Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

Films selected and reviewed by discerning movie buffs, television junkies, and documentary diehards (a.k.a. our staff).

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Dir: Wallace Worsley. 1923. Starring: Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller. Silent/Horror.

A true ‘must-see’ of silent cinematic majesty, Hunchback stars the unbelievably talented Lon Chaney, an innovator of pantomime and makeup artistry. The film is based on the Victor Hugo novel about Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer who falls in love with Esmeralda, a gypsy girl.

It is a classic story that is further accentuated by enormous sets, complex lighting and Chaney’s amazing ability to express suffering, humiliation,and desire for the understanding of a kindred soul. It should be noted that Chaney’s great skill at displaying identifiable human emotions under grotesque disguises can be partly attributed to the need to communicate with his deaf-mute parents. His body language and gestures are the center of this movie. He demonstrated his prowess at making us FEEL the character’s emotions in film after film until his death in 1930 after his final appearance in his only sound film The Unholy Three,a remake of an earlier silent film that he starred in. Anybody even remotely interested in the movies before they spoke should see this.

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Posted by:
Amoebite
Mar 31, 2008 5:29pm

Tout Va Bien

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin. 1972. Starring: Y. Montand, J. Fonda, V. Caprioli, E. Chauvin. French / English. Foreign.

French founders of the politically active filmmaking Dziga Vertov Group, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Pierre Gorin, made Tout Va Bien in1972, their 2nd to last collaboration together.

This film certainly falls far from the category of escapism. You, the viewer, are going to have to examine not only the constructs of filmmaking itself, but also the economy of contemporary society and the political ideologies behind it. Sound like a handful? You can be assured that every movement within the frame, every insert, every cut, is deliberate and Brechtian in every formal quality. The staging shows people moving from one room to another through a cross-section of the building, emphasizing the strike at a sausage factory that is observed by an American reporter (Jane Fonda) and her husband, a has-been, French New Wave film director (Yves Montand).

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Mar 31, 2008 5:20pm

August Rush

Dir: Kirsten Sheridan. 2007. Starring: F. Highmore, R. Williams, T. Howard, K. Russell, J. Rhys Meyers. English. Drama.

Family films are precious commodities. Slapstick plus smart humor have been winning combinations for many years now while the sentimental tearjerkers have taken a back seat. Lately, however there have been a few jewels emerging that are not only appropriate for young audiences but will entrance their parents as well. August Rush is a lovely music filled Orphan Annie/Oliver tale with sincere performances, intelligent, economical writing, a wonderful score and charming cinematography.

Two young and talented strangers meet and fall in love under a full moon in New York but are separated by fate and an overly controlling father the very next day. We learn that the young lady, an accomplished cellist named Lyla Novecek has become pregnant and that her star crossed lover, Louis Connelly, waits every night under the Washington Arch. After Lyla has an accident around her due date her father takes the opportunity to take the healthy newborn boy and put him up for adoption while telling Lyla that he didn't survive. Twelve years later we see the young and vibrant rock musician, Louis, has become a suit wearing businessman still stifling under a broken heart and broken dreams while Lyla is quietly teaching music without playing it herself.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Mar 31, 2008 5:05pm

Raspberry Reich

Dir: Bruce LaBruce. 2004. Starring Ulrike S., Paul Gerrits, Susanne Sachsse. English. Smut/Gay Cinema/Comedy.

In Germany in the 1970s, a group of young leftists calling themselves the Rote Armee Fraktion (more commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang) coalesced around their shared opposition to the perceived conservative bias of Germany's post-war government (which included former Nazis) and the right wing media exemplified by Axel Springer's media which opposed the student opposition movement and their goals of fighting racism, sexism, police brutality and imperialism. The RAF trained in Jordan alongside the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and then used their newly acquired techniques to wage violent actions against the German police, U.S. military bases, and the Springer Press before most key members were killed or committed suicide (depending on who you believe).

Raspberry Reich portrays a group of modern leftists, inspired largely by the RAF (as well as the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army) to adopt their radical views. Their leader is a strong-willed woman named Gudrun. To prove their dedication to subverting the patriarchy, she teaches that "heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses" and forces her followers to engage in sex with one another. Gudrun speaks/barks in gayified leftist slogans including commands like "Put your Marxism where your mouth is" and "The revolution is my boyfriend" (the latter of which she tells her former boyfriend when he resists her demands to have sex with another gang member).

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Mar 24, 2008 4:09pm

A Room With a View

Dir: James Ivory. 1986. Starring: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter. English. Drama

There has never been a more perfect film than Merchant Ivory's lush and lavish, A Room with a View. Visually it offers more than a simple view; instead there is a grandiose explosion of natural and cultural beauty traveling from the historical vistas of Florence to the opulence of the English countryside. Adapted with wit and wisdom from E.M. Forster's novel of the same name, A Room with a View explores the mingling of Britain's emerging middle class with the slowly dying aristocracy during the picturesque Edwardian Age. Similar in theme, adaptation and age to the tragically redeeming Howard's End, View tenders a gentler more fairy tale touch.

Filled with immortal performances by actors who would soon dominate the cast of truly great films for the next twenty years and counting, we are treated to study after study of the pomposity and passion in human nature. Romance, humor and a sensitivity to our frailties permeate every frame. Whether it is a bloody crime of passion between unknown but unforgettable Italians in the square, the giggling girlish adventures of two aged maidens in a foreign city, a kiss among poppies (that might just be the best kiss in cinematic history) or the heartbreaking politeness of a rejected suitor in a drawing room each moment is filled with timeless, laughable, lovable humanity.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Mar 23, 2008 3:46pm

Beau Brummel

Dir: Harry Beaumont. 1924. Starring: John Barrymore, Mary Astor. Silent Films.

Beau (né George) Brummell, whilst little known today, was a major force in 19th century politics and fashion. Born when courtly circles were filled the ostentatiously foppish Macaronis, Brummell revolutionized English grooming by not wearing a wig, brushing his teeth daily, and developing an understated but well-tailored look known which became known as Dandyism.

In the film, John Barrymore (Drew’s grandpa aka “The Great Profile”) plays Brummel (here, with one “l” for some reason.) He pines for Lady Margery, played by 17-year-old Mary Astor (who was having an affair with the notorious 42-year-old ladies’ man and whoremonger behind the scenes). Lady Margery’s ambitious mother has other ideas, however, and rejects the low-born Beau Brummel in favor of the blue-blooded Lord Alvanley, Colonel of the Tenth Hussars.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Mar 19, 2008 7:59pm

Payday

Dir: Daryl Duke. 1972. Starring: Rip Torn, Ahna Capri, Michael C. Gwynne. English. Drama.

Country music fans will get a bang out of this well-acted 1972 feature, an unfairly neglected picture (happily just issued on DVD) with a terrific high-energy performance at its heart.

Rip Torn stars as Maury Dann, a second-rate country singer whose life is playing out like one of his songs. The film follows Maury over the course of a couple of days, as he, his band, his devoted driver (Cliff Emmich), his manager-fixer (Michael C. Gwynne), and his blowsy girlfriend (Ahna Capri) travel from a low-rent honky-tonk gig to a marquee show in Nashville. Along the way, Maury gobbles speed (and shares some with his mother!), guzzles whiskey, screws anything that moves, picks up a dimestore clerk turned neophyte groupie (Elayne Heilveil), and generally rampages over everyone in his path.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Mar 12, 2008 3:19pm

Margot at the Wedding

Dir/Wri: Noah Baumbach. 2007. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, Zane Pais. English. Comedy.

Dark and funny, this bitter little comedy comes with sharp pointy teeth and a soft underbelly. Margot at the Wedding is an intellectual smörgÃ¥sbord without overindulging in “smart” references, plot curve balls, or even winning attempts of redemption.

Margot, a married and successful writer living in Manhattan, travels by bus with her son, Claude, to her family's Long Island home for her estranged sister's wedding. We quickly learn that Margot (Nicole Kidman) is tightly wound, very smart, and incapable of not saying exactly what she's thinking even if - especially if -  it's cruel. As they arrive at the house on a short cliff by the sea we meet her mellow new age sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her fiance (Jack Black) who is sightly less than impressive. Margot can barely contain her disdain and you feel a change of air pressure within her sister's family unit which also includes her own teenage child, Ingrid, from a previous relationship. Soon, we realize that Margot's oozing destruction comes form her own life crisis and that she's really come to meet her lover, escape her own life and attempt a change in course.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Mar 5, 2008 4:21pm

This Is England

Dir: Shane Meadows. 2006. Starring: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley. English. Drama.

Twelve year old Shaun is having a shite day. Upon arriving to school, he’s relentlessly taunted by his classmates. He gets into a fight with another boy and has to face the torturous principal. On his way home, he encounters a group of fun loving skinheads (not the Racist kind) who continue to poke fun at the small boy. That is until the leader of the group steps in and decides that Shaun needs a break.

The tenacious Shaun is quickly made a member of the tribe despite a little bit of friction from some of the other members. The group spends their days smoking cigarettes, having a few pints, listening to Ska and Reggae and committing petty acts of vandalism. Shaun finally has some people he can call friends.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Mar 3, 2008 3:10pm

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
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