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K. Gordon
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American Experience New York..
American Experience New York..
DVD ~ David Ogden Stiers
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 37.18
8 used & new from CDN$ 29.28

5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously moving, and fascinating history., Sept. 27 2014
This is actually the last piece of Ric Burns' terrific 8 part documentary on the history of New York City, but this holds up well as a stand alone piece, focusing solely on the inception (with some complex and dark politics involved), building, controversial life; was it a boondoggle, a white elephant? Or a real attempt to revitalize an area.? Was it even legal to be financed as it was? Is the architecture ugly? Or is there power in it's simplicity?

But, obviously the real power of the film is the buildings' horrific death on 9/11 and the aftermath. Burns walks the edge beautifully, creating a piece that is moving and terrifying, without being maudlin or exploitive. He picks powerful images, but intercuts them with touching and philosophical insights from many who were there, or were otherwise involved.

Putting the events of 9/11 into the perspective of the towers whole 'lives' gives this more depth than many of the other documentaries I've seen on the subject.

Just two notes - consider seeing the whole "New York" series that this capped off, and Amazon is way off the mark when they list this at 600 minutes. It's just over 2 hours.

New York: A Documentary Film
New York: A Documentary Film
DVD ~ David Ogden Stiers
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 180.75
5 used & new from CDN$ 123.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, educational and emotional, Sept. 27 2014
This review is from: New York: A Documentary Film (DVD)
An extraordinary 8 part, almost 18 hour history of New York City; its politics, economics, architecture, and above all humanity, from the first arrival of white settlers. (I would have been curious to know more about the Native Americans who had been living there, but the focus is on New York as a city, which arguably started with the arrival of the Dutch).

I was born and lived the first half of my life in NYC, was always passionate and curious about it, and yet the program had so much fascinating information I didn't know – not only about the distant past, but the complex back-room city politics and policy decisions (some disastrously wrong headed, even aggressively racist) that were going on in my early years.

It's always lively, often touching and asks important questions about what makes a city and why they're so important -- as well as "how can a city keep 'modernizing', but not lose it's soul?" It also forced me to abandon some supposed "facts" I'd been brought up with as a New Yorker, like the idea that names of immigrants were commonly changed at Ellis Island.

If I had to nit-pick it would probably be the use of hyperbole in some of the narration. I lost count of how many crises were 'the worst
the city ever faced'. But that is a tiny fly in a ton of ointment.

The images, still and moving, are beautifully chosen (great seeing moving images from the turn of the century New York), the various expert talking heads are passionate and articulate, and I learned so much more than I expected, and often felt on the edge of my seat, as if I was watching drama, not history.

It's interesting that film-maker Ric Burns' brother Ken has received so much more attention. I find Ric's many documentaries often the equal of Ken Burns' work, and indeed sometimes find them more emotional.

Note: this 7 disc version, leaves off the last episode "The Center of the World", made a few years later. The 8 episode version is more complete, but you can buy that episode separately. It's about the complex (and politically as well as morally questionable) inception, building, contraversial life and tragic, horrific death of the World Trade Center.

New York: A Documentary Film by Ric Burns  (American Experience)
New York: A Documentary Film by Ric Burns (American Experience)
Price: CDN$ 95.89
18 used & new from CDN$ 54.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, educational, emotional, Sept. 27 2014
An extraordinary 8 part, almost 18 hour history of New York City; its politics, economics, architecture, and above all humanity, from the first arrival of white settlers. (I would have been curious to know more about the Native Americans who had been living there, but the focus is on New York as a city, which arguably started with the arrival of the Dutch).

I was born and lived the first half of my life in NYC, was always passionate and curious about it, and yet the program had so much fascinating information I didn't know – not only about the distant past, but the complex back-room city politics and policy decisions (some disastrously wrong headed, even aggressively racist) that were going on in my early years.

It's always lively, often touching and asks important questions about what makes a city and why they're so important -- as well as "how can a city keep 'modernizing', but not lose it's soul?" It also forced me to abandon some supposed "facts" I'd been brought up with as a New Yorker, like the idea that names of immigrants were commonly changed at Ellis Island.

The last episode, made after the rest of the documentary, is devoted entirely to the Word Trade Center; it's inception, it's building (and the complex, sometimes dark politics behind it), it's successes and failures as architecture and urban planning, and of course its horrifying demise. While it's the most emotional of the episodes, it does feel a bit apart from the others, spending it's entire length on one very focused subject. Not a problem, other than a bit of change in style.

If I had to nit-pick it would probably be the use of hyperbole in some of the narration. I lost count of how many crises were 'the worst
the city ever faced'. But that is a tiny fly in a ton of ointment.

The images, still and moving, are beautifully chosen (great seeing moving images from the turn of the century New York), the various expert talking heads are passionate and articulate, and I learned so much more than I expected, and often felt on the edge of my seat, as if I was watching drama, not history.

It's interesting that film-maker Ric Burns' brother Ken has received so much more attention. I find Ric's many documentaries often the equal of Ken Burns' work, and indeed sometimes find them more emotional.

Anna Karenina / Anna Karénine (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
Anna Karenina / Anna Karénine (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Keira Knightley
Offered by 1000Deals
Price: CDN$ 16.81
19 used & new from CDN$ 5.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Bold, odd, not always successful , but well worth seeing, Sept. 15 2014
A brave experiment that doesn’t always work, but succeeds in letting us see Tolstoy’s great, oft filmed novel in a new light.

Setting much of the film in an aging theater, director Joe Wright and screen writer Tom Stoppard accomplish two things. They make literal the reality that in the 19th century upper class life was a play, and your survival depended on playing your role just right. It sounds heavy handed, and at times it feels it, but it brought out a humor and a pathos for all involved that I found fresh and rewarding.

In the same vein, the film isn’t afraid to make Anna look self involved, and actually makes Jude Law, doing some of his best work as Anna’s boring, uptight and pious husband, arguably the most sympathetic character, The film refuses to give Anna and her lover a ‘get out of jail emotionally free’ card. Yes, we want them to be together, we see their passion, but we also see the real-world consequences of their obsessive love.

Contrasted with that is Levin, an idealist landowner who loves in a quieter, but also more honest and sustainable way than Anna's passion -- and we are left feeling confused about just what is right and wrong when dealing with love and society.

The film looks amazing. Wright uses his theatrical conceit beautifully, then breaks it at just the right time to make the point that not everyone, especially the proto-Marxist Levin are about living on that stage, but try to experience real life.

The results may be at odd with some of Tolstoy’s ideas, and certainly are different than we’ve seen before, but what’s an classic, done many times, for except to reexamine. At times the theatrical effects can be distracting, and the approach causes a certain emotional distance. Sometimes this feels more like the social satire of Chekhov, than the deeply felt prose of Tolstoy, and it can get slow and repetitive in spots. But most of the time I was grateful to be surprised at seeing the story in a new way.

Batman Returns [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
Batman Returns [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
Price: CDN$ 11.98
6 used & new from CDN$ 9.95

4.0 out of 5 stars More a Tim Burton film than a "Batman" film - but that's not a bad thing, Sept. 14 2014
Re-watching the two Burton "Batman"s I was shocked to find I liked "Batman Returns" more than the 1st. True, the film has nothing to compare with the wonderful over-the-top craziness of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, but in some ways Nicholson so overpowered the 1st film that it felt out of balance. At the same time, and – for me – even more problematic were the very un-Tim Burton like touches (the Prince songs? the endless, not very exciting climactic battle, the weak CGI) that seemed grafted on to make some studio executive happy.

"Batman Returns" seems much more a Tim Burton film; weirder, more perverse, funnier and more unpredictable than its predecessor. While the film lacks Nicholson's magic, it gains a great, funny, and twistedly sexy performance by Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, her dark, dual personality mirroring Batman/Bruce Wayne's schizophrenic existence, and drawing these two "enemies" together like moths to flame.

Also fun and often fascinating are Danny DeVito's so pathetic you could almost like him, but so dark he's unredeemable Penguin. And Christopher Walken is a blast comparatively underplaying evil capitalist billionaire Max Schrek.

The film looks gorgeous, arguably better than the first. And if the production design can't match the grandeur of Anton Furst's sets for "Batman". these have a lot more Tim Burton surrealist fun-house/nightmare aesthetic.

What's missing is much of a clear plot, story elements coming and going a bit randomly. And, like the first film, "Batman" himself is made less interesting than the bad guys. But Burton has always been at his best exploring outsider characters, and creating nightmare dreamscapes, and he gets to do a lot more of that here. As one critic put it; this is a somewhat weaker "Batman" film, but a much better Tim Burton film.

The Selfish Giant
The Selfish Giant
DVD ~ Conner Chapman
Price: CDN$ 24.98
28 used & new from CDN$ 15.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A dark, moody and ultimately deeply disturbing film, Sept. 8 2014
This review is from: The Selfish Giant (DVD)
While not audacious and brave in it's style as Barnard's smashing debut "The Arbor", it explores much of the same territory – poverty in northern England. But this time Barnard uses a more neo-realist bent that recalls the films of Ken Loach, among others. And after two viewings, while I missed the wild rule-breaking she did in her first film, I felt she had made a film of gritty honest and emotional force.

The story centers on two young teens (very well played by non-pros). Diminutive Arbor is hyperactive, angry, and so on the edge he can be frightening and simultaneously heartbreaking -- Arbor needs meds just to allow him to be calm enough to function. And there's Swifty, his best friend who is introvert to Arbor's extreme extrovert. Swifty is willing to go along with Arbor's schemes to a point, but he also wants to honor his mother's wish that he get an education, and try to move up and out of poverty.

The two begin collecting (and sometimes stealing) scrap metal to sell to a tough local junk metal dealer, Kitten. This is a man who is capable of being almost a father figure one moment, and stomping you into the ground the next. A sort of modern Fagan, using the boys to do his bidding (although, to be fair, the boys come to him).

A dark, moody and ultimately deeply disturbing film, that refuses to let us or society off lightly when it comes to kids growing up in the cycle of poverty.

Bridegroom [Import]
Bridegroom [Import]
Price: CDN$ 21.88
22 used & new from CDN$ 14.06

5.0 out of 5 stars The power of this film snuck up on me., Sept. 7 2014
This review is from: Bridegroom [Import] (DVD)
For a while, I felt interested but a bit removed. Certainly the story is tragic, but there are so many tragic tales in the world. Certainly any homophobia is horrific, but when there are still gay men being lynched, this story seemed not nearly as dramatic and shocking as others. And its style is basic – talking head interviews with friends and family, home videos, photographs.

I thought (in my smug liberal way) that its good for the country to see a film showing how normal, likable and in love two young men could be. But this wasn't news to me. It felt rudimentary, aimed at those who had never known a gay couple and realized 'hey, they're just people'.

But then something strange happened. In the film's last half hour it built into an emotional tidal wave. I didn't realize I was hit until I suddenly started to cry. These two men were so deeply, sweetly in love, and Shane Crone, rather than simply crawl into a shell after the untimely death of the love of his life, and after being barred from the funeral by the homophobic family, and dealt many other emotional (and legal) cuts and bruises only because he and his life partner were gay, managed to rally himself, and make a you tube video that has reached millions with an impossible to argue with plea for gay marriage. That he could take this devastating loss, add mistreatment, and instead of giving up on life do something important and life affirming was profoundly affecting. Suddenly the whole film seemed to have more weight. I wept through the very moving responses his video (the one that got me is a self proclaimed life-long redneck, vowing to never oppose gay lovers again). Even the end credits full of thousands of names of those who cared enough to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for the film moved me with joy for the resilience of human beings, the fact that things are getting better, and that love is still the most powerful thing in the human experience, both in personal and political terms.

Menage (aka Evening Dress) / Tenue de soirée (Bilingual)
Menage (aka Evening Dress) / Tenue de soirée (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Gérard Depardieu
Price: CDN$ 14.99
19 used & new from CDN$ 9.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Blier's dark, misanthropic comedies continue to amuse, Sept. 6 2014
I continue to enjoy Blier's twisted imagination, and the way he makes blackly comic and surreal films that are not like anyone else's. He is often accused of being a misogynist, but to me, his men are no less screwed up (indeed they often seem more so) in these studies of sexuality, relationships, social norms and morality.

In this case we start with an unhappy. broke and bored couple Antoine (Michel Blanc) and Monique (Miou-Miou). Into their lives dances (literally) Bob (Gerard Depardieu) a sexy, swaggering, amoral, bi-sexual ex-con and thief. Before you can blink he has seduced the couple into joining him on his raids on the houses of the rich. Meanwhile the sexual politics between the three get ever more complex as it becomes clear Bob is far more turned on to the mousy, devoutly heterosexual Antoine than he is to the more obviously attractive Monique. Ultimately it becomes, in it's absurdist way a meditation on how power and sex work in relationships, as well as letting go of one's self-image.

All three actors are terrific, but Depardieu in particular seems to be having a blast – a macho tough guy one second, a tender gay romancer the next. All played with a kind of honesty and humanity that only makes the extremes that much funnier.

Much Ado About Nothing Bd-Ws Cb [Blu-ray]
Much Ado About Nothing Bd-Ws Cb [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Kenneth Branagh
Price: CDN$ 11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven, but a lot of fun, Sept. 5 2014
Not my favorite Shakespeare play, lacking the rich, playful complexities of some of the Bard's other comedies, I've always felt on a pure plot level this feels more simplistic, ill-logical and forced than most of the works by the greatest writer in the English language.

That said, Branagh's adaptation has some sensational elements. The best of all is the relationship between Branagh and Emma Thompson (then married in real life) as Benedick and Beatrice. As they showed in their brief time together in Branagh's "Henry V" the two are both magnificent at making Shakespeare feel human, spontaneous, modern and above all fun. Both create terrific characters – two bull headed intellectual wits who obviously belong together, but who managing to use their words and wit to keep tripping themselves up, like some Shakespearian version of the best of Tracy and Hepburn.

The star studded cast all do good work, although the much lesser known Richard Biers is perhaps the most wonderful in his simple, warm human reality as Leonato. The film looks great, filmed on an estate in Tuscany with beautiful grounds and that Tuscan light forming a backdrop too our story.

But, in the end, the play's the thing, and much of the other character's stories. well acted as they are, feel too melodramatic and heavy handed for the fun, light feel of the film (Robert Sean Leonard and Kate Beckensale both do excellent work as Claudio and Hero, but their storyline's over-dramatic swings are hard to overcome). The score also feels over-the-top, especially in the more dramatic sections, which in turn adds to the feeling that there's something too uneven in the tone. The comedy (e.g. Michael Keaton's very weird but entertaining Dogberry), is so broad, that it's hard to put it in the same film with the over- sober tone of the story of the young lovers.

None-the-less there's a lot to like if one overlooks some unevenness in both story and presentation.

Much Ado About Nothing [Blu-ray] [Import]
Much Ado About Nothing [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 11.99
17 used & new from CDN$ 9.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven, but a lot of fun, Sept. 5 2014
Not my favorite Shakespeare play, lacking the rich, playful complexities of some of the Bard's other comedies, I've always felt on a pure plot level this feels more simplistic, ill-logical and forced than most of the works by the greatest writer in the English language.

That said, Branagh's adaptation has some sensational elements. The best of all is the relationship between Branagh and Emma Thompson (then married in real life) as Benedick and Beatrice. As they showed in their brief time together in Branagh's "Henry V" the two are both magnificent at making Shakespeare feel human, spontaneous, modern and above all fun. Both create terrific characters – two bull headed intellectual wits who obviously belong together, but who managing to use their words and wit to keep tripping themselves up, like some Shakespearian version of the best of Tracy and Hepburn.

The star studded cast all do good work, although the much lesser known Richard Biers is perhaps the most wonderful in his simple, warm human reality as Leonato. The film looks great, filmed on an estate in Tuscany with beautiful grounds and that Tuscan light forming a backdrop too our story.

But, in the end, the play's the thing, and much of the other character's stories. well acted as they are, feel too melodramatic and heavy handed for the fun, light feel of the film (Robert Sean Leonard and Kate Beckensale both do excellent work as Claudio and Hero, but their storyline's over-dramatic swings are hard to overcome). The score also feels over-the-top, especially in the more dramatic sections, which in turn adds to the feeling that there's something too uneven in the tone. The comedy (e.g. Michael Keaton's very weird but entertaining Dogberry), is so broad, that it's hard to put it in the same film with the over- sober tone of the story of the young lovers.

None-the-less there's a lot to like if one overlooks some unevenness in both story and presentation.

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