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K. Gordon
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Cousin Jules [Blu-ray] [Import]
Cousin Jules [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 32.53
10 used & new from CDN$ 22.73

4.0 out of 5 stars A unique film, Aug. 26 2014
A sort of ‘directed documentary’ this beautifully photographed, almost wordless film slowly shows the day to day life of a real aging couple (in their 70s for most of the 5 years the film took to shoot) living in rural France. He works as some kind of metal worker in his small barn, she runs their small farm and house. Their activities are never explained, we just watch.

Yet the fact that there is artifice is acknowledged as well, in clever and telling ways. A couple of times one or the other of Jules or his wife Felicie look right into camera for a moment, and there’s no attempt to hide the breaking of the 4th wall. One feels like the rare chit-chat there is between the two was awkwardly done for the cameras. There’s a sudden freeze frame at a moment we later understand to be of significance, which jarringly reminds us we’re watching a carefully composed and constructed film, not simply ‘real life’.

And film-maker Benichette’s beautiful wide screen compositions look far more like the stunning work of a great fiction cinematographer than a documentarian catching life on the fly. (And, indeed, a supplemental piece on the blu-ray about the restoration of the film makes it clear that the gorgeous lighting was far from the ‘natural’ light it seems to be).

So this odd, but often hypnotic film sat on the shelf for 40 years, overlooked by distributors, and in a wide screen/stereo format that was hard for art-houses of the day to deal with. And now it comes back to life, a one-of-a-kind meditation on age, time and an almost gone way of life. It didn’t quite have the deep emotional impact - at least on first viewing -- I wish it had. But it’s also one of those films I know will bounce around in my head, and that will lead me back to watching it again.

War Games (25th Anniversary Edition) (Sous-titres français) [Import]
War Games (25th Anniversary Edition) (Sous-titres français) [Import]
DVD ~ Matthew Broderick
Price: CDN$ 10.90
20 used & new from CDN$ 6.27

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but could have been a classic, Aug. 26 2014
Seeing this again, 30 years later, I’m of two minds. There’s still a lot to enjoy in this slightly Disney version of an end-of-the-world thriller. There’s a lot of clever twists in the plot, some lovely performances, some real tension.

But it also all feels a bit light and softened to make it more audience friendly. That was probably the right decision commercially, but maybe not artistically. If original director Martin Brest had been allowed to finish the film, with the somewhat darker original script I read back then, I wonder if this could have been a bit of a minor classic, in the family of great nuclear war films like Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe, instead of an entertaining, intelligent thrill ride. There are also, on reflection some big logic holes you could fly missiles through.

But at the end of the day, I still enjoyed re-seeing it, smiling a good deal of the time.

Wargames Blu-ray
Wargames Blu-ray
DVD ~ Matthew Broderick
Price: CDN$ 11.99
3 used & new from CDN$ 11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but might have been a classic..., Aug. 26 2014
This review is from: Wargames Blu-ray (Blu-ray)
Seeing this again, 30 years later, I’m of two minds. There’s still a lot to enjoy in this slightly Disney version of an end-of-the-world thriller. There’s a lot of clever twists in the plot, some lovely performances, some real tension.

But it also all feels a bit light and softened to make it more audience friendly. That was probably the right decision commercially, but maybe not artistically. If original director Martin Brest had been allowed to finish the film, with the somewhat darker original script I read back then, I wonder if this could have been a bit of a minor classic, in the family of great nuclear war films like Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe, instead of an entertaining, intelligent thrill ride. There are also, on reflection some big logic holes you could fly missiles through.

But at the end of the day, I still enjoyed re-seeing it, smiling a good deal of the time.

First Cousin Once Removed [Import]
First Cousin Once Removed [Import]
Price: CDN$ 21.92
14 used & new from CDN$ 15.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply moving and thought provoking documentary, Aug. 26 2014
Talented and off-beat film-maker Alan Berliner documents the mind of his much older first cousin, the poet and translator Edwin Homing, as he slowly loses the battle against Alzheimer's.

Of course, any film about that subject can’t help but be touching, but Berliner goes well beyond the obvious tragedy to raise questions of; what is memory, time, family? We see and hear both the good and bad about this man, hear (and sometimes see) his poetry, hear the anger he put on his children as they were growing up, to end of not with a portrait of a disease victim, but of a man and an artist. Berliner jumps around in time, so we see Edwin in bad and good moments. In the end, this isn’t a linear portrait of a man’s decline, but an thoughtful and even darkly entertaining exploration of what is communication, thought, love.

Omar [Blu-ray] [Import]
Omar [Blu-ray] [Import]
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 21.61
15 used & new from CDN$ 21.61

5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific smart, emotional and human thriller, set against a political back-drop, Aug. 16 2014
This review is from: Omar [Blu-ray] [Import] (Blu-ray)
Though it has it's occasional flaws (some overstatement) this is generally a terrific political thriller.

A young Palestinian radical is put through the emotional, moral and physical wringer after being blackmailed into becoming an informer (or at least professing to) for the Israelis, following an arrest that could put him in jail for life. While Abu-Assad's sympathies clearly lie with the Palestinians, his characters and situations are much more complex and human than good guys and bad guys. He sees the damage that being in a constant state of war and occupation does to both sides.

Beyond that, this is not a 'political' film first. It's complex web of betrayal, love, fear, bravery, and paranoia could be anywhere two sides are facing off in a morally and politically complex situation, especially where one side is a guerrilla uprising, the other an established government. It could be Ireland and the IRA, or South Africa in the more militant days of the ANC. The beauty and terror of Abu-Assad's film is that it's about people not ideology. And the reality that people on both sides are capable of great good and great evil, often for reasons personal as much as political. I happened to see this within days of the also critically acclaimed "Bethlehem" which tells a remarkably similar tale, but from an Israeli point of view. Seeing both heightened the power of each -- for where they overlapped and where they differed. I'd recommend seeing both to anyone interested in good, human thrillers and who is interested in examining the middle east conflict in more than simple 'right and wrong' terms.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Ralph Fiennes
Price: CDN$ 24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny, extreme;y inventive, and wonderfully acted, Aug. 15 2014
A wonderfully funny fable of the adventures of world’s greatest hotel concierge (a brilliant, inventive and hilarious performance by Ralph Fiennes) and the friendship he strikes up with the hotel’s new lobby boy (a strong debut by newcomer Tony Revolori).

The story goes in many unexpected directions, every one entertaining and eccentric, and the cast is full of first rate highly comic performances by F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, with terrific cameos by Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Jude Law and others I feel bad for forgetting here.

While not Anderson’s most profound film, it may be his most joyful. I don’t think I stopped smiling from first frame to last, and I laughed out loud quite a few times. And yet, as in any good fable, there is some real poignancy as well. A top notch marriage of a lovingly crafted art-film and a wacky human comedy, something rarely pulled off with such panache. Even my friends who don’t enjoy Anderson’s work in general had nothing but good things to say. The sweetest treat of the movie year so far.

Billy Crystal 700 Sundays
Billy Crystal 700 Sundays
Price: CDN$ 13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet, gentle and touching, Aug. 6 2014
This review is from: Billy Crystal 700 Sundays (DVD)
Unabashedly sentimental, at moments arguably shticky, but there’s a lot of heart and laughs, along with a good set of smiles in Billy Crystal’s one-man show remembering his youth, especially the 700 Sundays he had with his father before his untimely death.

From the telling, Crystal had a remarkable childhood, and came from a remarkable family. His father owned a music store and promoted concerts, and knew and was loved by many of jazz’s all time greats. His family come off as sweet if eccentric. As related here, this was a family without many of the deeply painful skeletons in their closets that most of us grew up with. It’s sort of the Jewish version of Norman Rockwell’s U.S., but I don’t mean that as a put down. Crystal seems to truly appreciate the blessings he’s had, and to honor and love the people who made him who he is. He doesn’t deny that life can be painful, but that doesn’t mean for a second he’s going to say it’s not wonderful and worthwhile.

If a few moments of emotion feel forced in the unforgiving close up lens of a camera, there’s a lot that ring true, no matter that Crystal has performed variations of this monologue on stage hundreds of times.

Computer Chess [Blu-ray] [Import]
Computer Chess [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 46.87
11 used & new from CDN$ 22.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Clever and original, if uneven, July 31 2014
This low key mockumentary is so dry in it’s humor that it’s more likely to produce a nostalgic or rueful smile than a belly laugh. Set at a 1980s man vs. computer chess competition, and shot on what looks like a video camera from the time, it certainly succeeds in capturing a time, place and atmosphere.

On the other hand, some of it starts to get a bit repetitive and meandering. Unlike Christopher Guest’s hysterical mockumentaries, this is so close to ‘real’ for much of it’s length that it started to wear down a bit. And then when it switches to a more ‘over-the-top’ tone, as when one of the young leads is hit on by a pair of middle-aged swingers, it suddenly feels like a scene from another film.

None-the-less, this is an impressive accomplishment, using it’s lack of budget as a plus to create the feel of a truly home made documentary of the time. It may not be brilliant, but it’s sweet, inventive, and fun, which puts it well ahead of most of what’s out there.

Ken Burns: The Central Park Five [Blu-ray]
Ken Burns: The Central Park Five [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Antron McCray
Price: CDN$ 19.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 14.50

5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful, if quiet, condemnation of society's rage, May 27 2014
Any story of justice denied, of people wrongfully imprisoned is inherently dramatic. But Ken Burns uses this case of five frightened teenaged boys prodded and manipulated into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit to dig into some larger societal issues as well. Yes, the police and prosecutors look bad for the way they mislead the kids into confessions, and then steadfastly refuse to look at other evidence. But the press also comes off badly for exploiting the case to sell papers and satisfy a frightened city’s desire for law and order, instead of asking questions when it became clear things simply weren’t adding up. And politicians for expressing condemnation and outrage at these young men before they were even (wrongly) convicted. A strong and pointed warning about those times when society’s desire for revenge overcomes it’s sense of logic, humanity and fairness.

Devdas [Import]
Devdas [Import]
DVD ~ Shah Rukh Khan
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 39.91
4 used & new from CDN$ 39.90

4.0 out of 5 stars Colorful and touching, if a bit uneven, May 17 2014
This review is from: Devdas [Import] (DVD)
Note: As a North American who quite likes, but is not an expert on Indian cinema, I'm the first to admit there may be elements of content or style that I might lack the knowledge to fully appreciate. These are just my personal reactions, take them for what they're worth.

Colorful and touching, if occasionally uneven, this story of a Romeo and Juliet like love affair and it’s aftermath certainly has it’s moments. The performances are strong, it looks great, there’s some interesting social commentary about the corrosive effects of class and social status. and there are a few good musical numbers.

But the musical element is odd – too much or two little for my taste. One song an hour is just enough to make their sudden appearance a bit jarring, not fully integrated into the style. There’s also a tendency to melodrama and overstatement in the plot and even the (quite good) acting, and some important questions about the "whys" behind characters’ key decisions in this tale of love and loss are left unexplored.

I was also frustrated that the DVD transfer quality didn't seem up to the physical beauty of the film. It's not bad, but this is the kind of film that calls out for blu-ray, or at least an absolutely 1st rate mastering.

None-the-less, it works well enough to enjoy as spectacle, and heart stuck melodrama to be enjoyable, almost like an old style Hollywood film, if not up to the level of Bhanasali’s later, quite brilliant and innovative “Black”.

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