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Gary Fuhrman "gnox" (Manitoulin Island)
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Melancholia (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo) / Melancholia (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)  (Bilingual)
Melancholia (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo) / Melancholia (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Kirsten Dunst
Offered by DealsAreUs
Price: CDN$ 21.49
15 used & new from CDN$ 9.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Larger than life, deeper than hope?, June 22 2012
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Lars von Trier himself has said that this film is about depression, which is part of his own personality. Those who are anxious to preserve an optimistic and "positive" outlook on life might be wise to avoid it. But then there are those more inclined to agree with Thoreau's remark: "Be it life or death, we crave only reality." And from that point of view, this film is a masterpiece.

It may seem odd to mention "reality" in connection with a story in which a science-fictional element plays a central part. In this film, "Melancholia" is not only an old-fashioned term for depression but also a planet (blue, of course) which has wandered into the solar system and, we are told, may or may not collide with Earth. In astrophysical terms, this is highly unlikely but not impossible. The main implausibility here is that nobody seems to have seen this planet coming years before, although it's much larger than Earth, because it was "behind the sun." But that's a relatively minor detail, not hard to suspend one's disbelief about. And that's worth doing, because the real focus of the story is the relationship between two sisters who respond in diametrically opposed ways to the situation presented by Melancholia.

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is the depressive sister, and the first half of the film deals with her struggle between a promising future (it's her wedding day) and the gravity that threatens to pull her into a black hole. Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is the more normal of the two. She sometimes hates her sister for spoiling the party, but also cares about Justine enough to recognize her condition as an illness and try to help her get over it. Both Dunst and Gainsbourg are superb in their roles, and the interplay between them (not to mention the other characters) is psychologically realistic to an almost painful degree. In the second half of the film, while Justine's inner melancholia is on the wane, the planet Melancholia becomes the dominant factor in the story, transforming the relationship between the sisters. And that, in my view, is what makes this film a masterpiece, because the sisters, without ceasing to be finely drawn individuals, represent (to me at least) two different but equally essential sides of human nature.

Cinematically, this film is unusual in several ways. Most of the events and interactions of the story are shot in a quasi-documentary style with hand-held camera. Yet it's preceded by a long overture that foreshadows key elements of the story in extreme slow-motion images, accompanied by Wagnerian music (from the opera Tristan and Isolde). It's a combination of artistic Romanticism with realism that should not work, but for me only adds to the power of the film. Of three or four von Trier films i've seen, this is far and away the most engaging.

The Blu-ray (i haven't seen the DVD version) includes a fairly short but illuminating extra in which von Trier, Gainsbourg, Dunst and a psychologist comment on the story. Other extras comment on the visual style and how the effects were created. The film certainly is beautiful (both picture and sound) in 1080p. The dialogue is all in English, but there's also a version dubbed into French as well as subtitles in both languages.

Graceland (25th Anniversary Edition) (CD/DVD)
Graceland (25th Anniversary Edition) (CD/DVD)
Price: CDN$ 14.99
18 used & new from CDN$ 10.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic album remastered plus excellent documentary, June 20 2012
It's probably not necessary to mention that Graceland is one of the great recordings of the 1980s, one that broke new ground with its unexpected blending of musical cultures and still does not sound "old". The documentary included in this package i've reviewed separately: Under African Skies [Blu-ray]. The track listing given above actually includes the 13 chapters of the film (beginning with "How We Begin to Remember") and the five bonus interviews (from Whoopi Goldberg through Hugh Masakela). The CD available separately includes 3 bonus tracks, alternate versions of "Homeless", "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and "Myth of Fingerprints". Since i didn't buy this particular CD/DVD package, i have to guess that the other tracks listed represent extra content on the CD. In any case, this package is a real bargain for fans of Paul Simon or of "world music" generally.

Under African Skies (Graceland 25th Anniversary Film) [Blu-ray]
Under African Skies (Graceland 25th Anniversary Film) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Paul Simon
Offered by Kay's Movies
Price: CDN$ 19.49
37 used & new from CDN$ 16.58

5.0 out of 5 stars a groundbreaking musical collaboration revisited, June 10 2012
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Paul Simon's Graceland is unquestionably a classic album that blended two popular music traditions in a new way, raising the global profile of South Africa and its black musicians at a time (1986) when they were still oppressed by apartheid. The follow-up world tour featured South African icons Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masakela, as well as the musicians who co-created the music with Simon. Yet there was heated opposition to both the album and the tour because Simon broke the cultural boycott that was supported by the ANC and the UN. Joe Berlinger's excellent film explores both the musical and the political background by following Simon as he returns to South Africa in 2011 for a set of 25th anniversary reunion concerts.

The musicians involved have their say, along with other commentators including Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gabriel, David Byrne and (extensively) Harry Belafonte. The main frame of the film's treatment of the political controversy is a conversation between Paul Simon and Dali Tambo of Artists Against Apartheid. The still-relevant question is whether artists should subordinate themselves to political demands. Simon went to South Africa to jam with black musicians there without following his friend Belafonte's advice to get permission from the ANC first; he felt that politicians, whether in power or in revolt against power, had no right to forbid an artistic collaboration. This film presents all the arguments (on both sides) that viewers need to make up their own minds on that question. But more important (perhaps), it shows how a music revolution evolved.

Paul Simon was not the first to produce pop songs inspired by South African sources; Peter Gabriel and Johnny Clegg (with Juluka and Savuka) were there first. But when Simon's record finally came out in 1986, it took the world by storm, made Ladysmith Black Mombazo famous, and drew attention to the South African situation as nothing had done before. Berlinger's film documents all this, and the result is inspiring.

The Blu-ray of this film looks and sounds beautiful, but since half the footage is historical and obviously not shot in high-def, the Graceland (25th Anniversary Edition) (CD/DVD) might be a better buy, since it includes a DVD of the film with the remastered/enhanced CD of Graceland. The Blu-ray has some extra interview footage which is interesting and entertaining, but no complete concert performances (not even the landmark Saturday Night Live appearance which is excerpted in the film). Those interested in the role of music in the struggle against apartheid should also see Amandla: Revolution in Four Part Harmony (Widescreen). But Under African Skies is a superb documentary in its own right.

Live At Celtic Connection (DVD)
Live At Celtic Connection (DVD)
DVD ~ Richard Thompson
Price: CDN$ 11.99
16 used & new from CDN$ 9.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Can't lose with Thompson live, May 31 2012
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I have most of Richard Thompson's records and have always felt that the live performances are his best -- a feeling which he apparently shares, since his recent "Dream Attic" tour skipped the studio process entirely and the CD is all live performances. This DVD proves the point in spades. It's beautifully shot in 16:9 with impeccable sound, and contains most of the Dream Attic songs plus 9 from earlier in his stellar songwriting career. The whole band is excellent, with Joel Zifkin on violin and Pete Zorn on several instruments getting plenty of time to shine, but the peak moments come when Thompson cuts loose on the guitar (something he is reluctant to do in the studio). He pulls out all the stops on "Can't Win", and shows thoughout that he's lost none of his zing as a performer now that he's into his 60s. Nor have his songwriting skills lost any of their biting wit. Powered by a high-energy rhythm section, the many rocking-out songs blow the doors off, while Thompson's singing infuses the slower numbers with emotion, especially when he's joined by Zorn on vocals.

I think most of Thompson's between-song banter with the audience could have been edited out with no great loss, but if that's the weak part of this concert, the DVD makes up for it by adding two of his solo acoustic performances in another venue. In all, we have here about two and a half hours of Richard Thompson's signature sound -- and it's even more of a great buy considering that it costs less than the Dream Attic CD!

Penguin Classics The Restored Finnegans Wake
Penguin Classics The Restored Finnegans Wake
by James Joyce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.22
18 used & new from CDN$ 28.22

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wake refreshed, May 27 2012
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James Joyce devoted 16 years to the "Work in Progress" that was published in 1939 as Finnegans Wake. The new "restored" edition published by Penguin Classics represents an alternative outcome of Joyce's process, thanks to an even longer process of investigating the drafts and notebooks he left behind. Editors Rose and O'Hanlon (along with other scholars) have been following Joyce's voluminous paper trail for over 70 years now, and out of that deep immersion have produced a text which arguably realizes Joyce's intentions better than the first edition did.

As the editors explain in their Preface and Afterword, this is an alternative to the original edition, not a replacement for it. And it's meant for readers, not mainly for other specialists. If you found Joyce's masterpiece unreadable before, this new edition won't change your mind -- but if you're familiar with it, you will probably notice the difference even in the first few pages. Among the 9000 changes to the original printed text, some are corrections of definite mistakes that had been overlooked, even by Joyce himself, who was nearly blind by the time he made the "author's corrections incorporated in the text" of the 1958 printing, the one i've been enjoying for about 40 years now. But most are better described as alternate readings which could just as well (or better) have emerged from Joyce's complex process, even though the previous readings were not simply wrong.

This "restored" edition might be even better described as "refreshed". It's not meant for scholars who want to see the reasons for the changes or systematically compare the two alternative texts, but for readers who want a fresh experience of the Wake, whether they've been through it before or not.

For this edition the whole book has been totally reset, which has never happened before. The page numbers don't correspond to the old one -- we have 493 pages instead of the 628 of earlier printings, to which the standard citation method refers -- and some have complained about this, but it shouldn't bother the average reader (if there is such a beast as an average reader of Finnegans Wake). Apparently scholars referring to this new edition will cite it as "FW2" for short. The format is larger while the font size appears to be the same (a bit too small in my opinion), hence the smaller number of pages. A couple of appendices explaining the project that resulted in this edition are included, along with the aforementioned Preface and Afterword, but the rest is all pure Joyce.

I'm about to begin my third wander through the entire Wake, and with this edition in hand, i'm anticipating untold wonders and joys of night-revelation. That old shapeshifter is more alive than ever.

Joy Division
Joy Division
DVD ~ DVD
Offered by stephensstuff
Price: CDN$ 29.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Heart and soul of a musical revolution, May 16 2012
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This review is from: Joy Division (DVD)
We are blessed to have an inexpensive release of this intimate study of the group who emerged from the bleakness of late-70s Manchester to lead a new wave of British music. Few documentaries i've seen are so effective at showing how deeply a local band can move people, even people who live elsewhere. Everyone involved in the development of Joy Division have their say here, excepting of course Ian Curtis, whose suicide brought a sudden end to that development in 1980. The film devotes some of its most moving interview footage to reflections on that event and its causes, by the surviving band members (who reinvented themselves as New Order) and notably by Curtis's Belgian girl friend Annik, who saw it coming much more clearly than the band members did. Manager Rob Gretton is also dead now but is represented here by entries in his notebooks from the time.

This film shows how the right combination of inspiration, dedication and lucky accidents can unite a group of diverse individuals and lift it from imitation through self-expression to the higher levels of an art with universal appeal. The extras, including over an hour of outtakes, are worth watching too. There is only one complete performance by the band on the disc, "Transmission" captured on video by the BBC, but there are enough excerpts to give an impression of what Joy Division was like onstage. Recommended to anyone who cares about honest popular music and where it comes from.

Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet [Import]
Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet [Import]
DVD ~ Kati Outinen
Price: CDN$ 25.47
8 used & new from CDN$ 23.14

2.0 out of 5 stars Not Region 1 DVD, April 24 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This film project looks interesting, but when I ordered and received it from Amazon.ca, i discovered it was not a Region 1 (or region free) DVD, and thus could not play it. A search of internet sources including Amazon.com and .uk did not locate any Region 1 DVD release of it. Amazon refunded my purchase price, but as of this date, the listing for this item still does not show the correct region information. Oddly enough, if you click the "update product information" link and scroll down, it will show the product as Region 3 -- but this does not show on the main product information page, which incorrectly states that it will "not be viewable in other countries", when in fact it is not viewable in _this_ country. Hence this review, which is not a reflection of the quality of the film! Best not to order this until you can be sure of the region coding. (The same goes for "Ten Minutes Older: The Cello", as far as i know.)

Frozen Planet: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
Frozen Planet: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 24.99
24 used & new from CDN$ 20.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flying penguins at the extremities of earth, April 19 2012
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In recent years BBC Earth has brought us many spectacular high-definition visions of the natural world, and they've pulled out all the stops with this one: near-microscopic shots of krill feeding, extreme close-ups of polar bears, satellite shots of sea ice retreating, aerial views of enormous ice sheets, slow-motion shots of an ice dam breaking up in spring, time-lapse revelations of glaciers flowing to the sea.

The polar regions are among the strangest on earth simply because they are so unfamiliar, and even when we've seen them before (for instance in the first episode of Planet Earth, or Life in the Freezer), there are plenty of surprises here. Hunting sequences and battles between males in rut are always exciting and many are included, but often the hunts don't turn out as you might expect. Besides, even the melting of icicles in the spring is dramatic when you see it in gorgeous high-def slow-motion, as is the formation of ice crystals and snowflakes in high-def time-lapse. There's plenty of humour too, and George Fenton's musical score, reprising his role in Planet Earth, also adds to the sheer entertainment value. Besides, the sound is as amazing as the pictures, from the deep rumbling as a giant iceberg is born to the intimate crackling as of delicate hoarfrost forming.

Astonishingly beautiful as it is, this series is also packed with information, including some new discoveries, and David Attenborough's narration has never been better. Of the six episodes on the first two discs, one introduces us to the Arctic and Antarctic regions, one is devoted to each of the four seasons (at both poles), and one covers the human presence in this "Last Frontier". This final part would have fit just as well in the "Human Planet" series. With the excellent 10-minute "Freeze Frame" segment that documents the highlights of shooting, each episode is an hour long.

The third disc includes the final episode, "On Thin Ice", which shows graphically and explains how (and why) the global warming trend is changing the polar regions much more rapidly than the rest of the planet ... and how this is likely to affect all of us in the present century. This episode uses a lot of footage from the first six, but Attenborough's cogent narration puts it all in a different context. The "extras" on this third disc include:
a 20-minute featurette on the scientific work going on at the poles;
an hour-long condensed version of the first six episodes, containing the most spectacular and dramatic parts of the series;
and a host of brief pieces called "production video diaries" but not limited to peeks behind the scenes of how the series was shot. These don't have the high-def video or audio of the rest, but those i've sampled are interesting for the background information they provide.

In his introduction to the whole series, Attenborough remarks that "This is our planet's last true wilderness, and one that is changing just as we are beginning to understand it." He invites us "to witness its wonders, perhaps for the last time ... " It's hard to refuse an invitation like that, and the promise of wonders is amply fulfilled in every episode. Highly recommended!

Queen of the Sun (Sous-titres français)
Queen of the Sun (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Gunther Hauk
Price: CDN$ 29.95

4.0 out of 5 stars In praise of bees, April 16 2012
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This is the second recent documentary about bees and beekeeping that i've seen and reviewed, the other being Vanishing of the Bees. As you might expect, there are lots of overlaps between the two, such as the appearance in both of biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk and of Michael Pollan, a leading critic of corporate food systems and factory farming. Both films target monoculture farming and associated practices, including pesticide use, as root causes of the "colony collapse disorder" which has become a major threat to bee populations in the past decade or so. Both regard the plight of the bees as a "canary in the coal mine" which should warn us that our own health is endangered by current agrobusiness practices. Both recommend that we find a healthier way to interact with bees, and give examples of better beekeeping practices. Both also delve into the cultural and spiritual aspects of beekeeping, along with its ancient and recent history.

The main difference is that Vanishing of the Bees focusses strongly on the problems of people involved in the large-scale industrial beekeeping business, who (since they can't make a living selling honey) are forced to truck hives of bees across the country to provide pollination services to the California almond industry and similar operations. Based on their point of view, that film has a strong narrative structure, tracing the course of the investigation into the cause of colony collapse disorder, and arriving near the end at a specific kind of systemic pesticide as the culprit.

Queen of the Sun has a more meandering structure which does not keep any specific subject in focus for very long, but gives more screen time to the beekeeping practices with are (in both films) presented as more healthy and natural alternatives to the conventional industrial approach. If you like this more vague and relaxed approach, it will work for you better than Vanishing of the Sun; if you like the investigative approach, you may find Queen of the Sun too rambling. But the take-home messages of the two films are so similar that if you've seen one, you won't learn very much from the other. I would certainly recommend seeing either one or the other if you care about the way we humans relate to the natural world, especially in connection with food.

Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei
Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei
by Thomas Cleary
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 26.96
18 used & new from CDN$ 15.06

4.0 out of 5 stars A supplement, not a substitute, April 16 2012
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Thomas Cleary, along with his brother J.C., made the definitive English translation of the Blue Cliff Record decades ago, and it is among the essential works for students of the Chinese Zen classics. "Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record" is valuable for those readers because it provides an alternative translation of the main cases, and often of Hsueh Tou's verses and Yuan Wu's introductions as well -- which is helpful because no single translation into English can capture the whole meaning of the original Chinese text. The comments by Japanese masters Hakuin and Tenkei are also helpful, not least because they often disagree with each other about what's going on between the dialogue partners in the main cases. Their comments are not always up to the level of those in the original text, but they do help to keep the reader alert and alive to significances that otherwise might be missed. But i wouldn't recommend this book to someone who hasn't already struck up an acquaintance with the prior translation of the complete Blue Cliff Record text.

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