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November 2, 2013

Salmon Confidential: Dying Salmon, Destruction of an Ecosystem

About two-thirds of the way through Twyla Roscovich's maddeningly compelling documentary, activist marine biologist Alexandra Morton and a few cohorts with whom she works on the study of the impact of salmon farming on Canadian wild salmon, enter the Real Canadian Superstore at Rupert Street and Grandview Highway, in Vancouver.

The scientific foray into the community involves purchasing all the salmon available at the store, in order that their purchase might be shipped to a laboratory in Europe, and another on the east coast, to test for the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus, and other pathogens.

The result? Suffice to say that anyone who watches that particular sequence in Roscovich's provocative documentary film — available above in today's VanRamblings post — will never eat farmed salmon ever again.

Here's Ian Bailey's Globe and Mail review of Salmon Confidential ...

This feisty and provocative film is spoiling-for-a-fight cinema. Someday there will be a new feature-length documentary reconciling both sides of the debate over the environmental costs of farming salmon in B.C. For now, there's this compelling work which tilts sharply towards the wild-salmon side. Director Twyla Roscovich's visually alluring film spotlights activist biologist Alexandra Morton as she finds B.C. salmon in the wild showing European viruses that Ms. Morton links to fish farms on the coast. Federal and industry representatives declined to sit for interviews, Ms. Roscovich has said. Still, the film serves as a forceful primer on an ongoing debate that some viewers, especially those in urban areas, may now just be catching up on. Let the debate begin after the end credits.

Hey, it's The Globe and Mail — you expected an evisceration of the role of both the provincial and federal governments for their failure to act to protect wild salmon, or the health of Canadians? Not the world we live in.

Alexander Morton, in a scene from Twyla Roscovich's Salmon Confidential

Greg Ursic, in The Ubyssey, says about the film "Salmon Confidential is thoroughly researched, informative and so infuriating that you'll want to throw something at the screen." Jason Coleman, at Star Pulse, agrees with VanRamblings, when he writes ...

You will never eat farmed fish for the rest of your life after viewing this. A must-see, especially for British Columbians known for world-renowned Sockeye, Salmon Confidential is a corker of a doc. It's staggering and eye-opening to see how the business of B.C.'s natural resources and food has been tainted by government and how puppet scientists have given up their objectivity simply to kowtow to (corrupt) governments. This is the GMO monster in a different form and here the monster kills by passing on poisons and infection that are a recipe for extinction of a foundational salmon species. An important film right on par with The Cove impact-wise, Salmon Confidential is an important don't miss it experience for all who care to listen. — 5/5 stars

Meanwhile, while our intransigent senior governments take a do nothing approach to the destruction of B.C.'s wild salmon industry, Norwegian authorities have recently ordered that some two million sea-lice infested farmed salmon in the Vikna district of Nord Trondelag be slaughtered with immediate effect after becoming resistant to chemical treatments against the sea-lice parasite. Actor Ted Danson and Andrew Sharpless, CEO at Oceana, the largest international conservation organization fully dedicated to protecting the oceans, have published a paper stating, and backing up, their contention that "farmed salmon are not a sustainable alternative."

Enough? Whether you're concerned for your health, wish to gain more insight into the "controversy" involving farmed salmon, or are simply interested in watching a provocative, compelling, and incredibly well-made and watchable documentary film, we would encourage you to screen Salmon Confidential — take our word for it, you won't be sorry you did.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:06 AM | Permalink | Environment

December 18, 2010

2010's 25 Best Performances That Won't Win Oscars


With only one week to go til Christmas, and having already recorded the critics' accolades for films released in 2010 (and probable Oscar contenders), we present a New York magazine slide show of those film performances which have not seen laurel wreaths laid at the feet of the film's respective actors and actresses, but whose 'stars' were noteworthy in their stunningly effective portrayal of their characters, for all of us adding to the sum total of our experience inside our local multiplex this past year.

Left to right, top to bottom, in 2009 Chloë Grace Moretz impressed in a small role in 500 Summer Days, but in 2010 she became a star on the rise in two breakout roles, as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, and centuries old vampire, Abby, in Let Me In. Needless to say, the pint-sized Ms. Moretz now has a full Hollywood dance card, with no fewer than five films set for release in 2011, and a sequel to Kick-Ass announced and in the works for 2012.

Dale Dickey, the unheralded centre of Winter's Bone, gives as chilling a performance as the dead-faced mother of a group of Ozark meth heads as you'll see onscreen this year. Dickey is the noir figure of violence and threatening menace, the opposition to Ree Dolly's (Jennifer Lawrence) questing backwoods daughter in search of her father. At every step her performance is mesmerizing, and should be celebrated. If you haven't seen Winter's Bone, it's available on video and this Christmas it's a must-rental.

In one of the year's best movies, Roman Polanksi's dense political thriller The Ghost Writer, Olivia Williams plays the deliciously elegant, dagger-sharp wife of a former British prime minister who seethes at being miles from the action, when in fact she's right in the centre of the political chicanery. Smart yet bitter, Olivia Williams effectively projects the air of a political wife who is committed to her husband in more than expected ways.

The following is our capsule review of Mother, which we reviewed at the 2009 Vancouver International Film Festival ...

Just your average, run-of-the-mill Korean psychosexual thriller, replete with blood and violence, taboo schoolgirl imagery, raucous consensual sex involving a very young girl, and a mother who will go to any ends to rescue her son from the clutches of the judicial system, including ... well, that would be giving it away, wouldn't it? The most audacious film of the year, from director Bong Joon-ho (The Host), Mother offers a taut tale of murder and suspense that moves slowly in its first half, and in its second half grabs you by the lapels, throws you around, and just doesn't let go.

And who is the mother in the film?

Hye-Ja Kim, winner of the Los Angeles Film Critics' Association's Best Actress award. As is the case with most of the films reviewed in this post, Mother is on video ... which, of course, makes it another must-rental.

Ciarán Hinds has starred in everything from Roger Michell's Jane Austen adaptation Persuasion, to Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, and everything in-between, but he's never been more effective than he is in Conor McPherson's Eclipse, in which he brings to life the role of a widower who sees and hears peculiar things in his house. Crossing paths with an author of supernatural fiction (Iben Hjejle), the two set about to create one of the most appealing character-based dramas to be released in 2010.

Katie Jarvis is absolutely riveting in Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, a gritty urban drama that was everything last year's Oscar nominee Precious was not: honest, real, raw. As Claudia Puig wrote in her review of Fish Tank ...

Jarvis' debut performance is a bracingly authentic revelation. She was discovered by filmmakers in a train station as she fought with her boyfriend, and brings just the right blend of feisty forcefulness and awkward tenderness to the part.

Winner of a 2009 Cannes' Jury Prize, Fish Tank is yet another must-rental.

Oliver Platt has been a fixture on the indie movie scene since the early 90s, and has never been better than he is in Nicole Holofcener's brilliant Please Give, playing a fumbling, grasping at intimacy antiques dealer whose sheer ebullience provides the movie with a welcome sense of ease. "We buy from the children of dead people!" he chirps when a customer asks where he and Kate get their inventory, and his wife (Catherine Keener) looks on, mortified. Platt has simply never been better. Here's another must-rental.

Mia Wasikowska is a find, our favourite actress to emerge in the past three years, not least because we were swept away by her performance as Sophie in HBO's very fine shrink series, In Treatment ...

Not too difficult to see why Tim Burton chose the luminous Ms. Wasikowska as the lead in his March 2010 release, Alice in Wonderland. Note should be made, too, that Ms. Wasikowska provide the heart in Lisa Cholodenko's about to be Oscar nominated The Kids Are All Right, a calm voice of sanity amidst the sometimes crazy machinations of the film's adults. Keep an eye on this particular young thespian: Oscars are most definitely in her future.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 8:11 AM | Permalink | Cinema

January 14, 2006

VanRamblings Recommends a Few DVDs For You To Watch



Earlier in the week, VanRamblings committed to acknowledging some of the more recommendable 2005 film releases that have débuted — or are about to début — on DVD. So with that salutary chore in mind, we’ll begin by recommending Curtis Hanson’s (L. A. Confidential) critically well-received, but woefully under-attended, In Her Shoes, a caustic, funny, accomplished, emotionally involving, and almost always surprising (but pleasantly so) comedy-drama, with Oscar calibre performances from Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine. Due out on DVD on Tuesday, January 31st, you’d be wise to reserve it right now.


If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend, you could do a lot worse than The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a real sleeper and one of the most appealing and irrepressibly sunny movie confections of 2005, a coming-of-age fantasy drama that tells a heartening and genuinely moving tale about a consequential summer in the lives of four lifelong best friends who've known each other since birth.


If you’re in the mood for something a bit more gritty, Sundance Audience Award winner Hustle and Flow oughta be right up your alley. A tough, well-acted hip-hop drama, writer-director Craig Brewer’s début film strikes an almost perfect balance between grit and heart, capturing the hard edge of poverty and lack of opportunity but also the ray of hope for a better life. New out on DVD this week.


Another gritty drama — due out on video next week — this time British and starring the new James Bond, Daniel Craig, is the brazeningly entertaining Layer Cake, a stylish and classic gangster saga about the clashing of rival empires, where the only thing worse than the killer before you is the killer waiting behind him. With its propulsive, colour drenched cinematography this corrosive confection emerges as high style, high octane entertainment of the first order.


New on video this week, and perfect entertainment to watch on your home theatre system: Red Eye, surprisingly effective B-grade fare that offers enough playful wit and genuine tension to make it a more than worthwhile DVD rental. Starring up-and-comers Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy, Red Eye’s white-knuckle airborne fun comes from director Wes Craven’s old hand familiarity with the way thrillers tick, predicated on the smallest and most banal of missed connections. Celebrated last summer as a minimalist exercise in maximalist suspense, while pulling every nail biting, edge of your seat trick imaginable, here’s one movie that truly entertains.


And finally, the most recommendable film of 2005, new on video this week: The Constant Gardener, VanRamblings’ pick as the number one movie of 2005. Don’t miss it. You may even want to purchase it. As we said in our 2005 Top 10 Film posting, The Constant Gardener is “far and away the best film of the year, this provocative and assured thriller-romance provided not only the most alluring love story captured on film this past year, this is a masterwork of suspense and political intrigue.”

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:48 AM | Permalink | Video & DVD

September 16, 2004

VanRamblings' Favourite Hollywood Movie of 2004 Now On DVD
A Great Week For New DVD Releases — Lots of Rental Choices



Although Man on Fire is ostensibly a good-vs.-evil thriller about an ex-CIA agent bent on eliminating a ruthless Mexican gang of kidnappers and dirty cops, in reality director Tony Scott’s highly stylized, nearly 2-hour bloodlust epic is instead the most emotionally resonant piece of Hollywood cinema to have hit the big screen thus far in 2004. And now it’s out on DVD. Rush, we mean run right down to your favourite video store and rent Man on Fire — sure to be discovered on home video and ready to become the top DVD rental of the year. The story’s narrative involves Denzel Washington’s John Creasy, a burnt-out, alcoholic former military operative who takes a bodyguard job for a wealthy family in Mexico City on the suggestion of his friend (Christopher Walken). Creasy has retreated from life and exists inside a gruff, hardened exterior but, as the movie unfolds, he softens in the presence of his employer’s young daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Following Pita’s ambush kidnapping Creasy sets out to find the kidnappers and make them pay — big time. Scott takes great care to establish the relationship between the bodyguard and the child. This makes Pita’s kidnapping feel less like a plot machination and more like an act of terror. The chemistry between Washington and an immensely charming 9-year-old Fanning is surprisingly rich, touching and emotionally resonant. Gritty, incendiary and viscerally engaging from beginning to end, Man on Fire emerges as the most percussively watchable action film of the year, with a great script and charismatic, engaging performances throughout.


Mario Van Peebles sports an attitude of electric, hungry-eyed defiance to play his father, Melvin Van Peebles — one of the first black directors to be ushered through the gates of Hollywood — during the making of Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song (1971), recapturing the feel of an era filled with social history and personal turmoil. Built around Mario’s performance, which is built on Melvin’s macho swagger and bull-headedness, Baadasssss! radiates with a jolting, lively energy, raw and full of the kind of life we don’t see often enough on screen. A must-rental for cinéastes.


Débuting at Cannes and subsequently nominated for seven London Film Critics awards, Young Adam is an adaptation of the Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi’s 1957 novel. The story of Joe, an amoral wanderer played by Ewan McGregor, who discovers the body of a girl while working on a barge, upon its release the film raised eyebrows with its graphic sex scenes between McGregor and co-star Emily Mortimer (thus its NC-17 rating). With cinematography that transforms the bleak backdrop of 1950s Scotland into explosive beauty, and charged with tension throughout, this pungent story of guilt and lost innocence gradually becomes a compelling, if unresolved, study of conscience. Art cinema at its best, Young Adam should be seen.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Video & DVD

September 9, 2004

Who knew that early


Who knew that early September was a dumping ground for otherwise unwatchable movies on DVD? Here we’d hope to offer you something to keep you occupied during the course of these cool late summer evenings, while the rains fall fitfully and the nip of winter has become more than a promise. Tis not to be, though, and more’s the pity.


One of the great movie disappointments earlier this year, this interminable Coen Brothers remake of the distinctive 1955 British classic black comedy about a bumbling gang of thieves is just about the most tedious, longwinded and uninvolving piece of Southern fried pseudo parody that one could possible imagine from the otherwise generally talented filmmaking team. Tom Hanks is wasted in the bizarrely Shakespearean role of Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, PhD, while the remaining cast members are full of exaggerations, insincerity, and lack of believability. An unfunny, overly stylized mess, this will be the last DVD on the shelf that you’ll want to rent.


From bad to worse, take the skull t-shirt away and this franchise could be any cookie cutter revenge flick. As the violence takes over, we are left with a protagonist whose genius for sadism makes the villains look like schoolboys pulling the wings off flies. Thomas Jane’s Frank Castle is nothing more than a weapon, a gun that keeps going off til its chamber is empty. When he’s spent, so’s the movie — but not the audience, which couldn’t care less about anyone on the screen. If you loved the Dolph Lundgren oeuvre, then this DVD is for you. Otherwise, give it a miss.

More DVD releases: Kevin Smith’s relatively watchable Jersey Girl lands on store shelves, as does the egregious Soul Plane and the exasperating The United States of Leland. To leave you on a high note, VanRamblngs offers Mayor of the Sunset Strip, a fascinating and sometimes sad documentary about a curious little man and America’s obsession with celebrity.

One final note: Andrew Morrison of Times New Roman Online sends along the information that as an alternative to renting the DVD of Robert Greenwald’s Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War you can watch it online. Just click on the link provided. Thank you, Andrew.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 10:58 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

September 2, 2004

New On Video: A Bit of a Departure This Week



In something of a departure, rather than announce and review the new DVD releases for the week, VanRamblings will point you towards a couple of new documentaries just out (or due out next week) on DVD, a DVD re-issue, plus a couple more interesting DVDs worth considering as potential rentals.

If you live in Vancouver, the place you’ll likely have to travel to in order to gain access to many of the DVDs below will be Videomatica, British Columbia’s première nostalgia, art, foreign and independent DVD rental and retail outlet. If Videomatica doesn't have the DVD you want in their collection, then it isn’t on DVD — but, in all likelihood co-owner Graham Peat, or one of his staff, will probably be able to tell you when the DVD you’re requesting will become available, or how the store might go about ordering for you from the obscure rights holder to the DVD title.


You either love Swedish director Lars von Trier or the whole idea of Dogme has become just a bit too passé for you. However you feel about von Trier, if you love film, he’s one director who cannot be ignored, and as such Dogville will be a must rental for you this week. Be warned: for many viewers, Dogville will likely prove a polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it experience. That said, the best way to see the DVD is to know nothing about it, to trust it and have faith that it will deliver. And it does. The equal of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, for its poetry, stridency and passion, Dogville may prove just as lasting. The first must rental of the week.


As Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s powerful indictment of the Bush Administration, is influencing millions of Americans in the heartland of the country to the south, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, a devastating new documentary that exposes Bush’s biggest cheerleader — the FOX television network — demonstrates in painful detail how one media empire, making full use of the public airwaves, can reject any semblance of fairness or perspective, and serve as the mouthpiece of right-wing conservatives (in Canada, think CanWest Global). An important, timely film, now on DVD. An absolute must rental.


Providing compelling arguments that even those on the right wing of the political spectrum will be hard pressed to refute, Uncovered: The War on Iraq is the second Robert Greenwald documentary reviewed this week on VanRamblings. Essentially a series of filmed testimonies from a broad range of commentators representing the military, diplomatic and intelligence communities — interspersed with news footage recapping the Bush administration’s buildup to the war — Uncovered delivers damning refutations of the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war with Iraq, and American conduct since becoming an occupying force. Due on DVD next week.


When Prince’s dazzling and dynamic Purple Rain, and the hypnotic hit single When Doves Cry, exploded onto the pop-culture scene in 1984, a star was born. In essence a feature-length music video, Purple Rain offered a showcase for one of the great musical artists of the last half-century. The plot (about the son of an abusive father struggling not to continue the pattern) proved to be surprisingly compelling; when complemented by a surfeit of dazzling songs (including Let’s Go Crazy and the title tune) performed in sizzling live-concert mode, there was little doubt that Purple Rain would become an essential artifact of the mid 80s pop Zeitgeist.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:57 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

August 26, 2004

A Sterling Week for New DVD Releases



One of VanRamblings’ favourite movies this year (Man on Fire and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind being the two others), the year’s most peculiarly romantic film comes to the small screen this week, and it’s a keeper. Earlier this year the Globe and Mail’s Geoff Pevere raved about The Girl Next Door, while the New York Daily News’ Jami Bernard opened her review with “Once in a very long while, a truly memorable romantic teen comedy comes along. The Girl Next Door is one.” A must rental ... soon.


Somewhat less racy (okay, okay ... a great deal less racy) than The Girl Next Door, Ella Enchanted is the movie that Roger Ebert calls the best Cinderella themed film of the year (heck, he gave it 3½ stars). Entertainment Weekly movie critic Lisa Schwarzbaum (VanRamblings’ favourite movie reviewer, by the way) wrote, “Director Tommy O’Haver’s adaptation of Gail Carson Levine’s book is a hoot and a giggle of a girl-power fairy tale blended from potions of Monty Python, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Shrek. Saddled with the burdensome ‘gift’ of mandatory obedience by a loose cannon fairy godmother (Vivica A. Fox), Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway, the beaming who-ya-gonna-call of princess players) grows up at the frustrated mercy of anybody’s command. Naturally, a wicked stepmother (Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous) and horrid stepsisters (Brits Lucy Punch and Jennifer Higham) take advantage of her pliancy; naturally, a dreamy prince (Hugh Dancy) sees through to the real Ella. The sharpest jokes in this cheerily pudding-colored-looking production are visual and throwaway: The stepsisters read Damsel Zone and Medieval Teen magazine. The girls admire goblets at the Crockery Barn in the Galleria of Frell. The elves sing and dance like the teenage drama queens in Camp. Princesshood has rarely looked so tra-la-la gay.” Another must-rental this week.


Shaolin Soccer is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with soccer balls, a touch of Sergio Leone and not one microsecond of seriousness. Stephen Chow’s Hong Kong movie, which has smashed box-office records in Asia, is about six down-and-out brothers, all former martial arts monks, who rediscover their high-flying chops when they’re invited to join a soccer team. They’ve never played the game, but it doesn’t take them long to apply their skills to the sport. Zany, giddily-inspired fun. A worthy rental.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:57 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

August 12, 2004

Yes, the R-rated DVD



Yes, the R-rated DVD the kids have been waiting for: the ultra violent and a tad clichéd Kill Bill - Volume 2. A dulling experience that is never more than the sum of its well-crafted parts, there’s a lot less action second time out, and a strange, tired melancholy taking the place of the adrenaline saturated buzz saw of fury that pulled young men into Volume 1. The story begins in the same place as its predecessor: in that El Paso wedding chapel where the villainous title character (David Carradine) left his nameless protégé-assassin (Uma Thurman) with a bullet in her head — only this time we see the whole setup to the crime. From there, the script jumps back to where Bill 1 ended, four years later with the heroine on the vengeance trail. As dramatically underwhelming, pointless and downright silly as the first volume, Quentin Tarantino’s love of 70s blaxpolitation and chop-socky junk films finally becomes what we’ve suspected all along: a dubious aesthetic in compensatory service of the director’s lonely childhood.


In my book, Julia Stiles can do no wrong. In The Prince and Me, a traditional fairy tale wrapped in a cloak of modernity, Ms. Stiles plays Paige Morgan, a hard-working pre-med student whose every waking moment is devoted to achieving the grades necessary to ensure acceptance to Johns Hopkins. Into the picture comes Prince Edvard Valdemar Dangaard (Luke Mably), or Eddie as he is sometimes known, the wild and bored crown prince of Denmark who, in looking for a distraction, decides to spend a year at an American university. Next thing you know, the two are in love, and .... Director Martha Coolidge brings a nice feminist twist to what is most assuredly the very best of the plethora of teen-oriented Cinderella-themed movies which have saturated the multiplexes this year. A great DVD rental.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:58 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

August 5, 2004

From Aging Children to Foreign Adventure


Ah, yes. The dog days of summer.


A distaff version of Big, 13 Going On 30’s gender bended story takes on a contemporary Sex and the City gloss in telling what becomes — due to a warm, charismatic turn from Alias star Jennifer Garner — an endearing coming-of-age story. Where Tom Hanks’ character magically grew up, but still remained in his childhood world, Garner’s character has been zapped into her future, with her childhood friends grown up (including Matt, the chubby boy next door, who’s turned into Mark Ruffalo) and her parents aging. Director Gary Winick (Tadpole) sets a snappy pace. When combined with Garner’s gawky sweetness and Ruffalo’s enigmatic dreamboat, what you’ve got is an engaging and wholly preposterous gumdrop of a film.


In Hidalgo, his first film since completing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragon’s Viggo Mortenson is back in the saddle as Frank T. Hopkins, a real-life horseman once billed as the ‘greatest distance rider the West has ever known’, and now a down on his luck cowboy. A story of second chances, Hopkins is enticed into entering the ‘Ocean of Fire’, a treacherous 3,000-mile race across the Arabian Desert. Mortenson’s wary, taciturn soulfulness works. Unfortunately, this not-so-ripping yarn about Western will prevailing over sandstorms, conniving competitors and Muslim pride turns into an all-too-predictable affair, charming but hardly dazzling.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 6:37 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

July 29, 2004

With The Sun Beating Down, Take A Break With a DVD


With the fan(s) whirring in the background, the hot noon day sun beating down hard outside (or, perhaps, it is the early evening sun that is preparing to set off in the distant west), yes, this just may be the perfect time to pick up the remote, slide a DVD into the machine, and relax.

A couple of recommendable DVD’s this week; so let’s get started, shall we?


Surprisingly entertaining, this spring 2004 cinematic re-imagining of the vividly drawn Dark Horse comic series, may not be Spiderman-inspiring, but with WWII Nazis, aided by occultists, summoning a creature from hell to help destroy the earth, and good guy Professor Broom (John Hurt) intervening to raise Hellboy to fight the evil monsters who first brought him into the world, well .... the DVD simply crackles. Talented writer / director Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone) and co-writer Peter Briggs (Alien vs Predator) give Hellboy the mythic treatment, while actor Ron Perlman (City of Lost Children) occupies Hellboy with more than enough humanity to ground him. With its surfeit of twirling gears and clockworks juxtaposed with crumbling castles pelted by dark rain, the action sequences comes fast (and satisfyingly clear). All and all, one helluva good time.


The guilty pleasure of the week, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is the perfect DVD for a steamy summer’s night, a movie that will have you swinging your hips and singing “Cuba!” under your breath for days to come. The ‘prequel’ has almost the same plot as the 1987 original, and works for much the same reason the first one worked: the two lead characters. This time around up-and-comer Romola Garai (luminescent in any number of films) and Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También) bring the classic teen Romeo and Juliet story (and the idea of a girl’s initiation into sexual awareness) to life, once again rendered onscreen by the transmutation into sexy dancing.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 7:21 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

July 15, 2004

Summer DVD: Sex, Death, Fighting and Really Cool Gadgets


All and all, a sterling week for new DVDs at your favourite ‘video’ store.


We begin this week with one of the least seen but most ambitious and exciting movies of the year. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers understands the power of sex and film to set off evocative fantasy, incite danger and transform the spirit. Affecting, twisted, and seriously erotic, the film — set in the incendiary, revolutionary Paris of spring 1968 — tells the story of three cinephiles who shut the door of their Paris apartment and barely leave it, creating an emotional and sexual psychodrama as the world outside beckons, threatens and influences their interaction. A passionate tribute to the cinema’s contribution to the great 60s cultural fusion, as well as a melancholy reminder of just how far it’s fallen from that heady era of its highest idealism, The Dreamers is VanRamblings’ DVD ‘pick of the week’.


Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscar ceremony, Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions is, all at once, heartfelt, elegiac, surprising and pungently funny. A follow-up to Arcand’s triumphant 1986 groundbreaker, The Decline of the American Empire, the new film takes us inside a sombre reunion of friends and family around the hospital bed of an unapologetic and dying philanderer (Rémy Girard), as it transforms into a moving exploration of what it means to live and to die. The rapprochement between Rémy and his estranged daughter (who we see only on video) is the single most moving cinematic sequence I’ve seen on film this year, in a DVD that is, otherwise, occasionally uneven in tone — although always sharp-witted, engaging and marvelously humane.


If both of the DVDs above fall into the category of ‘good for you’ (and they are good, whatever the case), then the trashy delights of Against The Ropes can only be seen as guilty pleasure material, barely better than TV fare but, heck, the movie stars the always engaging Meg Ryan (here playing a feisty fight promoter), the woefully underutilized Omar Epps and Charles S. Dutton, who also directs this flim-flam fairy tale. Still and all, bathos and formulaic script aside, this character driven movie connects from time to time — which is a great deal more than you can say about many films — and, as such, against your better judgement, you’ll probably end up enjoying this story.


And for the tweens this week, Frankie Muniz is back as a junior James Bond in Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London , a kid-flick trifle that thanks to an engaging, if relatively unknown cast, lots of cool gadgets, and everything a 6-year-old spy would hope to find in a kiddie-espionage flick (with just a twinge of romance), ought to engage its intended audience.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:27 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

July 8, 2004

New On DVD: The Dog Days of Summer


All and all, this is a relatively slow week for new DVD releases, although not entirely without merit.


An unabashed, even old-fashioned humanist film, Monsieur Ibrahim tells the story of a grizzled, white-haired grocer (Omar Sharif) in a Paris working-class neighbourhood in the 1960s, a gentle man who provides the wisdom of his 70 years to a lonely and depressed young Jewish boy. Surprising and ironic at times, the movie insists that what is important is the interior life of the individual, the cultivation of a deep spirituality. The best new video release this week.


Less worthy, but bound to find an eager group of renters (given that it’s star is teen heartthrob Ashton Kutcher), The Butterfly Effect is, as the Hollywood Reporter suggests, “an entertaining piece of supernatural nonsense whose sheer audacity disarms all (well, nearly all) skepticism.” With off-putting subject matter (maiming, murder and kiddie porn), The Butterfly Effect is maybe not a movie for the whole family.

Otherwise, this may be the week to consider renting a DVD that you missed earlier in the year. VanRamblings offers the following for your consideration: the sweet, funny and empowering Calendar Girls; the magnificent Oscar nominated film, In America; the engaging and understated period drama, Girl With A Pearl Earring; as well as the magical new version of Peter Pan, and the compellingly watchable epic, The Last Samurai.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 5:32 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

July 1, 2004

Welcome to VanRamblings’ newest


Welcome to VanRamblings’ newest weekly feature, New on DVD. Each and every Thursday, VanRamblings will point you in the direction of the week’s best new DVD releases available at your local home entertainment store.


Woefully overlooked at Christmas-time, and almost completely misunderstood, director Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel, Cold Mountain was little short of magnificent, an epic movie that is all at once as rudely violent, treacherous and politically charged as the source work, yet at times managed a picaresque, hurtfully romantic, chastely sexy, and warmly humorous tone that proves entirely inviting.

How it is that Nicole Kidman’s performance as a privileged Southern Belle was overlooked for a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work on this Christmas 2003 movie release beggars belief. Grand, poignant, heartbreaking, and exhiliarating in equal measure, Cold Mountain is a must early summer DVD rental (also available on VHS).


Were VanRamblings able to say the same of The Perfect Score, a middling teenage heist comedy. Director Brian Robbins, the former Head of the Class actor, has helmed a number of laclustre teen projects. The only sexy things in this tepid, forgettable teen movie are Scarlett Johansson’s cherry-printed underpants and Leonardo Nam’s bedroom eyes.


A warm-hearted and surprisingly ambitious sequel to the 2002 hit, Barbershop 2: Back in Business is less cartoonish and more generous than the original. From the often affecting flashbacks of Cedric The Entertainer’s early days in the shop during the combustible 1960s and early 1970s (which also give Cedric more time to riff and rip) to the wary eye it casts on contemporary political hypocrisy, Barbershop 2 finds hope in friendship, respect and community, and comfort in the company of a first-rate cast of African American actors, including Ice Cube, Eve and Sean Patrick Thomas.


And, finally this week, Seducing Dr. Lewis, about which Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote: “In Jean-François Pouliot’s internationally charming, award-laden comedy Seducing Dr. Lewis, a guppy-size French Canadian fishing village in need of a resident doctor welcomes a smooth Montreal plastic surgeon offering a month’s medical services to expunge a minor drug charge ... but while Dr. Christopher Lewis plans a short stay, the citizenry, led by the town’s wily mayor, scheme to ensure longer-term commitment: They reinvent themselves as an irresistible, quaintly authentic Eden built on lies ... there’s shrewd wit to Pouliot’s gentle, no-bull farce.” And, by the way, she gives the movie a B+.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:31 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

March 13, 2004

Can't help but 'Smile'

MONALISA In Vancouver, it's spring break. Some 538,000 children across the province of British Columbia children are off school for the next 9 days, and parents are scrambling to find something with which to keep their children occupied during this period.

How fortunate, then, that Columbia Tri-Star home video has just released Mona Lisa Smile, an engaging and watchable "noble teacher" period drama (think Dead Poet’s Society) about a progressive art-history professor (Julia Roberts) who transports her bohemian West Coast sensibilities to the upper-crust East Coast Wellesley College. On teacher Katherine Watson's first day in class, she discovers that the student body is all brain and no imagination. The girls are hyperintelligent slaves to the textbook, mere regurgitators of established wisdom — including the widely held belief that the degree they want is just flypaper to attract the husband they need. Exemplary feminist melodrama, Mona Lisa Smile is this week's video / DVD recommendation. And a good one it is, too.

Also, new at your local video store this second weekend in March: Undefeated, a made-for-HBO-TV story about a boxer who rises in rank to be the champion of his weight class only to lose touch with his principles; and, Red Water, the story of a pair of ruthless criminals who search for stolen drug money that's been dropped in a river (do you think that there might be a man-eating bull shark in that river?).

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Video & DVD

March 5, 2004

Hail! Hail! Jack Black is the king of rock & roll

JACKBLACK The video / DVD of the week, this week, is Richard Linklater's inspired rock 'n' roll comedy, School of Rock. Starring Jack Black in a break-out performance — as a masquerading substitute teacher who is a manic devotee of '70s musical bombast, including Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and AC/DC — this DVD is exuberant, raucous and thoroughly endearing fun.

As he did with Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise, Linklater provides the viewer with subtext and sobering reality. In the case of Black's Dewey Finn, he shows us a man who hasn't realized his dreams; although Dewey won't be famous, he does finally find his niche: as a nurturer and promoter of other people's talent.

Also new on video early in March: Looney Tunes: Back in Action, a not always successful live-action-meets-animation kid flick; Good Boy!, a simple and intermittently satisfying tale of a boy who wants to keep his dog; and two dreadful, absolutely forgettable films, Cold Creek Manor and Duplex.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 6:46 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD | Comments (1)

February 27, 2004

From Grifters to The Bell Jar

MATCHSTICKMEN Well, here it is Friday night, and Blockbuster beckons. What to rent tonight is the old refrain, and wandering about the store aimlessly in search of entertaining video fare has become the agenda de l'heure.

Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men is the pick of the week, an idiosyncratic, tear-your-heart out grifter tale that promises a great deal, and delivers more. Nicolas Cage is absolutely terrific in this engagingly quirky, keeps-you-guessing, caper puzzle comedy-drama.

Patricia Clarkson received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her work in the Katie Holmes indie vehicle Pieces of April (when she was much better in The Station Agent), an otherwise forgettable low-budget, quasi-charmer that came and went, to little fanfare, this past autumn.

Otherwise, there's The Missing, which I missed largely because not much good was written about the film (although generally I don't rely on the opinions of others to sway me one way or another when it comes to cinema); My Life Without Me, a tear-jerker about a cancer victim (Sarah Polley) with two months to live; the execrable Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, and the barely-released, Ryan Reynolds-starring caper flick, Foolproof.

Perhaps the sleeper of the week will prove to be Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, about which the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris wrote, "a wondrously illuminating artistic experience for its ideal audience — people like me who know a little but not much about the explosive Plath-Hughes fusion of unbridled poetic temperaments in a tauntingly prosaic world."

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 8:06 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

February 13, 2004

Catch An Oscar nominee on Video Before the Academy Awards

Here it is, a Friday night and the skies are gloomy and overcast, the air outside just a tad chilly and the prospect of rain only a cloudburst away, and those age-old early weekend questions arise: What is there that's new at the video store to rent, what recommendable cinematic masterpiece might be available to us, to create a circumstance where kith and kin might curl up in the comfort of the family home, in warm and cozy surroundings in a darkened room lit only by the hazy blue light of the television screen?

New out today on video and DVD is the more than recommendable Runaway Jury, based on John Grisham's top-selling novel, the best NEW release this week and a quite watchable and engrossing thriller, indeed.

From last week, if you didn't catch the multiple Oscar nominee Lost in Translation during its all-too-brief multiplex engagement, run out right now and rent it on video / DVD. A critic’s favourite (just look at how well Lost in Translation performed with the critics' fraternity), be sure to catch director Sofia Coppola's sophomore outing before Oscar night, February 29.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 6:46 PM | Permalink | Video & DVD

February 9, 2004


Spellbound: Jeff Blitz's Academy Award-nominated documentary is an affecting, inspiring look at eight American children as they make their way to compete in the 1999 National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., about which Entertainment Weekly’s Donald Liebenson writes “A film that makes the spelling of logorrhea as exciting as anything in a Jerry Bruckheimer blow-'em-up is something of a miracle.”

A must rental the next time you visit your local DVD store.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:15 AM | Permalink | Video & DVD


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