the films in which he directed them are. He was a proto pop artist using the shiny gaudy images he created as a send up of celebrity, advertising, and pop culture and their detrimental effect on the American public. Although he had no great love for rock 'n’ roll, with The Girl Can’t Help It Tashlin inadvertently made one of the best rock 'n’ roll movies of all time.Continue Reading
Rachel Getting Married
So, I'll go ahead and use a fussy distinction, and call Jonathan Demme's film cinÃ©ma direct, rather than cinÃ©ma vÃ©ritÃ©, since it calls more attention to its subject than itself. It's grueling enough to deserve the three accent marks, however. Unlike the use of the shaky-cam in Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, Demme and his cinematographer, Declan Quinn, always keep the camera in the objective, 3rd-person tense. They also, thankfully, keep it more transparent than Paul Greengrass's more navel-gazing camera eye. While moving room to room, the audience floats along, but when the wedding party guests are talking, the filmmakers fix the shot, remembering that modern cameras can re-focus on stuff in the background without having to move. Whatever you call it, Rachel Getting Married is realism at its squirm-inducing most direct.
Jenny Lumet's script rarely hits a wrong note in analyzing a particular bourgeois Connecticut family's power struggles that are inherent to most families. Whereas my family get-togethers center on frito-pie and football, Rachel's wedding involves Indian attire and cuisine with Robyn Hitchcock and Cyro Baptista supplying the entertainment. All attention is being paid to Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) until her younger sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway), shows up with a weekend pass from court-mandated rehab. What follows is the gentrified version of the Electra Complex. The sisters compete for attention from Dad (Bill Irwin) using what they have: Rachel is the perfect daughter with some undefined perfect job, perfect friends (successful musicians and writers) and a perfect fiancÃ©, whereas Kym is the classic second-child fuckup, with drug addiction being her calling card.Continue Reading