Blu-Ray Review: Daughters of the Dust

Director: Julie Dash
Screenplay: Julie Dash
Starring: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbarao, Adisa Anderson, Trula Hoosier
Country: UK, USA
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘d heard the title Daughters of the Dust crop up a couple of times not long before the BFI announced its re-release on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK. Everybody’s favourite source of film lists, Taste of Cinema, included it on their ’10 Totally Awesome 1990s Movies You May Have Missed’ lineup in May, which caught my attention. Plus I’d heard mention of it when Beyonce’s acclaimed Lemonade film/album came out last year. So, although descriptions of the film didn’t make it sound like my typical cup-of-tea, I was eager to give the film a look and what better way than in a shiny new Blu-Ray edition, spruced up by the BFI.

There’s not much of a story to describe as I typically like to do in my second paragraph. Some opening text explains how in South Carolina’s Sea Islands, certain communities of former west-African slaves lived alone, away from the rest of American society and adopted many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions. The film is set in 1902 and sees members of the Gullah community on the islands struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and folklore while preparing for a migration to the mainland, even further from their roots.

This struggle takes place with little on screen incidence. A couple of tragedies and scandals have struck the community, but these have happened in the past and are referred to, but never shown. We do however see mystical visions of the future as a child possibly born from her mother’s rape narrates and fleetingly visits the film’s scenes. A couple of former islanders and their friend who come to visit from the mainland also offer some unrest to proceedings and remind the community and the audience how the two worlds differ.

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Blu-Ray Review: From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years

Director: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Writers: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Starring: Shahid Ahmed, Rich Alpin, Brian Bagnall
Country: UK
Running Time: 152 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: E

A year or so ago I reviewed a crowd-funded documentary about the birth and growth of the British video games industry, called From Bedrooms to Billions. I was impressed by the film, which was much more than the fluffy nostalgia piece I expected. So when I heard they were releasing a follow up, focussing on the Commodore Amiga, I was eager to get a copy to review. It wasn’t only the quality of the previous film that attracted me to From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years though. Like a lot of Brits around my age, my introduction to video games didn’t come in the form of the Nintendo or Sega consoles. These tended to come out a lot later in the UK and weren’t the be all and end all that they were in the US. We had an alternative, and that was the Commodore Amiga. I had an Acorn Electron computer first, but the games on this were very basic and I was very young. Our family replacement to this was the Amiga 500 though and it opened the floodgates to video gaming for me. The graphics were great, many of the games fantastic and it was modelled on a PC in design, so was more flexible than a pure games console in terms of offering word processor or paint programs etc. I loved it and the computer/console has long held a special place in my heart.

The documentary opens by describing the early history of home video game consoles, particularly those offered by Atari and Commodore (with some mention of what Apple were doing on the home computing front). Some designers working with these companies at the time grew unhappy with the way things were moving and decided to branch out on their own to form a new company, called Amiga. They had plans for a console/computer that would blow their competitors out of the water in terms of power and capabilities, yet cost a fraction of the price of the expensive PC’s available at the time. They struggled for a time, coming up with brilliant ideas, but not having the backing to pull it off. After a successful demonstration at an important trade show however, Amiga got thrown in the middle of a bidding war between Atari and Commodore. This war was made even more messy by the fact that Atari had been taken over by Jack Tramiel, formerly one of the bosses at Commodore.

After the dust had settled and Commodore became the company to release the first Amiga, the computer was launched. The initial system, the Amiga 1000, came out in 1985 (though not widely released until 1986) and struggled to find a market. 1987’s cheaper model, the Amiga 500, was a huge success though (in Europe at least). The graphics and sound capabilities were groundbreaking, allowing for near arcade-quality games at a fraction of the price. The documentary goes on to praise the importance of some of the machine’s innovations and how they helped shape today’s video games industry.

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MSPIFF Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared

 


 

For all of us who feel Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump is a sentimental, condescending insult to cinema audiences everywhere, and Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not any better, we finally have an entry into ‘the man who fumbles successfully through history’ nano-genre to call our own. Do not let the maladroit title fool you, Felix Herngren’s big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel by Jonas Jonasson, is a Swiss-fucking-watch in the plotting department, and savagely amusing in its come-what-may temperament. It sneaks up on you in similar ways as Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters even as it dazzles you with the sweep of history.

After a tone-setting and highly unfortunate incident involving a sweet kitty, a hungry fox and a bundle of dynamite, one of cinemas strangest heroes, Allan Karlsson, finds himself confined to a retirement home on the eve his centenary year on this little planet called Earth. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (hereafter The 100 Year Old Man) is the delightfully absurd story of our eponymous very senior citizen who does indeed bail out the open glass portal of his tiny room right on the day while the nurses are attempting to count and light all those candles on his marzipan cake, but it is also the story of us as a conflicted and nutty species.

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Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared

[Opening Today in Toronto on a single screen, if you get the chance to make it out to this one, run-don’t-walk]

For all of us who feel Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump is a sentimental, condescending insult to cinema audiences everywhere, and Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not any better, we finally have an entry into ‘the man who fumbles successfully through history’ nano-genre to call our own. Do not let the maladroit title fool you, Felix Herngren’s big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel by Jonas Jonasson, is a Swiss-fucking-watch in the plotting department, and savagely amusing in its come-what-may temperament. It sneaks up on you in similar ways as Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters even as it dazzles you with the sweep of history.

After a tone-setting and highly unfortunate incident involving a sweet kitty, a hungry fox and a bundle of dynamite, one of cinemas strangest heroes, Allan Karlsson, finds himself confined to a retirement home on the eve his centenary year on this little planet called Earth. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (hereafter The 100 Year Old Man) is the delightfully absurd story of our eponymous very senior citizen who does indeed bail out the open glass portal of his tiny room right on the day while the nurses are attempting to count and light all those candles on his marzipan cake, but it is also the story of us as a conflicted and nutty species.

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VIFF 2014 Review: The Liberator

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TheLiberatorStill

I clearly remember my first day of school in Caracas. Mom walked my sister and I, in our uniforms, to the front gate where we lined up with the other boys and girls to recite the anthem while facing the flag and a gigantic statue of Simón Bolívar. It would be months before I sat through my first lesson on the so called “Liberator” but Bolívar was everywhere in the city and his fight for freedom lived in people’s hearts in a way history typically doesn’t. The thought of seeing Bolívar immortalized on screen by none other than Édgar Ramírez was exciting. The Liberator is certainly beautiful but history plays second fiddle here.

Directed by Alberto Arvelo, The Liberator is quite likely the largest production ever mounted by Venezuela. Expansive sets, thousands of extras and lush period costuming are only the surface of this operation which begins by introducing Bolívar, the son of a wealthy Venezuelan family, visiting Spain. Here he meets the man who would later be king as well as his first wife and after a short spurt of happiness, we follow the young Bolívar as he goes from sad widower to angry aristocrat to leader of a revolution. We meet the key players, see some of the important moments but it’s all very perfunctory and The Liberator comes across less as historical bipic and more like historical romance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but a man of Bolívar’s importance deserves more.

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Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

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Director: Rob Minkoff (Flypaper, The Forbidden Kingdo, The Haunted Mansion, Stuart Little, The Lion King)
Writer: Craig Wright, Jay Ward
Producers: Denise Nolan Cascino, Alex Schwartz
Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Allison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Joshua Rush, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Mel Brooks
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 92 min.


I should make it clear right out of the gate that I never watched Rocky and Bullwinkle. I’m familiar with the characters in a superficial pop culture sort of way but as far as the intricacies of that universe and the characters that inhabit it are concerned, it may as well be new material. So in the back of my mind, I knew that Mr. Peabody was a character that stemmed from Rocky and Bullwinkle but beyond that, he’s completely new to me and though it didn’t affect my enjoyment of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, it may have some influence on others who are familiar with the character’s origins.

Mr. Peabody is a genius dog who, upon discovering a baby boy in an alley, fought to adopt him as his son. After all, boys can adopt dogs so why not vice versa? Sadly, not everyone is on board with this idea and on his first day of school, Sherman gets into a little trouble with Penny, a smart girl who doesn’t like her intellect being one-upped by the new kid. It ends in a fight and a social worker threatening to remove Sherman from Mr. Peabody’s care. Peabody devises a plan to woo Penny’s parents, a plan that is going smoothly until Sherman and Penny take a ride in the Way Back Machine and kind of mess up the universe.

On the surface, Mr. Peabody and Sherman is a time travel comedy adventure which borrows heavily from both Back to the Future and, most notably Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Peabody invented the Way Back Machine as a learning tool for Sherman, taking him back to meet important individuals and witness historical events. Obviously, when the kids get a hold of it, things get far more complicated than that what it the messing up of historical moments and all but hovering just under the surface is also a great story of friendship, overcoming our differences and most importantly, the bond of family and the struggles of being a good parent.

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DVD Review: The Assassins

Director: Linshan Zhao
Screenplay: Bin Wang
Starring: Yun-Fat Chow, Yifei Liu, Hiroshi Tamaki, Alec Su
Producer: Lou Yi
Country: China
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: 15


There looks to be a minor resurgence of glossy Chinese martial arts movies of late, at least amongst the companies I receive screeners from. Reign of Assassins kicked things off at the end of February and I quite enjoyed that, then I reviewed Dragon a couple of weeks ago and liked that even more. On Monday 9th September, Universal Pictures are releasing two more similar titles with The Four and The Assassins, the latter of which I got sent over to review recently. With my love of the wuxia genre ever strong, the great Chow Yun Fat taking a starring role and coming from a script by the man behind Hero and House of Flying Daggers, I was sure to be in reliable hands.

The Assassins is set in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, focussing on the legendary warlord and Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Cao Cao (Chow Yun Fat) and the various plots against his rumoured move to become emperor. Gong Ling Ju (Yifei Liu) and Mu Shun (Hiroshi Tamaki) were kidnapped as children and forced to train to be the ultimate assassins when they were of age. Their mission once released was to kill Cao Cao. Gong Ling Ju manages to get inside his estate, working as a handmaiden, but as she gets closer to achieving her goal she has second thoughts about it. Could there be more to the man and his seemingly ruthless tactics than his reputation suggests? She must decide soon though as a number of further plots against him are unveiled, concerning men close to Cao Cao as well as the current emperor. Added to this, the love between the two assassins which has simmered since childhood is threatened as Ling Ju begins to fall for the warlord.

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DVD Review: King Arthur and Medieval Britain

King Arthur and Medieval Britain DVD Cover

Running Time: 300 min
MPAA Rating: NR

I’m a romantic at heart, obvious by my passion for happy endings where the girl and the boy of her dreams end up together, and I’m certain it all started with an early introduction to King Arthur and his queen Lady Guinevere. Over the years I’ve come to realise that my idea of Arthur, Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table are more myth than reality, stories and ideals popularized by early writers which then permeated through society and helped shape ideas of chivalry and courtly romance, but it’s a myth that still fascinates me and thousands of others who spend their time uncovering the history behind the myth.

For decades historians have been studying Arthur, looking for clues of the myth in our history and the results have yielded some fascinating bits of information. When it was announced that the History Channel would be releasing King Arthur and Medieval Britain, I knew I had to see what they had to offer and it’s a mixed bag.

Rather than a five part miniseries exploring Arthur, the set is a collection of five episodes, ranging from sixty to ninety minutes, taken from History Channel archives. There is no new material here but rather a collection of episodes on a similar subject packaged together and the result, though somewhat disappointing at first, does eventually surface as an interesting collection of historical material. The first three episodes “Quest for King Arthur,” “King Arthur: His Life and Legends” and “Ancient Mysteries: Camelot” are all excellent on their own but seen back to back, it’s clear that they all cover very similar material and in some instances, even using the same sources and though the episodes have aired years apart, together they seems a bit redundant.
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Sunday Bookmarks (Double Digest: Feb. 21-Mar. 6)

 

  • The Sitges Festival And Director Angel Sala Charged with EXHIBITION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY for Screening A SERBIAN FILM
    “A Serbian Film is shocking and extreme cinema and designed to be so. But child porn? That is absolutely ridiculous – the scene that tends to get people worked up occurring entirely offscreen with the violence implied and not actually depicted – and I can only hope that the courts recognize it as such and throw the case out.”
  • Process of Blockbuster Sale objected to by Disney, Universal, landlords, U.S. trustee and others
    Other studios that have said in court documents they are owed millions of dollars for products shipped since September include Universal, 20th Century Fox and Summit Entertainment. Several of the objecting parties, including the U.S. trustee, argued in court papers that instead of seeking a buyer, Blockbuster should be forced into Chapter 7, a liquidation of all its assets. That would mark a dramatic end to a company that less than a decade ago dominated the U.S. DVD and VHS rental market.
  • 52 Most Iconic Use of Pop Songs in Movies
    Who hasn’t heard a familiar pop song on the radio only to be transported back to the film that featured it? You probably never even paid a second thought, let alone liked that particular song before it became associated with that cinematic sequence. Yet, it was such a perfect complement to that one moment in the movie that you now know the lyrics by heart. In honor to that fleeting but powerful connection between music and film, we count down 52 of the most iconic pop songs in movies.
  • If There Were an Oscar for Film Titles
    Saul Bass on Film Titles: “My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would have an emotional resonance with it.”
  • A History of Choose Your Own Adventure
    From the start, the books were full of innovative page hacks. Readers would be trapped in the occasional time loop, forced to flip back and forth between two pages. Most memorable was Inside UFO 54-40, a book in which the most desired outcome, discovering the Planet Ultima, could only be achieved by readers who cheated and flipped through the book until they reached the page on their own. At that point, the book congratulated the reader for breaking the rules.
  • Playing With the Truth: Film in 2010
    AIf I were to ask you to imagine the sinking of the Titanic, what images come to your mind? What about Roman gladiator fighting in the Colosseum? What do you picture when you think of John Smith and Pocahontas, or the Zodiac killer who terrorized San Francisco, or the fate of United Flight 93, or the storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day? You see where I’m going with this: for many people, films based on true events serve as the primary influence on the subconscious in remembering or imagining those events.
  • The Best Picture Nominees And Their Video Games Counterparts
    Welcome to our very own version of the Academy Awards, where we’ve paired a recent game with the same dramatic aspirations, themes, or capital D drama as each of the ten best picture nominees. We’ve also picked an Oscar-worthy scene from each, proving once and for all that games belong on the red carpet as much as the next sighing starlet.

 
 

You can now take a look at RowThree’s bookmarks at any time of your choosing simply by clicking the “delicious” button in the upper right of the page. It looks remarkably similar to this:

 

DVD Review: The Festival Collection: Le confessionnal, Nô, La face cachée de la lune

The Festival Collection: Robert Lepage

Continuing with their release of festival favourites, Alliance truly outdo themselves with his collection of films from one of Canada’s leading (yet often overlooked) directors: Robert Lepage.

Known and recognized most widely for his stage work and with only five film titles to his credit, Lepage has often been referred to as a master of the transition, something which has been evident from his first film.

Lepage’s film debut, Le confessionnal (The Confessional), blends two story lines taking place in different time periods which are tied together beautifully to tell the mystery of a family’s past. One of the stories takes place in 1950s Quebec City where Alfred Hitchcock is directing I Confess while the second takes place in the early 90s with a man’s return to Quebec City for his father’s funeral. Aside from being an engaging and intricately built family drama and mystery, the film also captures old Quebec City and frames it against the modern, showing how dramatically the city has changed over the years.

In 1998’s (No), Lepage takes on the referendum. Setting his film during the October Crisis, the film once again strattles two stories. This time we have Michael, an FLQ sympathizer who, through his less than genius friends, ends up in the middle of some heavy FLQ action (which, in a hilarious series of events leads to the blowing up of his appartment) while his girl friend, an actress, is in Japan trying to decide whether to keep the baby (a baby she isn’t sure Michael is the father of) while trying not ruin her dinner with the visiting Canadian ambassador. It’s a witty, smart script full of great comedic moments delivered to perfection by a great group of actors.

Based on his play of the same title, Lepage’s final film La face cachée de la lune (The Far Side of the Moon) is a touching, sometimes comedic story of a man searching for meaning in his life. Starring Lepage himself in the lead role, this is the story of Philippe. Having just failed his Ph.D. dissertation for the second time, working a dead end job selling news paper subscriptions, dealing with the after affects of a failed marriage and the recent death of his mother, Philippe’s world seems to be falling apart until three incidents change his life completely. Set to the backdrop of the USSR/US space race of the 1960s, Lepage’s film is both humerous and poignant as well as beautifully directed-

Though it’s a shame that Lepage has, in the past few years, directed most of his efforts to the stage, his short filmography leaves behind a legacy of great Canadian films, films that manage to be both humerous and heartfelt while never speaking down to their audience.

Rating for the set:

Review: Robin Hood

Robin Hood Movie Poster

Director: Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven)
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Producers: Russell Crowe, Brian Grazer, Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins, Mark Addy, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 140 min.

 

NOTE: Due to a little bit of a scheduling snafu, more than one contributor here simultaneously wrote up thoughts on the film. Rather than delete either of these exquisitely written pieces, and in an effort to keep all discussion confined to one cozy location, we’ve decided to publish both posts into one for potentially conflicting and more interesting opinion as well as additional fodder to wallow in; all in the name of better discussion.


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