Looking For Langston

Dir: Isaac Julien. 1988. Starring: Ben Ellison, Matthew Baidoo. English. Experimental/Black/Gay.

A beautifully photographed film on various aspects of black male sexuality in western culture is revealed within the “pseudo-documentary exploration of the life of Langston Hughes” [note to self: don’t believe the hype], Looking For Langston.

It’s a short film but it rushes headlong and moves easily and quickly between archival television footage of Langston Hughes reading with jazz combo accompaniment, archival photographs/footage of Harlem and various Harlem Renaissance figures (and some non-Renaissance figures such as Robert Mapplethorpe) along with faux-archival footage and images which are interspersed, broken up, explained and explored with readings from the works of poets Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill visually mated to scripted black & white fantasy sets of nightclub, bedroom and outdoor scenes populated by black men (and a few white men) as a means of touching on, and exposition of, the effects of racism, classism, desire, exploitation and threats of violence and STDs in relation to Anglo/American gay black men.

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Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Apr 5, 2008 4:08pm

Zebraman

Dir: Takashi Miike, 2004. Starring: Sho Aikawa, Kyoka Suzuki, tons of CGI-jellybean aliens. Asian Cinema.

I know most folks immediately shy away when I say it’s directed by the maestro of mayhem, Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, the Dead Or Alive series, Audition, and over 70 (!!!) other movies); and it’s finally being put out domestically by an outfit, foreign exploitation/ultra-gore distributors, Tokyo Shock Cinema, for which I have a soft spot in my ugly, mean heart, but Zebraman [or, more properly, “Zee-Borah-Mahnu”] quickly reveals itself to be super-campy fun and vaguely family-friendly (no disembowelment or graphic torture, honest!) in a way not seen from Miike since the uneven kiddie fantasy Great Yokai War or the gorgeous piece of art that is Bird People In China (one of the few films I can say without hesitation must be watched by everyone who loves movies).

Whereas Bird People made its pretentions obvious to all, Great Yokai War somewhat and Zebraman very explicitly are aimed (in the sense of appealing to AND in the weapon sense) directly at adults reared on monster/fantasy/superhero movies and television, making them terrific fare for dorks like me and you. C’mon, admit it, you know you are…

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Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Mar 3, 2008 3:01pm

Willie Dynamite

Dir: Gilbert Moses. 1974. Starring: Roscoe Orman, Joyce Walker, Diana Sands, Thalmus Rasulala. English. Black Cinema.

This fine piece of mid-70s Americana is a gem criminally overlooked by hepcats since it’s one of the better blaxploitation movies produced in or out of the studio system. The funkiness is laid down with the traditional baaaad theme song, near-unbelievable fly threads, I mean, uh, costume design, and some joyously over-the-top acting by the principals, but the flavor is maintained with an excellent storyline & direction, terrific technical-production values and, I feel, an indefinable sense of care and love in the production near-universally absent from most ‘70s exploitation flicks.

The basic premise of the movie is classic Greek tragedy:  the hero’s hubris bringing about his utter downfall and eventual self-redemption or catastrophe (more likely). Our man, Willie D., is a stylin’ pimp, dope dealer and rakish man-about-town in his oversized & fur-lined EVERYTHING. He runs afoul of the other playas, gets several kinds of “the law” on his case and for the real kicker, a “do-gooding” social worker with a past is trying to reform his ladies into honest citizens. Misery piles on constant misery (especially poignant and hilarious for me is his beloved mack Caddy Eldorado getting towed TWICE then street-stripped by neighborhood kids) as The Man wears down poor Willie ‘til he’s reduced to a self-loathing and impotent utter rage not seen in other blaxploitation protagonists.

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Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Feb 2, 2008 2:46pm

Super Inframan

Dir: Shaw Bros. 1975. Starring: Danny Lee, Wang Hsieh, the almighty Bruce Le. English dub/Cantonese. Martial Arts/Hong Kong.

You call it Inframan. I call it the greatest thing ever made by man or god. I vainly attempted a good way to describe this movie’s overwhelming goodness but, failing that, will defer to Roger Ebert's review of it from way back when:

Within the first four minutes of Infra-Man, (a) a giant flying lizard attacks a school bus, (b) the Earth cracks open, (c) Hong Kong is destroyed by flames, (d) mountains disintegrate to reveal the forms of reptilian monsters with blinking yellow eyes, (e) a Professor announces that a twenty-million-year-old woman is unleashing the hibernating monsters upon civilization, (f) the Science Headquarters is shaken by a second quake, (g) the Mutants awake, and (h) the Professor, obviously shaken, informs a secret meeting of world leaders, "This situation is so bad that it is the worst that ever has been!" I'm a pushover for monster movies anyway, but Infra-Man has it all: Horrendous octopus men, skeleton storm-troopers, a gigantic beetle man with three eyes who sprays his victims with sticky cocoons, savage robots with coiled spring necks that can extend ten feet, elaborately staged kung fu fights, underground throne rooms, damsels in distress, exploding volcanoes, and a whip-cracking villainess named Princess Dragon Mom. It's a classy, slick production by the Shaw Brothers, the Hong Kong kung fu kings. When they stop making movies like Infra-Man, a little light will go out of the world.

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Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Jan 31, 2008 3:40pm

Nosferatu

Dir: F.W. Murnau. 1922. Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav Von Wangenheim. Germany. Silent/Horror.

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.

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Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Jan 31, 2008 3:30pm
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