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K. Gordon
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Après mai / Something in the Air (Version française)
Après mai / Something in the Air (Version française)
DVD ~ Clément Métayer
Price: CDN$ 29.35
19 used & new from CDN$ 10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars My appreciation grew on a second viewing, Dec 11 2014
Almost 20 years later, Assays returns to his own adolescence, which he examined expertly in 1994's "Cold Water". As if to make it clear that he is coming full circle the main character (clearly based on Assayas himself), and one of the key supporting characters bear the same screen names as their counterparts in "Cold Water".

This grew on me considerably on 2nd viewing. Because I knew not to expect a straight- forward plot, but something much more episodic and tonal, I stopped focusing on the story, and took in all the details, and the mood. I found the film much funnier the second time, catching Assayas' gentle mocking of the over seriousness of these petite-bourgeois youth, at the same time that he captures the sad beauty in adolescence's naiveté and out sized passions.

"Something in the Air" focuses on politics, art and sex, taking place 3 years after the May 1968 riots, as the high school kids of that moment try to live in the spirit of revolution that was already starting to fade into factionalism (some of the film's best humor documents the absurdly intense rivalries between groups who mostly share common goals, and the insane parsing of every word and idea to examine if it was the 'right' thing to foment revolution).

There are some truly great sequences. An early scene of the kids battling the cops is exciting, raw and immersive. And there's a sequence at a party that's pretty breathtaking. Throughout, Assayas uses perfect music from the period, without using the same 6 songs every film about the late 60s/early 70s seem to fall back on. If the film isn't quite a masterpiece it is touching, funny and worthwhile work from one of the most interesting voices making films right now, one who can go from the near operatic "Carlos" to the quiet and intimate "Summer Hours", bringing each their own unique style. Assays is a true auteur, but he hasn't let that trap him into a single style or tone.

Something in the Air [Blu-ray] [Import]
Something in the Air [Blu-ray] [Import]
Offered by usedsalesca
Price: CDN$ 9.44
5 used & new from CDN$ 9.43

4.0 out of 5 stars My appreciation grew on a second viewing, Dec 11 2014
Almost 20 years later, Assays returns to his own adolescence, which he examined expertly in 1994's "Cold Water". As if to make it clear that he is coming full circle the main character (clearly based on Assayas himself), and one of the key supporting characters bear the same screen names as their counterparts in "Cold Water".

This grew on me considerably on 2nd viewing. Because I knew not to expect a straight- forward plot, but something much more episodic and tonal, I stopped focusing on the story, and took in all the details, and the mood. I found the film much funnier the second time, catching Assayas' gentle mocking of the over seriousness of these petite-bourgeois youth, at the same time that he captures the sad beauty in adolescence's naiveté and out sized passions.

"Something in the Air" focuses on politics, art and sex, taking place 3 years after the May 1968 riots, as the high school kids of that moment try to live in the spirit of revolution that was already starting to fade into factionalism (some of the film's best humor documents the absurdly intense rivalries between groups who mostly share common goals, and the insane parsing of every word and idea to examine if it was the 'right' thing to foment revolution).

There are some truly great sequences. An early scene of the kids battling the cops is exciting, raw and immersive. And there's a sequence at a party that's pretty breathtaking. Throughout, Assayas uses perfect music from the period, without using the same 6 songs every film about the late 60s/early 70s seem to fall back on. If the film isn't quite a masterpiece it is touching, funny and worthwhile work from one of the most interesting voices making films right now, one who can go from the near operatic "Carlos" to the quiet and intimate "Summer Hours", bringing each their own unique style. Assays is a true auteur, but he hasn't let that trap him into a single style or tone.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (DVD Packaging) [DVD + Blu-ray]
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (DVD Packaging) [DVD + Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Noomi Rapace
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 48.59
11 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A strong, emotional conclusion, Dec 10 2014
A return to form after "The Girl Who Played With Fire" fell into a bit of 'middle part of a trilogy disease'; lots of exposition and setting up for the last part, together with a feeling of marking time, that nothing can really get too resolved. Consequently both the sense of danger, and emotional impact were lower, even though there was a lot more running around, shooting, etc. It felt more like a Hollywood action film.

But here we get back into deeper themes, back into Lisbeth Sander's head. There's less action, but more psychology and complex behavior, and that's where the strength of the trilogy lies. There are fight scenes, sure, but the most intense scenes are the film's courtroom battles, and it's almost as scary to think that Lisbeth may self-destruct, as that others may destroy her.

Noomi Rapace does her best work of the trilogy here. We get Lisbeth's stone exterior, but there are always just enough hints of the damaged little girl she was to keep her heartbreaking. Her long but filled silences, and minimal dialogue betray how painful it is for her to even try to trust other human beings. The series theme's about the damage that men do to women comes back to the forefront, and we're less in a thriller than a character study with thrills.

I still think the first film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" felt the most gritty and real. The scope of the bad guys was less theatrical, the conspiracies more believable because they're more limited, less grandiose. But as a conclusion to the three act opera, this is pretty damn solid, and certainly stuck with me in the days after I saw it.

Ballin' At The Graveyard
Ballin' At The Graveyard
DVD ~ Basil Anastassiou
Price: CDN$ 14.98
16 used & new from CDN$ 11.73

4.0 out of 5 stars A small documentary with a big heart, Dec 6 2014
This review is from: Ballin' At The Graveyard (DVD)
Big-hearted doc about the players (almost all African-American, between 20 and 45) who meet every weekend for basketball in 'The Graveyard' -Washington Park in Albany, NY. They've been going for years, a generation played before them, and their kids will play there next.

For the first half we watch the play, the pushing, the struggle for who has 'next', the arguments about every call (a number of players admit they're willing to lie through their teeth), and the trash talk -- the best have turned it into an effective weapon to get in the heads and melt down the emotions of their opponents. But there is also a whole lot of laughter and love between these men who look forward all week to coming out to the park, seeing their old friends, letting off steam. There's also racial politics. White players can get in, but you gotta earn your place, and the guys aren't going to make it easy. White player (and co-director), Basil says he likes to not be in the position of privilege for once, to have to go the extra mile to prove he belongs. And if you're some kid who thinks he's cool, you better be ready to back it up, or these 'old men' will play you right off the court.

But what takes the film to another level is the 2nd half, where we get to know these men away from the courts. In 'real life' they're mostly gentle, kind people, most of whom work serving others, whether as a teacher, a judge, or working at a halfway house. It's a lesson in not judging books by their covers; the ferocious street-wise manner on the court is only one side of these men, who also have big hearts and big minds to go with their (often funny) big on-court egos.

The camera-work is rudimentary, the crew was tiny, and the whole thing looks like it cost a dime to make. But when you've got a good story, with good characters, everything else will find a way. It may not quite be a great documentary, just like these guys will never be NBA ready. But they both got game.

adventures in Plymptoons
adventures in Plymptoons
DVD ~ Tom Kenny, David Silverman, Keith Carradine, Martha Plimpton, Matthew Modine, Ed Begley, Jr., Peter Jason, Moby, "Weird Al" Yankovic Bill Plympton
Price: CDN$ 22.91
15 used & new from CDN$ 13.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Genial, enjoyable, but not very deep documentary, Dec 4 2014
This review is from: adventures in Plymptoons (DVD)
Genial, enjoyable, but not very deep documentary portrait of gonzo, wildly creative (and twice Academy award nominated) independent animator Bill Plympton.

Director Anastasio takes a jokey tone, as if trying to find the documentary equivalent of Plympton's unique, absurdist style. Right up top, Terry Gilliam pronounces very seriously he's only doing an interview about Plympton to get paid, and Ed Begley Jr. deadpans that he thought he was there to do an interview about Bill Clinton, not Bill Plympton, and gets up to leave. That sort of sets the tone as the film becomes various short, often funny pieces about Plympton's history, philosophy, art and humor.

We only see short bits and pieces of Plympton's work, which can be frustrating, and might make the uninitiated wonder what the fuss is about. To me, Plympton's cartoons are often about nothing as much as the build. The slow repeating of variations on a joke until the very repetition is part of what make it so funny. That's hard to capture in an 85 minute documentary.

Plympton himself comes off as an extremely likable, eccentric character, who seems to have inspired a lot of friendship and good-humored admiration from the many worked with him or befriended him. And there a lot of fun moments here, along with some interesting stories about his life and work. I just wish it felt a little bit less like a celebrity tribute show/comedy roast, and more an exploration of an artist's work.

Rise & Rise of Michael Rimmer [Import]
Rise & Rise of Michael Rimmer [Import]
DVD ~ Peter Cook
Offered by Now Showing DVD's
Price: CDN$ 17.58
16 used & new from CDN$ 17.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Sharp political satire, by and with some amazing talents, Dec 2 2014
A very smart, very under known, and very dark political satire, written by star Peter Cook, Monty Python's-to-be John Cleese and Graham Chapman, and director Kevin Billington.

Given the talents involved, the fact that it is often absurd, and occasionally very funny is not surprising. But it's often more subtle and low key than its writers and cast – including greats like Arthur Lowe, Denholm Elliot, Cleese and Chapman - made me expect. It's also a little uneven. Not every piece is as funny or stinging as it wants to be.

But this witty story of a slick, attractive and manipulative pollster slowly taking control of the Tory party, and raising his own political fortunes ever higher has a depressing amount of relevance for the state of politics today. Amazingly prescient, many of what were presented as absurd notions in 1970 became part of what we've come to expect in the years that followed. While not perfect, it's very much worth a look if you're intrigued by political humor or the creative folks involved.

American Experience: The Poisoner's Handbook [Import]
American Experience: The Poisoner's Handbook [Import]
Price: CDN$ 27.38
19 used & new from CDN$ 14.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and fascinating history, Dec 2 2014
Enjoyable and fascinating story of the life work of New York's first medical examiner Charles Norris, and his head toxicologist Alexander Gettler. Before Norris, New York coroners (as in many places) weren't doctors, and often had absolutely no scientific training. It was more a give-away, political patronage job, and forensic evidence wasn't taken very seriously by juries, judges, or lawyers.

But Norris and Gettler dragged New York, and ultimately other places into the age of science in the courtroom. For this show it specifically focuses on the issue of poisonings and how Gettler and Norris got ever better at exposing the truth behind these killings – to the point where intentional poisonings went from hundreds of cases a year to only one or two. That's how good they were. It was no longer worth the risk.

Unlike most American Experience films, this relies heavily on reenactments. That usually means cheesy and unimpressive. But here the acting is first rate, and it makes the device work surprisingly well. One could imagine a fascinating series about these two – a sort of real life Holmes and Watson.

Aliens [Blu-ray]
Aliens [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 9.99
4 used & new from CDN$ 8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A lot of tense, scary fun, Nov. 27 2014
This review is from: Aliens [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
It's interesting to compare Ridley Scott's "Alien" to James Cameron's sequel. Both are extremely well made films, from world class directors. But each also reflects the very different sensibilities of the two. "Alien" is colder, more precise, more haunting and disturbing. "Aliens" is a thrill ride from start to end, faster paced, more muscular and energetic, less serious, and sloppier – in ways both good and bad - than it's progenitor.

It sometimes pushes the emotions into the 'sappy' range, one of it's few flaws, along with a few big logic holes, and a couple of obvious twists. But the film-making is so confident, and downright fun that it becomes infectious, even if you try to resist it. It can make the 'gee- whiz' kid in you win out over the critical adult.

The plot in some ways is a re-run of the first, but now instead of humans being helpless victims, they are Marines going to war with a creature they don't understand, and initially don't take seriously enough.

There's also a nice feminist streak to the film, present in the original, but expanded on here. Not only is Sigourney Weaver's Ripley tougher and smarter than just about every male on display, but the most kick-ass of all the kick-ass Marines is also a woman (Jenette Goldstein in a terrific performance).

I enjoyed Cameron's extended cut (his preferred version) on the blu-ray. The newer version didn't feel too long, but did feel more flowing and complete, giving us some important insights into Ripley's character. The blu-ray's image is terrific and very sharp, but that does tend to show up the crude nature of some of the early CGI work. I was also bothered by how much of the film seemed as if the dialogue had to be re-recorded in post production, the 'looped' dialogue somehow sounding a bit un-natural.

If not a 'great' film, a very enjoyable, tense action blockbuster, back when solid acting, clever writing and high end craftsmanship were still important, even in a sequel.

El Desierto (The Desert)
El Desierto (The Desert)
DVD ~ Lautaro Delgado
Price: CDN$ 16.99
15 used & new from CDN$ 11.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and original, Nov. 27 2014
This review is from: El Desierto (The Desert) (DVD)
Intelligent, thoughtful, super low budget post-apocalypse film. Yes it's a 'zombie' movie, in that turning into zombies seems to be what's happened to almost everyone in the world – maybe everyone besides our 3 characters. But it's far from a horror film. It's much more a study of a love triangle, of 3 human beings, two men and one woman, living under tremendous stress.

While the film's scope is very limited (we basically never leave the small house the three have barricaded themselves inside), it remains visually interesting, and the claustrophobic qualities of the story are put to good use. The acting is also very solid, key for a film that is ultimately all about behavior. And I really appreciated the lack of exposition. The writer/director trusts his audience to piece together what's happened to both the larger world and our characters, instead of laying it out in lengthy dialogue, or flashbacks. We're simply there with them as their relationships continue to evolve. The film also isn't afraid of quiet moments, letting us "get" things from actors' faces and body language, instead of always using words.

It never quite transcends from 'interesting and engaging' to 'great'. There's not enough emotional or intellectual power for that. But I was happy to take what this unique little Argentinean film had to offer.

Filth (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Filth (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Price: CDN$ 30.28
15 used & new from CDN$ 20.51

4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven, but compulsively watchable, Nov. 26 2014
While it can’t compete with “Trainspotting” for the best adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel (and loses some points for feeling stylistically imitative of Boyle amazing film at times), it’s still an enjoyable super-high energy romp through the muck of one cop’s sick and twisted mind.

That messed up cop is played with verve and abandon by James McAvoy. McAvoy is joining actors of his generation like Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling who have the uncanny ability to disappear into wildly different characters seamlessly, and without a lot of ‘look at this character I created’ theatrics.

The supporting cast is this blacker than black comedy of no manners is also terrific, with Eddie Marsan as McAvoy’s hapless and meek one real friend standing out in a cast full of stand outs.

Jon Baird directs with so much manic energy the film keeps threatening to derail (and not every scene works, some hitting the metaphors and symbols way too on the nose). But Baird just manages to keep it together enough so that the wretched excess in this story of a detective who will stomp on everyone around himself in hopes of getting a promotion works as a sort of Brecht on acid character study, and not a student film gone wrong (though it gets close at moments).

Not the sort of film to see if you’re feeling cranky and critical, but if you want to watch a young(ish) director and some excellent actors push the limits as they look inside the heart of darkness until you don’t know whether to laugh or turn away, you could do a lot worse than “Filth”.

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