Currently Watching: CANOPY (2013) Directed by Aaron Wilson

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CANOPY – The first feature film by writer/director Aaron Wilson, the first thing that strikes you about CANOPY is the absolute patience of it. It takes its time, it sets its stage. The jungle, it tells you from the first frame, is the movie. Which can be risky in this age of deficit attention and 500 channels.

Especially considering it could be argued, and not unjustly, that Aaron Wilson, whose previous experience is with short films; with CANOPY has just created a short film and padded it out to feature length. However what others may call padding, doesn’t feel like padding in this film, it feels… fulfilling, meditative, in moments… even sublime.

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If you are in the mood to be sucked in, willing to give the movie your undivided attention, you might find it, like I am finding it, absolutely spellbinding. It’s filmed with the deft assured hand of a master.

I almost didn’t watch this movie based solely on the awful poster (shown below) and nondescript title. But thankfully the film is better than its poor marketing.

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Currently available for streaming/VOD on Netflix.

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WHAT WE’RE WATCHING : The 2013/2014 Series DARK NET

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DARK NET is a Canadian produced series spearheaded by Director/Producer Vincenzo Natali that is about urban myths in the Internet/technological age and it may just be the most inventive and impressive 30 minute speculative show since the original TWILIGHT ZONE over 54 years ago.

In many ways DARK NET does for today’s audience what that show did for its 1960s audience, namely push the boundaries of our assumptions, our conventions and our fears. It is a show about obsessions, and the places sad and tragic, such dark and lonely roads take us.

And what is so masterful about this show is its structure, unwilling to just give us one story this series weaves multiple stories of obsession and unhealthy curiosity into 30 minutes, producing one of the most effective anthologies to date. Wonderfully directed, shot, and impressively performed, three episodes into watching this series courtesy of Netflix and I’m completely sold and enamored of it.

This is a series that screams out for and deserves a beautiful Blu-Ray presentation so it can be enjoyed in the best quality possible complete with Director’s commentary and special features. Grade: A must See!

Streaming Movie of the Day : Paul D. Hannah’s THE LAST LETTER [2013]

Streaming Movie of the Day : Paul D. Hannah’s THE LAST LETTER [2013]

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The film initially showed promise. A solid cast, well photographed, passionately performed, but unfortunately it’s sabotaged by a script and character actions that are insultingly stupid. I could choose a more elegant word, but stupid and idiotic and nonsensical sums up the problems with this script.

Well before halfway, the brain dead actions of everyone involved, and the complete unlike-ability of every one involved completely eradicates any interest in the movie or concern for the characters. And a movie where you have lost interest in all the characters is the definition of boring and a waste of time.

And it’s a shame because I do applaud Paul Hannah’s attempt to broaden the Black cinematic experience beyond the ghetto of dramas, comedies, relationship bashing, or Gospel/Christian/message movies they unfortunately tend to be relegated to.

Black themed films desperately need more action films and thrillers and horror movies and scifi and fantasy, however they need to be good. And unfortunately THE LAST LETTER isn’t. However with a better script (it would be hard to be worse) there’s potential for future Hannah thrillers to be better.

Grade: D-

Available to view this month on Netflix Streaming.

Currently Watching : THE MACHINE (2013) – NetFlix Streaming VOD Movie of the Day!

 

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THE MACHINE – Directed by Caradog James, is a definitely worth a look scifi thriller, however if you have the slightest familiarity with the Science Fiction genre you are clearly aware the film is breaking no new ground.

Indeed much of it, is you marveling at the stupidity of supposedly brilliant scientists (a stupidity that unfortunately is not relegated to fiction), that open seemingly obvious Pandora’s Boxes of moral and spiritual and existential chaos.  Humanity has enough trouble being humane to other humans, much less the storm of confusion and conflict and potential horror and abuse, that will spiral up around the  very concept of potentially conscious beings that are built or grown, rather than born in the traditional sense.

It is a door that Mary Shelley saw two hundred years ago we were not ready to walk through, and humanity for all its technological leaps, has become no more emotionally or morally responsibly since. Indeed it can be argued that as our technological marvels increase, our humanity decreases. That humans increasingly become drones, in a world were we have relegated the marvelous to our creations.

So THE MACHINE touches on all of this, but it’s a well worn topic, and the movie often feels plodding and redundant rather than an innovative new take on the dwindling of the human spirit. So again worth a look, but ultimately pretty forgettable.

Far more satisfying takes on the subject would be Whales’ BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER or the enigmatic, but brilliant UPSTREAM COLOR. The latter is also available courtesy of Streaming.

Grade: B-.

 

Branagh WALLANDER BBC TV series vs WALLANDER Canal!!

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My first introduction to Henning Mankell’s detective Kurt Wallander is with the Kenneth Branagh helmed WALLANDER BBC series. I found those shows visually striking and emotionally intense. Only recently have I likewise become introduced to the earlier Swedish series starring Krister Henriksson (earliest episodes dating from 2006, with the latest episodes being in 2013).

There is a degree of fatalism and nihilism in the more slick and stylish BBC reworking of WALLANDER that is absent from the earlier Swedish television series. And I feel that that absence is to the earlier show’s benefit.

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While the Swedish series is no less a captive and mirror of the forlorn land it depicts, there is in the original series and in the captivating and world wearied yet bemused performance by Krister Henriksson a welcome sense of hope, of optimism even in the face of those who have forsworn hope. As such, despite or because of its understated nature, there is something more endearing in the Swedish WALLANDER, something easier worn.

Whereas the BBC version of Wallander is a different animal all-together. First its scale is far grandeur than the Swedish version, essentially each season comprised of three feature length movies, with approximately two years between seasons; 2008, 2010, and 2012 respectively.

Add to that Branagh’s wonderful portrayal of a man ever more broken is superlative. However that degree of depression can be taxing to view. To the BBC WALLANDER’s credit it is a distinct and different take from the Swedish version they were going for and achieved, so it can be viewed as its own thing rather than simply a remake.

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All that to say you can watch the original series and the BBC series and see two distinct and divergent shows, each deserving of your time. But if pressed regarding the version of Wallander that I enjoy the most, I would have to choose the Krister Henriksson series.

While the BBC version has amazing direction and cinematography, powerhouse acting by its lead Kenneth Branagh, and a wonderful score and introduction (reminiscent of the equally compelling LUTHOR), thematically I prefer the less angst ridden and less dire Swedish version. Its low-key delivery making for less hyperbolic viewing.

Grade: WALLANDER BBC series gets a grade of B/B+, and the CANAL Swedish version edges it out with a solid grade of B+.

Wallander Season 1 & 2 [Blu-ray] (This item requires a 1080i compatible player)

Wallander Series 3 [Blu-ray]

Wallander (Faceless Killers / The Man Who Smiled / The Fifth Woman) [Blu-ray]

Wallander Series 3 [Blu-ray]

Wallander: The Original Episodes, Set 1

Next up I’ll sample the Rolf Lassgard WALLANDER episodes and bring you my take on those.

MASTERPIECE THEATER : MR. SELFRIDGE Season 2 Now Available!

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One of the many discoveries of the 2013 television season was stumbling across season 1 of Masterpiece Theater’s MR. SELFRIDGE. A show about an American Entrepreneur creating one of the world’s first Department Stores in early 20th century London. While such a premise doesn’t sound like it would be gripping, it absolutely is.

And how refreshing to have a show that doesn’t involve solving the murder of the week. I found it far more enjoyable than more acclaimed shows such as DOWNTOWN ABBEY or SHERLOCK.

Season 2 is now available and it moves the series forward five years, but losing none of the richness and drama and period detail of the first season, while introducing decidedly new wrinkles to deal with.

You can catch the 2nd season via over the air broadcast or streaming via your local pbs affiliate.

CD of the Day (and strong contender for CD of the Year) Gregory Porter’s LIQUID SPIRIT


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I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently. Actual cds not mp3s, not rough compressions or rough approximations of the song, but the full CD sound spectrum of the song.

MP3s were never designed as a replacement for musical CDs, it is a sampling medium, great for helping you decide what is worth buying (or even audio books where for the most part all you are reproducing is a person’s limited conversational speaking range) but not suitable as a replacement for a full range music recording. MP3s get rid of extraneous info, the highs and the lows, the extremes, but oft I’ve found it’s those very pauses and extremes… that compression schemes such as MP3 would lose, wherein we are best found.

I’ve listened to everything from Rock to Rap, sampling all those voices from the near and far. And some of those CDs are very good, but only one recently has been inspired, has been revelatory. Revelatory as in revelation. Gregory Porter’s LIQUID SPIRIT is that cd. Not since stumbling upon the works of Terry Callier or Solomon Burke have I been so impressed with a new discovery. It’s not just his voice, or even the lyrics, which as stated are inspired, it is his phrasing, his delivery. Smooth and easy crooning, holding at bay… a night falling into day. It’s a very relaxed delivery, crooning to you, as the stars… dim.

Melancholy. That’s the word, there is a vein of melancholy in Gregory Porter’s Grammy acclaimed vocals, but melancholy that is tempered by a fervent romanticism. This is timeless music, as valid for an audience of 1920 as it will be for an audience of 2020.

This is today’s MUST BUY, not just the CD of the day, but a CD to enjoy from first song to last for far longer than a day. An essential CD.

In an age of Itunes when everyone is satisfied with listening to the distant echoes of music (mp3s) this is a CD that will prompt you to invest in, that nearly extinct device, a portable CD player.

However, it is the 21st century so thankfully we have alternatives to just having a portable CD player. You can, for a little more, buy a simple media tablet about the same size and weight as a portable CD player, but that allows you to play your MP3 cd-rs and cd-rws (as much as I rail against MP3 for music, for audio books or Old Time Radio it works just fine) as well as view DVDs! That folks is what we call… a win/win!

Price both the CD and a good portable media player-tablet, at the links below. You’ll be glad… for both.

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Liquid Spirit CD

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Coby TFDVD7009 7-Inch Portable DVD/CD/MP3 Player, Black – nifty portable media tablet… now it appears Coby Electronics has gone the way of the dodo, so you may want to pick up these low cost DVD/CD/media tablets while you can.

Enjoy the links. And if you purchase through the links, I want to let you know it is always appreciated, and helps keep this Blog going. Thanks and enjoy the items!!!

And for those looking to catch Gregory Porter in concert, he has a pretty lively 2014 touring schedule, He’s currently tearing through Europe, but has a few stateside stops as well, to include, PA, New orleans, Colorado, DC, and a few more. View the whole schedule here!