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I had my DVD and Blu-ray collection listed here, largely for my own reference. Inevitably it became too large for the limited space here. On the off chance anyone is interested, it is available here. http://www.imdb.com/list/ls076553758/
I've always loved to write, and aside from making a living off it, I am a prolific author of IMDb reviews and have a Top Reviewer badge as of this writing.
I tend to love dramatic films and comedy TV. Action-adventures usually bore me. I want something that makes me think.
By the start of 2008 I realized I had a pretty bad DVD collection, and I set out to improve it. I now consider this mission accomplished. In July 2011 I bought a Blu-ray player. Also in 2011, I became more serious about seeing more foreign language films.
A-Hoia, Josh Gates!
Destination Truth was a show I watched occasionally in college. Like a hybrid between reality TV (which I typically despise) and documentary, the show follows TV personality Josh Gates and his team as they travel to often remote places, searching for one cryptid and one ghost per episode. Destination Truth is, of course, criticized as fake, made by people who never expect to actually find anything. But while the cyptids are often too ridiculous to swallow, the ghost hunting often gives pause and the show is often coloured with humour, giving definite entertainment value.
After not seeing the show for years, I revisited Josh after hearing of the Hoia Forest in Romania, purportedly the most haunted forest in the world and fittingly found outside Transylvania. It contains not vampires but female voices, UFO sightings, faces turning up in photos (probably explainable via anthropomorphism, the tendency to see human faces where there are none) and a circle where nothing mysteriously grows. Well, it turns out Josh had been there in one of Destination Truth's highest rated episodes.
Haunted Forest/Alux is indeed a strong episode, starting off with some funny moments as the team jokes about their rented car being very dirty and very small. Josh sees a photo of a Hoia UFO and jokes it's the top hat in Monopoly, and compares the ill side effects people are said to feel in the forest to prom night. Once in the forest, they get mysterious lights on video and soil samples from the circle (it can't be said why nothing grows there). You do have to take their word for it about feeling sick and getting scratched. But what's really striking is their audio, using equipment that picks up the often inaudible. We hear a female moan and a female giggle, and it is genuinely creepy.
The second half of the episode is set in the Yucatan in Mexico, searching for a cryptid called the Alux that is part of Mayan mythology and modern-day stories. As usual with the monster hunting, they turn up noting ("Alux bones" turn out to be goat bones), but this is still of educational value for its exploration of foreign mythology and culture.
Les êtres chers (2015)
Addressing family depression
Maxim Gaudette, who starred in Canada's astounding film of 2010, Incendies, appears this time in the Quebecois drama Our Loved Ones, which was also nominated for Best Motion Picture at the Canadian Screen Awards. Our Loved Ones is a slightly different offering, and will not appeal to every taste. It is very slow moving, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and is competent in its writing, acting and directing, though not breathtakingly imaginative.
Our Loved Ones is a story of depression in a family, with David and his family coping with the death of a father, which he is told only later was actually a suicide. He inherits his dad's tools and finds an unusual career, making marionettes, which he soon shares with his own family, including daughter Laurence. Depression may run in the family, as David also kills himself. It's a bit perplexing why, as he seems to have made a good life for himself (indeed, there's little conflict in the film for its first 40 minutes). But I think, the lack of explanation was entirely intentional. I don't know how memorable Our Loved Ones will be a few years down the road, but it is worth checking out.
Arrested Development: A New Start (2013)
Unsurprisingly, a bright spot in the first half of season 4 is Tobias' first episode, A New Start, which I have decided to make the subject of my 400th IMDb review. Tobias has always been a popular character on AD, or at least as close to popular as you can get for a show that was cancelled because no one watched it. The episode starts with Tobias mysteriously appearing in a rocky costume, and more uses of this "anus tart" slur, both of which we see explained during the course of the episode. The rendering of "A New Start" in license plate abbreviation is tragically ludicrous, in the vein Tobias has always fallen in. In fact, in this episode Lindsay confronts him with the truth about this "running joke"- the way he talks is terribly misleading. That doesn't stop him from denying the ambiguous part of being dressed up the Ambiguously Gay Duo later on, though.
As he and his new girlfriend Debrie attempt to profit from Fantastic Four plagiarism, we explore more of his legendary ineptitude leading to bad fortune- constantly getting hit with legal penalties for a big mouth, and having kids grab their photos for free on their cell phones (testimony to the new age in which we live). To culminate by making Tobias a sex offender by way of another big misunderstanding is the coup de grâce.
Season 4 is the most intricately connected season of the series, as we see when it's revealed how closely Tobias' story is tied with Lindsay's- among other things, that he was the one sitting behind her on the plane. And another kicker is that, as we will see, the daughter who he was trying to reach out to will soon join him on that registry.
At the end of the day, A New Start is a good episode by itself- but it is also a piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle that's stronger when held together. So see it all.
Scrambled subplots with an over-easy centre hatches surprisingly well
Of course I realize Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade is an attempt to cash in on a popular film franchise by taking advantage of a major holiday (Easter this time, comparable to the previous 2011 Yuletide special Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas). It's easy to be cynical about the idea, and having a bad cough when I watched this, it hurt to laugh. Yet in spite of myself- I ended up chuckling anyway.
There is some definite cynicism in the hollow Ellie/Peaches subplot, a typical bit about a teenager drifting from family, but that's a tiny part of the short. The bulk draws on the pirate rabbit from Continental Drift returning, seeking revenge for his lost ship. Surprisingly, using a pirate treasure map story to explain the origins of the Easter egg hunt works out well. There is a genuine chuckle in Manny expressing outrage someone would paint and hide an egg, as if it were a heinous criminal act. The Raiders of the Lost Ark parody we get during the egg hunt is a definite highlight. Scrat's latest mishap with his acorn is worth a chuckle too. A thankfully brief, but still entertaining, Easter special is a worthy addition to the list of Ice Age shorts.
Ever since first reading about it, I've always wished I could see Orson Welles' stage version of Macbeth, set in the 19th century Caribbean, with Voodoo priestesses as the witches and an all-black cast. I've wished that that was the vision Welles had brought to the screen, and saved "Voodoo Macbeth" for generations to see. I also would have wanted a black actor to play Macbeth rather than Welles in blackface, which is how he made his film of Othello. However, in terms of what we do have, having a Welles film of Macbeth is better than none at all, and he was a skilled actor and director, making his take on Shakespeare's masterpiece irresistible to see.
Even removing the Voodoo and Caribbean and returning to Medieval Scotland, Welles creates a rich atmosphere. The first scene is arguably the best of the whole film; he has moved "Double, double, toil and trouble" to the opening and given it a lot of thunder, lightening and rain. The rest isn't as good, but still boasts costumes and sets that match the moody direction, and Welles is an able Macbeth. The way he moves around pieces of the story works in some ways but not in others. Not my favourite adaptation of The Scottish Play, but still a must-see.
A bloody yet bloodless Macbeth
This version of Macbeth has plenty of violent scenes, yet the performances themselves lack blood- by which I mean, passion and feeling. This is a version of Macbeth so lacking on enthusiasm or effort that it's puzzling as to why it was made and why the filmmakers thought it was necessary. The lack of imagination is first apparent on our first look at the witches, who are just... women. Their appearance is meant to be otherworldly (indeed, in the play they have beards, though I've yet to see a production of Macbeth that keeps that detail), but in this film they're anything but. And they mutter lines, hailing Macbeth, that should be said with a little fire.
That's just a taste of what Michael Fassbender gives us as Macbeth. He's learned his lines, but apparently saw no need to act them out, speaking monotonously and saying things that don't match what we see. He refers to his hair unseated and his heart pounding- they're not. He tells Duncan he will be joyful while frowning. When debating whether to kill Duncan, he shows not a trace of fear or conflict. After Duncan's death, he says he wishes for death, but no one would believe him. Upon seeing Banquo's ghost, he says he is white with fear- he's not. Later, he calls a servant cream-faced- but he's not.
Marion Cotillard does much better as Lady Macbeth. When we first see her reading the letter, her voice, unlike Fassbender's, actually varies accordingly to what she is reading. But there's not enough of her in the film, and the other characters lack any interesting traits. Our spirits who mislead Macbeth are supposed to be a severed head and a bloody fetus, but here they're just ordinary people. And plenty of the action lacks imagination as well- showing Duncan's murder, and having Duncan wake up just before, is ripped off from Roman Polanski's 1971 film. See Polanski's version instead- because a monotone Macbeth equals a botched Bard.
House of Cards: Chapter 42 (2016)
Continuing the descent into silliness...
House of Cards was at its very best in the first two seasons, when Underwood was climbing to the top and everything followed that cohesive story. Where it was going to go once he reached this climactic point, was, and still is, a bit of a dilemma. It's one the British House of Cards faced to a certain extent; The Final Cut was nowhere near as interesting as the original House of Cards miniseries.
Season 3 stumbled with soap opera-like focus on Frank and Claire's suddenly troubled marriage. Three episodes into season 4, there's little promise for the new season. There's more of the same old- new embarrassing photos emerge and reemerge, and Underwood's team spins into damage control. Claire is behind it now, and what we get in the climax of the episode is that she seriously wants onto the ticket. You can imagine how ridiculous it would look if a presidential candidate seriously ran with his wife as a running candidate, but then, House of Cards has little connect to reality any more, if it had much to begin with. Here's hoping the season improves...
Although I always thought The Sweet Hereafter (1997) was an absolute masterpiece, I never had the opportunity to see a film Atom Egoyan made since it. Remember (2015) is his latest effort, and it's a strong film, among the best of the year. Certainly it's worthy of its nomination for Best Motion Picture at the Canadian Screen Awards, up against the year's great film, Room.
Remember tells the story of Holocaust survivors Zev Gutman and Max Rosenbaum (Christopher Plummer and the supremely talented Martin Landau). We have had a lot of films about elderly Holocaust survivors over the years, and it won't be long before we can no longer have films about survivors set in the present, so the opportunity is now to explore new themes. This one has what seems like a basic revenge story- Zev has vowed to take revenge on a Nazi officer, believed to have immigrated to North America under the name Rudy Kurlander. He tracks down four Rudy Kurlanders in the US and Canada, and points a gun at each to seek the true identity of the Nazi officer.
From a storytelling point of view, it is a little artificial that he has to see all four before he finds the answer to the mystery. If the first guy had been the right man, we would have had a short film. Also, it seems like a coincidence all four were involved in the Holocaust or World War II- not one of them was a civilian who wasn't in a camp? Still, the film builds up its intense atmosphere, aided by a fitting score and adept acting and pacing. Even if the Holocaust was the worst crime in history, whether it justifies murder in revenge is a moral dilemma, and one may wonder if Zev will or should go through with it. The twist at the end is shocking and unexpected. It leaves Remember with a memorable impact.
Ralph Fiennes is the dragon, again
Finally, after over 50 film versions of Hamlet, someone ventures into new Shakespearean territory, bringing the Bard's last tragedy, Coriolanus, to the big screen for the first time. Some may complain it's a lesser work- as if they want more of the same, and showing the audacity to pan Shakespeare- and specifically the play TS Eliot considered the Man from Stratford's greatest! In truth, Coriolanus is a perfect play for times of political turmoil, probably simpler than Hamlet but rich in its conflict, with international war tied up in domestic politics. We have a protagonist who heroically serves his country, but his tragic flaw is his anti-social nature and smugness that makes him unpopular at home.
We can see the decision was made to recast the play, based in ancient Rome, to the modern era. It's a device we've seen before with Romeo and Juliet (1996) and Hamlet (2000), and while it would seem appropriate to place the first Coriolanus film in its own time, the story translates to an age of media and modern warfare relatively well. Slate magazine considered the argument that placing Coriolanus in a new setting and making it work proves it is Shakespeare's greatest play. However, the magazine rejected that argument, noting Hamlet has been placed in every setting imaginable. Certainly, Macbeth as well has been adaptable- Orson Welles transported it to the 19th century Caribbean, while Akira Kurosawa brought it to feudal Japan. While this film may not prove Coriolanus is the best of Shakespeare's plays, it nevertheless reflects that the neglected play is brilliant.
Fiennes' film has a strong look and helps the viewer feel some of the intense conflict, though it's not a great film. Reading the play for the first time this week, I felt the politics were a lot more gripping than what was brought to the film. Ideally, Fiennes' film might encourage other filmmakers to make their attempts at more successfully adapting Coriolanus, or bring it back to its original setting. Alas, the poor box office performance of this film will likely discourage that- but I still salute Fiennes for his effort.
The Nightcomers (1971)
Interesting psychological thriller, not quite right as a prequel
Ten years after the masterpiece The Innocents debuted, The Nightcomers arrives as a prequel, exploring the characters of Quint and Jessel, who may or may not be ghosts in The Innocents and its source, The Turn of the Screw. With the original, you had a brilliant puzzle of what may be a ghost story, but which may also be a look at a sexually repressed young governess who imagines ghosts, and in attempting to destroy them, destroys the children she was charged with protecting. In making a prequel, you're bound to lose a layer- if the ghosts aren't real, the prequel can't be a ghost story too.
Instead, The Nightcomers gradually builds itself up as pure psychological horror, and one that initially seems true to the psychology of Flora and Myles. Quint is the scoundrel we heard he was, a man who doesn't believe in heaven or hell, who practices BDSM with Ms. Jessel and plays with Voodoo dolls with the children, the last of which earns Mrs. Grose's contempt. Flora and Miles gleefully watch and imitate the behaviour of their idols, coming close to incest. They appear to be older than in The Innocents. We learn Ms. Jessel's mother killed herself when she became widowed, which matches what we know is Ms. Jessel's fate.
So, given the relative faithfulness to the original characters' psychology, it's surprising that the film tinkers with the end, turning Jessel and Quint's deaths into murder by the children. Jessel's death looks like what it was supposed to be, a drowning, but that was supposed to happen after Quint's death. And there's no way Quint with an arrow in his head is going to be mistaken for a broken neck after slipping on ice. We know Flora and Miles were never fully innocents, but turning them into full-fledged murderers before the new governess arrives on the scene seems to be a bit too much, too fast. Still, The Nightcomers, by itself, is an interesting story.