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Gary Fuhrman "gnox" (Manitoulin Island)
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Payback (Sous-titres français)
Payback (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Eric Schlosser
Price: CDN$ 29.71
3 used & new from CDN$ 13.98

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revenge, redemption and reality, Aug. 23 2012
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Margaret Atwood's "Payback" was one of the most thoughtful nonfiction books in recent years, and this film does a superb job of translating that thoughtfulness into concrete visual terms. This is important because it's all about Debt, and Debt is an abstraction, money (which nowadays is loaned into existence) even more of an abstraction. But the concept is abstracted from deeply rooted feelings that exercise a powerful influence on all cultures, and thus on the ways we live. So as Atwood points out in the words that frame this film, how we think about it changes how it works.

The film does include some talking heads, such as Raj Patel and Karen Armstrong, saying very cogent things, but mainly it shows us the impact of ecological, moral and spiritual debts on people's actual lives. Financial debt is mostly kept to the background, as it was in the book, but the current crisis in capitalism has been covered in other recent documentaries. Here we see the stories of two Albanian families embroiled in a blood feud, and of two men who have recently been "paying their debt to society" in American prisons -- strongly contrasted in that one is a poor man of color, the other rich and very white. (Ironically, the white man is Conrad Black, whose presence is perhaps the most surprising in the film.) The debt we all owe for cheap imported food is graphically exemplified by the lives and struggles of Latino tomato pickers in Florida. Even more graphic is the devastating impact of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But there's no sermonizing here, at least not on the filmmaker's part. The viewer is left to draw his or her own conclusions, and the film is all the more powerful for that.

It's all beautifully shot, especially the lingering contemplation of the long-abandoned building that was America's first "penitentiary." The extras on the DVD are substantial, especially "The Fairness Experiment" featuring primatologist Frans de Waal and a couple of chimps, but also the interviews with Atwood and Jane Goodall. I would recommend watching this film with a few friends and talking it over afterwards: it could change the way you think about debt, and that could change how you live -- maybe even "redeem" you from the pawnshop of life! Jennifer Baichwal, like Margaret Atwood, has done us a great service here: we are in her debt.

I should also mention that the DVD i received from Amazon includes French and English subtitles, and the cover on the case looks slightly different from the one shown on this page at the time of writing.

Pina (DVD, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack) (Sous-titres français)
Pina (DVD, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack) (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Pina Bausch
Price: CDN$ 35.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 28.00

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entrancing dancing, Aug. 5 2012
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This tribute to the remarkable dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch consists mostly of performances by members of her dance company, Tanztheater Wuppertal. Wim Wenders had been wanting to make a film of Pina's work for 20 years, but according to Wenders, it was not until 3D technology reached the point of development where it could properly represent the "corporality" as well as the movement of the dancers that the film was really worth making (of course it was shot digitally, not literally on film). Unfortunately Pina died suddenly in 2009 while the project was in the planning stages, but the members of her ensemble urged Wenders to go ahead with it anyway.

I haven't yet seen this in 3D, but even on ordinary Blu-ray it's the most fascinating dance film i've seen (and i've seen some good ones). We see parts of some famous pieces by Pina, including the Rite of Spring and the Café Müller (which you'll remember if you've seen Almodovar's "Talk to Her"). There is also some older footage of Pina herself performing, and much of the newly shot parts are solo and pas de deux performances conveying a wide range of emotions; most of these are "danced answers" to questions about Pina which Wenders had put to them verbally, but asked them to answer with their bodies rather than with words. These were shot in a variety of striking locations, which adds to the cinematic effect and enhances the nonverbal communication. All of this is explained in the extensive making-of on the Blu-ray. There are also several deleted scenes, which are worth watching - there is no commentary on them, although Wenders speaks as if there is in the making-of. No matter, this combo box was worth it, especially if i ever get a chance to play the 3D version!

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
Price: CDN$ 21.61
22 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$ 16.71
22 used & new from CDN$ 10.07

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
36 used & new from CDN$ 13.52

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
17 used & new from CDN$ 8.06

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
15 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
3 used & new from CDN$ 15.00

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$ 25.22
9 used & new from CDN$ 19.07

2.0 out of 5 stars Not Region 1 DVD, April 24 2012
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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$ 14.99
32 used & new from CDN$ 9.99

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!

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