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Gary Fuhrman "gnox" (Manitoulin Island)
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The Great Barrier Reef [Blu-ray]
The Great Barrier Reef [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 29.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 24.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watery wonderland, April 3 2013
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The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on earth, extending 2000 km parallel to the eastern coast of Australia. Chances are we've all heard of it, but in this 3-hour series we get to know it much more intimately. The beauty and biology of it are equally captivating, with the spectacular 1080p images -- many time-lapse and some slow-motion sequences -- revealing an astonishing variety of creatures, some microscopic and some very strange indeed. In the narrative commentary, beautifully delivered by marine biologist Monty Halls, it's the complex ecology of the reef system that comes across most powerfully. The lives of the thousands of individual reefs that make up the outer reef are interconnected, not only with the fish and other animals that swarm around them, but also with the deep water lagoon and its 600 islands, the mangroves along the coast and even the rainforest inland.

Everything about this series, from script to soundtrack (both natural and musical), shows meticulous attention to detail. In some locations, Halls talks to us underwater (rather than by voice-over), using a mask with a mike inside, lending a greater immediacy to his commentary. Each of the three hour-long episodes can stand alone, and is probably more informative (though maybe a bit less dramatic) than the typical BBC Earth episode. This leaves no room (and no need) for extras on the blu-ray disc. There is a little duplication of content across episodes -- the annual spawning of the coral polyps appears in both the first and third episodes, for instance, but it's worth seeing twice. A few details may be familiar to BBC Earth fans, such as the race of newly hatched turtles to the sea (which was even more beautifully shown in the new Africa series). But by the end of the series, you are likely to feel personally concerned about the future of the Reef, which is uncertain due to climate change and other human-caused factors. This series is as unique as any of the other masterpieces from BBC Earth and its production partners.

Under the Wire
Under the Wire
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling and thought-provoking too, March 30 2013
This review is from: Under the Wire (Kindle Edition)
Bill Ash's account of his exploits during WWII is certainly a rip-roaring adventure story, taking us from his beginnings as a penniless hobo through his days as an American/Canadian Spitfire pilot and his years as a serial escape artist from German prison camps. But it's also a testament to the powerful sense of justice and human solidarity that brought him into the war in the first place. His sketches and tales of others involved in the long battle against the Nazis show how such struggles can bring out the best (and the worst) in people. Yet he maintains a realistic perspective, often ironic and playful, on their motivations, and especially on his own. His wartime experience, grim as some of it was, only seems to deepen his youthful idealism. Sometimes his profound philosophical streak flowers into meditations like this one:

"Human beings are surrounded by a universe many sizes too big for them and the ability either to shout out in anger or to laugh in the face of chaos are the only truly noble options available to us. That shout, or that laughter, even in the black infinity of the universe is an absolutely new and pure thing, filling the void and going on, echoing off among the nebula, with an entirely human significance" (Kindle Location 2506).

Thanks to his distinctive outlook on life (and the help of Brendan Foley), Ash's memoir gives us vital insights into what went on in WWII, but beyond that, it's one for the ages, and not just for fans of "The Great Escape".

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
4 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

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
8 used & new from CDN$ 16.95

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
24 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
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 120.01
7 used & new from CDN$ 55.55

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
Offered by Kay's Movies
Price: CDN$ 15.49
8 used & new from CDN$ 15.49

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$ 10.49
32 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$ 9.99
7 used & new from CDN$ 6.49

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$ 18.98
9 used & new from CDN$ 17.70

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.

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