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).
Return To The 36th Chamber
Director Lau Kar Leung is sort of a bridge from the hey-day of Shaw Brother kung-fu films to the new wave, hyper-stylized martial arts spearheaded by Tsui Hark. And I mean that literally, since he worked with Shaw master Chang Cheh and then directed his own films at the end of their era, and then worked with Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, and others of their ilk. I also mean figuratively, as his directing and choreography is pretty much solely responsible for moving things from chopsocky to the more modern approach. Unfortunately, he is pretty much only known for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, an undeniable masterpiece, and maybe for quitting Chan’s Drunken Master 2. But just about any one of his films would stand out amongst the crowd were they to be discovered in the West. Even though Return To The 36th Chamber was a cheap, cash grab it remains both innovative and gasp-inducing to this day.
Most likely the reason Return didn’t get the attention the first one received is because it’s not technically a sequel and it’s more or less the exact same plot. Gordon Liu returns, playing a lovable loser whose town is being harassed for money which they cannot afford so Liu pretends to be a Shaolin master in hopes of scaring away these bullies. After being humiliated when his plan fails, he heads to the real Shaolin temple to learn their ways but is only assigned construction duties once they accept him. He finds this worthless but when he returns home he finds he’s acquired skills he did not have before. Beat for beat, this is the same plot as the first. But while Leung still sells the story adequately, it’s in his fights that he really shines.Continue Reading
The only magic I believe in is the magic of documentaries like this. It had the power to reach deep down into my soul and turn on a switch in a room that’s been dark for years. Honestly, it is the most beautiful love story that I have seen to date—a love of life, animals, dance, God, and intimacy.
Ron and Joy Holiday were two childhood friends who set out to make a name for themselves in the dance world, more specifically adagio ballet. Ron’s first few stories of Joy are small and candid, mainly circulating around her Catholic upbringing. One in particular that is essential to their future together comes from Joy visiting a Mother Superior with the uncertainty of whether she should continue her future in dance after college or become a nun. "Go to New York and dance for God," was the answer she received, and it was after that story that I knew this documentary had much in store.Continue Reading
All About Lily Chou-Chou
The youth of many nations, especially industrial ones, are full not only of angst but of a yearning to fit in and be understood. For YÃ»ichi and a group of followers just like him, the "ethereal" music of Lily Chou-Chou has become the center of their world, both in cyberspace and reality. YÃ»ichi is the fan site manager under the code name "philla," where he reviews and praises her music with a sense of enlightenment and desperation. Like today’s youth, only anonymous and without photos, these young people drift online in order to connect and rave about the things they find most interesting, which for this group is Lily. But underneath the melodies and enchantment, YÃ»ichi and other fans are still just homeless souls looking for adventure. Though YÃ»ichi is really just looking for an escape, his reality grants him the total opposite. He and his actual friends occupy themselves with petty theft, a mysterious summer vacation, and several humiliating pranks that go terribly wrong. His world shifts into a tumult of despair and unkindness in what he calls "the age of gray," where all the color bleeds dry from the world. His only solace is a lush and isolated rice field where he goes to be alone and listen to Lily.
This advancement of newfound responsibility and savage energy reminds me of what it is like to become an adult. When you’re young, you almost worship your music idols and look to their sound for understanding and piece of mind. But for YÃ»ichi and others, the pressure to find that same balance in reality becomes nearly impossible after you reach a certain age. Not that some can’t or others never did, but for him there is no turning back or resolution.Continue Reading
A Matter of Life and Death
On the DVD for A Matter of Life and Death, Martin Scorsese tells a story about how, when he was growing up, the filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger sort of felt like some mythical, lost duo of directors whose work was massively overlooked and re-edited, only to be fully appreciated in the '80s once Scorsese had the power to do so. Watching their films now makes that story seem almost under-exaggerated as every film that comes out on DVD is confoundingly innovative, as if it will be made ten years into the future. And this is no exception to the film, A Matter of Life and Death, a rich, complicated fantasy that leaves so many similar films of the time in its dust.
David Niven plays WWII fighter pilot, Peter Carter, who makes one last radio call to a female soldier, June, as his plane is crashing. Coming to terms with his death, Niven uses the call to calm his nerves and over the course of the conversation the two fall in love, having never met.Continue Reading
Woman in the Dunes
Metaphors are perhaps the greatest and most poetic way to express a concept or condition without heavy exposition in dialog. A good poem, for example, should never be clear in words alone, but with a trained eye, one should and hopefully can decipher what the work is getting at. When I first saw Woman in the Dunes, while watching it and after finishing it, I interpreted it as having many metaphors, one being commitment and the surrender that comes to people in terms of settling down. Also, it places the main character into an alien existence that is far removed from his conventional and vanity-filled comfort zones. The sand in this film also presents a metaphor of its own, but I’ll leave that for you to conclude.
Early Japanese cinema is a leader in this kind of poetic and classic storytelling. Also shot in black and white, films like Double Suicide and Akira Kurosawa’s RashÃ´mon incorporate centuries' worth of idealism and culture into an hour and a half’s worth of wonder.Continue Reading
Clash of the Titans (1981)
CLASH DANCE The well known and much revered stop-motion special effects guru Ray Harryhausen has brought numerous beings of various shapes and sizes to life over his career (The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger). In the mythological world of Clash of the Titans there are many interesting characters and creatures. Playing God behind the camera one frame at a time, Harryhausen has brought some of his most memorable offspring to life (Medusa, Pegasus, Giant Scorpions, the Kracken).
STORYLINE OF THE GODS Here’s the deal, Zeus (Laurence Olivier), in one of his many amorous exploits, has had a son named Perseus (Harry Hamlin). Due to Zeus’ favoritism of Perseus over the Goddess Thetis’ (Maggie Smith) son Calibos, a clash begins [insert opening credits and dramatic musical score here]. From that point on Perseus sets out on a quest to "fulfill his destiny" by defeating numerous obstacles, slaying fantastic beasts, and winning the hand of the doll-faced Andromeda (Judi Bowker). The script was penned by Beverly Cross who also scripted other Harryhausen films such as Argonauts and Eye of the Tiger.Continue Reading
THIS JUICE BUGZ Somewhere between Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Batman there is Tim Burton’s feature length sophomore effort, Beetlejuice. Upon a recent rewatch, I realized I’d forgotten how truly amazing, wildly inventive and original this phantasmagoric odd-ball comedy was! It’s quite frankly the purest Burton experience for me. It’s just silly how much of JUICE’s visual language oozes with Burtonisms! Add to that the sweet (as in cool) dialogue and characters created by co-authors Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson. I’m kinda in love with it lately!
THE DIRT ON THE DEAD… Adam and Barbara Maitland just died. Played with great wholesomeness by Alec Baldwin (Adam) and Geena Davis (Barbara). So they die. But for a while they don’t know it. It becomes more apparent to them when they find a copy of the Handbook For The Recently Deceased laying around the house and the rude awakening that the Deetz’ are the new occupants and owners of their house! The Deetz family comprises of the artistically manic Delia (Catherine O’Hara), her uptight hubby Charles (Jeffrey Jones), and their ever morbidly morose daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder).Continue Reading
Over The Edge
It's exciting knowing that once upon a time the music of Cheap Trick inspired chaos and teen violence. With the Vietnam War over and lost, Nixon out of the White House and Disco past its apex, what was left to rebel against? In the case of these pot smokin' rock'n & rollin juvenal delinquents it's the closing of the local rec center that gets their panties in a wad. Over The Edge is an amazing relic from 1979, like its East-Coast cousin from the same year, The Warriors, it perfectly captures its period and its only-in-America geography. Instead of the ethnically diverse landscape of the street gang classic this one is an all-white, pre-Spielberg suburban West Coast sprawl, when kids were either jocks or burnouts, but all could agree that school sucked, parents are hypocrites, and cops are fascists. I bet the designers of Dazed And Confused took a look at this film's style. Also it's been said that it inspired Kurt Cobain's teen rebellion opus "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
It also mark the debut for Matt Dillon who would reign over filmdom as the king of mumbling teen rebellion for the next decade. What a run he would have. He followed Over The Edge with the summer camp virginity-losing caper, Little Darlings (still not available on DVD and out of print on VHS). He then would play Moody, the ultimate high school bully, in My Bodyguard. And then he would win the James Dean wannabe sweepstakes in the SE Hinton misunderstood teen trifecta of Tex, The Outsiders, and Rumble Fish (the later two would mark the end of Francis Ford Coppola as an important filmmaker). Of course in recent years Dillon can be found mugging his way through such dribble as Herbie Fully Loaded (oh, how lucky James Dean was to die young).Continue Reading
The Big Heat
Film noir is a style, genre, atmosphere, whatever, often synonymous with a dizzying amount of plot twists, shadowy visuals, and double and triple crosses interwoven into spider web of a plot. But in some of the most memorable examples of film noir certain filmmakers took a more, well, direct approach. The Big Heat is a lean, stripped down revenge story without the murky lighting and wafting smoke of rotten glamour that permeates many a classic film noir. The visual style is flat, the plot is relatively straightforward, but make no mistake, it’s a film that pulsates with paranoid intensity. Lang would return over and over to the trio of themes best spelled out in the title song of his weird western, Rancho Notorious: “murder, hatred and revenge.” He liked to chronicle the way that an obsessive need for revenge can turn men into that which they despise.
Before Dirty Harry there was The Big Heat’s Sgt. Bannion, an honest cop in a nameless city in the stranglehold of corruption at every level. Bannion doesn’t mince words and takes relish in stepping on the toes of every person he’s not supposed to mess with. A police captain dies under mysterious circumstances. His mistress meets Bannion for a drink and tells him she thinks he was murdered. This sparks Bannion’s investigation into a conspiracy that ensnares almost everyone in power surrounding him. When the mob retaliates in the most horrifically personal way imaginable Bannion’s crusade takes on a deranged quality. He’ll stop at nothing until he takes down Italian dandy crime boss Mike Lagana any way he can. When a ditzy girlfriend of one of Lagana’s thugs decides to help Bannion she becomes just one in a line of many victims whose personal sacrifice for Bannion’s crusade means almost nothing to him.Continue Reading
Samurai Jack Season 3
Admittedly, the show Samurai Jack does not seem worth getting into if giving it a quick glance. What with its child-like premise, silly title, and kind of annoying theme song, it would be easy to pile it together with all the other harmless cartoons that come and go. But to do so would mean to miss out on some of the best writing and certainly best direction, cartoon or otherwise, in the action genre. During its four year run, the story of an ancient samurai thrown into the future followed in the footsteps of other great hero journeys like Star Wars or Conan The Barbarian and reached the height of its potential in the Season Three, two-part episode "Birth of Evil."
Part One begins thousands of years in the past, somewhere in the cosmos, where three gods battle a formless, dark evil. One of the things that Samurai Jack has done so well is prove how gripping a simple good vs. evil story can be. There’s never any doubt in the show who the good guys or bad guys are, which is contrary to so much entertainment that likes to paint too much in gray. Most likely this happens so often for two reasons: one, because it seems more interesting to not know who to cheer for or to sympathize with the villain; and two, because we fear moral absolutes. But stories of good and evil work so well because they go beyond the skeletons in our closets and into a force larger than us, so well depicted in the opening of this show. But unfortunately for the three gods in battle, and the inhabitants of Earth, a tiny piece of this beast breaks off and makes its way toward our home.Continue Reading