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Gary Fuhrman "gnox" (Manitoulin Island)
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Cloud Atlas (Bilingual) [Blu-ray] (Version française)
Cloud Atlas (Bilingual) [Blu-ray] (Version française)
DVD ~ Tom Hanks
Price: CDN$ 7.99
14 used & new from CDN$ 4.50

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sextet of suspenseful stories, May 17 2013
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Cloud Atlas is one of those films that is bound to polarize first-time viewers and make those who like it want to see it more than once. All but one of the six stories told here are basically Hollywood action-movie material, though of different genres (film noir, science fiction, slapstick comedy etc.), each set in a different time period. Although we are constantly shifting from one story to another, each is told in chronological order. This maximizes the suspense, with no flashforwards or flashbacks *except* in the first few minutes (before the opening credits). The stories in themselves are entertaining and neither strikingly original nor philosophically deep, but the unifying themes of liberation and "everything is connected" are brought home in a way that should appeal to all but the most cynical.

The original twist is the way the film switches back and forth between stories, in a way that actually increases the suspense in each while also bringing out the parallels -- provided that the viewer gets 'hooked' on all 6 story lines in the first hour, as i did. What could have been a kind of stunt editing becomes instead the main medium that gets the theme across, along with the dialogue drawn from David Mitchell's novel and fine acting all around. Hugo Weaving is especially good in six villainous roles, but all the actors playing multiple parts manage to differentiate them so that the viewer doesn't get confused or distracted from the story lines; of course makeup and costume help a lot too. This film makes some demands on the viewer early on, but the investment of attention pays off handsomely as the film approaches its multiple climaxes. I for one am glad to have the blu-ray so i can make some more interstory connections on second viewing. But i probably wouldn't bother if the stories connected here weren't so cinematically compelling and entertaining.


Life Stories (David Attenborough) [Blu-ray]
Life Stories (David Attenborough) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ David Attenborough
Price: CDN$ 27.35
27 used & new from CDN$ 24.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Reflections on nature and media, May 12 2013
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I was expecting this 3-part series to consist mainly of Attenborough's reflections on *his* life -- a sort of autobiography -- but in fact the previous collection Attenborough in Paradise and personal voyages gives more of that. The focus here is on how we see nature, and how our view of it has changed during his lifetime. The first part is mainly about technological developments that have changed the way nature is documented since Attenborough started working in this field in the 1950s. The second part is about developments in the life sciences which have also radically changed our view of nature and the human role in it (so this part is a follow-up to Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life). The third part is about the human impact on the planet, and our changing view of that; and again, this has precedents in other recent BBC Earth productions. (Not that this is just recycled footage; Life Stories overlaps with its predecessors only in these general themes.)

Of course Attenborough himself has done as much as anyone to deepen our emotional, mental and spiritual connection with the natural world, and here he speaks eloquently for the preservation of the wild. One can only hope that the development of a realistic ecological sensibility will motivate us to curb our destructive habits before it's too late. But as i write this, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million, and it's evident that the world's biggest consumers are still burning the candle of life at both ends. Optimism and realism find it hard to cohabit in this situation. Perhaps the next generation will see Attenborough's reflections as a reminder of the path we *could* have taken if we had only paid better attention to the biosphere ...


BBC Atlas of the Natural World: Western Hemisphere and Antarctica [Import]
BBC Atlas of the Natural World: Western Hemisphere and Antarctica [Import]
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 45.70
20 used & new from CDN$ 27.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, though not high-def, May 2 2013
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Just to add a few details to Eric Lawton's review: The best of the four series included here is Wild South America, the only one in 16:9 (widescreen) format: this 6-part series shows the BBC nature-doc system working in top form for its time (2000), with plenty of startling discoveries and ecological insights. Land of the Eagle is the oldest (1990), but really groundbreaking for its time, showing how the invasion of North America brought disaster to the indigenous people and wildlife, and how Americans are beginning to come to terms with their environment. Spirit of the Jaguar (1996, on Central American history) and Life in the Freezer (1993, with David Attenborough, on the polar regions) are contained on one disk each. All four are well worth watching, although Life in the Freezer has been improved upon by Frozen Planet. Extras are limited to an "enhanced content mode" which optionally brings up pop-up windows with added factual content. But the total running time is over 17 hours.


Ocean Giants: The Fascinating Lives of Dolphins and Whales [Blu-ray]
Ocean Giants: The Fascinating Lives of Dolphins and Whales [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 19.97
17 used & new from CDN$ 10.20

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dancing with whales, conversing with dolphins, April 24 2013
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This three-hour series is essentially a more personalized update of previous BBC programs about cetaceans from Blue Planet on. It's personal in a double sense: first, it reveals to us as never before the *personalities* of dolphins (who are now known to identify each other by name) and various kinds of whales. We eavesdrop on the songs of humpback whales and the communicative sounds of dolphins with scientists who are learning more and more about the intricate patterns of these sounds and what they might mean. We admire the intelligence of their hunting techniques. We look into the eye of a right whale who looks back at us, and we wonder how she feels about the humans who hunted her parents and grandparents almost to extinction. Not that it's all compassion and intellectuality -- the series starts right off with sex and violence, bull whales battling each other for the chance to use the world's longest penis. But the series as a whole brings us much closer to our undersea cousins.

The other personalized aspect is that the main presenters in the series are the two veteran underwater cameramen, Doug Allan and Didier Noirot. The usual format for series like these includes a 10-minute "making-of" at the end of each 50-minute episode. There's no need for that here because the makers of the shots are on camera almost as much as the whales, and their personal quest to get better acquainted with these marine mammals better is the main thread of the story. The result is more low-key and informal than the usual BBC Earth presentation. It's all shot in high-def (the blu-ray is 1080i), but you don't really notice that because the unexpected intimacy of relationships comes across more clearly than the visual spectacle. It's a different sort of series from BBC Earth, and i think a highly successful one.


Repo Man (The Criterion Collection)
Repo Man (The Criterion Collection)
Offered by Deal Beat
Price: CDN$ 44.88
2 used & new from CDN$ 44.88

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Criterion reveals a singular masterpiece, April 23 2013
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Repo Man is one of those films that succeeds beautifully at being uniquely strange, thanks to an odd combination of factors. First of all there's Alex Cox's script, delivered by a perfect cast. Like "Withnaill and I", this film by a first-time director is hilarious for those who "get" the dialogue and incomprehensible for those who don't. Then there's the unique blend of absurdity and realism in its portrayal of the LA punk scene of the early 1980s. And finally there's the implicit political message, which is very much in tune with "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (also scripted by Cox). The result had to be a "cult" film -- although there's also a "cleaned-up" television version included in this Criterion edition (for the curious, or those who prefer films without profanity or drug use). But this sci-fi comedy is one of those "cult" films that doesn't get old.

Criterion, as usual, has given us extras that take us behind the scenes of the making of the film: a recent conversation among the producers and director Cox, a great commentary track, deleted scenes, and interviews with Iggy Pop and Harry Dean Stanton that are worth catching even apart from what they tell us about the film. And last but not least, the 70-page booklet, which includes the comic-book version of the story. Perusing all this, one can't help but be amazed that this film could get made in Hollywood at all. Amazed, but grateful to all involved.


Meet Me At The Crux
Meet Me At The Crux
Price: CDN$ 18.12
7 used & new from CDN$ 18.12

5.0 out of 5 stars Witty pre-punk lyrics and some powerful music, April 22 2013
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This review is from: Meet Me At The Crux (Audio CD)
I found myself inexplicably moved by Dirk Hamilton's song "Billboard on the Moon" when i first heard it on the radio back around 1980. After buying this album on vinyl, i found that the whole thing was very strong, with Hamilton's clever and quirky lyrics carrying some trenchant social criticism. This CD is even better because it includes several excellent tracks that were not on the original album, all of the music on it wears much better than most songs from the 70s (not my favorite era), and the sound is much better than Hamilton's more recent live album which is available on MP3 (this one isn't, at least not in Canada). I'm glad i bought it just to hear all these great songs again!


Waste Land
Waste Land
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 39.73
20 used & new from CDN$ 9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art and life transforming one another, April 22 2013
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This review is from: Waste Land (DVD)
Another documentary about environmental and social disasters? Not at all. This beautifully shot and edited film documents the three-year project undertaken by world-famous artist Vik Muniz, who was hoping to "give something back" to his native Brazil. In it we meet several of the "pickers" who make a living extracting and sorting recyclable materials from the world's largest landfill, in Rio de Janeiro. The character and dignity of these people is impressive enough in itself, but Muniz and his associates took photos of them and hired them to arrange materials picked from the garbage into gigantic recreations of the photographic images. Then he photographed the results and sold very large prints on canvas to raise a quarter million dollars for the community, especially for the organization formed by the pickers to improve both recycling facilities and their own education.

Together Muniz and the pickers, with patience and humor, worked though the strong emotions and moral questions raised by the work, and the results -- as seen in the extras on the DVD where Muniz revisits the pickers a year later -- were a revelation, not least to Muniz himself. I've shared this film with a dozen friends and we all agree it's one of the most inspiring (and entertaining) documentaries we've seen. If you're interested in the relations between art and community, grab one of these before they all disappear!


Les Nouvelles Polyphonies
Les Nouvelles Polyphonies
Price: CDN$ 9.77
26 used & new from CDN$ 5.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, April 19 2013
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We have here a solid hour of absolutely glorious polyphonic singing set off by Hector Zazou's subtle electronics and contributions from some great instrumentalists, such as Jon Hassell, John Cale, Manu Dibango and others. If you liked the Bulgarian Voices, or Zazou's Celtic "Lights in the Dark", you will love this. I heard one track from it on a complilation over 10 years ago and have been looking for it ever since, and it's even better than i expected. In fact i'd say this is the best of Hector Zazou's many collaborations -- a masterpiece.


The Great Barrier Reef (2011/ BBC/ BD) [Blu-ray]
The Great Barrier Reef (2011/ BBC/ BD) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 25.00
16 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watery wonderland, April 3 2013
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The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on earth, extending 2000 km parallel to the eastern coast of Australia. Chances are we've all heard of it, but in this 3-hour series we get to know it much more intimately. The beauty and biology of it are equally captivating, with the spectacular 1080p images -- many time-lapse and some slow-motion sequences -- revealing an astonishing variety of creatures, some microscopic and some very strange indeed. In the narrative commentary, beautifully delivered by marine biologist Monty Halls, it's the complex ecology of the reef system that comes across most powerfully. The lives of the thousands of individual reefs that make up the outer reef are interconnected, not only with the fish and other animals that swarm around them, but also with the deep water lagoon and its 600 islands, the mangroves along the coast and even the rainforest inland.

Everything about this series, from script to soundtrack (both natural and musical), shows meticulous attention to detail. In some locations, Halls talks to us underwater (rather than by voice-over), using a mask with a mike inside, lending a greater immediacy to his commentary. Each of the three hour-long episodes can stand alone, and is probably more informative (though maybe a bit less dramatic) than the typical BBC Earth episode. This leaves no room (and no need) for extras on the blu-ray disc. There is a little duplication of content across episodes -- the annual spawning of the coral polyps appears in both the first and third episodes, for instance, but it's worth seeing twice. A few details may be familiar to BBC Earth fans, such as the race of newly hatched turtles to the sea (which was even more beautifully shown in the new Africa series). But by the end of the series, you are likely to feel personally concerned about the future of the Reef, which is uncertain due to climate change and other human-caused factors. This series is as unique as any of the other masterpieces from BBC Earth and its production partners.


Under the Wire
Under the Wire
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling and thought-provoking too, March 30 2013
This review is from: Under the Wire (Kindle Edition)
Bill Ash's account of his exploits during WWII is certainly a rip-roaring adventure story, taking us from his beginnings as a penniless hobo through his days as an American/Canadian Spitfire pilot and his years as a serial escape artist from German prison camps. But it's also a testament to the powerful sense of justice and human solidarity that brought him into the war in the first place. His sketches and tales of others involved in the long battle against the Nazis show how such struggles can bring out the best (and the worst) in people. Yet he maintains a realistic perspective, often ironic and playful, on their motivations, and especially on his own. His wartime experience, grim as some of it was, only seems to deepen his youthful idealism. Sometimes his profound philosophical streak flowers into meditations like this one:

"Human beings are surrounded by a universe many sizes too big for them and the ability either to shout out in anger or to laugh in the face of chaos are the only truly noble options available to us. That shout, or that laughter, even in the black infinity of the universe is an absolutely new and pure thing, filling the void and going on, echoing off among the nebula, with an entirely human significance" (Kindle Location 2506).

Thanks to his distinctive outlook on life (and the help of Brendan Foley), Ash's memoir gives us vital insights into what went on in WWII, but beyond that, it's one for the ages, and not just for fans of "The Great Escape".


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