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Steven Aldersley (Oshawa, Ontario, Canada)

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Firefly: The Complete Series  [Blu-ray]
Firefly: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Nathan Fillion
Price: CDN$ 12.49
2 used & new from CDN$ 12.44

4.0 out of 5 stars It deserved a couple more seasons at least, Dec 20 2014
I spent most of this week watching the 14 episodes of Firefly for the second time in my life, and I think I appreciated it even more this time around. The TV show was cancelled before all of the Season 1 episodes were shown, although they ultimately aired on The Science Channel.

The series failed for a number of reasons; the main one being that the episodes were not shown in the correct order, which was a stupid decision because the feature-length opening episode introduces all of the characters.

So why do I like it?

Episodes often show the crew taking on a task of some kind to earn their living. These assignments are often illegal, but can also become somewhat noble. If you are a fan of Whedon, you'll know that he uses humor regularly, and it's often present in Firefly. It can be pretty campy at times, but the writing is strong and it never comes across as stupid. Jaynestown is probably the funniest episode, and you'll understand why if you watch the episodes in the correct sequence.

I would have to say that I like every character, and that's rare for me with a cast of this size. The biggest mystery in the series surrounds River (Summer Glau), who plays the sister of the ship's doctor, Simon (Sean Maher). Their relationship is arguably the strongest within the group, and there's always a sense that River's story drives the entire series.

The Blu-ray includes all of the episodes, and the picture quality is good for the most part. Some of the darker images have lower quality, but the series is so good that you won't sit there criticizing the image. The special features include plenty of commentaries, as well as a making of feature, deleted scenes, and other assorted goodies.

If you do become hooked on the series, you'll need to watch Serenity (2005), which was a two-hour movie wrapping up the main story. That's a fantastic science fiction movie, but you'll appreciate it more if you know the characters well. Firefly runs for almost 11 hours, and you'll end up wishing for more. The movie gives the show a proper ending, and won't leave you hanging.

At the time of writing, it's available on for just $12.49. Buy it if you like Whedon, science fiction, or well-written characters. Incidentally, the set is housed in a regular Blu-ray case with room for the three discs, so it won't look out of place on your shelf.

Firefly is a mix of action, drama, romance, and adventure. Although it's science fiction, the characters often talk like cowboys. Josh Whedon (Buffy, The Avengers) created the series, as well as directing three episodes and being involved as a writer.

The characters have real depth, but the development isn't rushed. The origin of the relationships and character traits are explained gradually as the series progresses. Many of the characters are mysterious, and will make you question their true motivations. But, through it all, each character always seems real. You'll meet a married couple, war veterans, a preacher, a doctor, a psychologically damaged girl, a genius engineer, an apparently dumb mercenary, and a high-class prostitute. It's fascinating to see the existing bonds between some of the characters, and the development of new bonds.

Good Will Hunting: 15th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray + Digital Copy] (Bilingual)
Good Will Hunting: 15th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray + Digital Copy] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Robin Williams
Price: CDN$ 14.93
2 used & new from CDN$ 14.93

5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing with strong performances, Sept. 7 2014
It's been a while since I watched Robin Williams act, and Good Will Hunting is the first time I have seen one of his performances since he died. Although I am a fan of his comedy, I much prefer his serious roles. Movies such as Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo and Insomnia proved that Williams was more than a comedian. In Good Morning Vietnam, he was able to blend comedy with drama to good effect. It's fair to say that Good Will Hunting would be far less effective without Williams in one of his two best performances (Dead Poets Society).

The story consists of several important elements that are present in all or most of our lives, and one that is far less common:

Will Hunting (Damon) is a genius, but he spends his life hanging out with his buddies from Southie. To him, friendship is far more important than his potential. He works in construction, spends his free time in bars, and isn't afraid to pick fights without any real reason to do so. He's the central character in the film, as you might suspect after reading the title. As the story unfolds, we learn more about his past, his motivations, and his possible future.

Ben Affleck is convincing as Hunting's most loyal friend, and it's obviously a friendship that exists outside the confines of the movie.

Gerald Lambeau is a professor at MIT, and recognizes that Hunting has an exceptional mind, even though he's a janitor and not a student at the institution. Lambeau tries to get Hunting psychological help, while developing and exploiting his genius as a mathematician.

The final key element is romance. Hunting spots Skylar at a bar and manages to win her attention. His upbringing makes him a difficult romantic partner, but I won't ruin the story for you.

As I sat watching the movie, I found that I connected with it on several levels. The writing is superb, and thoroughly deserved the Oscar for best screenplay. The interactions between these very real characters was authentic and easy to imagine. Everything just fits together perfectly. I was reminded why drama is my favorite genre by far. This story is about something important. While few of us understand true genius, we can certainly identify with the problems and obstacles that life throws at us from time to time.

Imagine that you have a similar level of intelligence to that of Will Hunting. Perhaps you do? What would you choose to do with it? Is money your definition of success? If so, you would have numerous paths to pursue to reach that rather easy goal. Would you prefer to make a real difference in the world in your chosen field? Would you take a step back and figure out what truly makes you happy, even if it meant that your genius would be rarely utilized? Would you give it all up for the right romantic partner?

I like movies that reach me emotionally and make me think, and Good Will Hunting does all that and more. The script is insightful when you consider that it was written by two men in their mid-20s. Williams gives a memorable performance and Damon is right up there with him. Minnie Driver is believable as the interesting romantic interest, and the story is well-paced and intelligent. Good Will Hunting will appeal to anyone who enjoys drama, the psychological reasons that drive our choices, and human behavior in general.

Overall score 4.5/5

August: Osage County [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
August: Osage County [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Meryl Streep
Price: CDN$ 9.49
8 used & new from CDN$ 5.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a place I would visit very often, April 17 2014
Despite being listed as a drama, August: Osage County produced plenty of laughs. However, most were in sympathy or shock at the darkness of the subject matter. The laughs came because the movie so keenly observes how dysfunctional families can be. The Weston family takes that theme to the extreme and cannot boast a single member that comes close to what we would consider normal.

If you have seen Eraserhead and remember the scene where Henry Spencer meets his girlfriend's family, you might begin to approach how uncomfortable the atmosphere in the Weston household can be. The opening scene introduces us to Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), who writes poetry when his alcoholism allows. We quickly realize why he feels the need to escape reality when we meet his wife, Violet (Meryl Streep). She's almost permanently high on a cocktail of pills, and has the appearance of a zombie in these opening shots. Her husband decides to leave in the first few minutes of the story, and we eventually learn that he has committed suicide. This sets off an incredible chain of events as family members start showing up to offer their condolences and attend the funeral.

The movie was adapted from a play, and it feels like it throughout the two-hour running time. This is a story which only uses two or three settings, and most of the time we are in the Weston's home. The acting on display is terrific across the board. As much as I admired Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Streep's performance was better. I highly doubt that she'll beat Blanchett on Oscar night because of the nature of the story, but the performance is the best I have seen all year. Despite Streep's towering performance, her supporting cast had a lot to contribute. Julia Roberts deserved her Supporting Actress nod, but I would have to say that every character was portrayed well.

The acting took my breath away at times, and I enjoyed seeing the story unfold. I loved listening to Streep, Roberts, Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson deliver their lines. I wouldn't consider the movie a fun watch, despite the dark humor, but it does a lot of things extremely well. Like Lincoln, this is one you'll grab from the shelf when you are starving for intelligent dialogue and masterful acting, rather than the sheer pleasure of some movie plots. You'll might well be reminded of chaotic conversations you've had with your own friends or family.

I'll always be amazed at how Meryl Streep seems to become the person she is playing on the screen. It's different every time.

The Lonesome Crowded West
The Lonesome Crowded West
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 42.95
8 used & new from CDN$ 27.24

5.0 out of 5 stars When you get into it, you'll never want to stop hearing it, April 6 2014
Ce commentaire est de: The Lonesome Crowded West (Audio CD)
What's my favorite Modest Mouse album? Choosing between The Moon & Antarctica and The Lonesome Crowded West is an agonizing decision, and I might make a different choice on another day, but today the latter wins. I discovered Modest Mouse relatively late, but they have become one of my favorite bands. The thing is, I'm not sure why.

Like Pavement and Sonic Youth, the arrangements are unconventional and seemingly all over the place. It took me a while to see some kind of pattern in the chaos, but it was worth the effort.

The album opens with Teeth Like God's Shoeshine, and it's fairly typical of what is to follow. The song seems like three or four different tunes blended together. It's out of tune and a bit of a rant to begin with, but then it builds into something more. Heart Cooks Brain employs a totally different style, creating an atmosphere that's both eerie and compelling. Convenient Parking is repetitive as it bores its way into your brain, and you might find yourself humming it a few hours later.

Three tracks in and the album already feels like the start of a weird and wonderful journey. Lounge is a strange creature, opening with a funky beat before Isaac Brock rants over the top. Like so many Modest Mouse songs, it has a lot of recognizable phases, and it's never predictable or boring. My favorite track has to be Doin' the Cockroach. It builds slowly, with Brock making some interesting observations before the chorus kicks in.

"I was in heaven"
"I was in hell"
"Believe in neither"
"But fear them as well"

I could praise every track, but it's best if you check out the album for yourself. Notice the structure of the songs and how they employ space. Some songs, like S*** Luck, are outright rants; others, such as Trucker's Atlas, take plenty of time to develop into arty jams.

Modest Mouse are not an easy band to get into initially, but it will happen if you give it a chance. When your brain learns the intricate patterns, you'll find yourself eagerly anticipating every song. Unlike some bands, the 15 tracks cover a variety of styles. The Lonesome Crowded West is a great place to visit for 74 minutes. You might find yourself spending a lot of time there.

Unknown Pleasures
Unknown Pleasures
Price: CDN$ 13.73
25 used & new from CDN$ 6.69

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music so real it rips out your heart, April 6 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Unknown Pleasures (Audio CD)
I remember the first time I heard this album. A friend at school gave me the tape in 1979 and I played it that night. I have to admit that only a few songs grabbed me on the first listen. Some were too slow and dreary to excite me in the way that most of my favorite music did. However, repeat listens enabled me to see the beauty in this majestic music.

Most new bands at the end of the 70s were young and enthusiastic, and it was more about the style and delivery than the content. Joy Division did not fall into that category. If you have ever seen Anton Corbijn's movie, Control, you'll understand what Ian Curtis went through. He was a young man, in love with two women, trying to come to terms with epilepsy. Like most of my favorite vocalists, he had his limitations.

What separated Joy Division from the pack was the passion. Curtis lived and breathed those songs. His delivery was real in the true sense of the word. You'll never see a singer mean it like Curtis if you only watch American Idol or The Voice.

Joy Division were more than just one man though. The music had a depth to it, with each component a vital part of the sound. Peter Hook's bass was extremely prominent. Sumner's lead guitar dominated a few tracks, while the drums ranged from driving to sparse, with Morris adding to the desolation when appropriate. Insight, New Dawn Fades, and She's Lost Control formed the heart of the album. The ever-present bass added weight to the sound, and it's incredible how much beauty was present. Listen to the slow burn of New Dawn Fades and you'll begin to understand Joy Division. If I had to pick a favorite track, it would probably be Shadowplay.

The album begins with Disorder, which gives you a good idea of the importance of each instrument as they are gradually introduced to the mix. These guys could really play. Day of the Lords sounds sinister and ominous, but there is so much feeling. Candidate is a good example of a song that sounds too desolate to be enjoyable, but it becomes meaningful and almost uplifting once you know it well enough.

If you missed seeing Joy Division more than 30 years ago, it's worth checking out Peter Hook and the Light if they are playing Unknown Pleasures or Closer in your town. The sound is surprisingly close to the original.

Unknown Pleasures is a must-own album, but is too difficult for the casual listener. I would recommend the Heart and Soul box set, which includes all of the albums and singles, plus the Warsaw tracks. The fourth live disc seems to have been recorded at the wrong speed, but the first three discs capture Joy Division brilliantly. It might take a little time, but it's worth getting to know the music of Joy Division. The potential rewards are huge.

Marquee Moon (Expanded)
Marquee Moon (Expanded)
Price: CDN$ 20.71
40 used & new from CDN$ 10.90

5.0 out of 5 stars It's criminal that so few people have heard this album, April 6 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Marquee Moon (Expanded) (Audio CD)
Television are always mentioned in the same breath as Talking Heads, The Ramones and Blondie because they all used to play at CBGB in New York in the 70s. I own plenty of albums from those other three bands, but Marquee Moon is the one I always return to. For some reason, it's a bit of a cult record. I only really got into it completely around 15 years ago, but I mention it at every opportunity.

What makes Television unique is the guitar interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. I'm not a musician, so it's hard to describe some of the sounds. I just know that no other band ever did this.

The lyrics are clever and the musical structure is complex. See No Evil is so accessible that it's almost pop, but pop with a raw edge. It's followed by Venus, which continues in the same vein, if a little darker. Friction kicks in with a cascade of guitar notes, and then starts spiraling into madness. The lyrics fit perfectly, and it's hard not to smile every time I hear "You complain of my dic-tion."

Even if the first three tracks don't capture your interest, it's hard to ignore what comes next. The title track is absolute perfection. Most fans would agree that Marquee Moon is the best song Television ever recorded, and it's even better live. The opening vocals are eerie and set the scene.

"I remember how the darkness doubled"
"I recall, lightning struck itself"
"I was listening, listening to the rain"
"I was hearing, hearing something else"

Make no mistake, this is a song that transports you to another world. Verlaine's vocals are more like David Byrne than a rock artist, but his limitations don't ruin the delivery. If you make it through this list, you'll notice that few of the bands can really sing. I like things a bit messed up. Just when you think the song has weaved its spell and can't possibly do any more, it returns to the opening verse. It absolutely has to be there to make the song feel complete.

Marquee Moon does not contain a weak song. Make sure you buy the remastered version or you'll miss out on Little Johnny Jewel. Television may also have been responsible for the best live album ever recorded, Live at the Old Waldorf.

Price: CDN$ 13.07
24 used & new from CDN$ 9.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most exciting bands in the history of music, April 6 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Doolittle (Audio CD)
I'm always surprised at how few people have listened to the Pixies. Kurt Cobain freely admitted that he was a fan of the band and their loud quiet loud approach. Doolittle is a combination of punk, pop, and haunting melodies. It's exciting and action packed, but the songs are much more than rants or ballads. There's so much going on in the rhythm section.

Black Francis is into space, UFOs, and thinks that music is like math. He's absolutely right. The seemingly chaotic sound of the Pixies still has a precise structure.

The first three songs grab you immediately. Debaser starts with Kim Deal's base, and that's a big part of the Pixies' sound. Francis delivers the lyrics with venom, and it's intensified on Track 2, Tame, which is contention for the title of the band's best track.

Wave of Mutilation completely changes the mood and allows you to catch your breath, and Francis switches to atmospheric mode. Such a versatile vocalist. Monkey Gone to Heaven is perhaps the most famous Pixies song, and it's full of harmonies and epic guitar.

Many of the songs sound mystical, as if they are reaching toward something important. They simply soar. How can you not love the vocals on No. 13 Baby, or Hey, or the haunting (there's that word again) closer, Gouge Away. Yep, Doolittle is a brilliant album. The only weak track is La La Love You, sung by drummer David Lovering, but I'll forgive him because of his work on the remainder of the album.

Full Track Listing:

Wave of Mutilation
I Bleed
Here Comes Your Man
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Mr. Grieves
Crackity Jones
La La Love You
No. 13 Baby
There Goes My Gun
Gouge Away

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Ralph Fiennes
Price: CDN$ 13.87

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe Anderson's most accessible film, but without compromising his unique vision, April 4 2014
I had been waiting to see Wes Anderson's latest project from the moment it was announced. The Canadian release date was delayed, and then ended up being limited to a few theaters. I'm happy to say that it finally made it to a local theater and I saw it at the earliest opportunity a few hours ago.

To describe the plot would be both difficult and pointless. Wes Anderson is an acquired taste and fans are likely to love everything he releases. The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly has the same tongue-in-cheek tone of his previous films, and the similarities don't end there. Neil Young once said that his output was all one song, and Anderson's feels like all one film.

The story is beautifully framed, with an old man recollecting his past to an interested writer. The images are typical Anderson, with the usual explosion of colors and storybook settings. This feeling is heightened by the use of title cards to denote the chapters and the familiar style of music used in previous efforts. The story takes place in three different time periods, but we spend most of our time in 1932. All of the scenes from the past are shown in full screen, while the main narration sequences are in widescreen.

All I will say about the plot is that is focuses on hotel employees M. Gustave (Fiennes) and Zero Moustafa (Revolori). Gustave dates old women and one of them leaves him a valuable painting in her will. Her family are rather annoyed, and hire someone to retrieve the painting. The story is incredibly detailed and vast, despite only running for 100 minutes. There are frequent moments of witty humor, farce, irony and visual gags. Most of Anderson's regulars appear in the film at some point, and it's a tribute to him that such talents are willing to show up for such limited screen time.

Fiennes is very effective as Gustave. He's eloquent, and fond of reciting poetry, but his comic timing is perfect throughout. The vocabulary is not what you would expect from a typical movie, but it is offset with occasional expletives, which are extremely funny in the context of the film.

I was reassured by the large audience that showed up on a Saturday morning to watch a film by a director who does nothing to try to appeal to the masses. There is a shootout scene, but not like anything you have ever witnessed. Wes Anderson is like Stephen King or David Lynch in the way that he slightly skews reality; unlike those two, Anderson's stories are much lighter in tone. I despise cruelty to animals, but you'll laugh at a scene involving a cat. It's similar to Snoopy's fate in Moonrise Kingdom.

It's so refreshing to see a filmmaker with ideas. Aren't you tired of seeing Hollywood blockbusters that are predictable and tired? Grand Budapest will never let you relax because there is so much information to absorb. The dialogue is strange, the settings are like something out of a dream, numerous objects and props are weird in themselves. It took me a few moments to come back to reality after the movie because I was still in that world as I walked out of the theater. I didn't even hear someone call my name until their third try.

I imagine The Grand Budapest Hotel will reveal new things every time you watch it, and I can't wait to add it to my collection and see it again. This may be Anderson's most accessible film to date, but he definitely hasn't deviated from his unique style.

Wig Out at Jagbags
Wig Out at Jagbags
Price: CDN$ 14.60
16 used & new from CDN$ 12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars It's a grower, March 27 2014
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
Ce commentaire est de: Wig Out at Jagbags (Audio CD)
I'm a big fan of Pavement and Stephen Malkmus in particular. This one doesn't match the brilliance of Real Emotional Trash, and actually sounds quite disappointing on the first listen. I think the reason is that the structure is complex and takes a few listens to become ingrained in your head.

There are horns on a couple of tracks, but this is largely what we have come to expect from Malkmus. Wig Out is a mix of catchy tunes, clever and amusing lyrics, and a few great hooks. Give it five listens and it will feel like an old friend.

The Monuments Men (Bilingual)
The Monuments Men (Bilingual)
DVD ~ George Clooney
Offered by Renaud-Bray
Price: CDN$ 23.74
6 used & new from CDN$ 8.95

22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent cast, but somehow failed to make me care, March 27 2014
Ce commentaire est de: The Monuments Men (Bilingual) (DVD)
I was trying decide whether to see The Monuments Men in theaters, or simply wait for the Blu-ray. On the one hand, it has a tremendous cast and features some of my favorite actors, but reviews have been generally negative. I eventually chose to make up my own mind.

I'm still not sure if that was a good decision.

The movie is based on a true story, and tells the tale of how a small group of men were charged with the task of recovering artwork stolen by the Nazi's during World War II. I'm tired of stories about Nazi's, but I have a lot of respect for people who fought and still fight for our freedom. Art should be for everyone and I had not heard this story before, so I have to admit that I had high hopes for the movie.

Nobody from the talented cast dominated the story. This was a true ensemble piece with screen time being shared. We are shown a recruiting stage, a planning stage, and then the attempted execution of those plans. Unfortunately, the drama doesn't really build in an effective way. In fact, I'm not certain what the movie was trying to be. There were frequent moments of comedy, interspersed with mystery, brief action, and adventure elements. With all of these important works of art at stake, I somehow failed to be completely invested in the story.

It's hard to pinpoint why it fell flat for me. I rather enjoyed the performances of the principal actors, but I didn't feel much tension during the search, or triumph when works of art were recovered.

The closing credits showed photographs of the real heroes who were involved in the mission 70 years ago.

The most memorable character was James Granger (Matt Damon), who interacted in an important way with Parisian museum curator, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), to uncover vital information for the mission. Blanchett's character was based on Rose Valland.

The Monuments Men is an important and heroic story which meanders along without ever becoming riveting. I would watch it again, but I don't think I need to own it.

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