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).
You are probably NOT saying to yourself, "You know what the world needs more of? Zombie stories." I know I wasn’t. The idea behind the British Television mini-series (five episodes all together running just over 140 minutes) called Dead Set is this...what if there’s a world wide zombie outbreak, all hell breaks loose, the apocalypse sets in, and no one lets the attention seeking, shallow idiots of TV’s isolated Big Brother house in on the news? That’s the set-up; sounds like a cheap gimmick, right? Sounds even a little shrill. Guess what? It works. It works great. This is a zombie tale that can take its rightful place along with the handful of good zombie tales of the last fifty years (Night, Dawn, Shawn, the Dawn remake, and 28 Days Later).
The zombie mayhem comes fast in this story - no long-winded, Arthur Hailey like, first act of meeting and falling for the folks about to be thrown into disaster. Nope, ten minutes in and it’s on. Luckily for us. most of the Big Brother house morons are only there to be future zombie chum. The story mostly centers on two radically different characters. Kelly, a PA at the network, manages to survive the attack and when she makes her way, blood soaked onto the Big Brother set, to try to warn the cast, they take her as a ploy to shake things up on their show and assume she is an over-acting new castmate. Also managing to survive the initial outbreak is the show's producer, Patrick. The actor, Andy Nyman, is wonderful, making this obnoxious madman a cross between Entourage’s Ari Gold and Saul Rubinek in True Romance. From what I could figure, much of the cast is made up of real life British reality stars. But don’t let that turn you off, most of the acting is surprisingly well done.Continue Reading
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.Continue Reading
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.Continue Reading
In A Lonely Place
First, there’s the title. Has any movie title ever sounded so vulnerable? And that the film about a man "in a lonely place" was played by America’s hero, Humphrey Bogart, added undeniable pathos to the proceedings. Movie stars have always been confused with who they played in the films that made them famous, and after High Sierra and Casablanca Bogart would be forever known as the world weary tough guy with a heart of gold; the cynical romantic who does the right thing in the end who generations of men have wanted to emulate. Playing an emotionally wounded misanthrope with possibly psychotic tendencies was a risk for him, but in the words of Louise Brooks it was the closest performance to the real Bogart that he ever played. In her memoir of sorts, Lulu In Hollywood, she writes about how the Bogart she knew was an insecure actor forever on the sidelines of productions he didn’t star in. When the light and magic clicked to make him a star in High Sierra he became a legend henceforth and he took to acting the part in real life. But, according to her at least, it wasn’t until playing the embittered Hollywood screenwriter Dix Steele in Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place that the myth and the actor coalesced into something resembling his darker, more emotionally insecure self.
In A Lonely Place is ostensibly a murder mystery, but what haunts isn’t really the murder or even the possibility that Bogart’s character killed someone. Instead it’s the way Dix’s good qualities are forever doomed to be overshadowed by his alienating and self-destructing tendencies. He has good friends around him who, even in the face of a murder investigation where he is a suspect, refuse to give up on him. But his insecurities and "artistic temperament" wear those around him down to the point where he really is totally alone. There’s no real lesson to In A Lonely Place. In another less complicated thriller Dix would be the villain whose downfall signals the triumph of societal values over the chaos caused by anti-social malcontents. But this is a film with no solution to the problem of Dix Steele, just a melancholic depiction of a certain type of man whose great curse is to be eternally misunderstood.Continue Reading
The third film in director David Lean’s "How To Make An Epic" Trilogy, Doctor Zhivago followed The Bridge On The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia. It may not carry the same critical cache today - some find it too soapy and less "important" - but it’s just as entertaining and just as impressive as his previous two epics. This period for Lean from ’57 to ’65 followed his rather dated Criterion Collection endorsed British period of the '40s and early '50s. And then his follow up to Zhivago five years later, Ryan’s Daughter, does not quite hold up today. But his follow up to that, his final film, the underrated A Passage To India in ’84, is rather interesting and showed the seventy-something director still working with all his powers, if not quite the scope.
Doctor Zhivago could be used for any class on film symbolism. It‘s constant: the leaves falling from the sunflower, the melted snow, the electricity of the cable cars, the deliberate use of the color red standing out among the drab colors. Robert Bolt’s concise script helps to spell out the character's feelings without the actors ever having to proclaim them. It all works to boil down Boris Pasternak’s epic novel of adultery before, during, and after the Russian Revolution. In terms of history class, along with Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Franklin Schaffner’s Nicholas And Alexandra, Warren Beatty’s Reds, and Woody Allen’s Love And Death, you have everything you could ever want to know about that period in Russia, or at least everything I know about it.Continue Reading
Homer & Eddie
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.Continue Reading
I Drink Your Blood
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.Continue Reading
A Tree of Palme (Parumu no Ki)
NOT SO PINOCCHIO A puppet named Palme made from a sacred tree and fueled by a much sought-after sap that courses through his veins as life’s blood is at the center of this animated tale. Palme, originally created to care for his creator’s sickly wife, has gone lifeless since she has passed away. And now a mysterious warrioress has shown up bearing strange fruit (or rather a strange egg). Fast on her heals is a small band of purple skinned tricloptic goggle-clad subterranean mercenaries with snorkel-like breathing apparatuses driving a six-legged motorbike of sorts! Yes, I just said all that. The warrioress’ arrival brings with her Palme’s re-awakening and a mission!
PUPPET MASTER Palme was written and directed by Takashi Nakamura. Nakamura contributed as Chief Animator for one of Anime’s most amazing spectacles, Akira. Nakamura wanted to "transcend the boundaries of animation" with this film. "I wanted to delve deep into the realm of the human soul, ethically or perhaps philosophically, taking a different approach than the rest of the anime out there."Continue Reading
Me Without You
If you've ever experienced or witnessed the heavy and sometimes odd bond that two girls can have, you will enjoy (or remain bewildered after) seeing this movie. Set in the summer of 1973, Holly and Marina are two neighbors who become best friends in a small London suburb. Holly is the only child of a very conservative Jewish family where her mother and father are still married and highly involved in her progress as an intellect. Her best friend Marina's life serves as an excellent juxtaposition. Her mother is….well, picture a woman with the spirit of a 1930s flapper and the heart of a British teen in the '60s who chain smokes and likes Valium. Her father is a globe-trotting pilot who is never around and her older brother Nat is an attractive lad with a life of his own. The two girls take an oath that summer to be "one" in a place in their minds that they've named "Harina." As time goes on, the two share all of life's disappointments and thrills, but as the girls get older and things get more complicated, the balance of their friendship changes. Holly becomes the only positive force in Marina's unstable and self-destructive existence. And while she only wants happiness for everyone she knows and loves, Holly can't help redeeming her pact and getting involved with Marina's chaotic pastimes, nor can she snuff the growing passion she has for Marina's brother.
The actresses who play the older stages of these two girls are what put the icing on the cake. Holly is played by Michelle Williams—an excellent choice for a character who is a bit mousy, intellectual, and an old-fashioned romantic. Marina is played by Anna Friel, a charismatic and colorful actress who fits the part perfectly. By the time they've hit college, still living together in a flat with other roommates, they've experienced some of the best parts of being young, which include hard drugs and casual sex. The soundtrack of the film is an excellent addition to their exhilaration, and while it is looked down upon to have it be the one of the film's best features, the spirit of this movie survives because of the sounds of The Clash, Wreckless Eric, Scritti Politti, Echo and the Bunnymen, and other landmark artists.Continue Reading
Busby Berkeley Bonus Disc (Busby Berkeley Collection)
It may seem like cheating to skip over the five films featured in the first Busby Berkeley Collection and single out the bonus disc included with the collection as a “Movie We Like,” but the very fact that Warner Brothers bothered to include the extra disc comprised solely of the musical numbers from Berkeley’s films indicates that they were eager to facilitate the pure rush of cinematic delirium that occurs when watching the crazy things back to back. Berkeley didn’t write or direct most of the films included in the box set collections that bear his name but his authorial hallmark is stamped right across all of them. He created and staged the musical numbers for the films and it’s these musical numbers that gave him immortality as one of the great film architects of glamorous spectacle and Hollywood mythology. The best of Berkeley’s musical numbers are pre-Production Code wonders of erotic reverie and paradisaical splendor. They looked like nothing that had come before though they have certainly been imitated and paid homage to by directors entranced by their bizarre majesty ever since. Berkeley turned song and dance numbers that bridged the scenes of what could have been generic studio musicals into glittering ecstatic pageants that rendered the lovely legs of chorus girls into a kaleidoscopic “ballet mechanique,” filling the entire screen in one hallucinatory art deco fantasia after another. There is beauty to Berkeley’s approach but there is also darkness that creeps in, such as in the desperate city-dwelling throngs killing, thieving, and hustling to the title song of 42nd Street. Fellow practitioners of the dark arts of Kino Delirium, Kenneth Anger and Guy Maddin, owe this guy a lot and I would assume that they would be the first to admit it.
The plots of Berkeley’s films are mostly variations on the backstage musical archetype with a make it or break it “let’s put on a show!” finale. The films themselves - such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 with stars like James Cagney and Ruby Keeler - are a lot of fun, if a little slow between the numbers. I once saw Gold Diggers… screened at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and seeing the film with booze, surrounded by the graves of Hollywood luminaries at night was several great things made more so by their combination. But it’s the musical numbers that everyone wants to see, and so to get the purest expression of Berkeley’s genius it’s nice to be able to skip right to the whiz bang heart of it and luxuriate in the delights of “We’re In the Money,” “By A Waterfall,” and the very weird and wonderful “Pettin’ In the Park,” which serves as unimpeachable evidence, if any was necessary, that the 1930s was as sexually frank an era as any before or since.Continue Reading