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Painted Land: In Search of the Group of Seven

Painted Land - Highly Recommend
This 90 minute documentary takes us to northern Ontario to see the country where the Canadian "Group of Seven" painters did a large portion of their work post WWI / during 1920's. For the first time, the actual sites where the artists stood/sat and painted in a remote and rugged landscape are found. It is fascinating to see the exact viewpoint shown from today, the screen then giving way to the paintings which have become so familiar and iconic to Canadians. It is beautifully shot with rugged landscape, rich fall colours, and rushing waterfalls - in the words of one of the artists, "a fairy land, Dante's dream". Recommend.

Chu long ma liu

Fast paced and entertaining
Ching is an cocky, under-achieving crook that ends up in prison, where he meets an old man who schools him in a prison kung fu duel. However the old man is sufficiently impressed with Ching as to give him half of a wooden amulet. The other half is possessed by a fellow inmate, and the two go off on a rollicking kung fu adventure to find an ancient scroll.

Monkey Kung Fu delivers fast paced action in a variety of backdrops - courtyards, mountain meadows, and tea houses where the furniture is predictably, and satisfyingly, reduced to firewood. And the brothel full of kung fu prostitutes was pretty fun. While most of the comedy is cheesy, there are so good one-liners ("Are you tired yet"? "No, I have a date with your sister tonight!"), and it keeps the movie light and entertaining.

The fight choreography starts off not too good in my opinion - moves kind of choppy and slow - but by the 38 minute mark, during the fight in a courtyard, it improves vastly. By the end, with a frenetic fight to the death in the mountains with a skilled bo (staff) master, it is some of the best in the genre. Very much recommended.

Ying tai qi xue

Expansive historical drama not for everyone
A sequel to the Shaw Bros. "The Empress Dowager", "The Last Tempus" tells the story of the Empress Dowager Cixi, who unofficially ruled the Qing dynasty in the last half of the 19th century. Emperor Kuang Hsu (Guangxu) officially ruled, and tried to enact reforms of a more Westernized government, but was opposed by the influential Cixi.

This film is a historical drama that claimed to use over 1,000 actors and extras, as well as expansive sets and costumes which are impressive.

However, I personally did not enjoy it. I picked up this one expecting a Shaw Bros kung fu film, and instead got political drama.. just wasn't into it. Maybe others interested in the political history of that era would be.

Xue di zi

Keep your head in this one...
A paranoid emperor has 12 assassins trained in the use of a new weapon - the flying guillotine, which can take a guy's head off at 100 paces. The weapon is pretty cheesy actually, but in a good way if you like these old Shaw Bros flicks.

The main appeal of this film is that it is plot driven with a good story line, touching on concepts of morality and when to question loyalty.

However, the kung fu is a bit sparse and we don't really see much martial arts until probably 40 minutes in.

Worth watching though, better plot than most of these 70's kung fu flicks even if it isn't exactly packed with kung fu action.

Cheol-ham-gye-gok-eui hyeo-too

Vengeance with a shotgun
Chul-ki is released from prison, and begins a ruthless quest of vengeance, working his way up a group of gangsters toward his main targets, Axe and Ghost-face. Slowly throughout the film, we learn the reasons behind his quest for revenge. He encounters a young girl, Tae-Yeon, who has her own reasons for wanting revenge against the gangsters.

It was a pretty good film, moving at a good pace and did not overstay its welcome at a brief 89 minutes. The settings were interesting and matched the bleak and violent story line, from an abandoned apartment block, to an old factory, to an stark quarry. It explores themes of revenge, as in previous Korean films like the (much better) Old Boy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

All in all, it was worth watching, though not the best of the genre.

Shi er jin pai

Entertaining - all the classic elements of Shaw Bros
The tartars have invaded from the north, and a patriotic general is resisting with a force of 100,000 men. The traitor Chin Hui has sent out 12 medallions (decrees), to different clans to stop the resistance. Other clans (resistors) are attempting to intercept these medallions.

One such resistor is Miao Lung, from the Hua Shan clan "wavering sword style". We are introduced to him as an ordinary fried roll vendor, who becomes involved in the quest to stop the delivery of the medallions.

Lung must turn against his old master, Jin Yantang, who joins the traitors. Jin's daughter, Jin Suo, is the love interest who must choose between allegiance to her father or country.

The plot is paced well and you can't argue with such elements as sword fights atop pine trees, the five finger palm strike of death, poison darts, smoke bombs, and such characters as the "Mountain Slicing Squad" and a strange band of 5 purple clad kung fu women.

I would have scored it 8 but the fight choreography/intensity does not quite match up to the best of the genre. Some really good humour used throughout. Probably belongs in the top half of Shaw Bros films. If you're a fan of the genre, you'll likely enjoy it!


Utter garbage
"Wipe-out" is a remake of the American reality show "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge", which itself was just an English-dubbed version of the Japanese gameshow "Takeshi's Castle" which aired in the 80's.

The original Japanese show was funny and mildly fascinating, the way it is fascinating to watch a train wreck you are not involved in.

This new series is the same old stuff but Americanized. As with most remakes, something about the original show is lost in the recreation. You would think after the TV writers strike ended, there would be better programming than this.

Warning: if you watch even 5 minutes of this crap, that is 5 minutes of your life you will never get back.

I'm Not There

I did not get it
Firstly, I consider myself a bit of a cinemaphile and love all sorts of different films. I appreciate both documentaries and arty films that many people I know won't touch.

Also I'm a fan of Bob Dylan, not a die-hard fan, but enough to realize he is one of the greatest songwriters who has ever lived.

Having said that I just did not get this film. I found it fragmented, did not get a lot of the apparent references (I guess you have to be a fan "in the know" about Dylan's life) and generally found it boring and pretentious.

Despite Cate Blanchette and the little kid's excellent performances, I would not recommend this film.

Up the Yangtze

Highly recommended
"Up the Yangtze" is a documentary which is at its heart, about a poor Chinese family and the impact the Three Gorges Dam project is having on their lives. In a broader sense it is about a rapidly changing China and the huge disparity in rich & poor that exists there.

The Three Gorges Dam is a colossal hydroelectric project. The hydro plant on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, "wonder of the world", generates 2,300 MW of electricity. The Three Gorges project will be 26,000 MW, a dam two km wide, and when complete will displace 2 million people and empty about 9 large cities.

One such displaced family is featured in the film. The daughter of the family goes to work on a cruise ship on the Yangtze which caters to rich Westerners. The story is told from the point of view of the daughter, and various people we meet along the trip.

The film made me laugh, and cry a couple of times too. (Which was embarrassing because I watched it on an Air Canada flight to Vancouver) If you want to get a little window on what is going on in China right now, the corruption of officials, the disparity between rich and poor, the treatment of peasants by the government, beyond the newspaper headlines, then this film is for you.

Corner Gas

Not good... no, not good at all
With all the hype around this show and its being heralded as a great Canadian sitcom, I have tried to like this show. Oh, have I tried. But I just can't. Am I missing something? The acting is not good, the jokes are bad, the humour is dumb. I actually amuse myself by playing the "3 joke game" when I happen to flip across Corner Gas. The "3 joke game" involves enduring the show for 3 jokes, and seeing if I find any one of them remotely funny. I never have. I just find the whole thing unbearably dumb. There is nothing smart or edgy about it - it basically goes for silly, safe, cheesy humour. Maybe that's why it has such broad appeal.

Shinkansen daibakuha

High drama aboard the Bullet Train
I picked up a six-pack of Sonny Chiba movies and this was one of them. Lucky for me it was the uncut, original Japanese language version!! The Bullet Train is a bit of a more complex drama than the much later "Speed" which was pretty much a straight action movie. There are key differences between the two. "Speed" uses an over-the-top villain type in Dennis Hopper, a man completely evil who we're not expected to sympathize or feel sorry for. "Bullet Train"'s villain is a more complex, serious, darker sort of character, and we come to understand and even sympathize a little with his reasons for ransoming the Bullet Train.

I found it a little long at 2 1/2 hours. But I liked that it was a more serious film than Speed, delving into the ransomer's motives and the consequences of his actions, not just for his victims but for his accomplices, the train company employees, and himself. And 1.5 hours in, I realized I had no idea how it was going to end.

If you enjoy Japanese or Asian cinema in general, this isn't one of the best films, but you will probably enjoy it as I did.


Some scenes use tame animals
I felt deceived after seeing a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Fifth Estate" which exposed many so-called wildlife "documentaries" for using tame animals. 'Wolves' is one of these. They used tame wolves from "Animals of Montana Inc." This would be OK if they let the audience know in some conspicuous fashion. But to pretend all the shots are of wild wolves is to deceive he audience. Unfortunately, this is the way many wildlife docs are going as they strive to get better and better HDVD quality shots of animals in their "habitat". Either a) the production company doesn't want to spend the time to get these high quality shots of actual wild animals or b) the public is demanding such amazing photography that it is really only possible through use of tame/trained animals.

That's a bit of rant but - hopefully it is useful information.

Bei pan shi men

Another great Shaw Bros. production!
"The Master" begins like an old Western. A gang (gunslingers) of three known as The 3 Devils enter a tea house (saloon), looking for a man dressed all in white named Jin Tianyun. The film opens with a great fight, where The 3 Devils come at Jin Tianyun with fists & feet, throwing darts, tonfa, and knives.

Meanwhile Gao Jian, a kung fu wanna-be, is practicing at a nearby martial arts school. His skills are pitiful and he's always being bullied by classmates. Jin Tianyun shows up injured at Gao Jian's door, and Gao takes him in and helps nurse him to health. Jin Tianyun takes a liking to the hapless Gao Jian and agrees to teach him kung fu behind his master's back.

All the while, The 3 Devils continue to hunt for Jin Tianyun. The three finally catch up with "Brother Jin" at the school, and by this time Gao Jian's skills are honed like a razor's edge. He must rise to the challenge to defend his school and avenge his new "Master".

"The Master" is well paced, has lots of the cheesy slapstick of this genre & era, and has some great fights, especially the final one where Gao Jian battles the best of The 3 Devils. I very much recommend this movie to fans of the genre.

An interesting note: the actor who plays Jin Tianyun was in the recent Donnie Yen film "Dragon Tiger Gate".

Hing dai

Decent HK triad film
'Brothers' is a true to form HK gangster/triad film. I won't get into the plot since previous commenter here did a great job at that.

One of the highlights for me was Andy Lau. He gave a great performance, believable in every sense, and has a great presence. Other highlights for me included a stylish chase scene through narrow streets & alleys involving a 3-wheeled motorbike and 2 cars, and the one of the final gun battles which was very well done.

There was a lot of dialog in the movie, which I like, but I wished there had been a little more action. It was half drama/half action film, more heavily on the drama in my opinion.

Not an incredible film but worthy of watching if you enjoy this genre.

Nanjing 1937

Excellent and disturbing portrayal
"Nanking 1937" is a historical fiction centering around a family and their experience during the siege and fall of Nanking, and the subsequent atrocities committed by the occupying Japanese troops. The family is in particular danger since the father (Chen-xian) is a Chinese doctor, and his wife Rieko is Japanese. They each have a child and Rieko is pregnant.

I thought the story was excellent. Because the family is mixed Chinese/Japanese, the dangers, hostilities and racism on both sides are illuminated. Most of the acting is quite good too, especially the leading actors who play Chen-xian and Rieko.

Don't expect the very best in special effects, but having said that the sets of blown out buildings and rubble strewn streets, tanks and trucks used, and other props are quite good and add realism. Notably, the panoramic scenes use hundreds of extras to portray the magnitude of this human disaster.

"Nanking 1937" is not for the squeamish... know what you are getting into. The Rape of Nanking is one of the lowest points of humanity in the 20th century and this film shows it all, from the men marched out of the city for mass executions to wholesale rape of women. It is as disturbing to watch as Schindler's List.

The film succeeds in portraying the scale of this atrocity, demonstrating the insanity of war and even shows there can be moments when humanity is uplifted in the midst of it all. I recommend it for those who want to see a film interpretation of this dark chapter of history.

Manufactured Landscapes

My take on "Manufactured Landscapes"
I have mixed feelings on this film. On the one hand the images are stunning, desolate and beautiful. The photographer proves there can be beauty even in ecological devastation, which is really a foreign concept. The segments on the Three Gorges Dam and the shipbreaking beach in Bangladesh are fascinating.

On the other hand, the film often is a slide show of images without narration. When that happens it seems very, VERY slow. I know the director probably wants us to be able to absorb these images without being distracted by narration, but it makes for a mind numbing experience.

In the "special features" there was lots of fascinating narration - if they had added this to the film I would have enjoyed it more.

Dou foh sin

My take on "Flash Point"
Being a fan of Donnie Yen I eagerly anticipated "Flash Point". There was good and bad in it... first the good: The fight scenes are pretty awesome - in particular there is one which takes place at a driving range that lives up to what I was expecting. The introduction of grappling techniques (paying homage to MMA) is pretty cool. Cinematography & scenes of HK are at some times very stylish.

Now the bad: Kind of moves slow in the first half. In fact after the initial 5 minutes of action the next 20 minutes drags. The plot is not that great, and in the first half of the movie the action isn't enough to make up for this.

All in all, I've been a little disappointed with Donnie Yen's last two - this one and Dragon Tiger Gate. Neither raises the bar or comes close to the amazing SPL of 2005.

Dead Man Walking

Excellent portrayal of death penalty issues
Before seeing this film, I suggest the viewer puts away any expectations that the victims of the crimes depicted will get equal treatment and consideration as the perpetrator. There have been many films about crime victims. This one is about the murderer.

"Dead Man Walking" finds realism in simplicity of the story: there are no crack lawyers coming to save William Poncelet and no dramatic story twists. The film does not attempt to put him in a good light; he is guilty, he is repugnant, is a racist, and was responsible for heinous murders. Given all this, we are asked to do something very difficult: look at him as a human being despite his crimes. In this way, the film challenges the notion that the death penalty provides "justice". Whether you are for or against the death penalty, the film raises questions about whether the guilty can find redemption, inequity in the justice system, and the appropriateness of the death penalty.

Great performances by both Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. In particular the last moments of the film show the true depth of Penn's ability.

Ying hung boon sik II

For fans of John Woo or the Hong Kong action thriller
Chow Yun-Fat is back, teaming up the cop "Kit" and ex-con "Ho" to deal some serious whup-ass on a gang of thugs, for killing their friend's daughter.

This one's not John Woo's best but it's still great in the genre of HK cop movies. The first half is not as good as the second, with some plot holes and kind of weird scenes establishing the state of mind of their friend (whose daughter was killed). Not to give anything away but - you will see what I mean.

Better Tomorrow II proves that nobody looks cooler wielding a 12-gauge shotgun than Chow Yun-Fat (ok, maybe Schwarzeneggar in T2).

The final gun battle at Ko's mansion is phenomenal - it gives Scarface a run for its money in terms of body count and ropes of blood splashing on walls. I love Woo's explosive style of close gun battles and over-the-top carnage. I mean, is it really necessary, once pumping 2 lethal rounds into the bad guy's chest thus assuring his death, to empty the clips from both handguns into him as he is staggering back? Better Tomorrow II states emphatically - YES!

Letters from Iwo Jima

somber, thoughtful, excellent film
"Letters from Iwo Jima" is a thoughtful portrayal of this horrific battle in which resulted in 26,000 American casualties and 6,000 dead; on the Japanese side, 22,000 died and unbelievably & tragically, only 216 survived (surrendered). "Letters" is told from the Japanese point of view, with the letters sent and received between Japanese troops and commanders and their families, being a central thread throughout.

I found the film to be very fair to both sides of the conflict. There were soldiers on both sides who acted brutally and compassionately toward the enemy; soldiers on both sides brave and scared; soldiers on both sides who were fanatics and those who saw no point in the war and just wanted to go home to their loved ones.

It is also fairly accurate (aside from some parts obviously dramatized for film)... for example the captain named "Ito", sick of waiting in caves to die, really did spend 2 days lying in a heap of stinking bodies waiting for a chance to blow up an American tank.

Overall, excellent, sensitive and thoughtful. Performances were all great, including Ken Wanatabe from The Last Samurai. Almost more drama than war - not for those who want the action of a "Saving Private Ryan" war movie.

My only criticism is the film portrays the soldiers on Iwo Jima as being untrained and kind of "second rate".. after reading a bit on this subject I don't believe this was the case generally.

Du bei dao

Good elements, but a little disappointing
"One-Armed Swordsman" is an early work of Chang Cheh, the practical godfather of kung fu cinema. Without wasting any time with describing the plot I'll dive into what I liked and didn't like.

This one is chalk full of great themes: ascension to manhood, honour, revenge, jealousy, hatred, redemption. Fairly unique in this genre is the love story between Fang Gang and Hsiao Man, which is actually quite touching.

I found it interesting, when the rival clan threatens Fang Gang's former teacher and school, how he has to choose between the martial way (protecting his teacher, seeking revenge and entering the cycle of violence again), and settling down in a comfortable life with Hsaio Man. The idea that the only thing that can save the school is Fang Gang's broken sword, that his father left him upon dying, was poetic.

The plot has all the makings of a great martial arts film. Where the film falls down though, is in the badly choreographed sword fights and really cheap sets and bad lighting. The swordfights are often wooden and slow.

I ask anyone who has raved about this film here, to look at the choreography critically... it does not come close to the best in the genre.

Granted, the fact that it is an early work (1967) probably explains this, but still does not change it.

Nankyoku monogatari

Surprisingly moving
"Antarctica" is the story of the men and dogs of Japan's Antarctic research station in the 50's. Ushioda, Ochi and the rest of the team are forced to leave the dogs behind with Antarctic winter approaching, on the understanding that another team is to arrive in a few days. Once on board the ice breaker, they discover to their horror that due to the weather, no one will be able to make it back until the next spring. The dogs are left chained up to fend for themselves.

The story from there is a mixture of fact and conjecture, concerning what the few dogs who were able to escape their chains, did, and how two did survive until the next spring.

The fate of some of these dogs is very sad, and you may not want to watch this if you're a sensitive dog lover. But, the survival of the lucky ones is inspiring. The dogs are not portrayed as in a children's movie (overly cute) but are shown realistically, being kicked by their masters when they fight, and in one scene, savagely attacking a seal when desperate for food. (which, by the way, looks absolutely real - PETA would not be happy!!) The film goes back and forth between the dogs' plight in Antarctica and Ushioda & Ochi back in Japan, who are beside themselves with guilt and grief over the fate of the dogs.

I was so drawn in to this movie, that when Ushioda & Ochi return the following spring, and are scanning the station from the helicopter, that I found myself straining to see with them, looking hopefully for any sign of life.

Ultimately this is a story about man's relationship with dogs, and the unbreakable bond of love that exists between them.

Planet Earth

a mile wide, an inch deep?
I have watched 3 or 4 episodes and the photography is the best I have ever seen on television. But I think in general it lacks depth of understanding on the plants/animals and their ecosystem, for a "documentary" series. For example, the episode on fungi that produces horrific tubers out of the heads of ants was amazing visually, but - anything on the ants' social structure? Which other plants/insects depend on them? Their role in the forest habitat? Anything else children should learn about their fascinating ecosystem? Nope. But the tubers sure were icky.

Also the thrust of the series seems to be on how wonderful and breathtaking the planet is, without delving into questions about how humans are impacting these ecosystems (the episode on polar bears was an exception - but even this didn't dig into too much detail). In Canada like many others I grew up with "The Nature of Things" with David Suzuki, which really delved deeply into the science and human issues. This series seems to concentrate mostly on great photography, jumping from one area of the globe to another without pausing for too long to get into any real "details".

A 10 for photography, 6 for content, so I averaged it to 8/10.

Tiger Claws II

In a word.. horrible
There is only one scenario where you should watch "Tiger Claws II".

You are on an airplane which crashes in the South Pacific. The only survivor, you swim to a nearby deserted island. You learn to eke out an existence on this island by eating tropical fruit and spearing small boars in the jungle. A monkey becomes your only friend, but every night it hurls feces at you from a tree and chatters annoyingly. And it doesn't just hurl its own feces, it actually gathers the feces of other animals and throws that at you too. This goes on every night for 15 years.

One evening you are exploring and find a cave. Entering the cave, to your surprise, you find a TV, VCR, and generator. You pull the cord on the generator and again surprised, it starts. You plug the TV and VCR in, but unfortunately the only movie is an old copy of "Tiger Claws II". You wonder whether to spend another evening with the monkey, or watch the movie.

This is the only scenario where you should watch "Tiger Claws II".


Epic, brilliant
Hidetora is an old warlord whose wars over the past 50 years have "spilled an ocean of blood". He is now ready to pass on his castles and lands to his three sons, and wants his legacy to be one of peace. But the three sons quickly become enemies as they vie for power, and plunge the kingdom into chaos and war.

The plot and characters are brilliantly adapted from King Lear - the plot is complex and characters' fates intertwine with one another beautifully.

"Ran" is beautifully shot - it is set in a mountainous region of Kyushu Island, and it makes you want to travel there. The sight of dozens of cavalrymen dressed in 16th century armor, thundering across ridges and fording rivers, sends chills up your spine.

The "jester" is brilliant in the alternating roles of caregiving and ridiculer of the aging Hidetora, and has a knack for coming up with lines both amusing and deeply illuminating.

The battle scenes are incredible. Over 1,400 extras were used, and a suit of armor had to be made for each. Some 200 horses were used. The stunts also are amazing... there had to be some bones broken when you see these guys falling off their horses at a full run. There's another scene where an infantry soldier tries to get out of the way of a cavalryman thundering toward him, and the horse's breast hits him full in the chest, sending him flying.

There a really memorable scene where Kurosawa has built a $1.5M replica of a castle, and burns it to the ground. The sight of the castle, fully engulfed, and Hidetora walking down the steps in his descent toward madness, has to be one of the best all-time film scenes.

My only criticism is the length - it lags a couple of times. Kurosawa really liked lingering on scenes so the viewer can fully absorb and think about them.

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