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Gary Fuhrman "gnox" (Manitoulin Island)
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Gonzo: Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Gonzo: Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
DVD ~ Alex Gibney
Price: CDN$ 26.99
7 used & new from CDN$ 10.85

5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced view of a careening life, March 18 2013
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This two-hour documentary is almost as entertaining as Terry Gilliam's film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but presents a much more rounded portrait of Hunter Thompson, carrying us though all stages of his career as a notoriously fast and loose cannon. His legendary drug consumption, his penchant for gunplay and his radical re-invention of journalism are all on display here, along with his unique brand of political idealism and his outrage at the betrayal of the American Dream during the Nixon years.

Despite the fast pace and lively style of the film, director Gibney has not done it in "gonzo" style, sticking pretty much to the evidence and to chronological order rather than inserting vociferous opinions as Thompson himself often did. In addition to the many interviews with Thompson and others (including such public figures as George McGovern, Gary Hart, Jimmy Carter and Pat Buchanan), the film uses old footage masterfully, sometimes adding a bit of re-enactment (including clips from the Gilliam film) when it's needed to keep the story moving. The result is often hilarious, ultimately tragic, and as consistently engaging as any film biography i've seen. There's a generous slection of extras too, including many anecdotes about Thompson and a gallery of Ralph Steadman's "gonzo" drawings. A good disc to own if you want to dig deeply into the soul of late-20th-century Americana.

Africa [Blu-ray]
Africa [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 27.97
6 used & new from CDN$ 20.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BBC Earth tops itself again, Feb. 28 2013
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This review is from: Africa [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
No need to describe this 6-hour series in detail, since Dr. Joseph Lee has already done that accurately. However, BBC Earth fans might wonder how much of this new series overlaps with previous work such as the BBC Atlas of the Natural World series on Africa, the Great Rift series, and the African sequences from various other series such as Planet Earth (and i've seen them all). The answer is that most of the content here is completely new -- that is, it documents the lives of animals (and plants) that have not been shown before -- and even the familiar folks (elephants, lions, wildebeest, giraffes, meerkats, chimps) are shown doing things we've never seen before. The few bits that have been covered before are seen and heard here in such intimate and spectacular detail, and with such intense drama (thanks to superb editing and David Attenborough's peerless narration), that each comes across as a whole new experience.

The presence and immediacy of the soundtrack is especially astonishing, as are the night shots, which are startlingly high-def. Equally amazing is the range of scales, from the opening shots which take in the whole continent down to the microphotography of some amazing insect behavior. Add to that the mix of time-lapse and slow-motion sequences and you have six hours of stunning surprises, including 10-minute sequences showing how the dedicated BBC camerapeople got their shots. In short, i can heartily recommend both this new series *and* the previous BBC work on Africa (even if it's 10 or 20 years old) because there is very little redundancy in the whole collection. This new set takes a great tradition into new territory in a way that is more spectacular, more intimate and more dramatic than ever before.

How Art Made the World
How Art Made the World
DVD ~ Nigel Spivey
Price: CDN$ 37.48
21 used & new from CDN$ 24.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trying to explain the power of images, Feb. 7 2013
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This review is from: How Art Made the World (DVD)
This 5-hour series on the prehistory and early history of visual representation raises some interesting questions and attempts to answer them with a mix of archaeological and psychological evidence. The reasoning behind the answers doesn't quite measure up to the dramatic way the investigation is presented, but the series shows us so many little-known facts and artifacts of our ancestors, in such a visually effective way, that it's well worth a close look. Episodes 2 and 4 are especially fascinating, the latter giving us some vital insights into aboriginal Australian art. All are 16:9, well shot and feature some effective special effects.

Echo and Other Elephants
Echo and Other Elephants
DVD ~ DVD
Price: CDN$ 29.39
5 used & new from CDN$ 26.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Up close and personal with gentle giants, Feb. 7 2013
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This review is from: Echo and Other Elephants (DVD)
The social lives of African elephants are fascinating, and so are the challenges they face in surviving the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These two BBC discs give us intimate portraits of individual elephants as well as the more general picture of these matriarchal giants and their environment.

Disc 1 has four episodes of about 50 minutes each. The first three feature the work of Cynthia Moss in Kenya's Amboseli Park. She knows over 300 elephants by name, and the series has a special focus on one extended family headed by a female (about 50 years old) named Echo, following their story over a 13-year period. The last is about an elephant family in the Namibian desert. The dates are 1992, 1996, 2005, 2007; first two are 4:3 aspect ratio, other two 16:9. The first three are narrated by David Attenborough, the last by Russell Boulter.

Disc 2 has five half-hour episodes featuring (and narrated by) Saba Douglas-Hamilton, from the younger generation of elephant advocates — she grew up surrounded by them. The first three date from 2001-2 and are 4:3 aspect ratio; the last two (2004), Elephants of Samburu, are 16:9.

These are not high-def discs like the more recent BBC Earth productions, but they give a much more intensive look at elephants, who are easy to relate to, and that gives them more emotional impact. Well worth a look!

Samsara  / Samsara (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
Samsara / Samsara (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 18.97
5 used & new from CDN$ 18.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Baraka 2? Yes and no ..., Jan. 21 2013
Those who have seen Baraka, which was also made by the team of Fricke and Magidson, will know what to expect: glorious ultra-high-def images of the natural and human worlds, including many time-lapse sequences; no narration whatsoever (not even an optional commentary track) to tell you who or where these people and places are; beautifully evocative music composed or selected by Michael Stearns, with a more substantial contribution this time from Lisa Gerrard.

In some ways, this new film goes beyond Baraka: the images and colors are even more sharp and spectacular, as it was all shot on 65mm film and the processed negatives converted directly to 8K digital; and it shows a bit more of the dark side of global industrial civilization. Yet it remains, as Fricke says in the extras, a guided visual meditation in which art, documentary and spirituality are seamlessly blended. The continuity is also remarkable considering the variety of subjects, ranging from sacred places to disaster zones, from very wide shots to extreme close-ups.

In short it's a real treat for those who like to be reminded non-verbally of what a strange and fascinating planet we live on. It's worth seeing several times, not only because much of what you see is amazing, but also in order to catch the different themes and "stories" which emerge from the initial amazement. The extras are fairly substantial, but almost entirely about the making of the film and not the back-stories of the people and places appearing in it; you pretty well have to figure those out by perusing the credits. But this to me is not really a shortcoming, so i have no reason to give this less than 5 stars!

Cosmopolis (Blu-ray + DVD) (Bilingual)
Cosmopolis (Blu-ray + DVD) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Robert Pattinson
Price: CDN$ 11.98
29 used & new from CDN$ 3.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Illusory cosmos descending into real chaos, Jan. 13 2013
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David Cronenberg specializes in surrealistic ventures into the darker corners of human nature - yet each of his films is different from the others. What's most distinctive about Cosmopolis is the dialogue, which is lifted directly from the Don DeLillo novel on which it is based. This is a very "talky" movie, and the uniquely unsettling effect of the dialogue is amplified by the fact that most of it takes place in a soundproofed stretch limo. The central character, Eric Packer (played by Rob Pattinson), is a young and obscenely rich currency trader who personifies the most bizarre excesses of Wall Street. Like "the economy" dominated by such financiers, Packer is completely out of touch with the reality lived by the 99%, indeed out of touch with any human reality except the self-destructive impulses nurtured by his luxurious isolation.

Packer surrounds himself with others who are almost equally rootless, yet each of them affords him an opportunity to connect with some fragment of the real world - which he seems unable to do. Cronenberg is a master of depicting psychological disintegration, and he's done it here in singularly glossy style, aided by the production design, music, lighting and cinematography of his usual collaborators. The actors do an excellent job of drawing us into a world where everyone wants desperately to believe that he or she knows what's going on, but none of them (least of all Packer) can really believe that. Viewers who bring to it some intelligence and background knowledge of 21st-century globalized culture will not be disappointed, though they will probably be disturbed, as we all are when we strongly suspect that we live on the shimmering surface of a bubble that could burst at any moment.

The feature on the disc about the making of Cosmopolis is unusually detailed and revealing about Cronenberg's process, which in its sanity and humanity gives a striking contrast to the effect of the product. But even here, the testimony of the various actors show how they could draw on their own experiences to help create the uneasy space inhabited by the characters. In short, this is a must for anyone who appreciates the artistry that makes up the strange (and yet familiar) Cronenberg universe.

Bon Cop  Bad Cop  (Single Disc) (Version française)
Bon Cop Bad Cop (Single Disc) (Version française)
Price: CDN$ 5.00
10 used & new from CDN$ 5.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart and entertaining, Jan. 5 2013
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I somehow missed this when it originally came out (2006), so i'm happy that a francophone friend recommended it. As a previous reviewer said, it's one of those films that spoofs its own genre while also developing some real suspense instead of being merely silly. The script, which of course is in both languages, is clever enough to get some intelligent laughs but also solid enough to make the characters seem real, and the same goes for the acting (and the action sequences). This one goes straight into my short list of favorite Canadian films.

Marley (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo) (Bilingual)
Marley (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Bob Marley
Price: CDN$ 18.97
9 used & new from CDN$ 9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Love -- the whole story, Nov. 28 2012
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Some documentaries are informative, some are compelling, some are entertaining, some are inspiring. Very few are all of the above, and this is one of them. Bob Marley was a man with a spiritual mission as well as a brilliant musician, and this biography tells his whole story -- tells it in a way that engages your attention for well over 2 hours, leaving you in a state of awe at the end. Along the way, it delves into the roots of reggae and Rastafarian culture, Jamaican politics, the music business of the 70s and 80s, and the causes of Marley's early death, which came just as his determination to take his spiritual message to the world achieved success. It doesn't gloss over his faults or the differences he had with close associates such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Lee Perry and Chris Blackwell, or the complexities of his family life, which we hear about directly from his wife Rita, his children, and some of the other women who gave birth to his children. And of course there's plenty of great music in the soundtrack, both in the feature and the extras. I've seen some excellent documentaries on great musicians, but i'd have to put this one at the top of the list. Magnificent.

Neil Young Journeys [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français)
Neil Young Journeys [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Neil Young
Price: CDN$ 16.98
33 used & new from CDN$ 13.41

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In your face with a wall of sound, Nov. 4 2012
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Most of this movie records Neil Young's performance at Massey Hall in Toronto on his "Le Noise" tour -- but it's vastly different from Jonathan Demme's earlier concert film "Heart of Gold", which was shot in Nashville and featured the country side of Young's repertoire. In "Journeys", Neil is playing solo, but using some electronic tricks picked up from Daniel Lanois to give his guitars all the power of a runaway train; the bass alone is like an earthquake even when he's using an acoustic guitar with a pickup. As he says in one of the extras on this disc, Young likes to perform at the brink of losing all control, and he certainly does that here -- and the effect is enhanced by Demme's decision to shoot most of it in extreme close-up on Neil's face. A couple of long takes appear to have been shot with a camera attached directly below the microphone, giving us a near-microscopic view of his chin (except where it's blurred by a large drop of spit ... some viewers may want to get as far away from the screen as possible. But when Young's lyrics hit home, as they often do, the effect is devastating.

Between songs, we get more intimacy with Neil, telling stories about his childhood while driving a vintage car from Omemee (the "town in North Ontario" immortalized in "Helpless") down to Massey Hall. There's a rawness to it all (unlike the highly polished "Heart of Gold") that only adds to the power of Young's intense performance. There's also more musical variety here than in the Nashville movie, as there are some quiet and delicate songs, and some old favorites, as well as the Crazy-Horse-style storms of sound laced with feedback; sometimes he switches to a piano or keyboard (one sounds like a pipe organ), and he also uses the harmonica very effectively. As for the singing, well, it's quintessential Neil Young, somehow ripe and raw at the same time.

Overall, i'd have to say that for me, "Journeys" is not only better than "Heart of Gold" but also better than the CD version of "Le Noise." The sound, taken directly from the concert mixing board, is impeccable, and the extras are worth watching too.

Surviving Progress (Sous-titres français)
Surviving Progress (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Margaret Atwood
Offered by Kay's Movies
Price: CDN$ 13.49
15 used & new from CDN$ 6.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taking our human heads out of the corporate sand, Oct. 1 2012
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Like Jennifer Baichwal's Payback, this documentary is based on a thoughtful book (and CBC broadcast) which takes a global perspective on some crucial elements of civilization, and it very effectively renders the core ideas of the book into an intense cinematic experience. Both were made under the auspices of Canada's National Film Board, and both present powerful critiques of a global economic system based on debt -- a system designed and manipulated to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of an economic elite. Both rely for their impact on the viewer's engagement with a dialogue among several points of view rather than a single argument delivered by a single narrator. In “Surviving Progress” as in “Payback”, the author of the original book (in this case Ronald Wright) plays a major but not dominant role. (Margaret Atwood, the author of “Payback”, also appears here, and Jane Goodall also appears in both.)

But this movie is also quite different from “Payback”. Its pace is much faster, almost violently so, and the editing process (which apparently took years) has honed the interview footage into a very direct and incisive train of thought. It is remarkably coherent, considering the wide range of disciplines represented by the interviewees. But it may take more than one viewing to absorb it all, unless you are already familiar with at least some of the ideas involved, because it brings them together in a way that is original as well as extremely concise.

Wright's book, “A Short History of Progress”, deals mostly with what he calls “progress traps” -- innovations of one kind or another which seem at first to improve the quality of life, but lead to disaster in the long run. The movie demonstrates that some of the same traps that led to the collapse of earlier civilizations are now evident in our present global culture. But the consequences of either falling into or avoiding these traps are vastly increased in scale now, along with the human population and its impact on the planet. The title “Surviving Progress” is best taken as ironic: what represents “progress” to the economic elite often spells disaster for the rest of us, and the movie does not presume to give simple instructions on how to survive or avoid such disasters. Some suggestions are made by various speakers, but they are widely varied and mostly incompatible solutions, even when there is general agreement on what the problems are.

Consensus on how to solve our global problems is no easier to achieve than consensus on what constitutes “progress”. But perhaps the presumption that humanity can control its own future is one of our biggest problems! In any case, this movie does an excellent job of pushing us to think and question what's happening on this planet beyond our special and private interests. At this critical point in human history we need to ask the right questions more than we need simple answers, and this movie places some powerful questions squarely before us in a way that's hard to ignore.

The extras on this DVD are all relatively short. The extra interview footage is worth viewing; instead of a making-of, we have a brief but informative bilingual (subtitled) round-table discussion in which the three main people behind the film discuss the process of producing it. Perhaps a later edition will give us more of the interview footage (as in the case of The Corporation). But i wouldn't put off seeing this film to wait for that -- what's on this DVD is more than enough to take in, and it's both important and entertaining.

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