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K. Gordon
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Malcolm X  Make It Plain
Malcolm X Make It Plain
VHS

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, if arguably too short (even at 2.5 hours) documentary, Jan. 27 2014
This review is from: Malcolm X Make It Plain (VHS Tape)
An intelligent and well done overview, giving a sense of the many amazing steps Malcolm took over the evolution of his life. And perhaps that was the most admirable thing of all about the man; the fact that he kept learning, growing, changing all through his life. He allowed his strongest beliefs and loyalties to stay open to challenges, something all the human race could gain from.

I only had two minor difficulties with the film. With a life this rich and complex, even two and a half hours feels a bit rushed, a bit sped through. There’s a reason his autobiography runs almost 500 pages. I missed hearing more about the human sides of the man, what he was like away from the crowds. And even much of the public Malcolm, the leader, the speaker, by nature gets a bit of a ‘readers digest’ treatment. I don’t really blame the filmmaker. Malcolm’s life was complex enough that more screen time would likely have been the only way to do any better.

The other thing, perhaps related to the above, was that it didn’t have quite the emotional impact -- at least for me -- of Spike Lee’s bio-pic. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to how strong Lee’s film was, or a sign of something missing in this documentary. But generally it’s much more common for me to respond to the ‘reality’ of a documentary, rather than the dramatized version of the same story. For me, this was a rare exception. The sense of understanding, admiration, and loss I felt with Lee’s film was somehow stronger.

None-the-less, this is still an excellent, informative and well-made sweeping portrait of the life of one of the more important people of the 20th century. Sadly, it’s now out-of-print, and almost impossible to find.

The Strangers
The Strangers
Price: CDN$ 11.99
19 used & new from CDN$ 1.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Well made, but ultimately empty, Jan. 25 2014
This review is from: The Strangers (DVD)
I lie between those who see this as a masterpiece, and those who see it as en empty exercise in clichéd sadism. On the one side, the film is very well made and effective. The cinematography, the acting, the editing, the score and direction work together to create a lot of truly creepy uncomfortable suspense, without resorting to too much gore, especially in the film's first half.

On the other hand, it lacks any thematic core (as opposed to, for example "Territories" a recent low budget horror film that also managed to raise questions about political prisoners and xenophobic paranoia). It also lacks any psychological insight although the first half hints that might be where the film is going. But these horrific intruders aren't ultimately reflections of the main characters inner lives, or a comment on their emotional struggles. They're just generic, unexplained evil. The film does a good job of evoking a nightmare, but by not aiming higher misses the chance to be something more special than an effective scare machine.

The Strangers [Blu-ray]
The Strangers [Blu-ray]
Price: CDN$ 13.76
13 used & new from CDN$ 4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well made, but ultimately empty, Jan. 25 2014
This review is from: The Strangers [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I lie between those who see this as a masterpiece, and those who see it as en empty exercise in clichéd sadism. On the one side, the film is very well made and effective. The cinematography, the acting, the editing, the score and direction work together to create a lot of truly creepy uncomfortable suspense, without resorting to too much gore, especially in the film's first half.

On the other hand, it lacks any thematic core (as opposed to, for example "Territories" a recent low budget horror film that also managed to raise questions about political prisoners and xenophobic paranoia). It also lacks any psychological insight although the first half hints that might be where the film is going. But these horrific intruders aren't ultimately reflections of the main characters inner lives, or a comment on their emotional struggles. They're just generic, unexplained evil. The film does a good job of evoking a nightmare, but by not aiming higher misses the chance to be something more special than an effective scare machine.

Oswald's Ghost  (American Experience)
Oswald's Ghost (American Experience)
DVD ~ DVD
Price: CDN$ 17.38
17 used & new from CDN$ 17.16

3.0 out of 5 stars Odd but interesting take, Jan. 12 2014
"Oswald's Ghost" is about the conspiracy theories that arose around the Kennedy assassination, but it doesn't really go into any of those theories in great depth. It's more about the zeitgeist that first led Americans to go along unquestioningly with the Warren Commission's report on the assassination saying Oswald acted alone, and then, as the country grew ever more cynical about the government, and realized they were lying about and covering up what was going on in Vietnam and elsewhere the dial swung the other way and suddenly everybody had a theory about who had really killed Kennedy and why.

That's a pretty interesting premise, but the tendency to lump in the loony-tunes theories with those that raised some pretty striking questions about the hard evidence in the case gets frustrating.

Some of the most compelling material is the amount of footage of Oswald after his arrest, doing a pretty good job of looking bewildered and confused by the whole thing, and repeatedly asking for legal representation for questioning (I wish the program would have stated if he was provided any before his death).

The film is never boring, but, in the end, I wasn't quite clear on what it was saying about the assassination and the theories around it, other than its meta-theory about the country's more general state of mind pushing people to look at Kennedy's death in different ways. But for me, dismissing those who question the Commission's conclusions – even those who found some really troubling holes -- as artifacts of a moment in history, seems as unrealistic and simplistic as blindly assuming the Warren Commission knowingly covered up facts as part of a giant evil conspiracy of it's own. It feels like the film is clearly on the side of the 'Oswald was alone' camp, but doesn't quite have the conviction to say it.

The Master (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
The Master (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Offered by Kay's Movies
Price: CDN$ 11.99
9 used & new from CDN$ 8.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For me, a fascinating, often brilliant, but also flawed film, Dec 31 2013
Perhaps the most fascinating U.S. director continues his evolution in a fascinating and frustrating film that I view with a mix of feelings. It
could well be argued that this is a step backwards from “There Will Be Blood”, and certainly, after 2 viewings, this lacks, for me the cohesive
power of the best of Anderson’s earlier work.

Some will just hate it. The pace is slow, the message often oblique, there’s no catharsis, no easy answers. Just two riveting characters being
given riveting performances by two of our best actors, bouncing off each other, slowly giving us fragmentary glimpses into their souls.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the Master, a charismatic charlatan quasi-religious leader who desperately needs adulation, and seems to
have long ago lost track of how much of what he says he really believes, and how much he’s just making up as he goes along. Joaquin
Phoenix plays Quell, an angry, possibly crazy young man suffering from what we’d probably now call PSTD after coming out of WW II. He
seems to need a father figure as desperately as Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd needs to be adored as a father, so these two are drawn together,
and yet repelled as they both can see the damaged souls under the other’s surface, and in the eyes of the other see the reflection of their
own wounds. So begins a non carnal love story between these two characters. Indeed, to me the film seems to be about love and how the
American male has such a hard time asking for it, accepting it, giving it or taking it in any direct manner, so we start religions or become
acolytes ·(or become porn stars or heartless oil tycoons). The only thing these two polar opposites seem to have in common is that neither
of them can communicate without manipulation, or without burying their real meaning. And when they try to break through that, it inevitably
pushes them apart.

It’s the tragedy of the American male, a theme Anderson has explored repeatedly (along with fathers and sons);we can’t cope with our feelings,
our vulnerability so we slowly pervert our need for love into quests for power, or violence, adulation, or domination or submissiveness. Whether
it’s “Hard 8” or “Boogie Nights” or “There Will Be Blood”, Anderson’s men are doomed by trying to be the men they think they have to be to
survive, thus distorting their perceptions and their hearts.

But there is a fuzziness here. One of Anderson’s great strength as a film-maker has been his ability to make us sharply understand what’s
going on viscerally, even if at moments it’s hard to get on a literal level. But, at least for me, there were too many moments when I felt lost
in the bad way, not in a mystery, but a muddle. There are very interesting scenes, but in retrospect I’m not sure what some of them added
to the story. I expected a second viewing to reveal greater depths, but for me instead it made the film feel a little more shallow, as if maybe
some of the leaps in logic didn’t actually have a point, but were just slightly unfocused storytelling.

I would still urge anyone interested in film-making or acting to see it. There is some spectacular work here, dramatically and visually. But,
for once, the sum of an Anderson film seems like less, not more than the sum of it’s parts.

Point Blank
Point Blank
DVD ~ Lee Marvin
Price: CDN$ 21.99
20 used & new from CDN$ 14.04

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific late 60's action film, brilliantly directed, with more than a touch of art, Dec 30 2013
This review is from: Point Blank (DVD)
A terrific late 60s thriller. The story is very simple – a man (Lee Marvin) is betrayed by his wife and best friend who
shoot him and leave him for dead during a robbery they all commit together. Marvin spends the rest of the film
getting revenge, as well as trying to get his $93,000 back.

But where the story itself is simple, Boorman brings a dazzling array of stylistic conceits, many more normally at home in European art films
of the day, than in a Hollywood tough guy revenge story. Echoes of Godard, Bergman, Truffaut, and Antonioni - just to name a few – pull
one to look deeper into this story, the loose, sometimes confusing and elliptical structure leading us inside the character's alienation.

There have been many films starring the 'lone tough guy' but this is one about just how alone and lonely it is to be that guy, and how
pointless being an individualist can seem in a modern world, where even crime is run not by street-tough hoods, but by corporate types in
suits. "The Organization" here isn't the Mafia, but might well be any Fortune 500 company, and indeed the film acknowledges the darkly comic
absurdism of Marvin's quest for $93,000 from men to whom that kind of money is chump change.

In that sense it's a beautiful, dream-like study of the old ideal of the loner coming up against a modern world where the loner is no longer
the hero, or even the anti-hero. He's simply, sadly an anachronism.

The WB DVD transfer is pretty solid, but this film really screams out for a good blu-ray upgrade.

Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle) (Widescreen)
Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle) (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Pierre Jolivet
Offered by stephensstuff
Price: CDN$ 44.95
6 used & new from CDN$ 19.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A very impressive first feature, Dec 30 2013
A very impressive first film, made on a tiny budget, this highly imaginative, sometimes darkly funny view of a post-apocalyptic world where no one
can speak is beautifully shot and designed, elements that would become hallmarks of Besson’s style.

There isn’t much of a plot, we just observe as several male characters struggle against the elements and each other to survive in the meager pickings
of remains of the civilized world. (For much of the film, we don’t know if there are any women left at all). Sand has overtaken and filled office
buildings and water is in scarce supply. If the film were made today, one might guess global warning was the culprit of human decline, but like
much else, what happened in the past is allowed to remain a mystery. And how nice that Bresson has the courage not only to make a film without
words, but also without endless exposition.

For all the ‘action’ implied by the title, this is no “Mad Max”. While there are a few quite well done fights, much of the film is given over to slower,
smaller more human moments, most touchingly, when people try – against all odds – to connect and form bonds.

There are weaknesses. The film can feel thin, even drawn out at times, and the score can be downright awful. Why this beautiful, sad, macabre film
got an early 80s poppy disco-synth score is beyond me. I’m sure Besson had his reasons, but it’s been a long time since a score so aggressively
took me out of a film. There are also some logic questions that start to become bothersome. E.g. It’s one thing to postulate that for some reason no
one can speak, but since it’s clear they can read and remember language (and want to speak) why does no one ever write a note? A small thing, but
when you leave so much open to question - generally a strength - you do run the risk of those questions becoming vexing.

All that said, I enjoyed the film a good deal, event if I was a bit disappointed, when all was said and done,that it didn’t pack more of an emotional or
intellectual punch.

BTW - The transfer on the Optimum 'Luc Besson Collection' blu-ray is terrific, clean and rich, maximizing all the grey tones of Besson's stunning
black and white photography. That version is available on Amazon.uk for a reasonable price, but you will need a region-free, or region B blu-
ray player.

Housekeeper, the
Housekeeper, the
DVD ~ Jean-Pierre Bacri
Price: CDN$ 29.50
8 used & new from CDN$ 13.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Well acted French relationship tale, Dec 29 2013
This review is from: Housekeeper, the (DVD)
Warning; contains some mild, vague spoilers

A bitter-sweet bit of French male fantasy, with enough wisdom and honesty to acknowledge there's a difference between
fantasy and reality. Jacques is middle aged and lonely, having been dumped by his wife five months earlier. He responds
by trying to behave as if he's fine, but his mess of an apartment tells otherwise. So he answers an ad for a housekeeper,
and discovers the utterly sexy and adorable 20 year old Laura who gradually works her way past Jacques' emotional walls,
into first his bed, and then, perhaps, his heart (why she'd fall for him is left a bit loose and hazy).

What raises this above the familiar are the lovely performances by the two leads, and Berri's willingness not to try to make the
film more than it is – a simple, human tale of two very different people finding each other for a brief moment in the journeys
of their lives.

Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World  (American Experience) [Blu-ray]
Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World (American Experience) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Ric Burns
Price: CDN$ 27.19
13 used & new from CDN$ 22.38

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, sprawling documentary, Dec 29 2013
A sprawling, sometimes unfocused, usually fascinating and occasionally moving look at U.S. whaling from the early days of the colonies, to the
beginning of the 20th century. It does a very good job of capturing both the awful brutality, and incredible danger of the hunts.

There are some talking heads, but much more is a very pleasing mix of old drawings, photographs, and modern photography of scrimshaw
and whaling boats (often not re- enactments as much as just striking images of the vessels at sea).

For the first while the film focuses on the early history of U.S. whaling, explaining how important it was to the industrial revolution, being the
major source of oil for lighting and lubrication before the days of ground based petroleum products It also explains how the riches from
whaling literally paid for much of the nation's expansion.

It then switches tacks to tell the harrowing true story of the doomed whaling ship "The Essex", a story which helped prompt Herman Melville
to write "Moby Dick". The film then spends a good deal of time on "Moby Dick" itself, with some excellent dramatic readings by Robert Sean
Leonard, and the examination of the novel's story and its themes (with spoilers for those not familiar with the book). It also briefly traces
how "Moby Dick" fared in the literary world, and then circles back around for a cursory mention of the end of traditional whaling and the
rise of industrial whaling in the early 20th century.

For me, this last transition is handled too quickly and off-handedly, the revelation that whale populations were far more depleted by the
20th century whaling than in all the whaling done before – which feels contradictory to what the film had been implying up until then.

But those flaws are minor, and overall this is a very good, if slightly scattered, look at a way of life that was a far bigger part of U.S.
history than I ever realized.

Torch Song Trilogy [Import]
Torch Song Trilogy [Import]
DVD ~ Anne Bancroft
Price: CDN$ 22.28
25 used & new from CDN$ 6.58

4.0 out of 5 stars Touching, funny, sad and important, Dec 27 2013
This review is from: Torch Song Trilogy [Import] (DVD)
A notable film on several levels. First, it was way ahead of the U.S. in being a relatively mainstream film that treated gay men as people of depth,
value, humor and worth making a film about. (Although there is sad irony in the fact this huge hit play took so long to make it to the screen that
AIDS had already totally altered the landscape by the time of its release. That's something the film only notes in the closing credits, and gives it a
bit of a 'rose colored glasses' hue).

But beyond any politics or social significance this is also a very well acted, funny and moving look at one man, Arnold, (played by the unique and
charismatic Harvey Firestein, who wrote the play and screenplay) as he looks for love – both romantic and familial in a sometimes very cold world.
If Firestein's performance can occasionally feel theatrical, it's also entirely appropriate for the starting-to-age drag queen performer he plays.
What's wonderful is how Firestein always keeps the humanity under Arnold's occasional flamboyance very alive, as does Anne Bancroft as his
'difficult' mother. Later in her career Bancroft could tend towards theatricality on screen as well, but she tones it down just enough to feel real
here, and anyway, lets face it, next to a drag queen, who is more innately dramatic than a Jewish mother? (I grew up with one, trust me).

Matthew Broderick and Brian Kerwin also do very good work in support, Broderick as a sexy but understated young man totally at ease with his
sexuality, and Kerwin as a confused bi- sexual trying to work out his. While never rising to the level of a great film (the direction is very
straightforward and bland, there's almost a TV movie look to it, it never completely surpasses it's theatrical origins), it's certainly a good, touching,
human, and important one – although to a generation growing up with the reality of gay marriage and deeper integration of gay people into
society, some of the historical importance may be lost. But not the essential, timeless embrace of kindness, love, respect and understanding.

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