October 2006

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of October

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Corpse Bride (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Enemy of the State: Special Extended Edition (R1 USA, SD DVD)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition (R1 USA, SD DVD)
  • The Machinist (R0 Japan, HD DVD)
  • Waking the Dead: Series 3 (R2 UK, SD DVD)

Wow! For the first time, the number of HD DVDs coming into the house exceeded the number of standard definition DVDs.

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 10:30 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Halloween | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Halloween reviews special: Corpse Bride

HD DVD
Corpse Bride is a title that I suspect I shall come to view more as a demo disc than as something to sit down and watch, since, while the film has its proponents, I can’t help seeing it as incredibly disappointing given the strengths of The Nightmare Before Christmas. In terms of audio-visual quality, however, this disc is close to being as good as it gets, and as such, gets my recommendation for the quality of the presentation, if nothing else.

For this year’s final Halloween review, I’ve reviewed the recently released HD DVD of Corpse Bride, which features a stellar audio-visual presentation of Tim Burton’s latest stop motion animated feature.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 6:05 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews
 

Gaming goodies

My copy of the Guild Wars: Nightfall Collector’s Edition arrived last night - yes, last night, at around 9 PM, to be precise. A strange time of day for a delivery, no? Anyway, I naturally cracked it open immediately, to behold the array of goodies on offer:

Guild Wars: Nightfall Collector's Edition

The contents are as follows:

  • Poster
  • Map
  • Cardboard character standee
  • Manual and activation key, plus bonus activation keys for bonus music, invite a friend, and trials of the first two Guild Wars campaigns
  • The Art of Guild Wars: Nightfall book
  • Game DVD
  • Soundtrack CD
  • “Making of” DVD
  • Two skill pin badges

As someone who remembers the good old days before PC games started coming in DVD cases rather than full-size cardboard boxes, it’s nice to see a package that actually contains enough material for you to feel like you’ve actually got your money’s worth. All too often, these days, all you get is a CD and a 5-page manual telling you how to install the thing. I’ve watched the documentary on the making-of DVD, which runs for about an hour and is pretty interesting, and will enjoy flicking through the art book while listening to the game’s score (which, if it’s anything like that of the previous two installments in the series, should be excellent).

Guild Wars: Nightfall

I’ve not had much of a chance to play the game itself yet (it only arrived last night, after all), but I’ve already created a new character, a Dervlish named Dawn Starshine, and have built her up to Level 4. This looks like it could be the most interesting campaign yet, with the North Africa-inspired landscape coming as a breath of fresh air given the fairly generic medieval and Oriental settings of Guild Wars and Guild Wars: Factions respectively.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 1:24 PM
Categories: DVD | Games | General | Music
 

Halloween reviews special: Death Laid an Egg

DVD
Although I would consider Death Laid an Egg absolutely essential viewing for anyone with an interest in gialli, the problematic nature of this DVD’s presentation makes it difficult to recommend, particularly given the high price tag. Unfortunately, it seems to be the best we’re going to get for the time being, since the usual rights issues would appear to be preventing a wider release.

What would you get if David Cronenberg, Jean-Luc Godard and Nicolas Roeg got together to make a giallo? Answer: Death Laid an Egg. I’ve reviewed the R2 Japanese DVD of this bafflingly weird 1968 offering.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 12:35 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween reviews special: The Machinist

HD DVD
Toshiba have given The Machinist a decent enough high definition release, with a solid transfer. Unfortunately, the audio problems mar the viewing experience somewhat, while the fact that not all of the extras have been transferred over means that many people will want to hang on to their standard definition releases. Ultimately, though, it’s nice to see a slightly more offbeat film getting released on HD DVD, which makes a nice change from the various blockbusters and romantic comedies that are showing up on the format in the US.

Can there be anything more horrifying than the sight of a 120 pound Christian Bale in full high definition? I find out with my review of the R0 Japanese HD DVD of The Machinist.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 10:22 AM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews
 

Mother of Tears news

Loads of new information has emerged over the last couple of days regarding Dario Argento’s upcoming Mother of Tears, so I’m going to list it in the form of some handy bullet points:

  • The cinematographer is Frederic Fasano (Do You Like Hitchcock?). The film is being shot in Super35 for a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the outrageous colours will be achieved via a digital grade.
  • Contrary to rumours, Myriad Pictures is still involved in the project, and the budget is apparently adequate for everything required by the script.
  • Yesterday was the last day of principal photography in Rome, which now moves to Turin for six weeks.
  • The visual effects, both practical and digital, are being handled by the same people responsible for the effects of the Masters of Horror series.
  • The UK premiere will be at FrightFest 2007, and Dario and Asia Argento will hopefully both be present.

Sources: Mobius and Dark Discussion

 
Posted: Monday, October 30, 2006 at 7:22 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

Halloween reviews special: Seven Notes in Black

DVD
Had it contained an English audio track as the packaging states, this could probably have been accepted as the definitive version of Seven Notes in Black. As it stands, however, this oversight means that, despite the generally impressive transfer and in-depth extras, this release is seriously flawed. Hopefully, one day, there will be a legitimate English-language release of the film. Until then, however, it’s disappointing that most English speakers can only watch this underrated entry in Fulci’s filmography by means of an illegal bootleg.

Released last year, Neo Publishing’s 2-disc Collector’s Edition of Seven Notes in Black combines an underrated Lucio Fulci film with an exhaustive set of extras. I’ve reviewed the R2 French release, which annoyingly lacks the English audio track listed on the packaging.

 
Posted: Monday, October 30, 2006 at 6:09 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween reviews special: Constantine

HD DVD
Constantine is no masterpiece - Keanu Reeves’ performance is pretty cringe-inducing, and the combination of po-faced religious themes and gung-ho demon-slaying doesn’t exactly work very well - but, as demo material, this disc has a lot to offer. Fans of the film would certainly appreciate the upgrade from standard definition, while audiophiles and casual viewers alike will get a kick out of the superior TrueHD audio.

I’ve reviewed Warner’s HD DVD release of Constantine, pitting Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz against demons from the very depths of Hell. This R0 US disc features an impressive array of extras, a decent if flawed transfer, and a superb TrueHD audio mix.

 
Posted: Monday, October 30, 2006 at 12:03 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween reviews special: Plot of Fear

DVD
Plot of Fear may disappoint viewers who like their gialli exotic or camp, and as a straight murder mystery, it’s not perfect. Still, as an example of the genre at its more serious and downtrodden, this is a compelling thriller with a palpable atmosphere of pessimism and distrust. It may lack the grandeur of an Argento or the viscera of a Fulci, but Cavara’s film is a fine addition to the genre and one that can boast to offer something slightly different from the usual run of animal-titled chic slashers.

I return to the world of the giallo with a review of Plot of Fear, a bleak 1976 thriller from Paolo Cavara, starring Corinne Clery. Raro Video’s R0 Italian DVD offers both English and Italian audio but features a disappointing transfer and a lack of extras.

 
Posted: Monday, October 30, 2006 at 9:02 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween: the countdown begins

Halloween

I’ve now finalised the list of reviews that will be going live this Halloween at DVD Times. Unfortunately, I’ve had to cut back a little on my original projected list of titles due to a lack of time and, in some instances, motivation, but you should still be seeing six horror-themed reviews from me (plus a few from other contributors), so you shouldn’t want for lack of reading. The schedule looks like this:

  • October 30th, 6 AM: Plot of Fear (R0 Italy, SD DVD)
  • October 30th, 12 PM: Constantine (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • October 30th, 6 PM: Seven Notes in Black: Collector’s Edition (R2 France, SD DVD)
  • October 31st, 12 AM: Corpse Bride (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • October 31st, 12 PM: The Machinist (R0 Japan, HD DVD)
  • October 31st, 6 PM: Death Laid an Egg (R2 Japan, SD DVD)

Of these, all but Corpse Bride are written and ready to go.

I also intend to watch several horror-themed films over the next few days, including some old favourites, like Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, Suspiria and Inferno. Time will tell, of course, whether I actually manage to keep to that, but I live in hope. At any rate, the TV schedules look as piss-poor as usual for October 31st, so it looks as if I’m going to have to provide my own playlist, as usual.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006 at 2:57 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews | TV
 

My latest little project

Trauma

Trauma

Trauma

Trauma

Trauma

I knocked this one together this evening, once again proving what Anchor Bay could easily have done if they’d invested a little effort, instead of cobbling the missing material together as a bunch of VHS-sourced “deleted scenes”. The Italian print has much nicer colours too, which I’m led to believe are an accurate representation of how the film should look, so that’s a nice bonus.

The results are fine overall, with the film playing in as seamless a manner as possible when taking into account the language switching (I wish I had the work print available so I could get the original English dialogue for the affected material), although I’ve had a lot of trouble fitting this one on a single layer disc without major artefacting. The Italian transfer wasn’t the best compression job in the first place (it too was crammed on to a single layer disc), and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from these projects, it’s that, since the material is effectively going to be encoded twice, you’ll need to give your version a higher bit rate than that of the source file, otherwise you essentially get double the artefacts. One of these days, I’d love to get a dual layer burner - maybe I’ll wait till HD DVD-compatible drives become available and/or affordable.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006 at 12:55 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology
 

The Exorcist coming to HD DVD

HD DVD

Source: AV Science Forum

It would appear that William Friedkin’s The Exorcist will be making its way to HD DVD at some point. Amazon.com have added it to their catalogue, and they’re generally very cagey about what they include on their site, which suggests that it’s in the pipeline. There’s no release date yet - perhaps this year, perhaps next - and you can’t order it yet, but you can sign up to be notified when it becomes in stock.

As you probably know, I haven’t been this film’s greatest proponent. I’ve seen it three or four times now, and found myself liking it a little better each time, but I’ve never been absolutely wild about it (you can read my most recent throughts on it from back in May 2006), but I’m currently reading William Peter Blatty’s novel upon which the film was based (thanks, Lee!), and two things are quite apparent. One, the film is extremely faithful to the book (I’m not sure whether that’s necessarily a good or a bad thing). Two, it’s a damn good book, and, given the aforementioned faithfulness, I think a fourth (or is that fifth?) rewatch of the film would probably seal the deal for me.

Now, with an HD DVD release seemingly imminent, I’m not going to rush out and by an old-fashioned DVD, but will instead bide my time until the high definition version comes out. Warner have something of a history of not announcing HD DVDs until the very last minute, so it could be mere weeks away… although, of course, it could be much longer. One thing’s for sure: I really hope they release William Friedkin’s original theatrical cut rather than that clumsy monstrosity Blatty hacked together back in 1998, complete with ridiculous CGI “scares” as well as mood- and pace-killing scenes and lines of dialogue that were left out for a good reason. “The Version You’ve Never Seen”? More like “The Version You’ll Wish You’d Never Seen”.

 
Posted: Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 4:48 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Man to Man with Dean Learner… it’s, well, bollocks

Dean Learner (with cigar) and Garth Marenghi

Above: Dean Learner (with cigar) and Garth Marenghi

You’ve probably already read my various rants about the wonderfulness of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, which I honestly believe is the best funny-type show since Brass Eye. You may also know, then, that the people behind Darkplace have a new series, Man to Man with Dean Learner, which takes the camp producer/publisher/actor from the earlier show and casts him as a sleazy chat show host, with a new (fictitious) guest each week. Given the talent behind Darkplace, you’d be forgiven for expecting another slam dunk. Unfortunately, having watched the first two episodes, I’ve come to the conclusion that, to put it bluntly, it blows.

The problem with the show can be summed up quite succinctly: it’s not funny. At all. Which, for a comedy, is pretty much the kiss of death. Whatever the studio audience of cackling loons would have us believe, Dean’s conversations with his various guests, which last week included the esteemed horror scenarist Garth Marenghi and the week featured Formula 5 champion Steve Pising (both played by Matthew Holness, who, it seems, will feature as a different guest each week), are dull and desperate. (To give you some idea of how desperate it is, the majority of the jokes revolve around the fact that the character’s name is pronounced “pissing”. Seriously, this is the sort of garbage you would expect from those crummy “comedies” that get consigned to the hilariously unpopular BBC Four… or is that Three? I can’t remember which one features the comedy rejects.) Look, the character of Dean Learner is inherently funny, but they’ve somehow managed to suck all the comedic value out of him. Perhaps the talk show format isn’t the best environment to showcase him, but even so, I can’t believe how downright tedious this programme is. It has, for me, the same sort of vibe as The Office, where I don’t find the enterprise funny in the slightest, just boring and mildly uncomfortable. I seriously got more laughs out of Bo! in the USA, which runs just before Man to Man - and, if you’ve ever seen Bo! in the USA, you’ll know what a sad indictment that is.

I’d like to think that the show will pick up steam for the remaining four episodes, but I’m not confident. I had thought that perhaps the poor quality of the first episode was just a fluke, the natural side effect of them getting into the swing of things, but the second episode turned out to be even worse. To make matters worse, they’ve squandered their most established character, Garth Marenghi, at the very start, so I suspect it may be all downhill from here. Only a surprise appearance by Todd Rivers could shake things up now, I suspect.

 
Posted: Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 11:31 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: TV
 

We used to be friends

DVD

Back when I watched the first season of Veronica Mars, my reaction to it was somewhat apathetic. Generally speaking, I found the plotting inconsistent, the characters generic and at times grating, and the whole Southern California high school/beach vibe rather off-putting. This afternoon, however, I brought out the DVDs again and made my way through the first disc, encompassing the first four episodes. I actually found myself enjoying it a lot more this time round. Perhaps it’s because, like so many mystery-oriented stories, it’s fun to go back and spot all the clues while being aware of the outcome, but the plotting strikes me as being considerably more accomplished than I first realised. You can definitely see the seeds being laid for the various mini-mysteries that will be solved over the course of the season, as well as the big ones that aren’t paid off until the final episode.

Suffice to say, I think I may have misjudged this show. Indeed, I’ve ordered the recently-released DVD set of Season 2 from MovieTyme. I haven’t seen any of this season, so it should be interesting.

 
Posted: Friday, October 27, 2006 at 7:02 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

HD DVD
Warner’s HD DVD release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is pretty good, but disappoints with regard to its transfer and the lacklustre quality of the In-Movie Experience. As such, I’d hestitate to call this a must-buy for those who already own the standard definition 2-disc edition, although it obviously constitutes a considerable improvement in terms of image quality.

I’ve reviewed Warner’s recently released HD DVD of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sporting an exclusive audio commentary and In-Movie Experience, how does it compare to its standard definition predecessor?

 
Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 8:09 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Sony announces 94% plunge in profits

Blu-ray

Source: The Guardian

The contrasting fortunes of two of the biggest players in the global gaming market were underlined today when Sony announced a 94% plunge in profits for the most recent quarter, while Nintendo said its profits over the first half of the fiscal year had more than tripled.

Sony said the combined cost of its global recall of potentially faulty PC batteries and developing its next-generation game console, the PlayStation 3, had shrunk profits for the July-September quarter to 1.7bn yen (£7.6m) compared with 28.5bn yen for the same period a year earlier.

Hear that? That’s the sound of me laughing.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 6:30 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Games | General | Technology
 

Results!

The Exam Board for my Film & TV MLitt was held on Monday, but the results still haven’t appeared on my online account. After getting nowhere with Registry, who apparently “don’t have the manpower” to check whether or not my results have been processed, I ended up emailing the department to see whether or not they had actually been sent off to Registry. The answer is yes, they did, and I got a Distinction. Which is excellent news indeed, but until it actually appears on paper I don’t have much proof. What worries me is that the cut-off date for registering for graduation is fast approaching, and I’m not sure whether I can register without proof of my grade. It’s also problematic in that many potential employers want to see a transcript of results, which I obviously can’t give them. If things haven’t sorted themselves out by tomorrow, I’m probably going to have to go down to the university and pound on a few doors.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 6:29 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: General
 

British HD DVD pre-orders outselling Blu-ray

HD DVD

Source: AV Science Forum

An online retailer taking pre-orders for high definition disc players and content has claimed that UK consumers are spending more on HD DVD than they are on Blu-ray.

Play.com says that pre-orders made on its website favour HD DVD over Blu-ray by 2 to 1, whilst content leads by 3 to 1.

Good news to be sure. I had worried that, with Blu-ray launching before HD DVD in the UK, the punters would be suckered into buying it instead, but it seems that people have more sense than that.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 3:18 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | HD DVD
 

Mother of Tears: it has begun

Source: Dark Discussion

Apparently, filming of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, the long-overdue conclusion to the Three Mothers trilogy begun with Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), began yesterday at the Bocca della Verità in the centre of Rome.

And at the moment, that’s all we know. The only other news is that Myriad Pictures, which was to be the production’s USA partner, is no longer involved with the project. The reason, apparently, is disagreements over casting decisions. (My guess? Myriad wanted Sienna Miller to play the lead, Argento wanted Asia Argento.) While I’m personally glad that Argento has stuck to his guns rather than caving into the demands of a studio whose output so far has been comprised of the likes of Jeepers Creepers II and The Good Girl, I can’t help thinking that this must have lowered the budget considerably and scuppered pretty much any chance of an English-language theatrical release. Ah, well.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 11:46 AM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

One on Top of the Other in 2007

DVD

Severin Films has just announced that, in early 2007, they will be bringing Lucio Fulci’s long-lost first giallo, One on Top of the Other, to DVD, complete with a new transfer from the original negative. This is fantastic news, since, with the Anchor Bay DVD that was announced ages ago seemingly disappearing without a trace, many people were beginning to wonder if it would ever see the light of day. I’ll certainly be picking this up, and I’ll be glad to throw away my VHS bootleg, which has served me well but is certainly no way to watch such an impressive film. Of course, given that I don’t own any of Severin’s other releases, it’s hard to say what the quality of their output is like, but it’s got to be better than what’s available already.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 12:13 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD
 
 

 
 
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