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Weapons That Made Britain (2004)
A Must See for the Medieval Enthusiast
Fight Coordinator/Weapons Trainer Mike Loades presents a mini-series that carefully examines the developments in Medieval warfare and how they were applied in Britain. Swords, bows, lances, shields and armor are all examined in turn. Loades typically takes a group of novices and trains them in the handling and tactical use of these weapons. In addition he discuses these items within the context of historical events. Fans of action/fantasy cinema should watch this series as it makes clear just how brutal and tiring Medieval warfare was. Just like hockey players these warriors would have had to work in shifts. Medieval Warfare would appear to be anaerobic in nature. It should also dispel another myth, that the European knights and foot soldiers were crudely and less rigorously trained, less skilled than their Asian cousins. My criticisms of the mini-series are two-fold. Firstly, Loades does perpetuate the "longbow" myth propagated by Victorian England. My readings have suggested to me that there was no such thing as the "longbow" per se. There were other bows in use on the European Continent of more sophisticated, composite design and significantly more powerful than the so-called "longbow". (not including the much maligned crossbow) English archery was effective because Edward I began employing his archers much like the Welsh did, in much large numbers for a shock of arrows - almost like artillery. My second complaint is that five episodes is just not enough. I want more! Ah well... too much of a good thing perhaps. I plan to teach history in High School and I will definitely use this series as a resource.
Red Dead Revolver (2004)
Spaghetti Western Fantasies come to life
As a kid Sergio Leone's films were a staple part of my viewing. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, For a Few Dollars More and Fistfull of dollars were what Westerns were all about for me. Red Dead Revolver is kind of like an interactive Spaghetti Western. The game is homage to Leone, Eastwood and the music of Ennio Morricone. One of the great aspects of the game is that you really do have to seek cover in order survive, unlike many first person shooters where you just run, shoot and kill. A friend of mine thought it was stupid that so many of the enemies in the game actually run in up close to fire at you, but what he is forgetting is that pistols at that time were not as accurate as the handguns of today. The weapons do reflect a real degree of accuracy as far as range and damage is concerned. I don't know if Rock Star made a sequel but they should - much more enjoyable than the GTA series.
One of the common complaints in this country is that we tend to make oblique films, weird films, deliberately shocking films and boring drawing room pieces. I have often felt that Canadians should make more accessible films in addition to our trademark films sensitively or insensitively tackling subjects about necrophilia, auto-erotica, sexual abuse, magical lesbians, suicidal gay males and the assorted, at times inexplicably disturbing subject matter of David Cronenberg. Unfortunately, when Canadians try to make films that reach a broader audience what we often get are films like "Men with Brooms" that try too hard to be an accessible, popular 'Canadian' film. We also get films like "Thralls" that try hard to be American, but fail horrifically. A film like "Thralls" always feels like a low grade Canadian film. Low grade American films feel different, less amateurish even. If you are tempted to watch this for some of the babes listed in the cast (like Leah Cairns, who I hope becomes part of the regular Battlestar Galactica cast as Racetrack)take a chance on something else they have been in, chances are it will be more worth your while.
A very Continental film *** POTENTIAL SPOILERS ***
If you haven't seen the film it might be best to skip this review. FairWarning. - - - Wes Anderson's fourth film moves further into the surreality that one usually finds in Continental Europe. "The Life Aquatic feels like a French film, with its surreal qualities and deliberate use of artifice. Some people have found the film too fantastical to take seriously, that it is just too disjointed. A friend of mine and I discussed this and he stated something that I have come to agree with - the film is actually Steve Zissou's dream. Zissou is a man in the midst of mid-life crisis wrestling with his regrets, unfulfilled desires, insecurities and adolescent fantasies. Things listed in IMDb as continuity errors are more readily explained this way. Guns with never-ending ammo. Glocks that become Barettas. Filipino pirates off the coast of Africa. Zissou's sub-conscience is trying to sort things out and in a dream things follow a logic all its own. Two other things speak to me about the dream theory. 1. Zissou is the only one to get swamp leeches in his wet suit - a very dream like quality that could be explained as the bad stuff only happens to him. 2. Ned is on board the ship when they board it after the walking sequence during the credits. You can see his silhouette against the sky in his pilots uniform, smoking a pipe. Everything works out in the end and even the dead have returned. Anderson's soundtrack for this film continues a tradition of excellence.
Made in Canada (1998)
Perhaps Canada's best show to date
I always liked Rick Mercer, he was my favourite cast member of "This Hour has 22 Minutes" and that show really went to pot when he left. CBC should look at "Made in Canada" and aspire to make more shows of this calibre. The whole cast was brilliant, but Leah Pinsent was especially good in my opinion. And for those wondering why mainstream television (Hollywood or not) cannot write anything as brilliant as this show has been - you need to pay much closer attention, the answer is contained within.
Empire Records (1995)
High Fidelity was a great film
As a one time record store employee (Sam the Record Man in downtown Vancouver for those of you who were wondering) one of the many things I loved about "High Fidelity" was that people stopped comparing my store to "Empire Records". "Emp. Rec" was dumb, even by teen movie standards. And the soundtrack? This movie was obviously made by people who hate music.
Not for sufferers of ADD...
... which is fine by me. Missed this in the theatres and was kicking myself for it. Finanlyy got around to renting "Narc" and am glad I did. The soundtrack, the pacing, the cinematography, the quality of the performances... would have made my top five of 2002 had I seen it. Nothing flash about this film and I love that. Jason Patrick and Ray Liotta are two of the most underused and under appreciated actors in the USA. BTW, interesting to note that Tom Cruise provided some of the backing for this film as executive producer. Apparently it is one of the reason he does those crappy commercial films, so he assist in the making of better ones. Mind you, that was all second hand - I did not read/see the interview myself.
Hard Core Logo (1996)
I love "Hard Core Logo", a fine black comedy. Hugh Dillon, Callum Keith Rennie, John Pyper-Ferguson, Bernie Coulson, and Julian Richings as Bucky Haight all did a great job portraying an aging band that never lived up to it's own ambitions. Frankly, I am so tired of "This is Spinal Tap", a film I liked the first two times I saw it. It wore thin on me all too quickly. I still love HCL, and that has to be because it is based on Michael Turner's book. Turner's own experiences in the Hard Rock Miners informed his writing and that legitimacy was kept in tact in the film. Also, from a Canadian point of view, I liked it because it was a straight up story and a straight up film. Far too often it seems that Canadian filmmakers feel that they have to go out of their way to make odd/disturbing films that just come across as pretentious and 'faux-Euro', or make films designed to pander to the lowest common denominator of the Hollywood market. MacDonald made his own film for himself and I for one am grateful.
28 Days Later... (2002)
Better fare than what's been coming out of North America
This is a film for people who do know that zombie and apocalyptic genres, for people who have seen Romero's work and "The Omega Man". Sure, there are some obvious things that you know are coming, but (to me at any rate) they didn't seem overly formulaic - not in the script-by-a-committee-of-movie-exec sort of way. This felt very much like one man's film.
As for use of digital rather than film, at first I was a bit put off but it did grow on me. I actually rather thought it enhanced the apocalyptic feel. I am sick of slick pictures that play down to its audience - that really are nothing more than milk machines for morons. Hollywood could never have made this film, could have affected the gloom and darkness in quite the same way that the Brits do. Look at "Threads" and compare it to "The Day After" to get an idea of what I am talking about. At any rate the look of the film really does work for me. Is it a masterpiece? No. Does it make my all time favourites list? No. But it wasn't bad Friday night fare. See it on a cheap night or a rep. cinema.
I Love a Man in Uniform (1993)
A Great Canadian Secret
As far as Canadian films go, this isn't bad. Canadian cinema is usually poorly regarded with Canada, and not without reason mind you, but there some great examples of descent film making in this country. Unfortunately, most Canadians are ignorant to those examples and "ILaMiU" is no exception.
I haven't seen it since its premier night in Vancouver, but I have never forgotten about it either. Sure its production standards probably don't meet those of Hollywood or the UK and Continental Europe's, (it looked to be shot on high resolution video from what I remember) but that is just one aspect that shouldn't rule out this film entirely. It is more sophisticated than the many films released before it, yet it doesn't ring with the pretentions of an Egoyan film. It is a solid, descent, and reasonably straightforward character study. It also has the highly undervalued, under-used, and very beautiful Brigette Bako. "ILaMiU" is worth checking out