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K. Gordon
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The Gin Game
The Gin Game
DVD ~ Dick Van Dyke
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 108.76
5 used & new from CDN$ 24.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and nicely done, if lacking real punch., April 29 2015
This review is from: The Gin Game (DVD)
Really more a filmed theatrical staging for television, than a true film per se, this two-hander is solidly acted by Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.

They play two very different - if equally lonely - types in an old age home: the extroverted, gregarious, but also somewhat volatile and misanthropic Weller and the introverted, prim Fonisa. They form a friendship over games of gin, which she has an uncanny knack for winning, even though she is a complete novice to the game, which pushes Weller's buttons since he likes to fancy himself an expert.

In this production at least, the play feels sweet, funny, well written and occasionally touching, but also a bit familiar. And the characters' secrets aren't very surprising given the build up to their inevitable reveals.

But, that said, it can often invoke a smile, and the ending was surprisingly touching without resorting to the obvious or unsubtle.

While I didn't see the original production starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, and directed by Mike Nichols, certainly the reviews I could find make it sound like that represented a somewhat darker, more disturbing approach to the play and the characters, which I could imagine giving the whole thing more heft and power. While this never quite turned 'cute' it threatened to at moments.

But in the end, it was still fun to see these two excellent old pros go at it, and I was never bored or less than interested.

As You Like It (2006)
As You Like It (2006)
DVD ~ Alfred Molina
Offered by Vecosell
Price: CDN$ 15.09
5 used & new from CDN$ 15.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Critics were pretty divided on this, but I thoroughly enjoyed it., April 26 2015
This review is from: As You Like It (2006) (DVD)
Probably my second favorite of Branagh's films (both Shakespeare and not) after "Henry V".

It's a sweet and joyful affair, with a load of fun performances, and a re-imagining by Branagh
of the story taking place in 1880s Japan (!), which seems an odd idea, but actually ends up
working quite well.

Bryce Dallas Howard is a terrific Rosalind, perhaps my favorite I've seen. She makes the text
completely comprehensible without losing its poetry. She's funny, sexy and wonderfully lovable.
(Why she hasn't become a bigger star I'll never know). David Oyelowo is her match as Orlando,
making his love-sick swooning and single-minded romantic obsession tremendously appealing
and human '-- never whiny (a danger in this role), and never losing his considerable charisma
and smolder. This is a rare case where on-screen love at first sight is believable, endearing and hot.

There are terrific supporting turns from Kevin Kline, Brian Blessed (excellent in a double role),
Adrian Lester, Janet McTeer and Alfred Molina (just to name a few).

There are places where one can carp: even in a comedy Howard's disguise as a boy would
fool no one, and makes a number of moments feel silly (would it have been so hard to at least
put all of her wild and distinctive hair under her cap instead of letting much of it come flowing out?).
Sometimes Branagh interrupts his excellent, more classic visual style with a slightly wobbly
stedicam 360, which call more attention to themselves than they should. And a couple of minor
characters feel a less than needed in this cut down version. But those are small complaints.

This is Shakespeare that isn't 'good for you', but that is as fun and playful (and occasionally quite
terrifically tense) as any wonderful romantic comedy. Yes all the poetry and wise insights into human
affairs are there, but they flow naturally, instead of making one feel force fed. I'd imagine this would
be a great film for teens studying the play. It makes it immediate and alive, passionate and sexy.

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand
Paul Robeson: Here I Stand
DVD ~ Harry Belafonte
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 47.44
8 used & new from CDN$ 30.91

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thorough., April 26 2015
This review is from: Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (DVD)
Robeson was an amazing renaissance man who left his indelible mark on not only on U.S. film and music (his singing voice is one of the most powerful and resonant I have ever heard), but also on U.S. politics and the African-American struggle in the middle of the 20th century. (Not to mention he was also a lawyer and world class athlete!)

The film doesn''t shy away from Robeson''s dark sides, and miss-steps ' (for example, choices of film roles that surprisingly sometimes fed into black stereotypes) -- but in the end tells the story of a true tragic hero. A great artist who tried to lift his race onto his shoulders, and ended up blacklisted and hardly able to work in his own country, while unable to travel abroad.

Robeson''s career was doomed in the post WWII communist paranoia of the 40s and 50s when he expressed admiration for the way the Soviet Union treated him as a visiting black man, and advocated rapprochement nuclear disarmament and world peace instead of confrontation with the Soviets. One can argue whether he was 'correct' about the Russians, but his miss-trust of the U.S. certainly can be understood in the light of rampant Jim Crowe racism oppressing his people, and the way Robeson himself was turned on when he dared speak out. His passport stripped, the government wouldn''t even let this international star leave to earn a living elsewhere even as it blocked him from working here.

The only thing lacking for me was a some of the emotion behind this great and sad life. By the end there I found myself choked up (it would be almost impossible not to be moved by some of what Robeson went through, and his own growth through it all) but the film can feel a bit academic at moments. But that's a small flaw measured against its many accomplishments.

This would be a good film for young people, who likely sadly know little if anything about Robeson ' one of the most important and influential U.S, artists of the 20th century.

Benda Bilili [Blu-ray] [Import]
Benda Bilili [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 22.11
22 used & new from CDN$ 6.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Wonderful, March 11 2015
Ridiculously inspiring documentary about the coming together of a musical group formed by homeless street people, most of whom are older paraplegics, in the poverty ridden Congo. They take in a young man with his home-made, one-stringed instrument as a sort of protégé. They practice for years (the film was made over a 5 year period) before finally getting to play in Europe. The music and performances are amazing, the people even more so.

Often I find ‘warm your heart’ docs too sticky and manipulative. But these brave and wonderful musicians earn every bit of our admiration, respect and joy. We see the downs as well as the ups, and the film never short changes just how much work and luck have to come together for these artists to have any hope of success.

The film-makers make no pretense at staying removed and objective. They are just as won over, and in time actively become a part of trying to raise enough money to help these men live their dream, to record, and to travel with their music. (But in an understated way – this never feels like a film of self-aggrandizement). A true triumph of the human spirit story, filed with smiles against all the overwhelming odds.

Starlet [Blu-ray]
Starlet [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Dree Hemingway
Price: CDN$ 36.55
16 used & new from CDN$ 19.32

4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly touching, funny and idiosyncratic little indie, if a bit uneven., March 7 2015
This review is from: Starlet [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
One would think there's not much more to say about the empty life of druggy, fringy youth in L.A.'s San Fernando valley. But this film messes with our expectations in lovely ways, and ends up as a comedy-drama that's human and surprising.

Calling a film like this 'little' is no pejorative. If it was 'bigger' (budget, stars) it probably would have had it's jagged edges shorn off, and with them would have gone much of it's special-ness.

The acting is terrific. Dree Hemingway makes the air-headed, hottie lead wonderfully vapid and annoying – at first – and lets us only slowly come to appreciate her humanity underneath. Besedka Johnson, in her film debut as the 85 year old that Hemingway stumbles into an uneasy friendship with makes her character equal parts spiky defensive exterior and vulnerable, needy center, giving reality and depth to this sad, touchy recluse.

The photography is also very evocative; its ugly, bleached color and slightly off-kilter but deliberate framings are far more interesting than is common in a micro-budget indie. And the film makes some brave choices, like a few seconds of extreme and un-simulated sexuality that makes points about character and our perceptions by being both shocking and banal at the same time.

My only real frustrations were that a few of the plot twists felt forced – too neat and coincidental for a film this grounded in feeling 'real'. But that was nowhere near enough of a problem to keep me from feeling very warm indeed about this odd-ball character study.

Archer: Season 5 [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Archer: Season 5 [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 34.97
18 used & new from CDN$ 34.97

5.0 out of 5 stars It had to keep growing, so it did, March 5 2015
The 5th season was particularly impressive for taking the show in a new direction, just when it seemed like it might start to feel like it was repeating. It even managed to have a genuine moment of emotion or two amidst the glorious absurdity and wonderful filth.

The gang is the same (though Cheryl's personality takes a very surreal twist), but now they're working as cocaine dealers, after the FBI shuts down ISIS minutes into the season opener. Hence the addition of 'vice' to the title.

For those unfamiliar with the series: this is a very funny animated spy spoof series. By nature this kind of wild, raunchy, clever joke a second romp is going to be a hit or miss affair, but the batting average in ‘Archer’ is surprisingly high, and some of the wordplay is really sharp. The show grew each of the 1st 5 seasons, getting ever funnier, and having the characters and situations branch out in some great unexpected ways. From what started out in season 1 feeling like it would be a one joke idea that would quickly wear out, this somehow found a way to transcend and use the audience familiarity with the characters not to just repeat the same jokes, but to walk a great tightrope of giving what is expected, but then finding a way to just push it one step further.

Another big plus is the voice acting. The whole cast is terrific, as are the many guest stars that show up. The fun they seem to be having doing the show is infectious, and they manage to give their characters a surprising amount of range. Special credit has to be given to H. Jon Benjamin, along with the writers, for making the egotistical idiot of a lead not only very funny, but somehow also likable enough that he never wears out his welcome.

Archer Season 5
Archer Season 5
DVD ~ Aisha Tyler
Price: CDN$ 17.98
2 used & new from CDN$ 17.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Grow or die, so the show grew!, March 5 2015
This review is from: Archer Season 5 (DVD)
The 5th season was particularly impressive for taking the show in a new direction, just when it seemed like it might start to feel like it was repeating. It even managed to have a genuine moment of emotion or two amidst the glorious absurdity and wonderful filth.

The gang is the same (though Cheryl's personality takes a very surreal twist), but now they're working as cocaine dealers, after the FBI shuts down ISIS minutes into the season opener. Hence the addition of 'vice' to the title.

For those unfamiliar with the series: this is a very funny animated spy spoof series. By nature this kind of wild, raunchy, clever joke a second romp is going to be a hit or miss affair, but the batting average in ‘Archer’ is surprisingly high, and some of the wordplay is really sharp. The show grew each of the 1st 5 seasons, getting ever funnier, and having the characters and situations branch out in some great unexpected ways. From what started out in season 1 feeling like it would be a one joke idea that would quickly wear out, this somehow found a way to transcend and use the audience familiarity with the characters not to just repeat the same jokes, but to walk a great tightrope of giving what is expected, but then finding a way to just push it one step further.

Another big plus is the voice acting. The whole cast is terrific, as are the many guest stars that show up. The fun they seem to be having doing the show is infectious, and they manage to give their characters a surprising amount of range. Special credit has to be given to H. Jon Benjamin, along with the writers, for making the egotistical idiot of a lead not only very funny, but somehow also likable enough that he never wears out his welcome.

The Boxtrolls [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
The Boxtrolls [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Elle Fanning
Price: CDN$ 19.99
7 used & new from CDN$ 14.35

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent blend of the silly and sophisticated., Feb. 24 2015
Delightful, funny, wildly inventive and politically astute, "The Boxtrolls" is like what you might have gotten if Monty Python had made a kid's stop-motion animated fable that was tremendously adult friendly. (Indeed, Eric Idle penned a very funny song for the film). It's full of good puns, bad puns, witty lines, and trenchant but not overbearing social satire about class, rich people, greed, stigmatizing of anyone 'different' and ugly mob mentality.

It was made with wonderfully original, painterly, sometimes beautiful and always playful visuals, that give it a unique look and feel.

The story is simple, a gang of Boxtrolls, odd little creatures that live in abandoned boxes the way hermit crabs take on abandoned shells, is terrorizing the small English town of Cheesebridge, where – for some odd reason - many are obsessed with cheese. The town reacts to these ugly ducklings as dangerous, but really they're more resourceful and sweet then most of the town's inhabitants, who would gladly exterminate these 'pests' without a moment's thought. The Boxtrolls are blamed for kidnapping and eating a young human boy, but really they've raised the child as one of their own, and now, as an adolescent, 'Eggs' tries to bridge the gap between the worlds.

The voice acting is all excellent, with Ben Kingsley earning special note as a terrific villain, his voice unrecognizable.

Critical reaction to this was somewhat mixed, but it all worked really well for me. A lovely blend of silly and sophisticated.

Inherent Vice / Vice Cache (Bilingual)
Inherent Vice / Vice Cache (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Price: CDN$ 18.99
4 used & new from CDN$ 18.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even after 2 viewings, this is the Paul Thomas Anderson film I've struggled most with., Feb. 18 2015
I think Anderson is amazing, one of the few directors of our time who can touch film-makers like Kubrick. But while the film is full of wonderful camera-work, production design and performances, and there are some very funny scenes, I couldn't quite get my head around the thing. I get that's the point, and that while Thomas Pynchon's novel has the outer form of a detective story, it's not really about plot but about mood and playful mind-games, details and surreal moments. But somehow the lack of tonal focus made it hard for me to get lost in it's rhythms.

Feeling like a goofy comedy one minute, a subtle satiric elegy for a hippie age that was never quite as fun as we'd like to remember the next, and a story driven detective noir the next, I found myself not getting engaged in the way I kept wanting to.

Given the talents involved, my huge admiration for Anderson, and the generally great critical reaction, I'm open to the idea that I'm missing something. And there are a lot of moments that echo with me, from Josh Brolin's truly gonzo, but yet also somehow understated performance as an uptight, straight-laced cop who is a lot more complex and messed up then he'd like to admit, to the very long single take seduction scene between Joaquin Phoenix and Katherine Waterston that is uncomfortable, sexy, repellent, real, a fantasy and beautifully acted all at the same time.

It's certainly a film worth seeing, but for the first time with an Anderson film I felt locked on the outside looking in, feeling a little sheepish and a little dumb.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season (Bilingual) [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français)
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season (Bilingual) [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Steve Buscemi
Price: CDN$ 30.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 30.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully made series, Feb. 9 2015
While it doesn’t have quite the depth, and emotional power of The Wire, Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, its epic view of prohibition era Atlantic City is a wonderfully acted and directed, beautifully production designed and photographed and intelligently written.

It takes a different tack than The Godfather or The Sopranos; it doesn’t focus on the gangster experience as the dark side of the struggling US immigrant dream, the outgrowth of trying to care for your family in a society that places material wealth above all. Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson is already at the top, and he’d rather stay on top through political smarts and manipulation than violence when he can. He’s not an everyman, not a family man. He’s a loner who tried to bury his humanity when his wife died, and now focuses on growing his position as the real power in Atlantic City. He’s not obsessed with honor or codes. He’s more interested in being behind the throne than the focus of the headlines. A man of immense practicality. A charming, smooth, sophisticated businessman who happens to be utterly corrupt and utterly powerful. He’s a great anti-hero for now, when the villains of society are running the corporate-political machinery, not the neigborhood.

It’s also different from it’s predecessors in that its truly an ensemble piece. Nucky may be at the center, but we get to know a huge number of fascinating and well-drawn characters in surprising depth. The series is more mosaic than character study (one of the reasons it’s not really an emotional experience).

I resisted the show the first time through, because it lacked the kind of strange empathy that anti-hero shows like Breaking Bad and Sopranos traded in, But on second viewing, knowing that it was doing something closer to “Nashville” in it’s brilliant if distanced overview of a moment and place in America, I was able to be completely caught up and absorbed in its tremendous attention to detail, and richness of character

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