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Gary Fuhrman "gnox" (Manitoulin Island)

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Echo and Other Elephants
Echo and Other Elephants
DVD ~ Various
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 68.96
6 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

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 [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
Samsara [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Ron Fricke
Price: CDN$ 19.99
12 used & new from CDN$ 11.33

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
22 used & new from CDN$ 2.99

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$ 6.99
10 used & new from CDN$ 3.99

3 of 3 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$ 16.99
11 used & new from CDN$ 10.49

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$ 14.70
29 used & new from CDN$ 14.70

17 of 17 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
Surviving Progress
DVD ~ Margaret Atwood
Price: CDN$ 19.97
12 used & new from CDN$ 9.99

4 of 4 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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This review is from: Surviving Progress (DVD)
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.

Payback (Sous-titres français)
Payback (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Eric Schlosser
Price: CDN$ 17.00
3 used & new from CDN$ 13.99

4 of 4 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

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
Offered by Deal Beat
Price: CDN$ 18.99
15 used & new from CDN$ 18.99

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.

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