Handpicked By The Amoeba Staff

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

To Joy (Till Glädje)

Dir: Ingmar Bergman. 1950. Starring: Stig Olin, Maj-Britt Nilsson,Victor Sjöström. Swedish. Foreign.

"Music is the goal, not the means."

Few films capture the simplicities of what is important in an artist's life. The title is taken from Schiller's "Ode to Joy," fitting for this story concerning two orchestral players. Stig is a dissatisfied musician, hating the idea of living in mediocrity, while Marta is a beautiful lady who basks in the simple joys of life. She steals Stig's hardened heart in spite of himself, and they eventually get married. He struggles with his ability to play as a violin soloist. His ambitions consume him to the point where he loses sight of his wife's patience and care. We've all seen this inner torment from the viewpoint of a husband/musician plenty of times – any biopic of an artist will tell that story. Yet what stands out about this film is Bergman's ability to portray the main character in all his flaws and weaknesses, and there's absolutely no glamour or flashiness attached. The result? Honest, rich sentiment.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Sep 13, 2008 2:34pm

Tagebuch einer verlorenen (Diary of a lost girl)

Dir: Georg Wilhelm Pabst. 1929. Starring: Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, Edith Meinhard. Silent/Foreign Film.

Had Tagebuch einer verlorenen come out before Die Büchse der Pandora, it would possibly be regarded as the superior film. The reasons filmschoolies seem to champion the earlier film are usually contextual. It had the first onscreen depiction of lesbians, it was the first collaboration between Pabst and Louise Brooks and it is, unquestionably, an amazing film. If you need further proof, the always safe and predictable Criterion released the first and Kino the latter. Viewed side-by-side, there’s little between the two films and the relatively lower stature of Tagebuch einder verlorenen seems to stem more from underexposure than under-appreciation.

With this film, Pabst presents one of the earliest (possibly the first) example of the Women in Prison film. Although technically not set in prison, the reform school setting is a common variation of the subgenre and allows for the same sorts of exploitation – sadism, lesbianism and repression of an innocent forced to endure cruel conditions. Pabst is, somewhat ironically, often praised for his sympathetic portrayals of the plights of women, but here (as with his earlier work) he seems to revel in the lurid situations he creates. Beginning with Die freudlose Gasse (1925) and continuing with Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (1927) and Büchse der Pandora (1929); Pabst’s heroines are variously unloved, duped, raped, forced into prostitution and murdered. The relentless brutality, at frequent instances, approaches camp in that Teutonic manner where comedy and horror comfortably co-exist.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Sep 8, 2008 4:03pm

Herr Arnes pengar (Sir Arne’s treasure)

Dir: Mauritz Stiller. 1919. Starring: Mary Johnson, Richard Lund, Erik Stocklassa. Silent Film/Foreign.

Subtitled “a winter ballad in 5 acts,” Herr Arne’s adventure is a bleak and beautiful masterpiece of Swedish Cinema. In the 16th century, a gang of conspiring Scotsmen are banished from the country except for their leaders, who’re locked up in a tower. They promptly escape, disguise themselves as journeymen tanners and go on a murderous rampage, looting the titular treasure from the kindly Herr Arne’s vicarage.

When they try to beat the retreat, the bellicose rogues find themselves iced in and forced to wait out the harsh winter. In the process of checking the ice, one of the evildoers (Sir Archie) falls for the sole survivor of their rampage, the young, adopted daughter of the vicar, Ellasil. She falls for him too and, before long, they figure out where their lives have intersected before. Haunted by ghostly visions, Sir Archie even recalls stabbing his beloved’s sister in the heart. And yet, their new love proves unassailable – though they’re understandably wracked with guilt and sullenly accepting of their inevitable ends.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Sep 6, 2008 6:09pm

Schatten: Eine Nachtliche Halluzination (Warning Shadows)

Dir: Arthur Robison. 1923. Starring: Fritz Kortner, Ruth Weyher, Gustav Von Wagenheim. Silent Films.

Schatten begins with a five minute introduction to the film’s players, who are trotted out like the foils in a police lineup onto an actual stage where they’re identified with intertitles. After this lengthy prologue, the film abandons the use of titles altogether and embraces the purely visual ideal of silent films (predating Murnau’s efforts which are usually credited as the first to do the same.)

In the 19th century, a slightly touched travelling illusionist performs shadow puppetry for the assembled guests at a wealthy baron’s dinner party. The host’s wife is pursued quite unashamedly by four otherworldly effeminate guests who openly and continuously wink and purse their lips. This effrontery quite rankles the woman’s husband (who looks like Orson Welles crossed with Kelsey Grammer). In one scene, the fops appear to grope the baron’s wife in a public ménage a quatre, but it turns out to be shadowplay. If this seems like bad behavior, it’s because it is. And the moral of the puppeteer’s story is brutal. Already confused and disoriented by phantasmagoric shadows, reflections and misleading silhouettes, the puppeteer’s curiously timely tale pushes the partygoers over the edge and the viewer is pulled along with them.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Aug 30, 2008 1:50pm

A Disquisition on Magnum P.I., Season 3

1982-1983. Starring: Tom Selleck, John Hillerman, Roger E. Mosley, and Larry Manetti. English. TV.

Magnum. Magnum, Magnum, Magnum, Magnum. Saying that name, (and for you, gentle reader, seeing it) just makes me feel better.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Aug 27, 2008 3:59pm

俠女A Touch of Zen

Dir. King Hu. Starring: Hsu Feng, Shih Jun, Pai Ying, Roy Chao. Mandarin. Asian Cinema/Martial Arts/Fantasy.

A Touch of Zen is a 1971 wǔxiá film. Wǔxiá is a type of martial arts film from China which takes place in a mythical golden age or even parallel world (Jiang Hu) wherein fighters attained levels of skill never seen in our time; allowing them to run across water and trees as well as achieve near perfect aim and defensive moves. The plots concern warriors who live by codes of honor based on Buddhist principles which frequently place them at odds with the law enforced by corrupt authorities. The Communist government of China banned the genre in the 20th century, not having to strain hard to see how the genre could be used to attack them. During the reforms of the 1980s, the ban was finally lifted, resulting in more recent, Chinese-produced films wǔxiá films like Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers and Hero or Chen Kaige’s the Promise.

Filming for A Touch of Zen began in 1969 (during the Chinese ban) in Taiwan where, along with Hong Kong, wǔxiá flourished after beginning in silent era. Set in the 14th century, it’s seen through the eyes of Ku, an un-ambitious, nerdy painter who lives with his mother in a decaying, abandoned fort believed by the superstitious locals to be haunted. When the mysterious Yang Hui-Ching crosses his path, he’s immediately smitten with the icy stranger. To his surprise and delight, she beds him and then she fills him in on her background – she’s a fugitive being pursued by a Eunuch named Wei who murdered her father and is now seeking to obliterate her entire family. Ku’s eager to help and, combining his scholarly background and Yang’s out-of-this-world fighting ability, they route her pursuers.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Aug 22, 2008 9:46pm

Sword of Doom

Dir: Kihachi Okamoto.1966. Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Toshiro Mifune. Japanese. Martial Arts/Asian Cinema

大菩薩峠 literally translates to “The pass of the great Buddha” which is a much more evocative and memorable name than the calculatedly generic “Sword of Doom.” Despite being one of my favorite films of all time, I usually get it wrong as it’s so vague and unmemorable. In my (and many others’) opinion, it’s the greatest example of the martial arts sub-genre of chanbara which are Japanese period films focused sword fighting.

The film is based on the serialized, newspaper-published stories written by Buddhist author Kaizan Nakazato beginning in 1913. Over three decades he wrote and published new segments until his death. Sword of Doom isn’t the first time the stories have been adapted for film, but it is the most highly regarded.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Aug 22, 2008 9:40pm

Get Shorty

Dir: Barry Sonnenfeld. 1995. Starring: John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Rene Russo, Delroy Lindo. English. Comedy.

Chili Palmer (Travolta) is a Miami shylock who finds himself looking for a new career path in life. While chasing down a collection, Chili encounters a B-movie producer named Harry Zim (Hackman) and his scream-queen star, Karen Flores (Russo). Harry has backed himself into a corner, owning money to a local hoodlum (Lindo), who tries to get a piece of the best script Harry has ever owned. In steps Chili, who loves Tinseltown and decides to become a producer. Chili and Karen approach her ex-husband, mega-movie star, Martin Weir (DeVito), to star in the film.

After a successful career as a cinematographer (Raising Arizona, Misery), Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) took his place in the director’s chair. After two successful Addam’s Family films, he brought Elmore Leonard’s bestseller to the big screen.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Aug 11, 2008 3:41pm

L.A. Confidential

Dir: Curtis Hanson. 1997. Starring: K. Spacey, R. Crowe, G. Pearce, K. Basinger, J. Cromwell, D. DeVito. English. Mystery.

In 1950s Los Angeles, three cops with very different styles, try solving a multiple homicide. Along the way, they face off against each other, as well as the corruption that runs rampant in the City of Angels.

The screen adaptation by Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland (Payback), beautifully translates a very complex multi-layered story, based on the crime novel by James Ellroy. The characterization is very strong, the dialogue is razor-sharp, and the plot structure is intricate, but aptly realized. The two men won an Academy Award for their efforts.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Aug 11, 2008 3:27pm

Black Snake Moan

Dir: Craig Brewer. 2007. Starring: Christina Ricci, Samuel L. Jackson, Justin Timberlake. English. Cult.

Black Snake Moan opens in the deep, poor South, as “Ronnie” (Timmerlake) leaves to join the Coast Guard. He leaves, in his wake, his white trash girlfriend, “Rae” (Ricci) -  a young woman of dubious morals. As soon as his bus has left, Rae falls under “the sickness” and spreads her legs all over the small town. She is left for dead in the middle of the rural countryside, and found by a God-fearing former blues man turned farmer named “Lazarus” (Jackson). He nurses her back to health, keeping her hostage in hopes of curing her wicked ways, with the help of the Lord. In her salvation from sin, he hopes it will also be his own.

This is truly a unique, bizarre, and well-crafted story about a very specific slice of life. Although it takes place in present day, the film feels almost like a work of the 1970s.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Aug 11, 2008 3:18pm
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