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Laurence R. Hunt "Laurence Hunt" (Kenora, Ontario, Canada)
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Strike Back: Cinemax Season 2 [Blu-ray + Digital Copy]
Strike Back: Cinemax Season 2 [Blu-ray + Digital Copy]
DVD ~ Philip Winchester
Price: CDN$ 34.97

5.0 out of 5 stars My "lucky find" of the year: one of my all-time favourites!, July 12 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
While this series has some glaring flaws and inconsistencies, that doesn't stop me from loving it. Let's start with the problems. Virtually every episode has one or more shoot-'em-up scenes with a massive body count, often of a dozen or more, and the sequences are pretty much set up like the violent shooting video games that young people have been playing for the past 20 or more years (I assume it's thus being marketed to that audience). Also, there isn't much analysis of why the bad guys are THAT bad, and sometimes, the rationale can be pretty superficial - I thought this to be particularly true at the end of (North American) season two, though I'll offer no spoilers on that one. Finally, unlike, say, Game of Thrones, where "anyone" can die, we can feel pretty confident that the two protagonists are going to make it to the end of the season, so long as there are no problems with their contracts, or they don't drop this show to take on something even bigger (and this one is pretty big, mind you).

Now, on the positive side... It goes without saying that Philip Winchester as Stonebridge and Sullivan Stapleton as Damien Scott are absolutely inspired. This is a buddy show, and these two guys are perfect buddies in that time-honoured tradition - with Winchester the "straight" guy and Stapleton the "loose (but dependable) cannon." They are also allowed at times (never for long) to have fun, and that element of intermittent delight was never written into the (earlier) UK season one (see my review of Chris Ryan's Strike Back). As to the production budget, it's obviously of good size, and thus we are able to travel the world (literally) with our protagonists. The screenwriting is excellent, the dialogue regularly engaging and deeply insightful, and the soundtrack/music are state of the art - outstanding. The same goes for the cinematography/camerawork, and the Blu-Ray picture is crisp and clear (you will not get that in UK season one, which is equivalent in terms of the competency of its actors, but produced on a much lower budget). Finally, it should be obvious from what I have written that these are characters you will care about (Mr. Stapleton sustained a head injury in Thailand earlier this year, and I'm concerned for him in the same way I would be for a friend).... but, more than that, these are characters who will teach you about yourself and the world: that is, they often face moral dilemmas, and are able to handle them in such a way that it is necessary to reflect on one's own life and choices, and how we might measure up in the same circumstances. The moral dilemmas feel VERY real - they are not staged or strained, and the actors are at that highest level, in that they have the ability to take us to the unexplored places of our own lives.

In conclusion... this series (originating in the UK) was a surprise. I hadn't heard anything about it until seeing the first season blu-ray on display one day while shopping. So I'll rate this one my "lucky find of the year." (Last year, my lucky find was Orphan Black, so I think my standards are reasonably high.) If you can handle the extremely high body count, you will be rewarded with every episode. There is very little time wasted at any point in this series. And... season two stands up perfectly well to season one. Two great years and counting.

Strike Back: Cinemax Season 1
Strike Back: Cinemax Season 1
DVD ~ Philip Winchester
Price: CDN$ 16.98
21 used & new from CDN$ 16.97

5.0 out of 5 stars My "lucky find" of the year: one of my all-time favourites!, July 12 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
While this series has some glaring flaws and inconsistencies, that doesn't stop me from loving it. Let's start with the problems. Virtually every episode has one or more shoot-'em-up scenes with a massive body count, often of a dozen or more, and the sequences are pretty much set up like the violent shooting video games that young people have been playing for the past 20 or more years (I assume it's thus being marketed to that audience). Also, there isn't much analysis of why the bad guys are THAT bad, and sometimes, the rationale can be pretty superficial - I thought this to be particularly true at the end of (North American) season two, though I'll offer no spoilers on that one. Finally, unlike, say, Game of Thrones, where "anyone" can die, we can feel pretty confident that the two protagonists are going to make it to the end of the season, so long as there are no problems with their contracts, or they don't drop this show to take on something even bigger (and this one is pretty big, mind you).

Now, on the positive side... It goes without saying that Philip Winchester as Stonebridge and Sullivan Stapleton as Damien Scott are absolutely inspired. This is a buddy show, and these two guys are perfect buddies in that time-honoured tradition - with Winchester the "straight" guy and Stapleton the "loose (but dependable) cannon." They are also allowed at times (never for long) to have fun, and that element of intermittent delight was never written into the (earlier) UK season one (see my review of Chris Ryan's Strike Back). As to the production budget, it's obviously of good size, and thus we are able to travel the world (literally) with our protagonists. The screenwriting is excellent, the dialogue regularly engaging and deeply insightful, and the soundtrack/music are state of the art - outstanding. The same goes for the cinematography/camerawork, and the Blu-Ray picture is crisp and clear (you will not get that in UK season one, which is equivalent in terms of the competency of its actors, but produced on a much lower budget). Finally, it should be obvious from what I have written that these are characters you will care about (Mr. Stapleton sustained a head injury in Thailand earlier this year, and I'm concerned for him in the same way I would be for a friend).... but, more than that, these are characters who will teach you about yourself and the world: that is, they often face moral dilemmas, and are able to handle them in such a way that it is necessary to reflect on one's own life and choices, and how we might measure up in the same circumstances. The moral dilemmas feel VERY real - they are not staged or strained, and the actors are at that highest level, in that they have the ability to take us to the unexplored places of our own lives.

In conclusion... this series (originating in the UK) was a surprise. I hadn't heard anything about it until seeing the first season blu-ray on display one day while shopping. So I'll rate this one my "lucky find of the year." (Last year, my lucky find was Orphan Black, so I think my standards are reasonably high.) If you can handle the extremely high body count, you will be rewarded with every episode. There is very little time wasted at any point in this series.

Chris Ryan's Strike Back [Import anglais]
Chris Ryan's Strike Back [Import anglais]
Offered by M plus L
Price: CDN$ 19.81
9 used & new from CDN$ 16.17

4.0 out of 5 stars Top-of-the-line acting and story-telling, but on an unfortunately limited production and marketing budget...., July 12 2014
This British Region-2 PAL DVD requires a multi-region DVD player in North America. I have one, and it plays fine. I thought I should comment on this 6-part, approximately 4-1/2 hour production, which was released only in the UK prior to Cinemax/HBO picking up the Strike Back series with British Sky TV the following year. In brief, Cinemax/HBO spent a lot more money on their (so-far) three seasons of the show. The present series (call it UK season one) is based on the Chris Ryan book of the same name, and thus follows Ryan's story of John Porter. (Porter - the character - also makes a brief appearance in Cinemax/HBO season one - episodes one/two, which are thus UK season two.) I have also watched Cinemax/HBO seasons one and two, and can therefore compare the two productions. Here are the similarities and differences: (1) The acting and narrative meet a high standard in both productions. I would credit ALL the actors in both productions. (2) This series is shorter, at six episodes (technically, they are presented as three, 2-part episodes), whereas the Cinemax/HBO product runs to ten episodes. (3) Cinemax/HBO spent A LOT more money on its seasons, and the difference in production values is obvious. While both are set in real-world venues, UK season one feels more enclosed. It is also more sombre and serious. (4) I think most strikingly, UK season one (this product) has a simply poor soundtrack. That is, the music is overly melodramatic and simplistic, and the sound quality is not inspiring either - to state it charitably. Honestly, the booming, urgent and intrusive background music in this one is difficult to listen to, particularly after you've watched the Cinemax/HBO series, which is an extremely professionally-produced product. So, in brief, this is a much lower-budget production, and that fact stands out when comparing seasons. (5) Due to the production differences, this season has not so far been released in North America. Unfortunately, this is probably also a consequence of the fact that the budget was lower, and probably nobody was thinking of international release when this series was pieced together. Too bad... as, again, dramatically, this is an equally good product. (6) Richard Armitage as Porter easily stands up to Philip WInchester as Stonebridge and Sullivan Stapleton as Damien Scott in the subsequent Cinemax/HBO series. What he is lacking is the big budget, the soundtrack, the studio promotion, and - to some extent - the screenwriting (that is, Porter is denied the moments of "fun" that Stonebridge and Scott are sometimes allowed). IN CONCLUSION: It's too bad that this first UK series was run at such a low budget... as just fixing up the soundtrack would pretty well bring this UK-only series up to par with the subsequent Cinemax/HBO effort, of which I also have a high opinion.

Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond
Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond
by Chris Crowley
Edition: Hardcover
89 used & new from CDN$ 1.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Life Changing, July 12 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Well, this book certainly changed my life. I read it early in 2005, when it was first published. At the time, I believed that I was fit because I'd been running since 1969. I had forgotten that when I started running, I could also do gymnastics, I weighed 30 pounds less, I could do a pull-up with one arm, it was easy to do cartwheels and handstands, etc. In 2005, I was having trouble bending over to tie my shoes... I had early arthritis in my fingers and right wrist... my ankles were sometimes swelling for "no reason"... I was "upgrading my waist size"... and I thought I was fit. While the book is full of useful pointers, it was one of the first to pinpoint the role of myokines (then referred to by Dr. Lodge as "cytokines") in mediating fitness and health through tissue repair and growth, anti-inflammatory activity, etc. Nine years later, I am dropping waist sizes, not increasing them, I run faster now than I did 5 years ago, the arthritis in my fingers is gone, and I can do quite a bit of my old gymnastics routine again. I started with pumping iron, but my own research led me into core training, short burst training, and other strategies for building optimal fitness and health. Chris Crowley turns 80 this year, and he is living the message of the book - still highly active and having fun. I point to two life-changing books in my fitness journey. The first was Kenneth Cooper's "Aerobics" (the book that got me started in 1969). This is number two. Very strong on the "why to" as well as the "how to."

OPPO BDP-103 2D/3D 2K/4K MultiZone Blu Ray Zone A/B/C & Multi All Region Free DVD 012345678. Dual HDMI RS-232C MHL SA-CD HDCD AVI DivX XviD MKV 100~240V 50/60Hz. (Free HDMI Cable)
OPPO BDP-103 2D/3D 2K/4K MultiZone Blu Ray Zone A/B/C & Multi All Region Free DVD 012345678. Dual HDMI RS-232C MHL SA-CD HDCD AVI DivX XviD MKV 100~240V 50/60Hz. (Free HDMI Cable)

5.0 out of 5 stars Multi Region Code Free DVD and Multi Zone Blu Ray Zone ABC, June 30 2014
The other reviewers (as of 30 JUN 2014) are not making note that this is a Multi Region Code Free DVD and Multi Zone Blu Ray Zone ABC player. Based on my reading, the standard Oppo players do not have this feature. That is, modification of the player is necessary. I assume this is why the cost is higher. A clearer product description would help a lot on this question. The information is presented very vaguely here, and I'm not certain how the player has been modified (certainly it has been). I have been doing a bit more research. Apparently, some modified players cannot be firmware upgraded, whereas others can be (one Amazon reviewer made note of losing the Multi Region capacity following a firmware upgrade). Sellers of these players describe a "permanent hardware modification," enabling the players to be Multi Region Code Free. I note that the product description here does not indicate if this player is or is not firmware upgradeable. As these players have online capabilities, firmware upgrades are going to occur. I do not own this player. I am researching the topic, and would require firmware information to make the purchase and pay the premium price. If anyone has bought this product and can answer this question, it would be helpful. As of today's date, the applicable firmware version for this player is dated May 19, 2014. As to the distinction between the BDP-103 and BDP 105, Oppo makes clear that the difference in the two models is in the support for high-end analogue and non-HDMI digital audio on the BDP-105. My understanding is that the video and HDMI (1.4a) functions are equivalent. Oppo states: "The OPPO BDP-103 and BDP-105 share the same primary components (including the mainboard, laser, and loader) for superb audio and video playback, and while the BDP-103 and BDP-105 are identical in performance when it comes to audio and video over HDMI, the BDP-105 offers a number of (non-HDMI) enhancements."

Transcendence (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
Transcendence (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 24.97
7 used & new from CDN$ 20.00

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly imaginative failure of the imagination, June 17 2014
Transcendence was a brilliantly imaginative failure of the imagination. I am a huge Christopher Nolan fan, so yes, I thought much of it was clever and provocative. The themes are obviously loosely based on the ideas of Ray Kurzweil, with a good dose of nanotech tossed in. But I for one would enjoy some stretching of the imagination towards how gains in science might improve our lot and make life more interesting. Must all scientists be madly bent on world domination as soon as they have one successful experimental result? Come on. Let's move past the stereotypes, and be willing at least to entertain the notion that science OFTEN makes things better. Every scientific creation is not Frankenstein's monster. There is a huge anti-science subtext in Hollywood movies, and I'm pretty well set to protest that particular bias here and now! I'm just not sure why Hollywood is not able to portray science more positively (and thoughtfully). So, in summary, this was a film with a promising start but a weak finish. And, for some reason, Johnny Depp was well off his peak form in this one, too. He just didn't have a lot of energy to bring to this particular character.

Bowflex 3.1 Adjustable Bench
Bowflex 3.1 Adjustable Bench
Price: CDN$ 199.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Worth twice the price, Feb. 15 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This bench is of outstanding quality at the present price point (and I paid $40 more than the current, recently-reduced price of $159). The most common problems with inexpensive benches are (1) size (too small), (2) poor workmanship, (3) instability, (4) limited features, and (5) difficult to assemble. This bench has NONE of those problems. This bench is very heavy duty, stable, well-made and easy to adjust. There is a more expensive version with an additional two positions, for which can't see any real need. This one gives you decline, flat, 45° and upright. At this price, for almost everybody, this is probably the bench to buy. If there is any downside, the seat is quite large, and for smaller people, it's going to feel like sitting in the king's chair. Additionally, the seat does not lift up, which could be a concern for some users. I have to make some adjustments in my body position to accommodate the large seat (it is both long and wide), but the absence of a seat lift has not proved a problem for me so far. I do about a dozen exercises on the bench, and it's sufficiently stable to do off-centre core work (legs up and to side, for example), as well as traditional dumbbell work. I will also be using this for bench press, though I haven't set it up yet. I keep the leg hold-down brace on all the time. So far, it hasn't gotten in the way of what I do.

Astronaut: Last Push [Import]
Astronaut: Last Push [Import]
Price: CDN$ 16.59
20 used & new from CDN$ 6.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Technologically optimistic science fiction, Jan. 19 2014
Rare in literature, though developed from time to time, technologically optimistic themes are almost never encountered in cinema. Astronaut: The Last Push doesn't skirt any of the tough issues - the vulnerability of humans in space, the devastating impact of technological failure, the cruel vagaries of chance, and the isolation of the lonely venturer. And then it also transcends them, in a plausible and credible manner. Not a high-budget film, there are scenes in this movie that have not been exceeded in films made with budgets a thousand times greater. Credit all the players for their dramatic skills as well. This is a masterpiece. One of the singularly great works of science fiction film-making: a work that will stand for all time. A victory at levels that have seldom been attempted. I would award six stars if available. I have been moved and inspired by this brilliant and groundbreaking work of art.

Anna Karenina / Anna Karénine (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
Anna Karenina / Anna Karénine (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Keira Knightley
Price: CDN$ 22.82
17 used & new from CDN$ 6.50

3.0 out of 5 stars An inspired failure, Dec 26 2013
The real failure of this production of Tolstoy's classic tale is not in the intermittent use of the stage as an artifice for the presentation of the story, but in the inability of the project to engage consistently with the characters at an emotional level. Despite the epic disappointment of this venture, much is well-done on a scene-by-scene basis, including, definitely, the cinematography, as well as, often, the craft of the actors, not to mention the timeless power of Tolstoy's epic tale. In balance, this production should probably be seen. Under a less-disengaged guiding hand, this might have been the best telling yet of the great novel on-screen.

Robot and Frank [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Robot and Frank [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
DVD ~ Frank Langella
Offered by Deal Beat
Price: CDN$ 42.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Technological optimism with tongue in cheek - this works...., Dec 25 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
One of the dominant genres of the 1950s has all but disappeared - technologically optimistic science fiction. In my view, it's more interesting to think about how technological evolution might create positive possibilities. Almost unique in contemporary cinema, here is a sly piece of early-career, almost tongue in cheek film-making, that recaptures the feel of the 50s, without talking down to us, preaching to us, or losing a contemporary feel. And these young filmmakers, not that long out of film school, somehow managed to score Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard, Liv Tyler and more. And a robot that is not evil. Honestly, it's about time. Well worth watching, for its genre-bending slant, if nothing else.

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