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).
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
We’ll never know for sure, but audiences may have fared better last year if Harrison Ford had directed the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Why not have let Mark Hammil try his hand at helming The Phantom Menace? Most fourth installments have little cinematic merit and do dismally at the box-office (Alien Resurrection, Batman and Robin, if you needed more examples.) So, if you’re a studio executive and you’ve still got three kids from two different marriages to put through college, what can you possibly do to make your third sequel work? Have a completely inexperienced lead actor from the franchise direct it, which is what happened when Leonard Nimoy assumed directorial duties for the second time on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, his first proverbial rodeo being Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. And here’s why Leonard could do what Steven, George, Jean-Pierre, and Joel could not: actors who are committed to the franchise have spent years reading scripts by other writers thinking, “If I was writing this, this would be so much better.” They’ve got a cache of ideas to benefit the series, rather than an interloping director approaching the project as an opportunity to put his mark on the franchise. The Voyage Home was the second highest grossing film of the series and a popular film with fans of the TV show and Star Trek neophytes alike.
The film documents a particularly bad day in the history of the Federation. Not only is the entire crew of the Enterprise on trial for disobeying orders and various assorted hijinks (plot remnants from the second and third films), the survival of Earth is threatened by a highly destructive alien probe that only speaks one language: humpback whale. Unfortunately, Earth’s largest mammals became extinct at the end of the 21st century. It looks like the probe’s unintentional annihilation of the planet is imminent, that is until Spock gets a wacky idea to time travel back in time to the 1980s and abduct some Earth whales to bring back to the future so they can tell the probe what it can do with itself, in whale song. The highly likeable middle section of the film takes place in modern day San Francisco and employs the person-from-the-future-out-of-water scenario to great comedic effect. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s talent for pitch-perfect timing and deadpan delivery is a welcome relief from the depressing eeriness of The Search for Spock. Dr. “Bones” McCoy is back to his sassy self after having spent the entirety of the previous film going crazy sharing his brain with Spock’s immortal soul and the writers allow themselves some political commentary by introducing some Cold War humor via Commander Pavel Chekov’s character. The ensemble’s ease with the material and their characters was undoubtedly facilitated by being directed by one of their own, and the atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie is reminiscent of the quality that made the Rat Pack so popular, but without the misogyny and the alcoholism. If you like laughs, good times, or both, Star Trek IV is a journey to the outer reaches of fun at warp speed.Continue Reading
It is hard to review this movie and not mention the tragic death of its writer/director Adrienne Shelly. For a young woman in the 90's she was an unsung hero, portraying women who didn't want to be beautiful, or famous or even in love. Hal Hartley used his muse to create a female Woody Allen - funny, smart and confused by her own search for the unnameable. Ms. Shelley never failed in being simply interesting while taking in strange events and strange worlds unfolding around her. She emanated compassion with a steely sense of self preservation. I missed her presence for many years and when I heard about Waitress I felt her new day was coming and long over due. The violent crime against her fills me with such anger. That her future of telling her own stories is gone fills me with pain. There is no poetry in her death but because of who she was in the history of film there is a strong reminder that women must be ever vigilant against those who would silence us.
Waitress has enough of her compassion, hilarious practicality plus delicious pies to keep any viewer satisfied. Our young heroine, Keri Russell, is less than overjoyed at finding herself pregnant by her domineering and abusive husband. She falls into an affair with her doctor and dreams of making an escape by entering a pie contest which would free her from her unhappy story. Her fellow waitresses provide touching and absolute comic genius thanks to Cheryl Hines and Shelley herself. Nathan Fillion and Jeremy Sisto are no simple caricatures as the doctor and husband and as a bonus Eddie Jemison gives a unique and slightly sociopathic performance of spontaneous poetry reading as Shelly's courting beau. However, the jewel of casting is Andy Griffith as the grumpy diner regular. What a joy to see this veteran actor have some real fun and still make us feel like he could be the Pops that would teach us how to fish.Continue Reading
Out of Sight
Out of Sight is the story of a bank robber (Clooney) and his loyal sidekick (Rhames) who bust out of prison and abduct a U.S. Marshal (Lopez) on their way to heist millions in diamonds from an ex-con billionaire (Brooks).Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) directs a film that defies genres, making one of the most unique crime films in modern cinema. It’s both an interesting double-crossing caper and a brilliant romantic-comedy. Elliot Davis’ cinematography is fluid, mainly hand held, capturing wonderfully large and small moments alike. He makes great use of the color palette to differentiate the many locations, from the humid plains of a Florida prison to the gritty streets of steely Detroit. Scott Frank’s screenplay is smart, funny, and filled with crackling dialogue delivered by wonderfully colorful characters. There is no novelist who creates more endearing, seedy underworld characters to adapt to the big screen than Elmore Leonard. There is always a haze of gray in the morality of the characters-- whether it is the law or their criminal counterparts. It’s worth noting that some of the best scenes are additions made by Scott Frank. They fit so well within the paradigm of the world that it is impossible to discern which ones they are.
Anne V. Coates’ great use of non-linear editing throws us around in time and space, dolling out dimension to the large cast of personalities. Making great use of jump cuts and freeze frames, Out of Sight has the rhythm and style of a French New Wave film. David Holmes’ score is ultra-hip and reminiscent of crime cinema of 1970s, giving it a happy-go-lucky air.Continue Reading
From the opening sounds of sad circus music flowing into disco, you feel you are in for something unique. As the camera tracks across a street into a bustling nightclub, introducing us to a large array of characters in one take, you know you are in for one hell of a spectacle...
Boogie Nights is an epic tail about life in the swinging seventies through the lens of the porno industry of Southern California. It explores the transition of the business into the 1980s, where film was switched out for video, and the roof caved in for many. But it’s not simply a story of the sex trade—it’s about family. Although somewhat warped, the group of porn stars connect together as if they were brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.Continue Reading
Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
Well, here we have an 80s film that was often referenced by those riot grrls.Continue Reading
With his 2005 film Caché Michael Haneke established himself as the most viciously insightful critic of the liberal educated class and he identified the demons that lurk beneath the surface of even the most enlightened and attractive among them. Seeing as his movies play to a pretty discerning worldwide audience it seems that the kind of people who love Haneke might also be guilty of having a serious masochistic streak. He does not soften the blow. Instead, he refuses, almost sadistically so, to cater to the expectations of the audience by following conventional genre ideas about how to construct a psychological thriller. Haneke is more interested in the deconstruction of why we feel it so necessary to have our impulses for “entertainment” rewarded. With the disorienting glitches that he throws into his film throughout —such as scenes that improbably begin to rewind out of nowhere—it’s as if he’s surgically removing the audience’s comfort zone one layer at a time until you are left with what he considers to be the truth of the matter. His films have a dry, suffocating, almost clinical feel that can give them the ambience of an extended lecture. He is a provocateur but he has his reasons.
Caché is a politically charged thriller but it might make sense to forget about what “politically charged thriller” typically means. This is not the Manchurian Candidate. Caché is about a well-to-do Parisian couple with seemingly perfect lives. The husband Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) are the toast of the Parisian literati. They live in a townhouse. They have a teenage son on the swim team.Continue Reading
A few years ago a film premiered at Sundance starring several major blockbuster stars, shot by a couple of music video directors, and produced by a small, but successful Hollywood production company. Because of an aggressive marketing campaign and a highly publicized distribution deal, the film won several Academy Awards and made more than $100 million. Regardless of its high star wattage, its directors’ wealth of commercial experience, and Hollywood development credentials, it was still termed an “independent film.” 11 years previous, for 1/50th of its modern counterpart’s budget, Party Girl was made in New York by a first time filmmaker, starring an actress who, except for a notable supporting turn in a Richard Linklater comedy, had had only small character parts in independent films. Party Girl was accepted into Sundance that year and garnered only a limited theatrical run. But over the years through word of mouth, it has become a beloved cult hit, quoted ad nauseam by its devotees, whose ranks multiply yearly.
The plot seems at first utterly conventional, straying between nominally feminist chick flick to slacker comedy. Downtown It girl Mary (Parker Posey) is unemployed, on the verge of eviction, and “fabulous,” which in movie parlance means she wears quirky outfits and uses her acerbic wit against her friends. When she gets arrested for turning her apartment into a makeshift nightclub, Mary is bailed out by her godmother, Judy, a librarian. In order to pay Judy back and to prove herself to as capable and trustworthy, Mary becomes a clerk at Judy’s library. Gaining her good opinion is complicated by Judy’s constant panting that she can’t trust Mary because she reminds her so much of her mother, an irrational grousing that is the movie’s only major flaw. Mary’s mother may have been quite the party-goer, but many young women are, and one can’t hold young people accountable for doing the same things that their parents did when they were the same age. I would be extremely frustrated if my grandparents always said, “Gillian, you’re such a bleeding heart liberal, just like your mother was when she was your age. I won’t be surprised if you end up getting divorced, too.”Continue Reading
Delicatessen: A Pound of Perfection HUNGER: I hate waiting to eat. Especially when I'm starving. I become cranky. My cinematic appetite has been drooling for the domestic DVD release of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's Delicatessen for years now. Fortunately my French film fast has come to an end. ODD STORY SHORT: An out-of-work circus performer shows up at a butcher shop in the middle of a post-apocalyptic wasteland to answer an ad for a handy man. The Butcher, also the landlord, has an agenda and a clumsy yet adorable wallflower of a daughter. The neighbors run the eccentric gamut. Have you ever met a troglodyte? And more importantly, what do you eat after an apocalypse? Let's just say few things go as planned. THE GOODS: Coming from the worlds of animation and advertising most likely gave Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro much time to experiment with various aspects of film design. This is put to the test on screen to great effect. Amazing sequences are played out like well-crafted jokes or the tumbling of an elaborate domino configuration. I can't help but feel one or both of the filmmakers are Charlie Chaplin fans. The visual landscape is rich and lived-in, drenched in musty browns, reds and greens. The characters can be quite cartoonish at times, only adding to the over-all oddity of this world. I believe in this "strange France" even though I can only visit via my DVD player. EXTRAS: Aside from the film the DVD includes some interesting tid bits. Included are: all the trailers (including teasers), a document of the filming, Jeunet's own archive footage and best of all a director's commentary track (in French with subtitles). The commentary track is done solo by Jeunet. It would appear for whatever reason that Mr. Caro has excluded himself from all the extra features. He is virtually not seen or heard outside of th...Continue Reading
What will the Europe of the future look like? In the opinion of the great Dane Lars von Trier Europe will be polluted, plagued, and riddled with an existential numbness preventing connection of any kind between its inhabitants. Life for Europeans will vacillate between madness and extremism and boredom and anonymity. Von Trier’s prognostications are manifested in his Europa trilogy: The Element of Crime (1984) set in the future, Epidemic (1987) set in the present, and Europa (1991) set in the fall of 1945 after the German surrender to the Allied forces. In Europa, von Trier extrapolates his fears for the future of Europe from its past, finding parallels in the alienation and chaos of post-war Germany replicated in the angst of modern Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Western Europe was facing the same problem of the Allies after WWII: now that you’ve won, how do you turn the enemy you vilified into a trustworthy ally?
Von Trier describes the theme of the Europa trilogy as “the story of an idealist who tries to save people, but it all goes wrong.” Element of Crime features a cop intent on proving the viability of the controversial, psychologically debilitating crime-solving techniques of his mentor; in Epidemic a director (played by von Trier) wants to bring to life the story of a doctor (also played by von Trier) intent on stopping a deadly plague who ultimately turns out to be the carrier of the disease. Europa is less conceptual and is in fact the most conventional of any of von Trier’s films. Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) is an American of German descent who travels to Germany just after the war’s end with the vague goal of showing kindness to humanity. Kessler soon gets a job as a sleeping car conductor with the help of his fellow conductor uncle, so apparently showing kindness includes taking a job that could have been filled by a starving German. Kessler is soon invited to dinner at the house of Herr Hartman, the former Nazi collaborator who owns the Zentropa rail company where Kessler is employed. Kessler soon falls for Hartmann’s daughter, Katie (Barbara Sukowa), a sexpot who isn’t hesitant to admit that she was also once a collaborator. Kessler’s desire to save Katie from her past pulls him into a milieu of intrigue and betrayal that pose the ultimate challenge to Kessler’s altruistic weltanschaung. In plot, Europa is a Nazi spy thriller in the vein of Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die and Hitchcock’s Notorious, but because of a strong technical choice, von Trier gives it a new, singularly postmodern collage aesthetic.Continue Reading
The 400 Blows
The power of black and white film in an autobiographical story never ceases to be emotional and meaningful. The English title of French New Wave director FranÃ§ois Truffaut's film The 400 Blows is unfortunately a literal translation that overlooks the meaning of the phrase "faire les quatre cents coups." The main character of the film is a thirteen-year-old boy named Antoine Doinel, who does exactly that – raises hell, or causes disruption within a society of order. Truffaut has a unique and undeniably intelligent way of filmmaking that is showcased in this personal film.
Our protagonist is as mysterious as he is mischievous. That is his essential charm – a young figure full of paradigms and intrigues. The beauty of the film lies in the fact that we follow him without obvious or over-the-top plot moves. The viewer is able to simply observe and be with Antoine in his exploration of a being a French adolescent. Antoine enters a life of crime and trouble making. He is scolded by his teacher, he discovers his mother is having an affair, and engages in stealing. He is punished and misunderstood by adults. There is no perfect answer for this boy, and this film proves there is no need for that. Truffaut allows us instead to enter a boy's intimate moments in visceral and dreamlike states.Continue Reading