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Ratings Scale:                             Brutal: * Kinda Sucked: ** Average: *** Loved It: **** Perfection: *****

Blue Valentine (Blu-Ray) - Nov 30, 2012

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Main Stars: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman, Mike Vogel

Rating: ****

Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) are a married, blue collar couple with a young daughter. They spend their days going through the motions and wondering how their lives ended up where it did. What happened to the people they used to be? What happened to the heady days when they fell in love? One night, against Cindy's wishes they drop the kid off at the grandparents and get a room at a tacky theme hotel hoping to rekindle the spark that once existed between them. Consider this the perfect anti-chick flick. Frankly I think all women should be strapped to a chair with their eyes pulled open ala Clockwork Orange and forced to watch this movie. This is what happens when the romance is over - when the passionate embraces fade and when looks of affection are replaced with looks of loathing. A harsh antidote to the cloyingly fake, escapist crap that dominates the romance genre, this is really a film of two parts. The details of their meeting and falling in love shown in flashbacks contrasting with the cold, sterile reality of the present. Gosling and Williams are excellent and their portrayals authentic. So authentic that I found myself noticeably uncomfortable as some scenes hit close to home. A thoroughly depressing and raw depiction of the fragility of relationships.

Nosferatu (Laserdisc) - Oct 31, 2012

Director: F.W. Murnau

Main Stars: Max Schreck, Greta Schroder, Ruth Landshoff

Rating: ****

A man is hired by a mysterious person to travel to far away Transylvania to meet with a Count Orlok and arrange for him to buy some nearby property. Along the way he meets with locals who recoil in horror as he tells them his destination. Their warnings fall on deaf ears however as he refuses to believe their silly superstitions. Just in time for Halloween I decided to spin up what is generally considered the origin of horror movies. I have never seen it in it's entirety before, having only seen the usual snippets which have made their way into pop culture. It blows my mind that this film was made 90 years ago and even more amazing is that I find Max Schrek's portrayal to easily be the creepiest vampire of all time. Obviously a silent film, I got a kick out of seeing how the actors of that era would use their body language to portray the story and make up for the lack of dialog. The laserdisc (and presumably the various DVD releases) had some nice bonus features that detailed the history of the film and highlighted some of the paintings which inspired the sets. If silent films aren't your thing I'd recommend seeing Werner Herzog's 1979 version which for the most part is a scene for scene remake. And if you enjoy silent films then I also recommend seeing 1932's Vampyr. While not as strong a story, I found it epitomized gothic horror with it's striking visuals.

Man On Wire (Blu-Ray) - Sep 20, 2012

Director: James Marsh

Main Stars: Philippe Petit (as himself)

Rating: *****

As a young man Philippe learned the art of walking on a tightrope. One day while waiting in a Dentist's office in Paris he comes across a magazine article detailing the building of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and makes it his goal to walk between them. On August 7, 1974 despite all odds, he manages to pull off what's become known as the artistic crime of the century. I can't remember how I heard about this and at first I thought it was a joke. Then I found out that this really happened. Consisting of a mix of interviews with the people involved, actual footage, and dramatic recreations we see his passion for his art, his previous triumphs, the people who helped him, and finally the act itself. Obviously it's an unsettling experience watching the beginning of the film as we see them being constructed. Seeing the support beams and girders that would become forever engrained into our minds as a twisted mess that horrible day. But despite being made in 2008, the film doesn't mention their fate and leaves the viewer to their own remembrances. Instead the director focuses on the daring and madness of the feat itself. At it's conclusion, you are left in awe at the achievement of this one man who refused to quit on realizing his dream. A deeply profound and moving experience to behold.

The Dead Girl (DVD) - Aug 2, 2012

Director: Karen Moncrieff

Main Stars: Brittany Murphy, Toni Collette, Giovanni Ribisi, James Franco, Rose Byrne, Piper Laurie

Rating: ****

Out mindlessly wandering to momentarily escape her abusive, invalid mother a woman comes across the dead and battered body of a young hooker (Murphy) named Krista. Numerous lives soon intersect and are explored as we witness the final days of the dead girl. I tend to enjoy movies that contain multiple stories that overlap and come together in unexpected ways. Sometimes they are great (Short Cuts) and sometimes they are clichéd and boring (New Years Eve). With believable performances and a dark subject matter, this one falls in the great camp despite it being very depressing. The film focuses on five different women trapped in unhappy lives. They don't know each other, but the discovery of the body sets in motion events which compels them to confront their unhappiness and enable change for the better. The final story focuses on the last day of Krista's life. Like the other women we see her struggle to break out of her miserable existence, but unlike the others she sadly cannot escape her fate. Knowing what awaits her makes it all the more upsetting to watch. The film ends with a long still shot of Brittany Murphy and it gave me chills. Like the woman on screen that she portrayed, she couldn't escape her own tragic fate and would die within a few years of this being released.

1941 (Laserdisc) - Jul 9, 2012

Director: Steven Spielberg

Main Stars: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Christopher Lee, John Candy, Nancy Allen, Joe Flaherty

Rating: ***

Days after the invasion of Pearl Harbor, Californians are in a state of hysteria and panic as they are sure to be attacked at any moment. But as events unfold it turns out that they are their own worst enemy. Being a big fan of Belushi I'm somewhat surprised I hadn't seen this before. While he only has a supporting role, as usual he steals the show. Generally considered to be Spielberg's worst effort, a lot of the negativity comes from the fact that when released the studio butchered the film to trim it down to under two hours (the version I watched is the director's cut which clocks in at two and half hours). I found the movie overall to be very amusing. Not hilarious - but consistently amusing. The cast is terrific and it feels somewhat like watching a Saturday Night Live/SCTV reunion. But most interesting to watch were the manic fight scenes and seeing the genesis of style that would be fully realized in Raiders of the Lost Ark a few years later. It may not be perfect, but it's pretty entertaining and it perfectly embodies the late 70's to early 80's era of Hollywood filmmaking that I adore.

Prometheus (Theatre)(3D) - Jun 10, 2012

Director: Ridley Scott

Main Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce

Rating: ****

Ridley Scott created my two favourite movies of all time - Alien and Blade Runner. So hearing that he was returning to the science fiction genre was exciting. Finding out he was doing a prequel of sorts to Alien sent shivers of anticipation down my spine. While not perfect, it is an excellent film nonetheless. I won't talk about the film directly as it would simply contain too many spoilers. Visually it is terrific and it looked great in 3D. It has a sharpness and unique look that I haven't seen before. In terms of the characters, Noomi Rapace is a worthy successor to Sigourney Weaver; but the standout performance comes from Fassbender as the android. Consider him a more cultured but equally creepy version of Ash from Alien. The musical score is also top notch. So that leaves the story. Anyone not familiar with Alien will probably be hopelessly lost, but still find it enjoyable. Those in the know however will be thrilled with how everything gets tied together. About the only downsides were that I thought a couple of the characters were extraneous. It would have been better if Scott had focused more on some of the others, notably the ship captain. There was also a subplot which while consistent with the previous films seemed awkward and out of place - however it did end up in an absolutely horrifying and cringe worthy scene involving some medical equipment. For any fan of Alien or Ridley Scott, this is simply a must see film.

Dark Shadows (Theatre) - May 21, 2012

Director: Tim Burton

Main Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote

Rating: **

In the 1700's Barnabas Collins (Depp) departs England for America and ends up the heir to a fishing empire. Growing up in the cavernous family mansion he spurns the advances of the maid (Green) as his love is for another woman (Heathcote). Unbeknownst to him, the maid is also a witch and casts a curse upon him turning him into a vampire and enchanting his beloved causing her to leap off a cliff to her doom. When he again spurns her advances she turns the town against him and is imprisoned in a coffin where he rests for over 200 years. Then one day he is unearthed and discovers that it is now the year 1972. I love Tim Burton. I think he's a visual genius and at times (Mars Attacks) has shown that he has a penchant for satire. But lately he's also become lazy and predictable. How many times has Depp and Burton's wife Carter been in his movies (eight) - and of course always scored by Danny Elfman. This one starts out great and has all the makings of a terrific gothic horror film. But then he meanders into comedy by portraying Depp as a fish out of water vampire set in the counter culture of the early 70's. It's one thing to change the tone, but at least make it consistent after changing it. Here we have horror one moment, light heartedness the next, and then slapstick humour. The mixture doesn't work. And for some reason Burton decides to add an unsettling mix of perviness - teenage masturbation, blow jobs, smelling panties and simulated sex? What will his next movie be? Willy Wonka and the dildo factory? It was bizarre. This is a mess through and through and while a visual treat with a great cast (Green was mesmerizing) it is probably one of both Depp and Burton's worst efforts.

Vertigo (Laserdisc) - May 12, 2012

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Main Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

Rating: ****

Detective John Ferguson (Stewart) suffers from acrophobia, a fear of heights that leads to him resigning from the force. Not long into his retirement he is approached by an old friend (Helmore) who asks him to investigate his wife's strange behavior. He soon falls in love with her which sets up a shocking series of events. I've been on a bit of a Hitchcock kick of late, having recently watched the three films that are generally considered his finest - Psycho, North by Northwest (NBNW), and Vertigo. Unlike NBNW, Vertigo doesn't come off quite as dated and I enjoyed it almost as much as Psycho. Not knowing the story I was kept in suspense until the surprise twist. And one key scene shocked the hell out of me - my mouth was wide open in disbelief. Visually it looks great with beautiful locations and the Vertigo effect which was revolutionary for its time looks great even today. Sadly, unlike the other two films, this masterpiece isn't available on Blu-ray. The influence Hitchcock's films in general, and Vertigo in particular, has had on future movies and directors is well known - and well deserved.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (Blu-Ray) - Apr 6, 2012

Director: Niels Arden Opley, Daniel Alredson

Main Stars: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Georgi Staykov

Rating: *****

So I'm in Best Buy and after hearing all the buzz about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I grab the US release. Then I notice the original Swedish Extended Edition trilogy. Which one to get? In the end I grabbed the Swedish version as the original is almost always the better film and I figured I'd get in touch with my supposed ancestry. Based on a series of novels, the movies chronicle the relationship between an investigative journalist (Nyqvist) and a messed up, social outcast (Rapace) as they end up working together to solve the mystery of a missing heiress. The first film establishes the characters while the second sets up the final film which is probably the best of the three. When they say Extended, they really mean Extended. Each entry is presented in two parts and the entire package clocks in at almost 10 hours. That's probably my only criticism. You'll be fully into the story and when the first part finishes you realize it's midnight and need to go to bed - and that kills the momentum of things. I'd recommend setting aside enough time to watch each entry in it's 2-part entirety in one sitting. So what did I think? It's a testament to how great this series is that I was willing to watch almost 10 hours of Swedish dialog with English subtitles and when it was all over feel nothing but a profound sense of disappointment that it had finished and I was left wanting more. Highly recommended.

Contagion (Blu-Ray) - Mar 10, 2012

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Main Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Kate Winslet

Rating: **

Beth (Paltrow) returns from a business trip in Hong Kong and soon falls ill. Within hours she is dead and doctors don't know why. Similar mysterious deaths start being reported all over the world and it soon becomes apparent that all of humanity is in danger. I love end of the world type movies. No other genre holds as much of an attraction for me. So I was looking forward to this when it came out. In addition to the subject matter Kate Winslet is one of my favorite actresses. In Contagion, events unfold quickly and are presented in a cool and matter of fact manner. There's no time for melodrama or rallying speeches. This makes the first half of the film believable and unnerving. The cast is all top notch and make the most of the limited screen time they get with the film jumping back and forth between people, cities, and nations. Unfortunately the ending absolutely wrecked things for me. Essentially the moral of this film is that when the shit hits the fan trust in the government and trust in science and everything will work out fine. Oh and despite being a global pandemic, only the US can save the day because everyone else is incompetent. If you can accept those overriding themes then you might find it enjoyable. But I can't.

Shutter Island (Blu-Ray) - Feb 4, 2012

Director: Martin Scorsese

Main Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams

Rating: * or *****

Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner (Ruffalo) are federal marshals sent to a prison island to help track down an escaped patient. Upon arriving they find the staff uncooperative and acting as strange as the mental patients they oversee. When a storm hits and strands them there they are forced to uncover the truth of this strange place. Ok, so what's with the rating indecision? Quite simply this was the most frustrating film I can remember seeing. I was literally yelling at the screen at the end of the movie. For some reason this was marketed as a horror movie when in fact it's what I like to call a mind f**k film - think Memento or Inception. However at least I didn't feel cheated watching them. Without giving anything away, I got suckered into the story and kept waiting for the twist that I knew was coming. When that didn't happen I was deflated and annoyed. Of course there is a twist - just not the one I so badly wanted to happen. Is this a bad film? No. The cast is stellar and the director legendary. The story is gripping and obviously engaging. Despite a long runtime I felt like the time flew by watching it. But if you get drawn into the story as I did you will find the ending absolutely, completely unsatisfying - although reasonable. Which makes it even more frustrating.

Underworld Awakening (Theatre) (3D) - Jan 22, 2012

Director: Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein

Main Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Early, India Eisley, Charles Dance

Rating: ****

Selene finds herself battling to save her life during the human cleansing of the Vampires and Lycans. On her way to meet Michael, her lover and hybrid Lycan, and escape the city she is attacked and loses consciousness. Twelve years later she awakes in a cryogenic chamber and discovers that the humans have all but succeeded in eradicating them. Teaming up with a rogue cop and a renegade vampire she struggles to protect a mysterious little girl from the hordes of Lycans that are after her. Let's face it, you either like the Underworld series or you don't. I am one of those that do. Hell, I even liked the much maligned third entry. These aren't deep, thought provoking films, but rather mindless action starring an actress who looks really, really, good in a tight leather bodysuit. The first thing that struck me after a few minutes was that this installment is much more violent and I found myself reveling in the bloody carnage. And while the directors are new to the series they thankfully keep they same blue-gray colour palette as before. This was the first Underworld shot in 3D and while not groundbreaking it was at least effective. About the only thing that bugged me was that some of the CGI looked a bit suspect. Still, the movie did what it was designed to do and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout it's 89 minute runtime. Of course there's the inevitable send-up for the next film and I for one can't wait.

I Want You (Laserdisc) - Jan 3, 2012

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Main Stars: Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola, Luka Petrusic, Labina Mitevska, Ben Daniels

Rating: ****

Helen (Weisz) is a hairdresser in an unsatisfying relationship with a local DJ (Daniels). She soon befriends an odd mute boy who spends his time secretly recording other people's conversations and intimate moments. Then her world is turned upside down when a lover from her past (Nivola) turns up in town wanting to reconnect after being away for 9 years. I picked this up as part of my hobby of collecting late release Japanese titles. I didn't know anything about the movie so was unsure of what to expect. Sometimes those movies are the most enjoyable and this one was a welcome break from the norm. English director Winterbottom is known for creating challenging and interesting films and such is the case here. In hindsight, the story isn't exceptional and is pretty straightforward. But it's the journey that is key. In typical European style, things take a while to develop but the viewer's attention is kept glued to the screen by beautiful, dreamlike imagery, honest performances, and a terrific soundtrack. Unfortunately, this is not available in North America on DVD. However, those with region free players wanting something different would do well to obtain it from overseas.