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).
Yes, yes, we’ve all heard of the celebrated Nosferatu – its cinematic importance, the legendary back-story of how it was almost lost to the ages due to legal injunctions, blah blah blah – and some people, having watched the film, know how bad many of the available DVD releases have been cropped and look/sound terrible, so it’s good news for jaded movie/horror nuts that Kino Video not too long ago released a specially re-done single-DVD “Restored Authorized Edition” (authorized by the F.W. Murnau Foundation, natch, NOT Bram Stoker’s widow) and a genuinely deluxe “Ultimate DVD Edition” two-disc badboy.
Ordinarily, I’m not a sucker for “re-master & re-package” jobs but I sing the praises of whomever did the deed of remastering the film elements for the DVD transfer; the movie looks gorgeous and crisp with new tinting, as per the original studio intent, and with the hi def-ready transfer many of the scenes look as if they’d been filmed just recently, not 85 years and counting. The super-treat on the two-disc edition for me, however, was the triple-whammy of the original German version (as original and complete as we’ll probably get, anyways) and an Anglo-phile version with improved English title-cards. That, and a terrific near-hour-long documentary, The Language of Shadows, laden with neat behind-the-scenes details of F.W. Murnau’s wicked life and of the failure of the producers to win in court and at the almighty box-office, really gives us some bang for our greenbacks.Continue Reading
The Naked Prey
Lean, intense and pictorially spectacular, The Naked Prey made a big impression when I saw it as a teenager in its original theatrical release. My high school buddy Todd McCarthy – today Variety’s chief film critic – saw it with me, and for years he called me “Gampu” in honor of Morrison Gampu, one of its leading native players.
The story is based on a true incident in which a member of Lewis and Clark’s expeditionary party was tracked by Blackfoot Indians in a tribal “run of the arrow.” Actor-director Cornel Wilde’s film transposes the tale to 19th-century Africa: After the members of his safari are captured and brutally massacred by a native tribe, one courageous member of the party (Wilde) is given a fighting chance, and is released into the bush naked and unarmed, pursued by 10 fierce warriors. In the wild, he is imperiled by human and natural predators.Continue Reading
Warm and wonderful, Pedro Almodovar's Volver resonates with his favorite subjects: women, secrets and the transformative power of love. Framed with light suspense, rich imagery and sensuous color are amazing performances by the entire cast, most notably a voluptuous Penelope Cruz. Her courageous and spirited Raimunda is a struggling mother stuck in a bad marriage and bravely fulfilling the role of matriarch, not only to her sister and daughter but to a community of women loosely tied by tradition and committed through love. When her mother reappears as a ghost, Raimunda's life gets infinitely more complicated.
Violence and religious mysticism are catalysts and cards to the emotional evolution of all the characters but are hardly the point. As secrets are unveiled, the once shelled lives become full again with redemption and understanding and life seems to right itself, as if waiting for the perfect miracle. The weak become strong, the strong - weak, youth gains wisdom and age renews its joy for life.Continue Reading
3:10 To Yuma
The Western is showing signs of regained life, and no picture is a better example of the renascent genre than 3:10 to Yuma. Inspired by an Elmore Leonard story and originally filmed in 1957 with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, the remake sports compelling performances by its leads, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
The notorious murderer and robber Ben Wade (Crowe) is captured, and struggling farmer Dan Evans (Bale) accepts an offer of $200 to join a motley posse and pack the criminal onto a train to the state prison at Yuma. During an arduous, violent journey, the group is menaced by renegade Indians, rogue lawmen, and Wade’s gang, and the charismatic, deadly Wade presents a threat all by himself.Continue Reading
A Star is Born (1937)
A Star is Born. What a title. It promises greatness, wish fulfillment and a kind of immortality. What could sustain such a fire? What could possibly bring forth such legendary light? Even a star has humble beginnings and we meet our speck of star dust in a provincial home on a snowy day in Smalltown, USA. It is classic Americana movie making that marries depression era silents to the slow emerging prosperity of WWII America still harboring a romantic vision of manifest destiny.
There is an embittered aunt, a struggling pop, a bright but unformed kid brother, but most importantly and impressively a wise grandmother played with brilliance by May Robson. If you ever need inspiration watch her speech to Janet Gaynor's young and determined Esther, as she encourages her to follow her dreams of being an actress in Hollywood. It practically sings with the spirit of the wild west, not to mention female empowerment.Continue Reading
Zodiac is a smart, taut, and engrossing film about the titular, self-named serial killer who terrorized Northern California in the late ‘60s. The murderer, who was never caught, remains a phantom in David Fincher’s drama; the director of Se7en instead focuses his versatile camera on the men whose pursuit of the elusive, taunting psychopath evolves into obsession over the course of years.
After a bang-up opening – Zodiac’s second attack – the film enters the newsroom of the San Francisco Chronicle, where crime-beat reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) learn of the killer’s bravado letter to the paper. Soon, a murder in San Francisco pulls lead investigator Dave Tosci (Mark Ruffalo) into the vortex. The action follows the three men as they become increasingly consumed while leads dry up, a key suspect appears, and Zodiac mocks the police and the press as the case drags on.Continue Reading
If you know nothing about film noir, start with Double Indemnity. This classic by director Billy Wilder was among the first bona fide pictures in the postwar genre, and it contains all the essential elements – lust, greed, violence, betrayal – that animated this wondrous American style during its great epoch of the 1940s and ‘50s.
Based on a novel by hardboiled fiction forefather James M. Cain, the biting script was co-authored by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, creator of detective Philip Marlowe. The brutal, sleazy tale is recounted (in traditional voiceover style) by canny but weak-willed Los Angeles insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who is ensnared by the scheming trollop Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). The pair hatch a complicated plot to murder her wealthy husband and collect a large double indemnity insurance policy. But they don’t reckon on the acute intuition of Neff’s friend and co-worker, claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), whose “little man” in the pit of his stomach tells him something isn’t quite right.Continue Reading
Ace In The Hole
Though it doesn’t revolve around a murder or a heist, Ace in the Hole remains a definitive film noir. Bitter, caustic, and unremittingly dark, it prophesied our age of journalistic madness as it focused on a literal “media circus” developed by a story-hungry press.
In a virtuoso performance that equals his turn in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a down-on-his-heels newsman who desperately takes a job at a tank-town Albuquerque paper. He stumbles on the headline of a lifetime after the owner of a roadside diner is trapped in an abandoned mineshaft while hunting for Indian artifacts. Envisioning a Pulitzer Prize and a return to the big time in New York, Tatum ruthlessly controls the story, befriending the terrified victim (Richard Benedict), romancing his slatternly wife (Jan Sterling), and cynically working local authorities and big-city editors. Then things start to come apart…Continue Reading
Witchfinder General is a small classic of English horror that only recently saw re-release in its intended form. Originally distributed as The Conqueror Worm, to capitalize on the Edgar Allan Poe vehicles of its star Vincent Price, Michael Reeves’ film has previously been seen with incongruous narration and extraneous nudity added and its original score excised. A 2007 DVD restoration righted these wrongs, and it can now be experienced in all its chilling glory.
In 17th century England, chaos descends as civil war rages between King Charles I’s Parliamentarians and Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. “Witchfinder” Matthew Hopkins (Price) roams the countryside extracting “confessions” from accused witches and collecting a fee for each hanging and drowning, abetted by the sadistic torturer and rapist John Stearne (Robert Russell). A young coronet in Cromwell’s insurgent army (Ian Ogilvy) and his fiancÃ©e (Hilary Dwyer) become entangled with the murderous Hopkins.Continue Reading
Once is a love story masquerading as a musical disguised as a documentary. It is pure bliss from start to finish. Two lost souls find one another through music and then nudge each other back into life. I never once thought about the budget (which was tiny) or the acting (by 2 musicians) or even the director (who is amazing because he is completely invisible). From the opening scene where one of our heroes is unabashedly singing out his broken heart to its counterpoint towards the end where the other quietly lets out her own, I was snugly fitted into the camera lens that follows, captures and reveals them at tender, quiet, and charmingly awkward moments.
The movie is 60 percent music but it doesn't feel like a musical. It feels like a movie with a really good soundtrack. Better than any montage, each song is laden with romantic reminiscence and searching allowing us to stretch closer to the characters . This leaves enough mystery, enabling the story to unfold without compromise. If you hate the singer/songwriter Once might not be for you. But if you have an ounce of sentiment and a dash of a want-to-be-musician jones this is it.Continue Reading