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).
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
Last Tango In Paris
Film acting can be defined with "before Brando" and "after Brando." Marlon Brando brought a reality and a vulnerability to the screen that had never been fully been realized by a major movie star before his startling run of influential film performances in the early 1950s. The generations of "method actors" (Dean, Newman, Hoffman, De Niro, Pacino, Penn, etc.) all cited Brando as their number-one influence on their own revolutionary work.
No other actor has given a string of film performances like the first half dozen of Brando's performances; they were monumental. The Men (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), The Wild One (1953), and On the Waterfront (1954) (for which he finally won his first Oscar) all contributed to his legend.Continue Reading
I checked out Deadgirl as an experiment. There was no way anyone could make a film about a zombie sex slave and elevate it beyond an unbelievable, exploitative sleaze-fest of misery the trailer painted it out to be. At best, I would walk away from it knowing how NOT to make a horror film; at worst, I'd say "yuck" and take a long hot shower afterward. But I also had to see it because it was the first movie idea I heard in a while that actually made me think I could say "yuck." As horror fans, we're all trying to find the next high--the next stomach-churning gross out, or even better, a story that might actually send a genuine chill of fear down our spines after we thought we've seen it all. Deadgirl delivers the heeby-geebies more effectively than I predicted, but probably not in the way the filmmakers intended. Underneath an odd attempt to create a coming of age story, there's a social commentary being made on how terrifyingly clueless teens might be today on what it means to be a "man."
Unpopular, more likely to smoke a joint than pick up a football, and too inept to talk to girls, Rickie and J.T. at least start the story off as ordinary teenage misfits. When cutting school for a day for some old-fashioned beer-drinking and petty vandalism at the local abandoned insane asylum, however, they find something that proves to be a right of passage neither quite imagined for themselves: a naked girl strapped to a table in the dank and decrepit basement of the hospital. Rickie wants to run away and pretend they were never there, but J.T. gets a more deviant idea. "We could keep her," he says. What's the moral thing to do? Well, that question gets hazy once they realize the girl is sort-of-but-not-really dead. The real trouble begins, though, when word gets out to more boys at school. I'll just say that a whole lot more gets lost than friendship (and virginity).Continue Reading
Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink)
Ludovic is not a boy. God had a great big book and under the name Ludovic Fabre, "girl" was written next to it. God sent down Ludo’s other X chromosome, but it just got lost somehow…at least that’s what Ludo thinks. Ma Vie en Rose is the sweet and accurate tale of a family torn apart by the fact that one of their number will do anything to convince himself and his community that he was always meant to be a girl.
Hanna and Pierre Fabre (Michèle Laroque and Jean-Philippe Écoffey) move into a wonderful suburb and are now next-door neighbors with Pierre’s boss, Albert. They have a daughter and three sons, the youngest of them all being Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne). For years, Ludo has been convinced that he is a girl and waits patiently for his transformation, and comically, his first menstrual cycle. His family tries delicately to dissuade him from that belief but, in failing, they hope that he will simply grow out of it. For show-and-tell at school, he brings dolls and successfully confuses or convinces the children there that he is, or will become, a girl. During play, he dresses in only the prettiest princess dresses with lipstick and jewelry or dances in a wedding gown, hoping that when he comes of age he can marry his neighbor’s son. The only problem is that their neighbor's son is the child of his father’s boss—a sheepish and traditional family man who forbids his son to play with Ludo.Continue Reading