Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

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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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 17, 2010 4:23pm

Planet Of The Apes (1968)

Dir: Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968. Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter. Science-Fiction.

This is a rant. Make your kids watch Planet Of The Apes. If you have not seen it yet, then you watch it. It is the greatest Science-Fiction film of all time. Some will argue for Blade Runner or 2001 or maybe an old timer would vote for Metropolis, maybe a hipster would call out Solaris (the Russian version from the '70s). But me? I’ll take Apes.

Just check out the crazy all-star pedigree it carries: - Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who, on his next film, Patton, would win the Oscar. - Written by Michael Wilson (Lawrence Of Arabia) and the legendary Rod Serling, creator and sometime writer of the cult TV series, The Twilight Zone. - Based on a novel by the acclaimed French writer Pierre Boulle, author of The Bridge On The River Kwai. - Starring Moses himself, Charlton Heston, Oscar winner for Ben Hur. This would start his run of action and Sci-Fi flicks that would make him almost a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger of the early '70s. - An exotic original score by Jerry Goldsmith and make-up by the innovative designer of the Star Trek TV series, John Chambers. Etc. Etc.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 17, 2010 12:44pm

The City Of Lost Children (La Cité Des Enfants Perdus)

Dir: Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1995. Staring: R. Perlman, D. Emilfork, J. Vittet, D. Pinon. Foreign/French Fantasy.

ONCE UPON A VERY STRANGE TIME… Dark, damp, and dreary, tucked away in a twisted dream somewhere between Oliver Twist and The Brothers Grimm is The City Of Lost Children. A ginger-headed sideshow strong man of Russian origin named "One" (Ron Perlman) has had a very bad day indeed. His sideshow barker has been knifed during their last chain busting performance and later that evening his adopted little brother, Denree, is abducted by a band of Jean-Paul Gaultier clad "Cyclopes" and taken away to an oil rig-looking platform of a mad scientist’s lair! Not only is the scientist mad, but he’s quite frail and cranky and even named Krank (Daniel Emilfork).

NOTE: Krank is something akin to Robert Helpmann’s Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but with a shaved head.

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Posted by:
Joey Jenkins
May 14, 2010 4:58pm

Hud

Dir: Martin Ritt, 1963. Starring: Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, Brandon De Wilde. Classics.

Antihero. The character you are suppose to be rooting for but find his actions unheroic. Today it’s commonplace in films and fiction. In 1963, the only antiheroes were usual gritty private eyes in dime store novels or gangsters. Then came Paul Newman as Hud. He represents the end of the old cattle ranchers era. It’s a battle of wills with his aging proud father for the soul of his innocent nephew and for the ethics that the family will use in its business dealings. You want to root for Hud. He’s so cool, its megastar, Paul Newman. He has moments of vulnerability when you can see why his heart is so hard. But by the end his selfishness and amoral nature make him so unlikeable. It also makes for an amazing story.

In Paul Newman’s monster-sized career, perhaps only Bogart, Nicholson and maybe James Stewart have ended up with so many iconic roles. As far as performances go, Newman was always good; the consensus would say that his performance as the broken down, drunken lawyer in The Verdict is his masterpiece. I would nominate Hud for second place on his Hall Of Fame chart. And that is saying a lot, with so many other important roles to chose from: The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, The Color Of Money, Nobody’s Fool and the underrated Hombre to name a few, were all fantastic. Not to mention the crowd pleasers like The Sting and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid which are beloved by many.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 12, 2010 4:45pm

Dead Set

Dir: Yann Demange, 2008. Executive Producer/Writer: Charlie Brooker. Imports.

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.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 11, 2010 3:02pm

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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Posted by:
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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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 10, 2010 3:31pm

In A Lonely Place

Dir: Nicholas Ray, 1950. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. Film Noir.

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.

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Posted by:
Jed Leland
May 7, 2010 1:08pm

Doctor Zhivago

Dir: David Lean, 1965. Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness. Classics.

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.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 6, 2010 12:01pm

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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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 3, 2010 5:41pm
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