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Gems you may have missed 2008

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2008 was a year when slumdogs, superheroes and sad-eyed robots ruled our imagination. As audiences lined up for grand entertainment, many of the year's best films and performances went largely unnoticed. Here are some of my favourite films from last year. Click on the links to place a request for a film.

Shotgun Stories:The story of a group of half-brothers that become embroiled in a dispute after the passing of their father. This parable like story provides an astute examination of what incites youth to violence and the struggles of the brave few who will stand against it.

Son of Rambow: Please don't let the title scare you off. This is a charming and stylish story of two English schoolboys of vastly different backgrounds attempting to re-create their favourite movie, Rambo: First Blood. The experience of filming their masterpiece helps the boys cope with their troubled family relationships.

Happy Go Lucky: Sally Hawkins gives an incredible performance as Poppy, a seemingly incurable optimist. This slice-of-life feature follows Poppy through driving lessons, dance classes and nightclubs, as she tries to bring joy to those who would bring her down. British director Mike Leigh gives us a funny, thoughtful and very touching story of the struggles of maintaining a positive outlook on life.

Tell No One: "8 Years ago, Alex's wife was murdered... Today she e-mailed him." So says the tag-line from this absorbing thriller. A pediatrician struggles to prove his innocence in the brutal murder of his wife, while trying to outrun those who pursue him. This "Fugitive" like film is a truly international effort: a French Director (Guillaume Cane) filming an American novel (by Harlan Coben), starring French-Canadian and British actresses (Marie-Josée Croze & Kristin Scott Thomas).

The Fall: In a hospital in 1920's California, a bed-ridden stuntman befriends a young girl with a broken arm. He enchants her with a magical tale of heroes and villains. Real-life people and situations are gradually incorporated into his story and the line between story and reality become blurred. Like "Pan's Labyrinth" this film uses a fairytale approach to deal with some heavy subject matter. What begins as an escapist tale for the child ends up a cathartic one for the stuntman. Filmed in 20 countries over the period of four years, the images and scope of this film are awe-inspiring.

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Guaranteed Embarrassment Free 6

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I've gone into my movie memory banks to pull out a few of the following titles. Little older, and they don't turn up on television too often, so they might have escaped your movie radar.

The Flintstones ---1994 A live action film based on the 60's cartoon, this is a lot of fun. Many recognizable faces including John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Kyle MacLachlan, Halle Berry, Rosie O'Donnell and even a cameo by Elizabeth Taylor. The sets are quite ingenious, and there are many cultural references for the adults to enjoy.

Fern Gully---now here is an old one from 1992 that was one of my favorites to watch with my children. Timely then, and even more so now, it tells the story of a rain forest under seige from a lumber company.

Black Knight is great fun, but does have 2 very brief scenes that are a little suggestive. Given that this post is supposed to be embarrasment free I momentarily hesitated adding this title; but it works so well and has such good overall value that I thought I'd add it and just give you a heads up. A modern day theme park attendant is transported back to medieval England.

If you are one of the few people who hasn't yet seen Wall E, treat yourself to this 2008 release from Pixar. This is an absolute joy of a movie---you will fall in love with Wall E and EVA. We have dozens of copies and the number of holds are way down from where they were a few months ago.

Freaky Friday--- we have both versions of this; the 1976 with a very young Jodi Foster, and the 2003 with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. I'm not too much of a Lohan fan, but she does a good job here, and Curtis strikes just the right note when she plays the teenage daughter. Mom and daughter exchange bodies and really get to understand what it's like to be in someone elses shoes.

City of Ember from 2008---story of a civilization that has been forced to live underground for the last 200 years and is now trying to regain the surface as their power supply starts to fail. This movie has a great look to it- muted colors that capture the feel of their failing light source; rag tag clothing where everything has been mended and remended; hobbled together contraptions that display the inhabitants ingenuity.With Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, I quite enjoyed this.

Role Reversals

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Urban myths abound around many roles that were offered to and turned down by any number of Hollywood actors-from major players to virtual unknowns and everybody in between. According to the very entertaining and well-researched book The Greatest Movies Everhere are a few of the more notable role reversals.

Marlon Brando was first choice over Peter O'Toole for Lawrence of Arabia.

Clint Eastwood, James Caan, Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson all turned down the role of Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. The role eventually went to Martin Sheen and garnered him critical acclaim---and a heart attack.
Now here's a stretch---Frank Sinatra instead of Brando in On the Waterfront. Given the Chairman's known affiliation with the mob this might have been too much a case of art imitating life. Brando took home the Oscar for his performance.

In my opinion one of the reasons that Dustin Hoffman works so well in the title role of The Graduate is he is so ordinary, so 'everyman'. He seems like he really could have got into this situation without knowing how. The original choice for the role was the genetically blessed Robert Redford. Even with Redford's fine acting skills I would have found it hard to see him as the bemused and befuddled Ben Braddock.

Imagine a brunette Lara in Dr. Zhivago---Sophia Loren was considered by David Lean to be too tall for her co-star Omar Sharif and the role went instead to the petite Julie Christie.

Author Peter Benchley wanted an all star cast including Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen in the film adaptation of his book Jaws. Spielberg wanted Lee Marvin as shark hunter Quint. I'm not sure where they would have put all that star power. There were only three major roles (four if you count the shark). The roles as we know, went to Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfus.

Can you imagine anybody else other than Jack Nicholson as McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? James Caan anybody?

Harrison Ford became one of the most iconic heroes of our time as Indiana Jones after Tom Selleck could not get time away from his Magnum P.I. duties.

Alec Baldwin turned down the title role in The Fugitive and Harrison Ford stepped in. Not the first time that Ford took over a role from him. Baldwin also declined to reprise the role of Jack Ryan from The Hunt for Red October. Ford played the role twice more in Patriot Games, and a Clear and Present Danger.

At the age of 60 Cary Grant turned down the role of - wait for it ---James Bond!

A role which as everybody knows, went to Sean Connery.

But did you know that Sean was first choice for Gandalf? Rumor has it they wanted him so badly they offered him 15% of world wide sales, an amount that could have been in the low 9 figures! That's 300 to 400 MILLION dollars!!! Mr. Connery, who has never read the LOTR trilogy, is quoted as saying 'he didnt understand the script'. He is also quoted as saying of his refusal ' it was a big mistake'.

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Eco Movies II

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Find these dvds about the "human factor" in the environment in our non-fiction collection:

Edward Burtynsky Manufactured Landscapes

Alberta photographer made famous by his striking colour photographs of open pit mines and industrial sites is featured in this fascinating dvd. The opening scenes of an enormous factory in China alone are worth a look. When the film crew runs into a hesitant coal mine executive, a translator insists that through Burtynsky's eye, "it will look beautiful"...and it does. Burtynsky's large scale photos appear to be abstract paintings, then draw the viewer in to discover the waste and desbris that the images document. He avoids commentary and leaves the viewer to intrepret, but you won't be able to avoid debate when you view the town responsible for e-cycling--the breaking down of our old phones, tvs, and computers. That the first "r" is reduce is never more clear.

Aftermath: Population zeroand Life After People

These similar films examine what life on earth would be like if all humans were gone. Both assume that people disappear all over the world simultaneously. The digital imaging of cityscapes taken over by plants and wildlife is convincing because actual footage of abandoned areas appears. Life After People shows building and fields reclaimed by vegetation after Chernobyl. Aftermath gives more information about effects of chemical plant explosions and long terms effects. Strangely hopeful, both films inspire us to consider what we're doing now and what effects it has on living things around us. However, some frightening concepts may make these inappropriate for very young viewers.

Carts of Darkness

Bottle pickers in North Vancouver, British Columbia have taken to riding shopping carts down the steep roads of the North shore. Some make the descent part of their route, ahead of the city recycling trucks. Others have perfected carting as a sport that blows out running shoes on a single run. Director Murray Siple is a former snowboarder who identifies with the mostly homeless men's search for speed and excitement. Even so, the film is more moving than "gonzo," and it gives insight into a group of individuals who are living by means of bottle depot refunds