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K. Gordon
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Filth (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Filth (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Price: CDN$ 22.64
21 used & new from CDN$ 18.16

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”.

Filth [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français)
Filth [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ James McAvoy
Price: CDN$ 26.99

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”.

Ken Burns: Prohibition [Blu-ray]
Ken Burns: Prohibition [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Peter Coyote
Price: CDN$ 38.39
18 used & new from CDN$ 32.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, smart, well made and educational - but without the emotional power of Burns' best., Nov. 26 2014
Any Ken Burns documentary is going to be smart, well made and educational. This one is also fun (in the plus column), but lacks the emotion, ambition and power of his very best work, like "The Civil War" or "The Central Park Five".

Made with a ton of great movie footage and stills, and lots of tid-bits about the history of drinking in the USA -- it's out of control pervasiveness among men, especially working class men, that led to the push for prohibition that puts the now ridiculous seeming constitutional amendment in a somewhat more understandable light. That in turn explains the odd confluence of its backers, from religious conservatives, to well meaning social progressives looking to save the poor from themselves, to blue-blood WASPS who hated working class immigrants who drank more openly, to women fighting for the right to vote, and who saw how often alcohol contributed to domestic violence.

The film also does a great job in showing how a law that tens of millions of citizens will simply ignore is much worse than no law at all, as it sows the seeds of disregard and contempt for the law, as well creating a fertile ground for criminals to give people what they want in a black market. Much the same arguments are going on in the US (and elsewhere) right now about other "vice" laws, from marijuana, to prostitution, to proposed laws on fatty and sugary foods.

One of the central questions of any democracy is how much and where does the government have a right to intrude into people's lives for the greater good. It's an important and complicated question, and one the series does a good job of raising.

But at over 5 hours it starts to run a little thin, and the points and stories start to get a bit repetitive. I'm glad I saw it, and enjoyed myself quite a bit, but unlike many documentaries by Burns (and his equally talented brother Ric), I don't think I'll feel a need to re-watch it anytime soon.

ParaNorman [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy] (Bilingual)
ParaNorman [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Kodi Smit-McPhee
Price: CDN$ 24.97
9 used & new from CDN$ 14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and technically terrific, but missing some of the soul of the greatest animated films., Nov. 21 2014
Wildly creative and technically terrific, there is much to admire in this animated play on traditional zombie films. But unlike “Coraline” – made by some of the same people – or the other Tim Burton/Henry Selick macabre animated works, there’s a certain lack of soul and emotion here that keeps it from climbing to the heights of those films.

There’s also an odd unevenness of tone. While it has a few really inspired visual and verbal gags, it switches a bit awkwardly back and forth between being almost over-earnest, and a kind of hip, ironic distanced humor. And much of the plot feels familiar and/or predictable.

Part of the struggle for me as an adult is that this is really made for ‘tweens. Too scary for little kids, it also limits the film a bit on the older side. It can’t work as easily for adults as some ‘kids films’ (ala Pixar, etc), where 8 years olds can enjoy it while 30 or 40 year olds can get it on a whole different level. I bet 11 year olds would flat out love this, but unlike the films mentioned earlier, I felt a bit left out of the fun. Still, it has it’s moments, both of humor and heart, and I’m glad I saw it. I just don’t know that I’d ever go back for seconds.

Frontline When Kids Get Life
Frontline When Kids Get Life
DVD ~ Ofra Bikel

4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful documentary journalism, from the excellent "Frontline" series, Nov. 20 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Frontline When Kids Get Life (DVD)
Strong “Frontline” documentary about kids under 18 who are given life sentences without parole.

It’s shocking to see the story of these kids, for whom the punishment is clearly out of line – one is an accessory to a murder, not the killer himself. Another murdered his parents – horrible of course - but was being physically beaten and sexually abused. Many clearly had inadequate council.

And it turns out the U.S. is party to an international treaty on human rights that specifically outlaws the use of ‘life without parole’ on minors, but has begged off, saying it’s only used on cases of the ‘worst of the worst’; kids beyond any hope of rehabilitation who will always be a danger to society. But as the kids profiled in the show demonstrate, that is clearly far from the case at least some of the time.

The show also points out that the U.S. has over 2200 kids serving a ‘life without parole’ sentence. The rest of the world combined? 12.

The filmmaking isn’t anything that special, and I wish there had been more detail about some of the cases, even if fewer were reviewed, but there’s no questioning that there is something terribly wrong in the sentencing part of our legal system, and this film will open your eyes to it.

Beau Brummel
Beau Brummel
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 17.62
17 used & new from CDN$ 10.40

4.0 out of 5 stars A charming, surprisingly subtle silent comedy of manners mixed with drama., Nov. 20 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Beau Brummel (DVD)
Note: as noted by many US reviewers, the Warner Archives edition is far superior to the Televista version. That goes for both the picture quality, and the music,
which is rather random on the Televista as opposed to written for the piece and quite good on the Warners

It's interesting how much 'wit' can be found even in a film without spoken words. "Beau Brummel" is playful, a little naughty, and at times quite sad. The acting here is notably restrained and natural for a silent film. with John Barrymore leading the way in an excellent performance as Gordon Byron 'Beau' Brummel.

Brummel was a real person, even though the film acknowledges up front that his escapades have been largely fictionalized by legend. In this reality, Brummel was an 18th century army officer and dandy, who, despite his lack of wealth or noble blood, partied with the elite, romancing the women, befriending the men, and being a style and trend setter. What gives this a sense of drama to go with the playful social satire is the fact that Beau is denied the one woman he really loves, so his other successes are all a bit hollow. Also, in the end Brummel has little other than his smarts and charm to stand on, which keeps him always one insolent move from falling into poverty and disrepute.

There are weak spots. The photography and direction aren't particularly imaginative, with a very stagy feel to the blocking and camera angles. Most of the film is shot in head on, eye level medium 2-shots. The sets also often look a bit more like something designed for the stage than for the 360 degree vision of film. But if this isn't a great film, it's a good, clever, enjoyable one, and a chance to see Barrymore, said by many to be the finest actor of his time, as a comparatively young leading man.

Los Angeles Plays Itself [Blu-ray] [Import]
Los Angeles Plays Itself [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 32.82
14 used & new from CDN$ 19.87

5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable, great, fun and highly intelligent documentary finally gets to be seen!, Nov. 15 2014
I highly recommend this intelligent, insightful and tremendously entertaining documentary. For years this has been on many "100 best documentaries
ever made" type lists, (e.g. it's #37 on Sight and Sound's 2012 "50 Greatest Documentaries Ever Made" critics Poll) and yet it's very nature (it's made entirely
hundreds of clips from almost as many different feature films) made getting the rights to release this a gargantuan task. I'm amazed they pulled it off.
(I hope the story of that part of the film's history is covered in commentary or extra features)

In the meantime, this terrific, unique film has been relegated to occasional museum and classroom screenings, and low quality bootleg copies.
Indeed often those classroom screenings were often still off VHS tapes. The blu-ray, while far from perfect visually, is a huge step up in quality.
Obviously the quality of the clips themselves is very variable, depending on their age and source, they range from some that look they were taken
from VHS sources, to many that are quite gorgeous - probably sourced from blu-ray masters. There also an occasional odd jumpiness in a few
of the clips that looks like there were issues in transfers and frame rates. This occasional stutter is annoying, but rare enough that it's far from
a deal breaker. This is probably still the best "Los Angeles Plays Itself" has ever looked.

The film is a remarkable documentary, charting the history of how Los Angeles is portrayed in the movies. In the process it
reveals much about the L.A.'s real history, it's politics, its architecture, its culture. It shows us how how movies distort and
even create reality, the cities sense of itself altered by its on screen persona.

Smart, and never boring despite it's 2:49 running time. Often funny, with a dead-pan, witty narration constantly helping us see both films and the city in new ways.

If you love films, or have an interest in how cinema intersects with real life -- each effecting the other, this is a can't miss experience.

Update: Cinema Guild, which put out this film now has announced it will also distribute Anderson's almost equally effective
"Red Hollywood" (made in a similar way - full of clips - so never before available). That too is a terrific, if slightly less heralded film,
and is now available for pre-order on Amazon US, or directly from the Cinema Guild web site.

Criterion Collection: Sundays and Cybèle (Blu-Ray) (Version française)
Criterion Collection: Sundays and Cybèle (Blu-Ray) (Version française)
DVD ~ Hardy Krüger
Price: CDN$ 34.49
20 used & new from CDN$ 32.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully made and haunting, Nov. 14 2014
A beautiful film, in terms of both images and story. This very sweet - but never sticky -and slightly disturbing story of a platonic 'love affair' between a psychologically damaged, almost child-like ex-soldier and an emotionally abandoned 12 year old girl is deeply moving, honest, and just creepy enough in terms of in nascent sexuality hovering around the edges of the relationship to keep us from feeling too at ease. Shot in gorgeous black and white, with great use of shadows and silhouette, the images are both beautiful and mysterious -- as is the film's central relationship.

Hardy Kruger is excellent as the amnesiac soldier who has the feeling he's done something awful, but doesn't know what, or how to atone for it (we know more, having seen a dream- like flashback of his war experiences to open the film). He is lovable and sad, but we sense there's always a danger this man could lose control and cause damage without meaning to. And Patricia Gozzi is remarkable as the young girl, bringing an almost frightening amount of pain to this hurt character, and never feeling like a kid faking it for a film. There's a complex honesty to her performance combining hurt, innocent joy, emotional need, the first flickers of adult sensuality and manipulativeness, and yet a child's open heart that any seasoned actor would envy.

The film does telegraph where its headed more than once, but somehow it doesn't matter very much. It's the humanity of the telling rather than any surprise twist that makes the film work so well. We root for this odd pair to be able to maintain their bond in the face of a grown up world that doesn't understand how much these two damaged souls need each other and is, as one character puts it, afraid of any love that doesn't fit into nice neat categories. Beautifully made and haunting, it won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1963.

House of Pleasures (Version française) [Import]
House of Pleasures (Version française) [Import]
Price: CDN$ 28.14
22 used & new from CDN$ 16.87

5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic, unique, sad and haunting film, Nov. 11 2014
This takes place in a Paris brothel just before and just after the start of the 20th century. While there is a lot of nudity and sex, the film is almost always anti-erotic, as it is so clear that the women are less than enthusiastic participants. Interestingly, I found the only moments with any erotic charge were moments between the women themselves, who support each other in what amounts to indentured servitude. Occasionally we feel the heat of human connection between them in a look, a touch, and that is far more sensual than anything they share with their clients, which is often degrading, and occasionally violent.

Indeed, I've seen a lot of complaints about the film not being 'sexy', which of course is part of the whole point. But I think the advertising, cover images, etc. can understandably lead people to expect a hot soft-core porn experience, and not a thoughtful, deliberately paced, and socially political art-film.

The film is a look at the trap poor women found themselves in, when being a prostitute was one of the only ways to make your own money, and other professions had just as many drawbacks (one woman speaks of giving up being a washer-woman because her lungs were becoming damaged from breathing ammonia all day). But the irony is, the 'expenses' of being a well kept prostitute (from room and board to perfume) are more than the women can take in, so they inevitably fall deeper and deeper into debt. Like sharecroppers, they soon 'owe their soul to the company store'.

This isn't a naturalistic film in the usual sense. It jumps around in time – something we sometimes only realize because we'll see a moment we'd watched earlier happen a second time, but in this case from a new perspective or in a new context. It's 'slow' by our usual standards, and is less about plot than about captured moments that build to something larger. It also uses anachronistic, modern music to great effect. But for all it's intentional artifice, there is a feeling of an honest sort of hyper-reality here. In the same way a poem can capture the feeling of a sunny day better than a lot of scientific explanation, so too does this poetic film capture a complex and sad world in a way that lets you feel a sense of understanding and empathy more than straight forward naturalism might.

The film-making itself is of a very high order. The cinematography and acting are both first rate, and there is a sequence near the end that combined acting, images and music to give me chills in the rare way sequences by great film-makers can sometimes do. Not every choice works, but this is a bold, challenging and emotional film. It doesn't tell you what to think, it just creates a world, invites you inside and allows you to draw your own conclusions. I suspect I will get even more from it on a second viewing.

Braquo: Season 1 / Braquo: Saison 1 (Version française)
Braquo: Season 1 / Braquo: Saison 1 (Version française)
DVD ~ Jean-Hugues Anglade
Price: CDN$ 11.99
6 used & new from CDN$ 9.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Quite good, and frustratingly close to great, Nov. 10 2014
This series starts amazingly, but frustratingly falls off somewhat in the 2nd half of the season as logic starts to breakdown, the main characters do -- and somehow get away with -- ever more outrageous stuff, and coincidence plays a bigger and bigger role.

That said, there’s still a lot to like in this exciting French series about rogue cops who are only a bit better than the criminals they chase. Playing like Sydney Lumet’s great 1970s and 80s films about New York cops on steroids, this show about a high profile band of morose, angry police who’ve long since abandoned the rule of order pulls off something quite amazing, which is making you care about these morally almost – but not quite completely – corrupt people.

The acting is terrific, as is the casting. These cops look like real people, not TV actors, yet still have just enough sexy cool and charisma to ensnare you. And the show has a look that is edgy and gritty in an effective and exciting way, with lots of camera movement, shadowy lighting and interesting angles (profiles seem as common as head on close ups).

The ‘bad guys’ in this case are not just the truly scummy criminals our group faces, but also Internal Affairs, who are constantly looking for a way to bring these cops down. That’s tricky, since the squad is politically popular for getting results and solving high profile cases, so IA can’t go after them without an airtight case, which these guys make very hard to do. They know how to cover their tracks.

If only they hadn’t felt the need to fill the show with quite so many complex plot lines that don’t quite hold up on closer examination, and ‘how can they possibly get out of this’ moments often resolved in ways that are hard to buy, this could have been a classic. As it is, it’s still well-worth seeing.

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