Caravaggio

Dir: Derek Jarman, 1986. Starring: Nigel Terry, Dexter Fletcher, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton, Spencer Leigh. Cult/Gay Cinema.

To be considered the "second coming" of anything is a huge weight to carry upon one’s shoulders. Caravaggio is the story of Michelangelo Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), a painter who is seen as the new Michelangelo amongst his supporters, and a priest who discovered him while he was a teenage prostitute. The film shifts between three stages of Caravaggio’s life: his adolescence, his middle-aged years, and finally, his last few days on his deathbed where he dies slowly, in agony and in exile. The entire film is set in a timeless Vienna, part regal and part modern, which seems to be the norm in Jarman’s films.

In his adolescence, Caravaggio (Dexter Fletcher) is a hustler, using his paintings to make extra money on the streets or taking direction from his "guardian" to return home with the male buyers when their interest is not in his paintings. His work is mainly mimetic and consists of still-lifes of fruit or people, and eventually falls into the hands of a priest whose church looks after Caravaggio once he becomes gravely ill for the first time. He then begins a sort of commission for the church in exchange for money and support, ironically or purposefully similar to the late Michelangelo in reality. This sponsorship continues into his adulthood, but his work changes from the simply mimicry of objects and people into the bold representations of them. With each painting, he uses live models to recreate sorrowful, if not gruesome details of the human condition.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 7, 2010 4:42pm

Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974

Dir: Kazuo Hara. Documentary. Japanese.

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.

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Edythe Smith
Jun 1, 2010 8:29pm

Nénette et Boni

Dir: Claire Denis, 1996. Starring: Alice Houri, Grégoire Colin, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Vincent Gallo. Foreign.

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.

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Edythe Smith
May 24, 2010 6:33pm

Irma Vep

Dir: Olivier Assayas, 2996. Starring: Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, and Nathalie Richard. Foreign.

"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.

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Edythe Smith
May 24, 2010 6:13pm

Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink)

Dir: Alain Berliner, 1997. Starring: Georges Du Fresne, Michèle Laroque, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Hélène Vincent. Gay Cinema.

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.

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Edythe Smith
May 17, 2010 4:41pm

The King of Masks

Dir: Tian-Ming Wu, 1996. Starring: Xu Zhu, Renying Zhou, Zhigang Zhao. Chinese. Asian Cinema.

To be honest, the number of modern or even present Chinese films that I have seen is very little, which is a shame to say the least. And while I don’t have much to compare this film to, I would still argue that based on it, one could conclude that China varies in extremes, in terms of artistic expression and tradition, compared to other East Asian cultures. But when I stumbled upon The King of Masks, a new aspect of Chinese culture was introduced: the traditional and male dominated performing arts.

The film is about a lonely performer named Master Bianlian Wang (Xu Zhu), who has a very unique and superbly rare talent of performing Sichuan Change Art, a form of magic involving elaborate handmade masks being changed upon one’s face fast enough to create the illusion of a transformation without any noticeable interruption. As a performer of the art, which is passed down only in families and only to males, Wang worries that his dying art will become extinct because he does not have a son to pass it onto. He is given offers by highly popular Master Liang (Zhigang Zhao), a leader of the Sichuan Opera and also praised as "The Living Bodhisattva," to join the Opera, but he remains true to his desire to stay solo.

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Edythe Smith
May 17, 2010 4:23pm

Liquid Sky

Dir: Slava Tsukerman, 1982. Starring: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr. Cult.

I had seen segments of Liquid Sky ironically being projected or shown at parties that could rival its energy. But a couple of months ago, it was shown at The Silent Movie Theater where a DJ spun the soundtrack and the director and some members of the crew attended and gave a Q&A afterwards. Looking at the film alone, it is obvious that boatloads of extraordinary work went into it, but after hearing the director reminisce about squatting in a building with no electricity or gas and gluing tape reels together in the editing process with the heat and moisture of his thumb, it only painted a bigger picture and allowed me to appreciate it even more.

It seems almost distasteful to mention the plot because the film as a whole must not be defined by it, nor does it fit into your average story of the paranormal. It’s more of an ode to androgyny and feminist expression, and also shows a sort of heroin-chic glamour that would soon become a staple in fashion worldwide. Anne Carlisle plays the roles of a model named Margaret and her rival male model, Jimmy, with excellence and style. Margaret’s roommate and lover is a woman named Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), a musician of the oddest sort, with a decent following and a knack for some outrageous spoken word. One night while Adrian is performing in a club and Jimmy is hassling Margaret for heroin, a small flying saucer the size of CD player lands on top of her apartment complex. But these are not your average aliens, invading Earth to probe humans or take over. They’ve come to Earth because they desire the energy secreted by human ecstasy. New York, or more specifically Margaret’s building, seems to have a ton of it, thanks to heroin. But upon closer inspection of Margaret, who happens to be a nymphomaniac, they discover a grander source: orgasm.

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Edythe Smith
May 10, 2010 4:01pm

Jubilee

Dir: Derek Jarman, 1978. Starring: J. Runacre, R. O’Brian, D. Brandon, T. Wilcox, Jordan, J. Birkett. Cult/Gay Cinema.

Jubilee is like a savage Shakespearian play where the past and present are joined in a marriage of destruction; a pas de deux of chaos.

Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is given a gateway by her Lord, John Dee (Richard O’Brian). With his powers he manifests the angel Ariel (David Brandon) who is able to take her from the past into the future in order for her to see the outcome of a world overturned by an absence of rulers and order. Throughout her journey, he acts as a sort of Greek chorus, yielding actions and prophesying bleak ends.

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Edythe Smith
May 10, 2010 3:31pm

Homer & Eddie

Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky, 1989. Starring: James Belushi and Whoopi Goldberg. Comedy/Drama

You know how in old classic films or screwball comedies there is usually some sort of love triangle where a guy and a gal "meet cute" and go on some ridiculous adventure together, later to get married? Well, Homer and Eddie is sort of like that scenario, only fairly depressing and in no way romantic.

Homer (James Belushi) is a slightly mentally handicapped man who has lost a bit of sense and gained a fair amount of childlike ignorance after being hit in the head with a baseball during a game when he was a boy. In the beginning of the movie he prepares himself for a long journey, saying goodbye to his desolate neighborhood and a local stray before hitting the road. His goal is to see his sick father before he kicks the bucket, though the man and his entire family have pretty much abandoned him after the case of his retardation. While hitchhiking on the freeway, he gets his suitcase and cash stolen. With no means of lodging, he wanders into a garbage dump and falls asleep in the backseat of a seemingly empty car. But in the morning, he discovers that he's not alone as the driver, Eddie (Whoopi Goldberg), was asleep in the front. After being startled by the aloof and friendly stranger, she tries once to rob him, then oddly offers up help in a half-brained scheme to locate the men who stole the money that she somehow figures is now rightfully hers.

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Edythe Smith
May 3, 2010 5:41pm

I Drink Your Blood

Dir: David E. Durston, 1970. Starring: Alex Mann, John Damon, Elizabeth Marner-Brooks, Iris Brooks, Tyde Kierney. Horror/Cult.

First off, let me announce that while this film has boatloads of bloodshed and theme music that warns for danger, I think it is safe to classify it as a cult classic if you wish. The plot is amazing and reflects the vast majority of cult films where just about anything is possible. For instance, in what other genre can you see 50-ft women who trample cities, phobias of every drug imaginable, and alternate fantasies pulled from the minds of those with some of the biggest imaginations? I Drink Your Blood is a movie that would please a cult fanatic more than one of the horror genre, more specifically modern horror. Set in a small town, a group of LSD addicted hippies who belong to a satanic cult have come for a little vacation. At first, their stay is merely criticized by locals until a townsman of old age and his grandson stumble upon one of their bizarre torture rituals and discover that all is not well. When caught, the group holds the boy down and forces the old man to take LSD, causing him to later freak out and ultimately traumatizing his grandson. After witnessing the event, the young boy wanders into the woods and confronts a rabid dog, later to return and shoot the animal in order to collect some of its contaminated blood. The next morning he ventures to the local deli where the only thing on the menu, and thus the only source of food for these mean-spirited hippies, is meat pies. He injects the pies with the rabid blood, unleashing a wave of destruction as the LSD addicted hippie-zombies then blow through the town with a thirst for flesh and a phobia of water.

The only ultra-cheesy aspect of the film is the music that looms in the background when danger is up ahead. In short, it sounds like a collaboration of speedy synthesizers near the point of combustion. The costumes are great, as well as the color contrast, and especially the lighting. The film stock is a bit grainy, which works well for a film from the '70s and adds to the whole drive-in movie effect. The hair…my God, it alone holds the movie up. Never again will you see awesome styles, still lingering from the '60s, equipped with stunning sideburns and overflowing chest hair. The dialog is cheesy, but placed in the right context and certainly one-of-a-kind. I almost wish I could take a trip back to the '70s in order to see if the phrases they used actually existed in everyday speech, or if they only appeared in movies. At every corner there is some sharp object (knife, sword, dagger) or cooler tools like fire, water, and stakes to wage war between the locals and the Satanists, whose number only increases as they contaminate others.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 3, 2010 5:27pm
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