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Pixels – DVD Review

Official poster for Columbia Pictures’ film “Pixels” – Wikipedia

Last night I returned some library material to a branch that I don’t visit too often. Browsing the DVD section I saw a fresh copy of Pixels. I’d been curious about it, so checked it out.

I was drawn into the film fairly quickly. Being about 20 yrs in 1982, where the movie begins, it brought back a host of memories. Some good, some not so good.

Adam Sandler plays Sam Brenner, a “loser” working as a tech installer. His orange outfit even has the word “nerd” in the corporate logo. Sort of a cliche these days, one which I doubt actual tech installers would appreciate.

On the other hand, Sam takes on an attractive “snob” (Michelle Monaghan) who wouldn’t kiss him because of his lowly status. And he does it well. So the film is a bit more complicated than merely perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

What really grabbed me in this movie was its integration of early video games, 80s pop culture, and the idea of an ET invasion. If you extend your imagination a bit, I think this movie is pretty good. I laughed here and there. Yes, drifted a few times… but one can always hit the pause button and get a coffee or snack when that happens.

On the whole, I felt that Sandler and the supportive cast did a good job. I wouldn’t say “great” but again, it was the synthesis of old, new and the beyond that made the difference.

More or less panned on other web sites. I think this film was just a bit too clever for some learned “critics” whose minds are too regimented to appreciate a flick that doesn’t fit into the current sci-fi box.  True, it appears stupid and silly. One reviewer just called it “tediously bad.”¹ But something higher was going on. At least, it was for me.

Final word – Pleasantly surprised.




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Her – Review by MC

Fair Use/Dealing rationale for image from Her - low res image for review and educational purposes

Fair Use/Dealing rationale for image from Her – low res image for review and educational purposes

I watched Spike Jonze’s film, Her, the other night. A few more points came to mind that weren’t covered here, mostly about different types of love (eros, agape, and so on). But this was my first shot at audio reviewing, so I was lucky to get as much in as I did. No notes or excessive thinking beforehand. Just first impressions…

I should add that I was somewhat inspired by the New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who takes fashion photos on the streets of New York and talks about them every week at The Times’ website. If the documentary about Cunningham is accurate, it seems that he takes a quick look at his pics on a storyboard before taping his weekly commentary. I like that spontaneity, and tried to emulate it here.

Maybe with practice I’ll be half as good at this as he is!

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Review – Secrets: The Director’s Cut (DVD)

Image courtesty Knight Productions

Title: Secrets: The Director’s Cut
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Production Company: Knight Productions

Last November I reviewed Kemal Yildirim’s film, Secrets (review is here). Now, with The Director’s Cut I’ve been scratching my head over what to say. The two movies are strangely similar but somehow miles apart.

The closest analogy I can come up with is a stereo signal. Have you ever listened to a favorite song through just one stereo channel, with the other one muted? That might sound okay to most listeners. But to anyone loving that song, something’s not quite right (Try it with Sgt. Peppers and you’ll see what I mean).

Also, I’m not the same guy who wrote about Secrets last November. My perspective on life has evolved during the past three months, so my resonance with the film has likewise shifted.

This review, then, is something of a completion, sort of like the yin-yang symbol. I’ve seen both sides and, today, am coming from a different angle. You can look over my first review (here) before going any further. Otherwise, what follows probably won’t make much sense.

So… The Director’s Cut.

Well, to begin, some longer scenes are clipped for faster pacing, others are deleted. On the whole, these edits are a good move. The original film was provocative, partly because it challenged some of my cultural expectations about filmmaking. I was able to shift gears and appreciate Secrets for what it is (just as I did, for instance, with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). But, again, The Director’s Cut moves faster. And since I’m to some extent a socially conditioned creature, this works better for me.

In addition, some new scenes – and snippets of scenes – are interspersed throughout The Director’s Cut, making this revamped Secrets feel a bit more fleshed out and humane than its predecessor.

Moving toward the close, a prominent part of the first film (where characters privately confess into a video cam) is completely axed. Quite a gutsy move, and an effective one.

My November review also says I couldn’t really identify with the characters. But for some reason, I was right “in there” this time around. Did I feel for the characters more because of the extensive editing, or was it more about me and my updated outlook?

I can’t be totally sure. And that’s okay. Because both versions of Secrets are all about ambiguity. The film’s twisting storyline leaves just as many questions as answers. And its character development takes place within a tight-knit circle of increasingly confused relationships, where friends become lovers and lovers friends.

The Directors Cut‘s portrays a curious mix of merrymaking, musing and mayhem. But among this, the timeless capacity for joy and sorrow stands out crystal clear. And this might be the keystone that connects this vibrant indie film to a larger audience.


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Review – Secrets (DVD)

Image courtesty

Title: Secrets
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Production Company: Knight Productions

Secrets is all about relationships, ambiguity and the loss of innocence.

Something like Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (1983), the film kicks off with a tight-knit group of buddies getting together to celebrate the passing of a close friend.

Except for the subplot of substance abuse, however, any similarity to that film pretty much ends here.

After confessing their innermost secrets to one another while camping at the waters edge and carousing in various indoor locations, the group’s unrestrained boozing and, especially, drug habits lead to an unfortunate unraveling.

The turning point occurs over a bad drug deal. Suddenly the innocent, soul searching found earlier in the film moves to something darker.

From the DVD liner notes we learn that Secrets was shot in 7 days with an improvised script. This gives the film freshness and spontaneity. And for me, anyhow, its laissezfaire production style confronted some of the cultural tropes that – God forbid – have burned deep neural pathways in my brain by virtue of my proximity to North American culture.

True, Canadians get a fair amount of European, Asian and other international TV and film. But the American Dream still lights up our CRT and Flat Screen TVs, working its way into our subconscious desires more than, perhaps, we wish to admit.

Like something out of a George Orwell novel, I see that elusive, ephemeral Dream flickering away every night as I take my evening walk. You don’t have to be a peeping Tom to see it. TVs just keep getting bigger and bigger, making it all so much easier to see the 21st-century Screen through so many Toronto living room windows.


So I had to pull back and readjust my expectations while watching this film. Not that I’m a stranger to international cinema. I’m not. I can handle subtitles just as well as anyone else. And I like taking imaginal trips without having to worry about the inherent dangers of flying.

By the same token, the overseas films that make it big here usually follow, to some degree, a commercially proven formula. And why not? After all, most people want to hit the jackpot–even if they claim otherwise with a false humility ironically mingled with an air of artistic superiority. In Western movie halls and DVD sales, making it big often means drawing on, to some extent, the Hollywood legacy (I know next to nothing about Chinese films, except for Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan…).

Sure, artistic styles have always been evolving, interpenetrating and expanding, and no doubt will continue to. As Heraclitus once put it, you can’t stand in the same river twice. But, having said that, there’s still a river to think about.

Ha. Okay. Now you get it.

Well, actually, maybe you don’t. Because the most powerful and surprising secret about Secrets is that it subtly undermines quite a few contemporary conventions.

Secrets is almost like a watercolor in motion. It’s got focus; but different approaches and ideas flow into one another, offering complexity and a touch of chaos without sacrificing overall coherence.

At first, I didn’t really connect with the characters in this film (although many of the same actors were quite absorbing in other Yildirim films). But after letting Secrets percolate for a while, the film simply wouldn’t let me go. Like other Yildirim productions, this one, too, got under my skin.

The phrase “thought-provoking” comes to mind. Along with “challenging.” Both are good things, as has been the lingering influence of Secrets.


(Review for Secrets: The Director’s Cut is here)


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Review – The Extraordinary Voyages of Jules Verne (DVD)

This film tells of the intriguing life of Jules Verne (1828-1905), from his early days of being beaten by his father to rejecting his family’s approach to religion and entering into a world of magic and secret societies.

Philip Gardiner observes that Verne’s novels are in large part allegorical. With the help of the influential French publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, Verne’s literary output not only predicts some of the realities of 20th and 21st century life but, perhaps more importantly, depicts the inner journey of the archetypal hero.

The idea of the hero’s symbolic death and resurrection is familiar today. The hero motif has been influential in literature and literary criticism and roundly discussed by the likes of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Otto Rank and Lord Raglan (4th Baron), among many others.

However, Gardiner maintains that the complex social and religious backdrop to Verne’s era necessitated secrecy and symbolism when Verne was alluding to the heroic and essentially alchemical quest for immortality.

And when you think about it, Verne’s novels fit perfectly within a Jungian or Campbellian framework. From Journey to the Centre of the Earth to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it’s not too difficult to see these fictional works as portraying an underworld journey into the unusual forces that alternately endanger or enhance awareness of the essential self.

This well-researched DVD doesn’t require familiarity with Verne’s novels. And those interested in 19th-century European history and the confluence of wisdom, literature and science should find it extremely worthwhile.


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Queen organizes Bollywood dance at Buckingham Palace

Backview Bollywood #39: Meena Kadri

Backview Bollywood #39: Meena Kadri

Special to

Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II of United Kingdom has invited Bollywood dancers for a first-ever such performance at Buckingham Palace in London, according to reports.

Fifteen minute long performance with three male and five female dancers will be held in the lavish Ballroom, where German composer-organist-conductor-pianist Felix Mendelssohn performed organ recitals for Queen Victoria. It will include seven costume changes and a romantic boy-meets-girl storyline.

The performance has been termed as “sexy and hot”. It will be held in the shadow of red-gold canopy once used in 1911 for Delhi Durbar. It will include a sequence from 1955 Filmfare Award winner “Shree 420” starring Raj Kapoor. Two Indian chefs will work with palace chefs to prepare canapés for guests.

Queen had already seen the Bollywood dancing during a visit to Bradford in the past. Besides Queen and Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, other members of royal family expected to be present include Duke and Duchess of Wessex and Prince Michael of Kent.

Seeing Queen’s interest in India’s culture, Rajan Zed, acclaimed Hindu statesman, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, urged her to visit a Hindu temple. Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, further said that traditionally Lord Shiva invented dance who first danced the cosmic tandava. Sage Bharata first codified rules of classic Indian dance in Natya-sastra treatise.

Bollywood dancing is a high energy vibrant dance performed to the Bollywood tracks and is fusion of traditional Indian dances, folk dances (including Bhangra), and western influences; popularized by Bollywood movies which usually feature about seven song-dance sequences, mostly involving two people falling in love. Bollywood dance craze is spreading across USA, Canada and Europe. It is a free dance, an expression of joy, Rajan Zed adds.


Featured Comment – H. H. Swami Ramakrishnananda on The Love Guru

Photo: B Balaji

Photo: B Balaji

Dear Respected Producers, Directors and Distributors of the The Love Guru:

Please accept my humble reverences. As the founder of the Ramakrishnananda Yoga Vedanta Mission and as a minister and preacher within the Sanatana Dharma religion, I wish to express my most vehement repudiation of your film The Love Guru.

A few days ago I had the opportunity to see the trailer for this movie and found that it offends the most intimate religious feelings of millions of Hindus in the United States and in the world. It is a clear expression of a colonialist mindset, complete with an unfounded superiority complex that considers religions to be true only if they are based on the Holy Bible, a practice that marginalizes religions such as the sacred Sanatana Dharma as a sect or cult. Portraying rabbis, priests and pastors as the only authentic religious leaders demeans the holy preachers of Hinduism. This movie is another offense against our religion, a clear expression of anti-Hinduism, which grow more common and acceptable in the media and on the internet.

I wish to express my denunciation of anti-Hindu attitudes wherever they may appear.

Your ever well wisher
H.H. Swami Ramakrishnananda

Founder of The Ramakrishnananda Yoga Vedanta Mission
headquarters 96 Ave. B, New York, USA

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