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Richard S. Warner "Saraswati-Son" (Toronto, Canada)

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Key of Life
Key of Life
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brillant Japanese comedy with Shakesperean Profundities, Jan. 16 2014
This review is from: Key of Life (DVD)
Japanese Director Kenji Uchida's TIFF award-winning film, "Key of Life" is about as perfect as a film can get. While steeped in the culture, nuances and even sensibilities of it's home country, it nevertheless is immediately accessible and completely 'available' to the Western mind. People are people underneath their cultural 'clothing' and this film has it's very sensitive and astute finger on the pulse point of the human condition. "Key of Life" is a comedy with some very real but hidden teeth that grips you from the moment it starts right thought to its conclusion. Uchida's impeccable direction never loses sight of the delicate balance of hilarity and profound lesson telling that GOOD comedy actually is.

It starts off with a destitute, out of work actor ( Sakurai ) failing miserably at trying to off himself. All around him are the visible signs of his desperate and miserable life situation. His home is total wreck, and well, so is he. While this may not seem all that funny, remember those hidden teeth. Life can be pretty brutal to those who don't achieve. The actor's utter hopelessness sets up the situation that's required to get the film moving in the absurdity it revels in. Next we meet the tight, proper, super-efficient and totally lost in the ideals in her head, Kanae, a young woman so completely naive as to think that she can PLAN to marry by a certain date. She isn't even seeing anyone. In her editorial office, which she runs, she announces her decision to be married to her staff. She is resolute and certain. Yet IF she actually understood Life, moved IN it instead of trying to administrate it like her office, she wouldn't be trying to force it's unpredictable hand like she does. She is sweet enough and principled enough for us, though, to like her, despite her being completely out of touch with reality. Next we meet Kondo, a chillingly dangerous gang hitman. We see him do his shocking dirty work with perfect coldness and almost scientific precision, outside of a house, on a street at night. And it is Kondo who turns out to be the richest and most surprising of the films three main characters.

Their worlds collide and set up the ensuing narrative when Sakurai, after failing at suicide, goes off to a public bath house, a very Japanese institution, to try to relax. Kondo goes there too and Fate is sealed when he enters the bathing area only to slip on an errant bar of soap and fall violently, cracking his head on the wet tiled floor. Sakurai's actor's quick instinct for improv, perhaps, clicks in quickly and he seizes the opportunity to snatch Kondo's dropped keys, switch them with his own and take on the gangsters identity, assuming perhaps that Kondo has died. He now has a big car and the appearance of affluence. Sakurai has nothing to lose. An hour ago he was trying to end his life, so he goes for broke. Only .. he doesn't realize that he's taken on the identity of one of the most feared and respected hitmen in the Japanese underworld, with all its connections, benefits and ... commitments.

Kondo does not die, but, he completely loses any sense of who he is. In the hospital he 'accidentally' meets Kanae, our ludicrously idealistic bride to be, who is there to visit her ailing father. He appeals to her. He is kind, well spoken, respectful, even vulnerable. She thinks she's met the right match. We cringe wondering what might happen to this innocent, somewhat daft little flower should she realize she's 'designing' her relationship with a deadly hit man. Kondo has NO memory whatsoever and is led to Sakurai's miserable shack of a home and told that he lives there. He slowly pieces his life ( Sakurai's ) back together. Realizing that he is an actor, and finding Sakurai's books on acting method, Kondo adamantly sets out to "re-learn" how to be a great actor. While Kondo has a seriously compromised identity, his underlying sense of commitment to excellence still exists and he takes on the responsibility of perfection in acting with ferocity and focus. His acting skills will stand him in good stead later in the film ...

Sakurai is riding high on his new identity ..... until Kondo's gang life catches up to him. He does his best acting ever, now that he realizes he's in SERIOUS trouble. Where once there was nothing but the grey haze of desperation and hopelessness in front of him, he's riding high improvising his way through gangland, his zest for life re-ignited by the intense adrenalin rush of clear and present danger. From here, the film follows in the best absurdist tradition with some of the most startling, apropos, and radically novel plot twists I've ever seen. Sakurai's brilliant improvising is both hilarious and precarious. Kondo though, has the greatest surprises as he slowly, slowly begins to remember who he was and joins in with Sakurai's tenuous deception. The interaction between them is both hilarious and profound as Kondo 'plays' his part too, making it unclear if he's acting too, or if he's beginning to remember himself.

Uchida does brilliant work at shocking and surprising the viewer on his narrative rollercoaster as much as he does his characters. Things do NOT go where you think they will as each new bluff, mistake, accident, deception, turn and twist the plot in rapid fire succcession. Uchida's deep understanding of the unpredictability of Life along with a profound understanding of human nature truly approaches the Shakesperean with this brilliant, absurd, comedy. It grabs you from it's opening and holds you on the edge of your seat to it's very last second. I could see someone in Hollywood wanting to do a re-make of "Key of Life" in English but I would still prefer this film for essentially, as universal as it is, "Key of Life" works extraordinarily well because of it's very Japanese sensibility.

Absolute DYNAMITE !!!!!!!!

Deflowering of Eva Van End
Deflowering of Eva Van End
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Dutch Film with Clear Wes Anderson Influences, Dec 2 2013
This review is from: Deflowering of Eva Van End (DVD)
This quirky, funny, satirical and sometimes tragic film bears an odd title. Called the "Deflowering of Eva Van End" in English, it might really be called the "Deflowering of the Entire Van End Family". It begs the question of what the title is in Dutch.

Eva is that silent, awkward, not so terribly good-looking and horrifically ignored child in a very dysfunctional Dutch family. The Van Ends seem to be running on momentum and not on the supportive vitality of a loving family. Their meals, the only time they are together, are fraught with confrontation, rebellion and a curious, insularity to the emotional energies that each member is wanting to convey to the others. No one is listening to anyone. The mother is frigid and emotionally cut off from her somewhat ineffectual and non-descript husband. The oldest brother, at first, seems like the one person who has it all together - a good job for his age, a fiancee and his own new apartment. But he himself is awkward due to having a very bad case of acne. Manuel, who is the only one of the children without an "E" name, is a bitter, pot-smoking, nihilistic teen-ager acting out his rage on everyone and everything. Then there's Eva. Life goes on as it always has until Eva announces that she has invited a German exchange student to come and live with them for two weeks as part of a school program. Not a soul pays any attention to her. Oddly enough he is to be there to learn how to speak better English and the Van Ends are forced to dredge up their knowledge of it. So there's a fair bit of English spoken in the film.

Enter Veit. Much to Eva's consternation and a kindling of her teenage hormones, Veit is beautiful ... in every way. Not only is he classically beautiful, almost like a blonde Greek statue, he is VERY 'Ne Age' in his life. He seems to radiate inner peace, love, respect, sincerity and a deep concern for the well-being of each of the Van End family members. He takes an active interest in each one of them, speaking to their needs and laying them bare to them. He tells Etty, the mother, that she needs more time to herself and deserves to be treated with a special touch. It melts her and her bitter, tough heart. She is the first to transform. For that is what Veit's beauty and his almost Christ-like manner sets in motion, a complete and radical transformation of the Van Ends. But although one would think that such "light" and sweetness would be a healing balm to this very troubled familly, it sets in motion very powerful transformations in every one of them. And not all of those transformations are New Age peace and light. For example Veit literally "destroys" the oldest brother by being lovingly close to him. It begins a very emotionally violent and cataclysmic questioning of his sexuality and he breaks horribly from his fiancee, literally hiding in a tent when he realizes his latent homosexuality. Manuel is the prime mover. He does NOT respond to Veit's kindnesses. He actively abuses him and feels like the German lad is stealing his mother away from him, with whom he has a very complex love/hate relationship. Eva now has her own transformation as well. She is smitten with Veit and wants him to see her as a sexually attractive woman, which she is not. She tries everything to do so and not a soul notices, including Veit. When her "moment" comes it is quick and actually rather callous, revealing another side of Veit that speaks not of his perfection, but his failings. Indeed, eventually, Veit's integrity and ostensible 'perfection' is called into question as he gradually reveals behaviours that put a prick to his colourful balloon and one begins to wonder if the German lad is the 'saviour' that he first appears to be, a 'home-wrecker' or catalyst for deep personal 're-creation'.

The movie is several stories all combined. Each of the transformations of the Van End family members is followed through and how eventually, through crisis, of course, they come altogether. So, really, the film is not about one awkward girl's transformation, although that narrative is in there, as it is about an entire group of people and the deep inner changes they experience because of one powerful figure. In this regard I was a bit disappointed as I kept waiting for Eva's story to really begin and it turns out to be no more unique or special than anyone else's in the film. I had to "re-set" my expectations derived from the film's title. Once I stopped seeing the film as being about her and more about her AND her family, then I was much more able to enjoy the film.

Director Michiel ten Horn is young and in some ways it shows. Not badly, but he seems to be still discovering himself, still working through his influences, as yet to arrive at his own signature. Wes Anderson comes to mind in the styling, and dialogue of "The Deflowering of Eva Van End" with it's almost Warhol-esque dead-pan observation and delivery. The two supplementary shorts by ten Horn, "Basta" and "Arie", feel like they come from another director, their difference from "Eva" being quite striking. "Basta" in particular has the unmistakeable stamp of "Delicatessen" and "City of Lost Children" directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, right down to the absurd and exxagerated behaviour, prominent vocal noises and the close up, fish eye shots. I think ten Horn shows great promise as "Eva" is a well crafted film, both funny and thought-provoking. Give him a few more years of experience though and I'm sure he'll be making films of considerable note.

Vol. 12-La Vie Electronique
Vol. 12-La Vie Electronique
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unrestrained, Avant-Garde Schulze, Dec 2 2013
Schulze's "La Vie Electronique" series is a soon-to-be 15 volume set of some of the most uncompromising and experimental music by the Berlin electronic master. Whereas Volume 11 showed Schulze in a very modern classical style, using instrument sampling to create an almost traditional classical, orchestral set, volume 12 is an entirely different animal. Still sporting a basically classical framework, Schulze goes heavily for experiment, effects, mood and texture. And a good lot of it is stunning and unprecedented in his previous work. This is one of the series that is definitely NOT to be missed.

2 of the 3 discs are filled with one very long piece called "Picasso geht Spazieren" ( Picasso goes for a walk ). Not just long, but his longest ever, 2 and a half hours, according to K.D. Mueller Schulze's manager, producer and archivist. It was originally written in 1992-93 as a soundtrack project that never saw the light of day. "Picasso" is in the top 10 of all-time favourite pieces among Klaus Schulze fans, as tallied on his website. Set in 3 movements, Disc 1 houses the first movement and Disc 2, the 2nd and 3rd. Schulze seems to have gone for an unusually "programmatic" approach to the piece, creating a structure that reads like a narrative. One can imagine good 'ole Pablo going for a walk and translating every raw element that he sees into his own cubist and surrealist inner world. Schulze's music conveys the artist's inner world, as he "re-pictures" it with his own great power and imagination. Rushing frantically along, all kinds of human vocal samples, wild metallic percussion effects and animal-like sounds all mix and permutate over top of the driving music to create a highly visual and atmospherically evocative piece. I've always wanted to hear Schulze make more use of his remarkable 'effects' and with "Picasso geht Spazieren" you get it in wild abundance. Yet as wild as it all gets, Schulze is careful to keep the musical structure complex, yet discernible as the main body of the piece. I have never heard him rush so headlong into such fearless and joyful experimental abandon. It's very powerful stuff !!!

"The Music Box", a more restrained piece, returning more to a basically classical flavour, displays the same taste for a fast paced complexity as "Picasso", but with a more restrained effects palette. It takes up the entire 3rd Disc.

Well worth the price, a MUST for Schulze fans, Volume 12 of "La Vie Electronique" is a rare and rewarding look into the electronic master's' more mould-breaking, avant-garde experimentalism than anything else so far.

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5.0 out of 5 stars The Savaging and the Savagery of Childhood, Nov. 5 2013
This review is from: Broken (DVD)
One seemingly innocuous act of a child, simple, absolutely characteristic of that time of life, detonates a massive explosion that ripples out in shock waves shattering and transforming the lives of an entire small neighbhourhood in an English sub-urb. A curious, badly behaved girl in a broken home rife with psychological and physical violence sneaks into her teenage sister's room, going through her drawers. She finds a condom and runs out, taking it with her. Her father, Bob Oswald, played to violent, ignorant, explosive perfection by Rory Kinnear, finds it in her room and attacks her with all the power that hypocritical self-righteousness usually displays. She is rightly terrified and tells a vicious lie to defend herself. Rather than snitch on her older sister, she answers her father's over-the-top questioning by saying that the neighbhours' meek, awkward, nervous son, Rick ( Robert Emms ) was the culprit. Oswald immediately over-reacts, thinking immediately that Rick has been inappropriate with his pre-teen daughter. The girl, ironically named Sunshine, out of sheer terror of her father, does nothing to protest or change her story .... or his twisted interpretation. Rick is outside of his own house washing the car. He is talking to Skunk, another small girl in the neighhourhood whom he seems to adore for her guileless innocence and loving good nature. She is certainly in great contrast to the foul-mouthed, vicious Oswald girls. Skunk barely parts company with the young twenty-something boy when Oswald rushes into the street, ripping his shirt off ( why? ) and savagely attacks and beats the defenseless Rick, leaving him a shell-shocked bloody mess on the ground. She witnesses the entire, nauseating spectacle and we can see it as the first blow to her innocence. Now the story begins ...

Skunk, played by the extremely talented Eloise Laurence, becomes the centre-point and fulcrum around which the shock waves ripple out. Also from a broken home but one that stands in stark contrast to the animalistic Oswald house, Skunk lives with her loving, very proper father, Archie ( Tim Roth ), her older brother and their Nanny, Kasia ( Zena Marjanovic ). While their house is stable and safe, there is also an underlying current of deep unhappiness. Skunk's mother, Archie's wife, abandoned them all for reasons never expressed. But Archie has done a magnificent job of protecting his children and gives them an ordered stability that buffers the cruelties of the world from touching his children. But the monstrously dark side of childhood, never idyllic in reality, is about to break through and savage the light-filled sweetness of Skunk and her world. It's the end of summer and she's about to graduate into a higher school form ( high school in North America ) and is told of the brutalities of that world by her brother. He is not wrong. Skunk is then brutally and shockingly treated to the savageries of sweet, little Sunshine Oswald and her older sister. She is rescued by her teacher and Kasia's boyfriend, Mike ( Cillian Murphy ). Mike in turn is attacked by Oswald, in the classroom no less (!) as little Sunshine again wreaks her lying little magic after being disciplined by Mike for her attack on Skunk.

Rick is taken into custody by the police, to everyone's shock and dismay because Oswald has accused him of raping his daughter. Rick's psyche collapses under the cruelty and the mild-mannered, nervous lad begins to slowly turn into something quite foreign, even to his parents. His is institutionalized in a mental facility to his ineffectual and equally mild parents' dismay. They soldier on as best they can but they have no idea what they are dealing with. Even though later Rick is exonerated by a Police investigation it is too late for him. He collapses inward and slowly morphs into something his parents and his doctors, dangerously, have no conception of. His innocence and his capacity for innocence is utterly destroyed. Skunk is the one ray of light in his world and indeed in everyone's world except for the despicible Oswalds, as she keeps attempting to see him and be good to him.

From here the story fans out into the lives of each of the characters and reveals a festering mess of unresolved and dysfunctional emotions and situations in their adult world. It's a world utterly apart from the universe of childhood, seeking reason and conformity, even in the psychopathic Oswald, to order the world according to their own ways of seeing it. Skunk's and all the other children in the film have a simpler world to navigate but one that is also fraught with unspeakable cruelty, terror and existential confusion. Everything seems so simple and obvious yet the emerging complications of adult emotion with all it's hypocrisies, double standards and self-justification is slowly poisoning their "straightforward" world. Skunk is acted on in various direct and indirect ways, none of which are healthy. We see her collapse into confusion and finally rage as the complicated mess that ensues from Rick's beating titanically shatters and alters the world around her. Horrors, one after another occur and the mess of them becomes ever more complicated until it all culminates in a shattering way when Rick returns home from the mental institution. These horrors almost get to the point of becoming unbearable and the byzantine mess of this hurricane of circumstance and dysfunction brings the viewer to the brink of turning the movie off. It gets that bad. And then, something utterly unforeseen happens. And as unexpected and utterly surprising as it is, in a flash we "get" why it happens. It gets right to the common core of all these families' lives, carrying the simple truth of the love of parents for their children. The tragedy of "Broken" is that there seems to be an almost unbridgeable gulf between the adult world and the world of children. And yet it would seem that there should be some common understanding for the world of children is just as harrowingly brutal and full of cruelties as that of adults.

Director Rufus Norris has crafted an emotionally powerful film based on the novel by Daniel Clay. The performances of his actors are pristine, especially that of Laurence's Skunk ( Emily ). While primarily a stage director, Norris has entered the film world with a resounding success. True and resonant to the point of being deeply disturbing, "Broken" is quite an achievement for him. Not only is the screenplay by Mark O'Rowe beautifully real and crisp the cinematography is creative and inventive, using various cinematic effects and styles to enhance the narrative of this powerful film. This is what independent filmmaking is all about and I would urge anyone who loves good, brilliantly crafted, narratively solid film to get this into their collection. Produced by the impeccable Film Movement group out of New York, it's yet another marvellous, striking film that they've taken under their esteemed wing. 5 Stars.

The Lost Civilization of Lemuria: The Rise and Fall of the World's Oldest Culture
The Lost Civilization of Lemuria: The Rise and Fall of the World's Oldest Culture
by Frank Joseph
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Now the Definitive Book on Lemuria, Oct. 8 2013
With this exhaustively detailed, heavily researched book, Frank Joseph has finally put together the most credible statement on the lost civilization of Lemuria in print. While Colonel James Churchward's 1926, "The Lost Continent of Mu" , started it all off that book now reads like the fantasies of a pompous, nineteenth century, condescending white man by comparison. Churchward committed the unforgivable error as a non-fiction author by publishing his study WITHOUT including any references or a bibliography. It was as if the reader were supposed to have swallowed his very personal account whole, without question because of WHO he was and not for the rigour or discipline of his material. That only makes his book's credibility questionable at best. And, as it's been noted, the very thinly disguised racism ( he uses the term "degenerates" a lot ) of his talk of pan-pacific cultures only further pushes Churchward's original study into the realm of the questionable and the unpalatable. Joseph, on the other hand, has written a very detailed and painstakingly thorough volume, backed on every point, by an impressive set of notes and quite scientific analyses. He also blessedly avoids the smarmy condescension of Churchward, thereby publishing a book that very much suits a savy, 21st century readership.

Joseph begins a circumnavigation of the Pacific Rim in Micronesia, on an island called Phnom Peh and the mystery of the construction in gigantic basalt beams at Nan Madol. Here he posits the purpose of the construction, which you can clearly see on Google Earth, as being beyond the knowledge and skills of the current inhabitants and of anyone else that has lived there in memory. Deductively he examines all the many possibilities as to how that structure got there, what it's purpose was and how it was probably built. His evidence is compelling and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. Micronesia, Polynesia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Easter Island, Peru, The South Western United States, Western Canada, Alaska, China, Japan, Thailand, India, Ancient Egypt and Tibet - all are investigated and found as having traces, here and there, of an ancient, ante-diluvian world culture that is referred to by all of these countries and areas as the Parent culture, the source, the root, the origins of their own. Chapter after chapter, country after country Joseph accumulates a growing body of evidence that becomes very hard to dismiss, even becoming outright convincing. The creation stories of all these cultures are examined, all of them, without fail, paying hommage to a Mother culture from which they originally sprang. Commonalities in language, terms and the names of figures from the past are also reviewed, showing remarkable connections to what must've been a larger, pan-global culture that was centred in the Pacific Ocean. How Lemuria, or Mu, met it's end is also examined and it's unnerving indeed, especially when we look at the recent earthquakes and tsunamis in the "Ring of Fire" and Japan. While some of it may not be correct, and it is very hard to be absolutely "correct" when dealing with a culture so unimaginably old, Joseph's conclusions do seem to be strongly cogent. He convinces by weight of factual evidence and not at all because of his personality. He acknowledges Churchward's contributions where it's deserved and he takes his foibles and outright distasteful, racist utterances strongly to task as well. In order for a study like this to be worth even a pinch of credibility any author would have to make quite sure that they've done a LOT of meticulously recorded and acknowledged research. Frank Joseph, here, excels at that.

The writing style is personable, as if the author is talking directly to you, yet he is clearly erudite and informed to a very high degree. Joseph's text is never dry. As a reader you don't suffocate in a mountain of dry facts, nor are you subject to wild flights of fancy. The author keeps his tone readable but absolutely informed and authoritative. It is a very stimulating book and one that has you thinking a lot for a very long time afterward. The book closes with an examination of Atlantis, which at first may seem spurious, but indeed turns out to be strongly apropos. There is a point to be made here and Joseph delivers it with great power and the 'authority' of the cumulative weight of all that has gone before in this study. There is a message to be delivered here and it is one that we need to hear.

A fascinating, stimulating, challenging and at times even harrowing look at a subject that conservative academia is quick to derisively dismiss. Joseph's cool-headed tone and his exemplary, voluminous research make this a book WELL worth reading, even if you don't agree with him fully. It is a book that asks more extremely pertinent questions than it offers up pat answers. With the subject at hand, this is absolutely the most appropriate take on a subject that, if true, and I'm convinced by this book that it is, will not go away. Allay your fears if you think that "The Lost Continent of Lemuria" might be yet another piece of batty, saccharine, New Age fluff. It most assuredly isn't. Tremendously impressive !!!

Phoenix Rising
Phoenix Rising
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Rock / Psy-Techno Fusion of Extraordinary Beauty, Oct. 8 2013
This review is from: Phoenix Rising (Audio CD)
System 7's Sept, 2013 release "Phoenix Rising" is a major, quantum leap for the 24 year old band. Always leaping ahead and covering new territory has been a hallmark of the psy-techno band. Only this time the leap is gigantic. Having spent many years playing live in Japan, where they are immensely popular, Hillage and Giraudy have teamed up with Japanese, progressive-techno-jam band ROVO to produce an album that is tremendously rich, powerful and FULL of spectacular musical imagination. In the liner notes Hillage speaks of the success of blending System 7's electronica and electronicly based beats, SEAMLESSLY, with the standard instrumentation of the rock band. Yet, as much as this album is a marked departure from any official System 7 albums, the closest of which was 2008's "Phoenix", this kind of fusion is not without precedent for Hillage and Giraudy.

In 2009, they teamed up again with Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth and Didier Malherbe for the 3rd of the second Gong Trilogy albums, "2032". Both Hillage and Giruady were in the "original" Gong band back in the 70's and played on "Flying Teapot', "Angel's Egg" and the legendary "YOU". "2032" was a powerful rock driven album of exceptional musicality and absolutely, perfectly GONG. Hillage lent his signature lead guitar and some of the guitar effects techniques that he uses in System 7 to Allen's musical genius and Smyth's poetic madness. Giraudy took the place of old Gong synthesist Tim Blake to add her distinguishable synth lines and effects and it was all done over a solid rock format. You might say it prepped them for this new work with ROVO.

"Phoenix Rising" was so named to refer to the legendary, Japanese myth of the Phoenix, but this time, unlike the 2008 album that celebrated the myth itself, the theme of this album uses the metaphor of the phoenix to honour Japan after the horrific tragedy of the 2011 earthquake and massive tsunami. Japan is still rebuilding and here there is an offering to the re-birth of the country and a testament to the beautiful spirit of the Japanese people.

There are 7 tracks, all longish in nature, but the music is so transporting, so complex and imaginative that the album finishes with a fulfilling completion, yet seeming as if only a short time has passed. There are 3 pieces penned by Hillage and Giraudy, 2 by ROVO musicians and one by Giraudy herself. Another track is a cover of Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Meeting of the Spirits". It's a fantastic cover, with Yuji Katsui's very electric violin featured along with some classy guitar work from Hillage. It's a favourite piece of Hillage's, something he's wanted to cover for a long time and the wait is worth it. It becomes clear that this song was the inspiration for the movement in Hillage's "Solar Musick Suite" called ""Hiram Aftaglid Meets the Dervish". The piece stands out for it's complex structure and jazz flavourings but rounds out the rather rich spectrum of styles and tempo that make this extraordinary album such a pleasure to listen to.

Fans of Ozric Tentacles will love this. Fans of Gong's "YOU" will love this as well. It could be said that "Phoenix Rising" is a beautiful blend of say "Jurassic Shift" and "YOU's" more expanded instrumental inspiriations. So this is not a psy-techno album, a typical System 7 release, it is a sparkling, powerful, light-filled bit of divine inspiration, a fusion of rock and techno performed with breathtaking skill and imagination. Some System 7 fans may not like this. But if you were a fan of Gong and the Steve Hillage solo albums, this will be a very special treat for you. This album may just mark the beginning of a trend that could blossom into some spectacular possibilities. It's a bona fide masterpiece, without a doubt.

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5.0 out of 5 stars The Ties That Bind: An Impeccable Film on the Bonds of Relationships, Sept. 22 2013
This review is from: Aliyah (DVD)
Elie Wajeman's first feature length film, "Aliyah" is a insightful, honest and skillful examination on the bonds that hold people together and the need, sometimes, to sever those connections. Alex ( Pio Marmai ) is a young man drifting through life without a purpose. He has no goals, no direction or plan and he seems almost stupefied by the sheer weight of existence itself. He deals drugs for money but hardly seems the criminal type. A quiet, inward, even taciturn man, he goes about his life not interfering with anyone else's and not being a part of anyone's either. He is beginning to question what he is doing with that life. Alex is weighed down heavily by the oppressive and constant presence of his deadbeat, loser of an older brother, Isaac ( Cedric Kahn ). Isaac is a rash, ignorant, selfish, self-absorbed, self-pitying mess of highly talented self-destruction that is literally, financially and emotionally sucking away at Alex's life. Isaac is jobless and constantly getting himself in debt for thousands of Euros through a complex mess of questionable activities, none of which do anything to make the wreckage of his life any better. Alex is constantly bailing him out of all manner of trouble, even to his own personal endangerment. Yet Alex continues, because of the bonds of blood and family to feel compelled to be there for his brother. It may just be that this is so because, as we find out, the only family that the brothers have is each other. Their mother is dead and they have a father who's had nothing to do with them for years. Alex's best friend, Mathias ( Guillaume Gouix ) is also a dealer but he hasn't a single thought of questioning his place or purpose in life. He is a drug dealer and he is thrilled by the risk and adrenalin of it all, the "glamour" of being a monied bad boy. He calls Alex his "brother" and this too has a both a supporting effect on Alex but it is also a becoming a weight that he is becoming increasingly aware of.

Alex attends a birthday party at his cousin's one night only to find out that his cousin has decided to return to Israel to open a restaurant. It is the bright light of chance that Alex sees to get himself out of the dull, grey oppressive loop of a life that is becoming increasingly suffocating. He is growing tired of his drug dealing and he wants out. Alex shocks his cousin by returning after the party to discuss a partnership with him. His cousin is sharply cynical about Alex's sincerity and lays down the law for him as to what he must do in order to make good on this. One of he most important requirements is that Alex will have to do "Aliyah", the process non-Israeli Jews have to undergo to "re-patriate" to the homeland. It is an expensive, lengthy procedure but Alex seems newly galvanized and inspired by a new sense of purpose to see it through. All he has to do is come up with the money. This he does by returning to his dealer, bite the bullet, deal a last lucrative supply of drugs and there by come up with the funds that he needs to see his new dream through to reality. But there are complications .......

Isaac's reckless behaviour continuously threatens to drain Alex of any money he raises. The older brother's bottomless appetite for self-punishing trouble has Alex constantly veering off course as he rescues Isaac again and again. Alex begins to question the limits of fraternal bonds as well as the bond of family altogether. How much more does he have to be strangled with a family situation that has nothing for him, really, but suffering? In this we relate to Alex, an essentially good man, confused as he is, but beginning to awaken to the possibility of something better. We find ourselves in sympathy with him and wanting him to succeed. We are very much behind him.

To further complicate matters, Alex spots a girl at his cousin's apartment, who is also attending the party. He becomes interested. He succeeds in meeting Jeanne ( Adele Haenel ) and they begin a sincere yet shaky relationship that brings an element of intimacy and warmth into his life. Jeanne wants to hold on to Alex, finding his existential crisis and his quiet, wounded manner, attractive. Even though she knows of Alex's plan to leave France and do "Aliyah", she, naturally, tries to hold on to him, to convince him through understanding at a gut level, Alex's need for some kind of personal relationship that is fulfilling. Yet Alex seems resolute, even though he enjoys Jeanne's company. His mind is quite set, which upsets Jeanne. When Alex takes her to meet Isaac, who of course, asks Alex for more money, she slyly tells Isaac about Alex's plan to leave move to Israel, WITHOUT, informing him. She deeply and intuitively grasps the brothers' destructive relationship and realizes that informing Isaac of Alex's plan will sabotage any efforts of Alex to abandon his brother. A harrowing mess ensues and a fantastic tension is created for the viewer as we see the very real possibility of the failure of Alex's plans. With each person with whom he has a relationship, Isaac, Jeanne and Mathias, Alex is violently pushed into a position of having to make a decisive move that either retains those bonds, or, shatters them.

Wajemen's very realistic and insightful understanding of human interaction never falters and his characters are each very real. We understand them and their motivations for what they do, even when they are dysfunctional or outright destructive. We inherit or create deep bonds with people and no matter how close they may be, there comes a time when no matter how deeply rooted these relationships might be, we might have to question them. How far does filial loyalty go? How far intimate relationships with friends or partners? Are we eternally bound to others with whom we have deep ties? This is the theme of Wajeman's brilliant film. The director, not having a brother, looked to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel and to "The Brothers Karamazov" for an understanding of the relationship between brothers. Seeing their relationship almost as a deeply rooted and dysfunctional love relationship. Wajeman wanted to craft a story about "departures" and the need for self actualization, even at the cost of love.

"Aliyah" is of that breed of quiet, crisply real film that strips away anything distracting to tell a story of some aspect of human relationships that is complex and involving. Wajeman's film succeeds beautifully on all fronts. It was selected at several international film festivals and is WELL worth seeing. It's an excellent, even quietly exquisite, independent film that is beautifully crafted and intelligently told.

The producers of this disc, Film Movement, have, as usual, included a short, 15 minute film as a bonus in the package. These 10 to 15 minute films get some much needed and deserved exposure when included in these sets. With "Aliyah" we get an extremely timely and emotionally explosive short called "On the Road to Tel-Aviv", directed by Khen Shalem. It's in Hebrew with subtitles. After a brutal and shocking terrorist attack on a civilian target, a city bus, the city is taught with fear, the radio constantly speculating about further, possible attacks on civilian targets. The air is electric with tension. A young couple starts their morning with the young woman having to take a bus to Tel-Aviv to return to university. He sees her off on a small commuter bus and walks away, getting on with life, despite all the fear. As he leaves the scene, he spots an Arabic woman, carrying a large bag, get on to the same bus he just left his girlfriend on. He runs back to tell her to get off the bus. This sets off a panic as an overly dramatic and ignorant woman sparks off on this and literally drags her two daughters off the bus, screaming like a banshee. The Arabic woman sits in her seat, staring stoically ahead but clearly deeply afraid as chaos ensues around her. An Israeli soldier is pulled into it as the screaming woman escalates demands that the bus driver search the woman. Threats and accusations fly and the paranoia is excruciatingly high. Even the young couple get dragged into the panic and things look like something bloody, almost vigilante is about to happen. Does the woman have a bomb? IS she a terrorist? What does this possibility elicit in the passengers .... and in the all-important driver, around whom this fantastic and electric short revolves. An extremely powerful, intensely pertinent and emotionally rich film, "On the Road to Tel-Aviv" is a fantastic, cannon cracker short that feels like a full-length film.

Three Worlds
Three Worlds
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Film on the Limits and Trajedy of Compassion, Aug. 21 2013
This review is from: Three Worlds (DVD)
Catherine Corsini's skillful and deeply involving film "Three Worlds" details the many complexities, twists and justifications that three main characters experience after a catastrophic event. Each person, in turn, reveals more and more of themselves and the results, like real life, are never cut and dry or easily assimilated. It makes for a rich and engrossing film that is a fascinating study in human consciousness. We never really know ourselves until we are pushed, by choice, or by accident, into extreme situations that shake our realities to the core. When something like the events of this film happens to us, we are often quite surprised how we, oursevles, react and how others also respond.

Al ( Raphael Personnaz ) is an honest, hard-working young man who is about it cross the line into success in his life. He comes from a simple background and has struggled very, very hard, to get to where is about to go. He works in a car dealership/garage in Paris, is about to be made manager as well as marry his boss's daughter, Marion. Testard, his boss is a powerful, patriarchal figure who has made his success both honestly and not so honestly. He teaches Al all the tricks and expects that Al understands and respects discretion. He does and Testard give him his blessings. The problem is is that Al keeps questionable company. His two best friends are rowdy, irresponsible, immature workers at the same company. It's implied that Al got to know them when he was down at their level earlier on in his career. The boys go out for a night of ridiculously excessive drinking and testosterone risk-taking. In an act of chilling foreshadowing, Al fakes being hit by the car his buddies are driving. He scares the hell out of them, only to elicit curses and more rowdy laughter. As they drive, clearly inebriated, at well over the speed limit, back into town the hijinks never stop. Al is at the wheel and his buddies are excessively rowdy in the car. Loud, stupid-drunk and dangerous they distract Al just long enough for him to forcefully hit a pedestrian, sending the man flying off into the intersection.

The car screeches to a halt leaving the two "lumps" stunned and questioning, while Al, fully aware of what he's just done, jumps out of the car to run over to the broken, bleeding body he's just hit. The man is still alive, barely. Al is struck with horror and moral self-recrimination for what he's just done. His buds are less ambiguous. In shock, Al is convinced to drive away from the accident and leave the stricken man behind. He is getting married in 10 days to Testard's daughter and is about to become manager of the dealership. If he stays he may get up to 2 years in prison. His "life" could end. In shock and panic he listens to his friends and drives off.

A pregnant woman fights with her partner about living arrangements. They are unmarried. She steps out onto the balcony only to witness the accident and see Al get out of the car. He looks at the body, while his "friends" shout at him to get back in the car. He does and they speed off. A very moral and compassionate person, Juliette ( Clothilde Hesme ) runs down to the street below and up to the man's broken body. He speaks to her but she is unable to understand him. He is not speaking French ( the language of the film ). She calls the police and is deeply horrified that someone would drive off after committing such an act. Juliette gives her account to the officer in charge but is also, herself, in shock. Later she goes to the hospital to check in on the victim of the accident only to discover that he is an illegal Moldavian immigrant. She gets to meet Vera ( Arta Dobroshi ) the man's wife and describes the accident to her. She comforts and befriends Vera and there's an immediate bond struck between them as Vera responds to Juliette's innate compassion and sense of right. Juliette's partner, however, can't understand her compassion and obsession with finding out who Al is. It's ironic as he is a professor of philosophy who does not seem to actually live what he espouses, while Juliette, clearly not an academic, lives a higher world view than her partner actually does.

Ironically, the centre point of this excellent film lies with the professor. While Juliette is the central "axis" of the story's action, it is her seemingly "heartless" partner who voices the central philosophical theme of the piece. In the core of the film he lectures on Heidegger's notion of the limits of altruism. He paraphrases the philosopher in positing the thought as much as we may deeply want to take on the pain of others and remove it from them, for them, we cannot. We can only go so far as the final summation of this altruism is that even if we wish to die for someone else, we cannot. We can take their "place" but we cannot do THEIR dying for them. In that fact, that we die alone, in ourselves, by ourselves, of ourselves we come to the limits of compassion. In the face of this, still, Juliette's motivations shine out for all their ultimate futility. It is the essence of trajedy.

Eventually, the unforseen happens and Juliette spots Al and recognizes him. She follows him to the dealership and confronts him. Al denies everything, of course, and asks her to leave his office. Now he's running scared. He was seen. The woman knows who he is and where he works. Juliette will NOT leave it alone. It then becomes a matter of principle, or obsession, which is up to us to assess, that she sees that Al makes good on his crime. From here on the story gets very interesting as people do not do what logic might suggest. Fear of loss, fear of destruction, fear of retribution and fear of one's own self-condemnation work their powerful logic and morality overriding dark magic on all three of the main characters. Not only does Al have the accident, his guilt and his crumbling world to deal with, Juliette has the ambiguity of her relationship to a philosophy professor, by whom she is pregnant and Vera has mounting medical bills for her critically injured husband and no access to the needed funds. She is also an illegal Moldavian immigrant and therefore not entitled to state medical insurance. Her husband does not look like he's going to make it, either. All three of them have something to lose and have been put into their own crises brought about by the accident.

A complex, unexpected trio of inter-weaving stories and some very realistic twists of action and psychology ensue as the story unfolds. The pace is kept up and it never lags. The twists and turns in people's reactions and the resulting events complicates the story in a fascinating way. Nothing is linear but follows the "inner sense" of the human need to keep oneself from breaking to pieces in the face of unspeakable trajedy. Corsini's characters are all VERY real and VERY engaging. We understand each of them and are fascinated as more and more about each of them is revealed, making easy answers or solutions seem ludicrously forced. You can see at many points what simple-minded and grade school moralizing Hollywood would do with such a plot and it's deeply gratifying that Corsini opts for the reality of human experience, human psychology instead. Her direction is flawless and a great deal of subtle care is taken with the framing of shots and metaphorical nature of the settings she place her characters in. A scene where Al and Marion are in crisis, Al unable to tell his fiance what he's done, but nevertheless drifting way from her, is shot on a roof all greys and rectangles - a sterile and lifeless setting for the alienation and loss of flowing warmth in their disintegrating relationship. In all things Corsini never hits the viewer over the head nor patronizes them. Her work is full of life, is very concerned with verity and truthful resonance and shows a kind of admirable integrity in every aspect of this wonderful, engaging and very effecting French film. "Three Worlds" was selected at both the "Toronto International Film Festival" and at "Cannes". I think deservedly so. In French with English subtitles.

******* The DVD also comes with a bonus short film by Olivier Treiner, also in French with subtitles, called "The Piano Tuner". It is a fascinating premise. A highly pressured, young concert pianist enters a competition ... and fails. His world falls to pieces. He loses everything as he plummets into depression and self-destructive nihilism. Cynically, he comes up with a plan. He decides to pass himself off as a blind piano tuner. By doing so, he feels, he will get more sympathy which will translate into more cash. It works. He is called on his twisted, almost perverse practice by his employer but will not relent. He enjoys the pity and he perversely enjoys what people will do in front of him while they think he can't seem them. Bitter, jaded and becoming increasingly questionable he sets off for a residence in a dubious neighbourhood. At first his client won't answer the door and tells him that her husband is not home, to go way. He tells her, through the door that he is blind and it took a great effort for him to get there. She still refuses, through the door, unseen, to let him in. She offers to pay him anyway for the visit but when her husband comes back. He will not give up. Because he is blind, the woman, opens the door, looks at him and finally allows him in. He can see of course, but he's wearing sunglasses and the room is quite dark. He slips and falls in a vast puddle on the floor. To his horror he realizes just what the fluid is as she picks him up and takes him to the piano stool. He maintains his act. Over on the couch is the woman's husband, brutally murdered. The tuners clothes and hands are covered in blood. The woman offers to clean them and give him some of her husbands clothes. She makes him strip down to his underwear. She disappears. He begins a harried and panicked dialogue with himself over what to do - the bloodied and brutalized corpse just across from him, sitting on the couch. He could bolt for the door, but he doesn't. Why? He is so caught up in his inner dialogue that he doesn't flee and he begins to play a piece believing that nothing will happen to him while he's doing so. Is he afraid she might shoot him on the way out? Is he frozen in fear? Is he too caught up in his hyped-up thinking? Is he so greedy for the cash that he thinks he can fool her and get out alive? Then he realizes that his diary, with all his entries describing his "blind" antics are in his coat pocket. He then hears her walk up very quietly behind him...

An excruciating point of tension is reached as each of them, isolated from the other's thoughts, decide what to do next. It's a very disturbing and harrowing little piece, a modern day Poe short story. Very well done !!!

Vol. 11-La Vie Electrinique
Vol. 11-La Vie Electrinique
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4.0 out of 5 stars Schulze in a more Complex, Classical Mode, Aug. 21 2013
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Klaus Schulze's "La Vie Electronique" series, as described, will be a 15 volume set of 3 discs each. They're archival recordings done by Schulze for various side projects, films and commissions that were not originally intended as mainstream releases. The number of each volume corresponds to the year of it's release. Hence this one, LVE 11 was released in 2011. LVE 13 hit the shelves a few months back and so the last volume will complete the series in 2015. It's quite a collection of work and it often reveals a side of the electronica masters creativity that only gets touched on in his standard releases. Creating work for film soundtracks and other commissions, Schulze is freer to explore some of his passions with much less restraint and expectation. With this volume, LVE 11, we find Schulze indulging his "Classical" side to the max. The album is quieter and more introspective than some of the other LVE recordings, making for an interesting variation in the collection.

Layers and layers of complex and highly skilled orchestration, all done on synths, are supplemented by "operatic", vocal samplings. The orchestration is hugely impressive and here Klaus Schulze more than easilly demonstrates the skill he's developed over the years to accomplish this. He is, however, limited by his manual skills. He is not a Keith Emerson or a Rick Wakeman, two classically trained players who used the synthesizer as another "keyboard" as opposed to exploring the instrument's unique potentials to the fullest. But Schulze fans have always known this. KS is not a keyboardist, although his skills at playing have become much more developed over the years. This great grandfather of electronic music is a "synthesist" FIRST, a keyboardist second. This does not take away anything from the enjoyment of his music, even though at times you can hear Schulze coming to the edge of his capacities manually. The music itself, however, more than makes up for it. As an electronic musician Schulze is truly staggeringly talented.

Recorded in 1993, disc one is inspired by Chopin in part, particularly the piano lines. The ghost of Wagner always seems to hang over a lot of what Schulze does as well. Titled "Film Music" it was created for a German documentary "Spurensicherung Baudenkmaler". The use of sampling is a mixed bag here. It reminds you that you are listening to electronic music as these vocal snippets "sound" artificial and yet are, at times, almost cartoonish. In the early 90's Schulze began exploring the use of vocoal samples, mostly classically derived. It works for the most part, but there are times when proper Classical vocalists would've have suited the music better, that's how "Classical" LVE 11 is. You find yourself moving into the classical mode and finally "tuning" your ear to that sensibility only to be almost "startled" at times by the appearance of "operatic" vocal samples being "played" on a keyboard like an oboe or clarinet line. The problem is that once the sample is played much higher than it's original pitch it begins to sound "unnatural" and quite odd. Since the 90's, though, Schulze has obviously seen this for himself and found more skillful ways to work these vocal samplings into his music more successfully. His later "Dziekuje Bardzo - Vielen Dank" and "Kontinuum" albums are supreme testaments to that.

Disc 2 is Schulze's first symphony, "Narren des Shicksals". It's a 71 minute piece in 3 movements. It features the classical orchestration and the vocal samplings heard on the first disc but it sounds closer to the more standard Schulze idiom. The subtle, underlying drone of slowly varying organ chords harkens back as far as "X" or even "Mooondawn" but they're richly overlayed with complex synths lines and more Classical tempo changes and variations on the themes. At times I'm even reminded of the more Classical work of Vangelis, even with its obvious differences.

Disc 3 returns to a film soundtrack format. 3 pieces of music, not so Classical in vein, but still bearing the rapid and frequent changes in tempo, chord and even key that is signature for soundtrack music. It's complex work and this is one aspect of Schulze's music that a composer friend of mine once noted - he was deeply impressed with the enormous amount of careful, dedicated, finessing, exhaustive WORK Schulze puts into his music. These 3 discs are quite evident of that.

It's all quite good, LVE 11, but it's just a hair less satisfying than volumes 12 and 13. By comparison to other peoples' work though, this is incredible stuff. That has to be kept in mind. But as a growing connoisseur of Schulze's music I find this one just a slight bit less engrossing than many of his other albums. It may simply take more time. With each listen I like it more but it did not jump up and bowl me over like LVE's 12 & 13. Still a must for dedicated fans. Neophytes to Schulze might be best to look at "Mirage", "Live @ Klangart", "Kontinuum" or "X".

Vangelis Mythodea:Music for/Na
Vangelis Mythodea:Music for/Na
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Live Document of the Greek Maestro's Masterpiece., July 13 2013
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Vangelis's "Mythodea" is probably the famous Greek composer's greatest work to date, at least in terms of sheer scale and rigour of it's impeccable composition. Here we have a live performance of the titanic piece, recorded in Athens, at the Temple of Zeus, with NO expenses spared. Truly massive in scale, the production must have cost a breath-taking amount of money to put on. This undertaking was the joint effort of Sony Classical and the Hellenic Cultural Heritage Society under the auspices of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Vangelis, an island at the centre of all the action, performs behind a rather sizeable array of keyboards, discreetly and tastefully tucked behind a "podium" of beautifully carved wood. Around him is the full London Metropolitan Orchestra, skillfully conducted by Blake Neely, The gigantic National Opera of Greece Choir and the TWO phalanxes of the Seistron and Typana Percussion Ensembles. In front, finally, the featured operatic sopranos, Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, giving very dedicated and powerful performances each, make their appearance as the point of focus in this truly massive undertaking.

Performed to absolute perfection, "Mythodea" is something to see as well as hear. The coordination and direction of such a huge production takes consummate experience and great technical skill but it all the more than pays off in the total commitment of every single performer on this massive set. Everyone, except for Vangelis himself, is dressed in "period" Greek costume. There is a huge scrim behind the musicians displaying a mix of images from ancient Greek mythology as well as NASA depictions of the planet Mars. It all lends a cohesive atmosphere to the total production and with its being set in an ancient temple a beautiful suspension of the current time is achieved, taking the audience into a "place" beyond the everyday. It is something quite amazing to watch.

The film production is impeccable and crystal clear, the editing and cinematography utterly perfect and a full dynamic range of sound production makes this DVD a must-have for fans of Vangelis. Each movement is followed by a brief pause and the sound of audience applause reminding us that this indeed was a live performance of a massively ambitious and successful nature. It must have been a life-changing event for those who were there. Of particular note, Jessye Norman's and Kathleen Battle's performances are indeed inspired, providing the gargantuan scale of the piece both its focal point and a human scale and immediacy around which to orbit. They are, most clearly, the central hub of this 'galaxy' of intertwining and enormous forces. They almost seem to be one-upping each other but in the most good-hearted ways, never losing sight of the fact that "Mythodea" revolves around them and is dependent on their complete commitment to professionalism and skill. They carry it off with perfect aplomb and both look like they are having the time of their lives.

The DVD is rounded out by 3 Special Features; Artists' biographies, a wonderful Making of Mythodea and an interesting CGI music Video. Vangelis, taciturn as always, only speaks for a moment, unfortunately. To get a really fine look into his thoughts and feelings, watch the Al Jezeera interview with him on You Tube. It is quite revealing and inspiring. The total running time is 76 minutes in PCM stereo and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. An inspiring and uplifting live musical performance and a very, very rare appearance of one of the greatest composers of our time. Now, if only he would do the same thing with his other masterpiece, "El Greco".

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