Toy Story 3

Dir: Lee Unkrich, 2010. Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack. Children's.

All children take their play very seriously, and you might be one of the many adults who look back on playtime as one of the most engaging and memorable aspects of your youth. Children create a world and mimic what they see when they are playing, and this activity is, without a doubt, a fundamental building block for our species. When Toy Story came out in '95 it was a big success. The story of a group of toys who were loyal to their owner and overcame outlandish obstacles was brilliant. Seeing toys that actually felt emotions and had attachment issues helped me understand and define my relationship to my mother. It also urged me to take care of my toys and stop chopping off Barbie's hair. The family featured had a single-mother, which was an interesting dynamic and something that many children can relate to. It also gave me a silly curiosity growing up; I checked on my toys to see if they actually had a life of their own. The documentary The Pixar Story explains the company's success with its animation techniques and its first film, Toy Story. Toy Story 3, made over a decade later than the first, would become one of the highest grossing animated films, and one of three to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

For those of you who haven't seen Toy Story 1 or 2, let me indulge myself with a brief synopsis. The first film is about the anxiety of being replaced. Woody and his preschool-appropriate buddies fear that Andy will get a new toy for his birthday and replace one of them. He gets a Buzz Lightyear action figure and goes through a brief phase of being obsessed with space and the new toy. The quarrels between the delusional Buzz (who thinks he's a real space ranger) and the former favorite, Woody, leads to a huge accident. The two end up outside and in the hands of a kid who likes to torture toys. They decide to work together in order to get home before their family moves to their new house, or the sinister kid across the street blows them up.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 12, 2011 12:01pm

Trainspotting

Dir: Danny Boyle, 1996. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner & Kelly Macdonald. Cult.

John Hodge’s brilliant screenplay, based on the cult novel by the same name written by Irvine Welsh, is the story of a group of young friends, drug addicts, and overall petty criminals from Edinburgh who play hard and fast. The plot is a maturation story about one of these needle lovers, "Renton” (McGregor), who begins to realize that his life could be so much more in normalcy.

The screenplay does a wonderful job of capturing the lifestyle, while not passing judgment on it. Through Renton’s colorful self-actualizing voiceover, we’re given the chance to look into the bare souls of the wild, wayward and lost.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Feb 23, 2009 4:01pm

Tsotsi

Dir: Gavin Hood, 2005. Starring: Presley Chweneyagae. Tsotsitaal, Zulu, Xhosa, English, Afrikaans. Black Cinema.

We've all seen the gang leader film a few hundred times. We've seen him in "tha hood" starting fights, we've seen him in a classroom getting into trouble and reporting to the principal's office, we've seen him ride slick cars, and we've seen him lead labor unions into civil uproar.

Place him in South Africa - we have a teenager named Tsotsi (meaning"thug") who doesn't know emotion and lives alone in the ghettos outside of Johannesburg. Place him in a wealthy city, and he steals a woman's Mercedes, as well as shoots her. Riding off, he finds himself not alone - the woman's baby is left in the backseat, and he is left by himself to take care of him. The film follows his journey as he learns how to care for someone other than himself, and the lessons and people that come along the way.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Feb 16, 2008 2:30pm

Vertigo

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1958. Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Tom Helmore, Barbara Bel Geddes. Classics.

Back in 1958 Vertigo was considered a misfire from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, but now over 50 years later, with a strong restoration and a number of clever reissues, many deem it one of Hitch’s best films and maybe his most personal. Like Notorious before it, underneath the suspense it’s a love story, but a twisted kind of love, obsession. Jimmy Stewart finishes off his Hitchcock trifecta after The Man Who Knew Too Much and Rear Window (not counting the much earlier Rope), putting a twist on his everyman and giving one of the most complicated psychological performances of his career. Vertigo also proves to be career peaks for the stunning Kim Novak and for film composer Bernard Herrman. If you can get past some of the plottyness of the film's first act Vertigo proves to be a film worth obsessing over.

The film is based on the novel The Living And The Dead by the French writing team of Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud, who also wrote the deliberately Hitchcockian thriller Les Diaboliques (whose film version by Henri-Georges Clouzot had a big impact on Hitch and helped to push him in the more shocking direction that lead to Psycho and later Frenzy).

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Mar 25, 2011 11:17am

Volver

Dir: Pedro Almodovar. 2007. Starring: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Yohana Cobo. Spanish. Comedy/Drama.

Warm and wonderful, Pedro Almodovar's Volver resonates with his favorite subjects:  women, secrets and the transformative power of love. Framed with light suspense, rich imagery and sensuous color are amazing performances by the entire cast, most notably a voluptuous Penelope Cruz. Her courageous and spirited Raimunda is a struggling mother stuck in a bad marriage and bravely fulfilling the role of matriarch, not only to her sister and daughter but to a community of women loosely tied by tradition and committed through love. When her mother reappears as a ghost, Raimunda's life gets infinitely more complicated.

Violence and religious mysticism are catalysts and cards to the emotional evolution of all the characters but are hardly the point. As secrets are unveiled, the once shelled lives become full again with redemption and understanding and life seems to right itself, as if waiting for the perfect miracle. The weak become strong, the strong - weak, youth gains wisdom and age renews its joy for life.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Jan 28, 2008 3:29pm

War Dance

Directors: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. 2007. English (subtitles). Documentary / Black Cinema.

Recent attention to the children's situation in war-torn Uganda has been spoken about in art events and documentaries such as Invisible Children, and there's a reason for that – international events, especially in Africa, are becoming more and more cared for as history school books fail to cover these contemporary aspects of our global issues.

War Dance, Sean and Andrea Fine's documentary about children competing in the Kampala Music Festival, has been received ambivalent critical review. New York Times' Stephen Holden sums up the conflict:  the film "is so gorgeous that its beauty distracts from the anguish it reveals… in spite of its slickness, is an honorable, sometimes inspiring exploration of the primal healing power of music and dance in an African tribal culture."

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Sep 13, 2008 2:51pm

White Heat

Dir: Raoul Walsh, 1949. Starring: James Cagney, Margaret Wycherly, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien. Classics.

If you know anyone afflicted with a phobia towards classic film this might be a good place to start them. White Heat is one of the darkest, funniest American films ever made with tension as thick as a hangman’s noose. Did you enjoy the film The Dark Knight? Do you remember the opening bank heist scene where the Joker kills off each accomplice as soon as they have served their purpose? Did you like that scene? Of course you did. It’s the best scene of the whole film. Well, White Heat is kind of like the bank heist scene from The Dark Knight. It runs on that kind of gleeful nihilistic energy. It’s more film noir than gangster film, though it is so well performed and well directed that it doesn’t really matter what you call it because it’s in a class by itself.

James Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a psychotic gang leader who plans and executes heists and seems to kill as much for his own kicks as for necessity. Of all the swaggering maniacs Cagney played, Cody Jarrett is his masterpiece. He’s older and slightly heavier than the lithe gangster characters Cagney played in his youth but Cody Jarrett is much more honestly twisted than anything Cagney had done before. He is the terrifying monster lurking beneath Cagney’s portrayals of charming psychopaths. Cody is a mama’s boy. He has headaches that make him run for his mother’s lap. She knows how to comfort him and how to manipulate him.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Jun 22, 2011 1:13pm

Woman in the Dunes

Dir: Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964. Starring: Eiji Okada and Kyôko Kishida. Japanese. Asian Cinema.

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 Rashômon incorporate centuries' worth of idealism and culture into an hour and a half’s worth of wonder.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Mar 29, 2010 5:53pm

Written on the Wind

Dir: Douglas Sirk. 1956. Starring: Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone. Classics.

My description of Written on the Wind that I stuck onto a copy of the DVD in the “Employee Picks” section at Amoeba is that it is a candy colored fever dream of violence and ecstasy. Dave Kehr, writing for the Chicago Reader, wrote that Written on the Wind was a “screaming Brechtian essay on the shared impotence of the American family and business life.” I like both descriptions and I especially like the word “screaming” as it applies to what these desperate characters are really doing.

The first thing you might notice about the film is the colors. They overwhelm. Even if the action of the film centers on the downfall of one of those big oil family dynasties from Texas and the renegade pair of lovers caught in the middle, you might ignore the untamed passions exploding before you and instead fall into a hallucinatory stupor from all the cherry reds and periwinkle blues that flood the action of each meticulously constructed scene. The film is supremely pleasurable to look at. That quality of a luxurious surface of beauty is central to all of director Douglas Sirk’s best known works. The surface appearances—which are always gorgeous—are reflected back on themselves via mirrors used throughout his films and create a grotesquely ironic commentary on the desperate entrapment that materialism and expectations of conformity conspire to create in the lives of his characters. If we want to understand the 1950s in America and what they mean to us now we would do well to watch his films. They reveal a lot.

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Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Nov 24, 2008 6:51pm

Z

Dir: Costa-Gavras, 1969. Starring: Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jean-Louis Trintignant. Foreign.

Once upon a time a little French film shot in Algeria by a Greek director became a massive international hit, winning a bunch of awards including a couple of Oscars. Z may actually be left wing propaganda, but it plays brilliantly as a fast paced piece of suspense pulp. Oh the 1960s! What an amazing time for filmmakers and film watching, you were. In the docu realism tradition of The Battle Of Algiers, the unnamed country of Z may look a lot like Greece or even Italy, but it could anywhere. The shooting at Kent State was just two years away, and much of the world appeared to be in political turmoil. Z plays like a "how to" guide for both sides: how to start a left-wing revolution and, for the people in charge of keeping the status quo, how to squash it.

Z opens with a title card reading, "Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is INTENTIONAL." This tells you that director Costa-Gavras is willing to wear his politics (or his bias) on his sleeve. The military dictators are worried about political protests from “beatniks” and foreigners, and they commit to shutting down any outside agitation. As a left wing political leader known as both Deputy and Z (the all-time great French actor Yves Montand) prepares for a rally for nuclear disarmament, while the Russian ballet performs across the street, Government thugs carrying bats continue to harass and beat his supporters. Trying to cross the street the Deputy is walloped by a guy with a baseball bat - though fake witnesses say a drunk driver hit him - he sustains injuries that eventually kill him.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Jun 9, 2011 4:15pm
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