December 2006

 
 

Page 3 of 4
<< Previous 1 2 3 4 Next >>

HD for High Disappointment

HD DVD

Two new HD DVDs winged their way to me from DVD Pacific this morning: An American Werewolf in London, from Universal, and Wolf Creek, from the Weinstein Company. Unfortunately, these are the most disappointing high definition discs I’ve received so far.

Let’s start with An American Werewolf in London. Prior to receiving it, I was under no delusions as to how it would look. This is a low budget film from 1981, and one that, despite its cult following, is neither prestigious enough to be eligible for a Casablanca-style restoration, nor for the same standard of storage. So far, all of the HD DVD’s I’ve bought have been of recent (i.e. less than 10 years old) films, many of them sourced from digital intermediates with the film negative itself being scanned almost as soon as it was shot. As such, there is a certain “look” that you can expect from them that you aren’t going to get with something like American Werewolf. Still, I expect the technicians to do the best they can with the materials they are handed, and not to attempt any sort of invasive digital manipulation. Unfortunately, those responsible for the master used for this HD DVD clearly missed that particular memo from the HMS Whimsy, for they have attempted to compensate for the inherently somewhat soft look of the source materials by adding a tonne of edge enhancement. The aliasing on this particular title is the worst I’ve seen on any HD DVD, and would probably be considered pretty noticeable even on a standard definition release. All things considered, this gets a very low 6/10 from me.

Even the sound is a disaster - a 0/10 affair. American Werewolf was, unsurprisingly, mixed in mono, but, for the most recent theatrical re-release, Universal undertook a whiz-bang new DTS 5.1 remix, and in doing so not only fed the existing audio through multiple channels, but also threw in all manner of new sound effects not present originally. Unfortunately, on the DVD, and now the HD DVD, only this mangled 5.1 mix is provided. As far as I am concerned, this is not the film as it was originally released, and as such is a faulty product. Sorry to be harsh, but intrusive revisionism of this sort has absolutely no place on a disc whose cover art proclaims “The Look and Sound of Perfect™”, unless of course the original version is also provided as an option.

HD DVD

Wolf Creek next, and I’m afraid things go from bad to worse. This film is actually not a “film” at all, since it was shot in 1080p high definition. As such, an HD DVD encoded at 1080p should theoretically provide a more or less perfect pixel to pixel replication of the original image that was recorded. Unfortunately, Wolf Creek has what Lyris refers to as “the Blu-ray look”. The image is incredibly inconsistent. Some shots look absolutely brilliant, with razor-sharp details, while the fake grain added to many scenes to make the movie look a little more intense (and less like a home video) is accurately represented. Other scenes, though, show noticeable compression artefacts and give everything an odd “waxy” look, as fine details are smeared out, a little like the HD DVD of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Unlike most North American HD DVD studios, the Weinstein Company are using AVC/MPEG4 as their codec instead of VC1, and, while I personally was very pleased by the results that this produced for the Japanese HD DVD of The Machinist, I’m beginning to see why so many people are down on it if Wolf Creek is representative of how it generally looks. Another 6/10.

Oh, and the disc took absolutely ages - about three minutes - to boot. Apparently this problem affects all of the Weinstein Company’s HD DVDs, for some reason.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 09, 2006 at 12:30 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Hannibal Rising… or is that sinking?

Hannibal Rising

Well, it seems that Dino De Laurentiis is determined to milk the Hannibal Lecter gravy train for all it’s worth, and this time he’s managed to rope the character’s creator, reclusive novelist Thomas Harris, in to help out. Harris’s latest novel, Hannibal Rising, recently went on sale (I saw various displays promoting the hardcover edition while I was out and about today, but baulked at the price tag), and a film of the same name, written by Harris himself (it’s unclear whether the film is based on the book, or vice versa, or a combination of the two), is due to be released in cinemas in February 2007. The first trailer is now available at Tobis (the on-screen text is in German, but there is no dialogue in the teaser itself), and it looks like a cash-in of the highest order.

I’ve liked all of the previous Lecter films to some degree, from the masterful Hannibal to the workmanlike but effective Red Dragon (I’d need to see Michael Mann’s take on that particular tale, released as Manhunter, again to solidify my opinions on that venture), but this one just doesn’t look particularly inspired. Admittedly, it’s hard to get much of an idea of anything from a trailer, and a brief teaser at that, but a glance at the synopsis on IMDB isn’t exactly filling me with hope. Who really needs “Hannibal: The Teenage Years”, where we get to see the horrific events that shaped him into the vicious serial killer he is today? The tantalising glimpses of that in the novel of Hannibal (omitted from the film itself) were plenty, and I personally think these elements of his character work better if they’re hidden away in the shadows rather than out in the open.

I’ll probably end up seeing this film, if only for completeness’ sake, but my expectations are pretty low.

 
Posted: Friday, December 08, 2006 at 10:00 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema
 

A most eventful excursion

This morning, I was at an interview for a job with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the body in charge of designing and conferring all non-degree awards in Scotland. The post in question is an administrative one, and it’s a part-time (three days per week), temporary (three months) venture, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, as they say, and I’d like to be able to get some money coming in again (I’ve been putting all my unemployment benefit rakings into a PhD fund). Of course, being an interview, I had to wear a suit and tie, which, as you probably know, I absolutely loathe. (Can someone please explain to me the point of a tie? I can’t think of a more useless item of clothing.)

The Peoples of Middle-earth V for Vendetta

Anyway, while I was out, I took the opportunity to do two things. First, I went to Burger King and ate one of their burgers - something I haven’t done in many a year. Not much has changed: they’re still better than McDonalds’ burgers, but they sit like a lump of lead in your stomach and very quickly leave you feeling empty. Second, I went to Borders to spend a £25 book token I had lying around. I was rather foolishly hoping they’d be stocking HD DVDs and that I’d find something to my fancy, but evidently Borders still think it’s the 20th century, so I had to settle for good old-fashioned literature instead. I picked up The Peoples of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien’s account of his father’s writing of the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, and a copy of the original graphic novel of V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Unfortunately, the only version I could find had been subjected to an incredibly naff colouring job (the original publication was black and white, but evidently nowadays readers want their comics in colour, no matter how crummy that colour might be), but it’s better than nothing, and the paint job is so faint that, if I squint hard enough, I can just about manage to make it look monochromatic. It also happens to be printed on something closely approximating toilet paper, which, for £16.99, seems a bit mean, but that’s evidently how many people like their comics. Personally, I prefer the glossy surface of the most recent Asterix re-releases.

Asterix the Gaul

Speaking of Asterix, I note that the first two albums, Asterix the Gaul and Asterix and the Golden Sickle, have recently been re-released in a larger print format with new covers and, according to the official Asterix blog, completely re-inked and re-coloured panels.

Personally, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, many of the books do have very poor painting, especially the first four titles, and, in addition, many of them, even comparatively recent ones, suffer from what I imagine is erosion on the master plates themselves, resulting in lines that are faint and at times lost entirely, DVNR-style (Asterix and the Soothsayer is particularly affected). At the same time, though, these books are products of their time, and any attempt to bring them “into line” by giving them all the same colour palette and lettering style seems like meddling with a piece of history. (It’s also incredibly pointless because, even if you standardise the colouring, you still have to contend with the fact that the look of the characters and indeed the overall art style have continued to evolve with every album.) I can’t deny that many were produced in less than ideal circumstances, but it all seems a bit intrusive to me. The first eight books were, a few years back, released re-coloured and re-inked (although I believe that these most recent releases re-colour them yet again), and, while the likes of Asterix and the Goths, which was incredibly poorly coloured in its original state, certainly benefited, others, such as Asterix and the Banquet, which already looked very nice, lost a lot of their vibrance and subtlety in their new homogenised versions.

Still, part of me is actually quite tempted to pick up at least one of the new books and see whether these re-issues are worthwhile. The €14 price tag at Amazon.fr is pretty damn steep, though, and, morbid as it is, I’m also a little concerned that Uderzo will either retire or pop his clogs before he can finish re-doing the cover art for each book.

PS. You can view a Flash demonstration of the “restoration” process if you’re interested.

 
Posted: Friday, December 08, 2006 at 5:48 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Books | General | HD DVD | PhD
 

We’ve been wii-ing all night!

GamesFest 2006

Ha suckers! Guess what you didn’t get!

Tonight is the European launch of Nintendo’s new console, the hilariously named Wii (cue endless jokes about urination and, if you live up north, small things). To commemorate gamers in this part of the world being able to get their hands on a second-rate version of this new gaming system from midnight tonight, I thought I’d do a little post about the real European launch party, which happened in our house last Friday December 1st. It was a very exclusive event, with only six guests.

GamesFest 2006

Lyris busts a movement.

For the princely sum of £130 (£50 less than it will cost to pick up in the UK), Lyris was able to arrange for a Wii to be smuggled out of the States in a suitcase by an American fleeing from the chaos of destruction wreaked by the Bush Administration, and have it rushed from London to Glasgow for express courier, all so that six grown men could spend Friday night making asses of themselves.

GamesFest 2006

The anticipation is unbearable.

The Wii, you see, is, for the most part, not controlled by “normal” means. Instead of a traditional gamepad, you are given a remote and an Anal Love Bullet (™ & © UK Resistance), the latter of which is referred to as a nunchuk by those who fail to understand its true purpose. In order to play your favourite new game, whether it be tennis, swashbuckling adventures on horseback, or amateur surgery, you are required to use either the remote or both the remote and the nunchuk in tandem, and wave them around like a lunatic, while your on-screen character does its best to replicate your movements.

GamesFest 2006

Another acolyte joins the anti-PS3 cause.

Sometimes this works well, sometimes not so well. My experience has been that swinging the remote around is great for tennis, baseball and the like, but not so great for making delicate incisions on the latest slab of meat… er, patient. It remains to be seen, of course, whether this new control system will ultimately be a blessing or a curse. In the short term, it has certainly given gamers a new method of control, and one that, depending on the type of game you’re playing, provides a much more realistic representation of the activity displayed on the screen than mashing the buttons of a gamepad of keyboard. In the long run, though, I wonder to what extent this will ultimately force developers into making specific types of game. We’ve already seen that the latest Rayman game, Rayman: Raving Rabbids, dispenses with the platforming style of the previous games in favour of a series of mini-games designed to take full advantage of the remote. Obviously designers are, at the moment, excited by the prospect of being able to do things they’ve never done before, so it may be that, once the initial excitement subsides, we’ll start seeing more conventional styles of gaming showing up.

GamesFest 2006

Verily, looking like a twat is thirsty work.

I’m not a console gamer (I still maintain that, for the games I like to play, a keyboard and mouse combination is the optimal control setup), but I’ve enjoyed my experience with the Wii. The big question is, can it win the Console War? I’m no expert, so I don’t want anyone to take my ramblings as informed predictions, but I can see a future where it is a very successful secondary system, co-existing alongside either an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3 (boo, hiss!), with these two being restricted to the more graphically-demanding and more “serious” games. The Wii, after all, is essentially a beefed-up GameCube with a focus on casual social gaming (i.e. getting people who would ordinarily never play a computer game to pick up the remote and have a go). Still, a resounding success for GamesFest™ 2006, and I have to say that, of the three available consoles, this one is the most appealing from my perspective.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 8:06 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Games | General | Technology
 

Release date for The Third Mother?

I just noticed that, over at Medusa Film’s In Arrivo (coming soon) section, La Terza Madre (The Third Mother) is listed with a release date of May 11th 2007. I wonder if this is final or just speculatory.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 7:43 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

Captain Whiggles’ Christmas list

It’s nearly that time of the year again and, in order to avoid any potential disappointments, I’ve decided to put together my Christmas list and get my orders in now, rather than waiting till the last moment. Therefore, on the birthday of everyone’s favourite fictional deity (Mithras), I shall (hopefully) be receiving the following:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 (R1 USA). For the last few years now, it has been something of a custom for me to receive the latest instalment in this collection of remastered (and sometimes mangled) cartoon classics, and to spend a copious portion of the morning watching them with Lyris. The notion of a whole disc full of Speedy Gonzales cartoons on this set doesn’t exactly seem like the most welcome prospect… although I don’t imagine it being considerably worse than the Road Runner disc in the previous set.
     
  • The Double Life of Véronique: The Criterion Collection (R1 USA). Although Krzysztof Kieslowski’s brand of spiritualism doesn’t really do much for a heathen such as myself, I must confess to being absolutely enthralled by his use of colour and imagery. His Three Colours: Blue is one of my favourite films ever for its cinematography and lyricism. I already own the French release of Véronique from MK2, but, for some reason, I never got round to watching it, and the news that the new Criterion release duplicates all of its extras, plus adds several of its own, in addition to a better transfer, makes this a must-have in my book. Expect to see the French release on eBay before too long. Oh, and check out John White’s review of the Criterion set at DVD Times.
     
  • The Quiller Memorandum and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition (both R1 USA). Two catalogue titles picked up in the same order from DVD Pacific for a very reasonable combined price. I haven’t seen The Quiller Memorandum, but I do love me my Cold War-era spy thrillers, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest American horror films ever made, so it makes sense to add what is apparently the definitive edition to my collection (having previously sold the non-anamorphic UK release).
     
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: The Complete Recordings (on CD). Last Christmas, I bought the Complete Recordings package of The Fellowship of the Ring, a 4-disc set (3 CDs and one audio DVD) turned out to be a massive improvement on the heavily-truncated single-disc release, so it stands to reason that this instalment should also be a worthwhile acquisition. The Two Towers always struck me as having the weakest score of the three Lord of the Rings films, but I suspect that this is because, perhaps more than the other two films, it was severely short-changed by having some of its most impressive cues left out of the single-disc release.
ASUS EN7600GT/HTDI/256M

I’m also currently pursuing replacing my current video card, Sapphire’s ATI Radeon X850XT, with the similarly-performing nVidia GeForce 7600GT from ASUS, the EN7600GT/HTDI/256M model of which includes an HDMI output and HDCP compliancy, in addition to various high-end video processing features, such as inverse telecine, temporal de-interlacing, bad edit correction and hardware VC1 decoding. I’d originally planned on waiting to pick up a DirectX 10-enabled card from nVidia, but the price and power consumption of even the lower-end 8800GTS model were enough to persuade me to forego sheer brute strength and just settle for improved DVD (and eventually, I hope, HD DVD) playback. Besides, such a high power graphics card would probably be all but useless on my now-outdated Pentium 4 configuration.

Anyway, I bought a EN7600GT/HTDI/256M on eBay for a not unreasonable price, but, due to a mix-up, I was sent the non-HDMI, non-HDCP model instead. The correct model has been located, however, and I sent the other card back yesterday, so should hopefully be receiving the right one before too long. As an added bonus, the fact that I am buying what is technically a card from the previous generation of graphics technology means that I should hopefully be able to sell my current ATI card for not too much less than what I’m paying for this new one.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 1:57 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Music | Technology
 

Xbox 360 beating PS3… in sales and performance

Playstation 3

Don’t believe the lies. Sony’s overpriced and hard to find Playstation 3 is currently being trounced by the Xbox 360… and I’m not just talking about sales figures. No, I’m talking about graphics quality and performance. Gamespot has posted an article comparing eight different games that are available on both systems, and their findings were, for the most part, the same across the board:

The Xbox 360 had better graphics in almost all the games we examined. The 360’s biggest victories were in Madden 07 and Fight Night Round 3, where the differences in texture detail and lighting stood out in our comparison shots. We couldn’t capture this in the screenshots, but the Xbox 360 games generally offered better framerates too.

Hmm… where have we seen this before? Oh, that’s right: the Playstation 2, that oh-so-amazing system that was supposed to be able to render Toy Story-like graphics in real-time; that system that was so powerful that Saddam Hussein would be able to power his nuclear warheads with it (Saddam with nuclear weapons - there’s another myth busted)… when in fact it struggled to outdo the older Dreamcast. Seriously, Sony, we’re sick of your lies, and it looks like people may finally be starting to cotton on to the fact that all your grand claims are nothing but empty promises. You see, folks? If you want to play boring excrement-coloured action games and painfully photo-realistic sports sims (not to mention watch HD movies), you can get all that on the 360, with the benefit of them running faster and looking (comparatively) better.

Of course, it goes without saying that, as a new device, it will take some time for programmers to be able to extract the full potential of the PS3. Even so, however, it’s pretty damning that, even at this stage in its life, a machine that was touted as the be-all and end-all of console gaming technology is struggling to keep up with a system a year older than it.

Oh, and in other news, yet another formerly pro-Blu-ray analyst is now predicting HD DVD to win the high definition format war.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 11:40 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Games | HD DVD | Technology
 

New Third Mother photos

Source: Dark Discussion

Éditions è®e has posted a summary of Bernard Joisten’s upcoming Crime Designer: Dario Argento et le Cinéma, a French book on Dario Argento. The main point of interest in this article, however - for me, at any rate - is two black and white still photographs taken on the set of The Third Mother in Turin. The first, especially, shows some very nice decor and suggests that all those promises of a return to the baroque look of Suspiria and Inferno weren’t just marketing-speak. Of course, since the primary draw of these first two films was their outrageous use of colour, these black and white stills probably don’t do the film justice (and, indeed, much of the final colour will be achieved in post production through a digital grade), but even so, the more of these tantalisingly fleeting glimpses I see, the more excited I am about the film.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 11:14 AM
Categories: Books | Cinema | Dario Argento
 

More Blu-ray “exclusives” on HD DVD

HD DVD

Source: AV Science Forum

Courtesy of our friends at DeAPlaneta Home Entertainment and Filmax in Spain, several more titles that are Blu-ray exclusives in the US are due to be released on HD DVD between now and the first quarter of 2007. These include Underworld: Evolution, Saw and Saw II. The title that especially excites me, however, is Asterix and the Vikings - presumably the first ever high definition release of an Asterix film, not to mentioned the first 2D animated title. I’m practically soiling myself with excitement.

Oh, and for all you spaghetti western fans, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is also listed.

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 8:37 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

First Optimum HD DVDs announced

HD DVD

Source: DVD Times

The HD DVD cause has just been given another boost as Optimum Home Entertainment, holders of the rights to several key European and Asian titles, have leapt into the fray, announcing Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist for release on December 11th. Both films will of course be in 24 fps 1080p format, while audio will be comprised of a variety of DTS-HD options: French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and German 5.1 DTS-HD Hi-Resolution Audio on La Haine, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and French 5.1 DTS-HD Hi-Resolution Audio on The Pianist.

I can already think of several Optimum titles I would love to pick up in high definition. The entire Studio Ghibli catalogue, anyone?

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 7:36 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

And my first HD DVD double-dip is…

HD DVD

Bet you didn’t think I’d be double-dipping this early in HD DVD’s life, did you? Well, neither did I, but the news that the UK release apparently featured a better transfer than its American counterpart made it difficult to resist. (Well, actually, this is not technically a double-dip for me, since my brother owns the previous version, but it does mean that we now have two copies in the house.) The US release of Serenity was one of the very first HD DVDs to be released, and it was also one of the first to be encoded, using an early and less efficient version of the VC1 codec. For the European release, therefore, the compressionists decided to revisit it and encode it more efficiently, partly to allow for additional language tracks to be included, thus facilitating a Europe-wide release of the same disc.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Captain Whiggles, isn’t Serenity your number one HD DVD demo disc?” It is, or rather was, because the US disc has just been knocked down a peg by its younger European sibling. No, the differences aren’t massive, and I don’t expect the majority of people to even notice them, but the new encode takes an already spectacular-looking disc and makes it look just a hair better. The most significant difference, if we can actually call it significant, is that the grain is very slightly more pronounced, further amplifying the film-like nature of the HD presentation. It also seems to be microscopically more detailed. This tends to be most noticeable in the form of improved definition of the skin texture during facial close-ups, although some of the wider shots also look a little crisper. Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d recommend that everyone immediately rushes out and picks up the UK release if they already own the US version, but the difference is there. I rated the US version a 10/10 for image quality, and I don’t think I’d drop it to a 9 even having seen the UK version - perhaps more of a 9.8 (although I prefer not to get that specific when it comes to overall ratings). It’s too bad I don’t have more than one HD DVD player, and it takes upwards of a minute to switch discs, because that makes it pretty much impossible to perform any sort of a scientific comparison. I really hope that affordable PC drives and software capable of displaying titles in their full 1920x1080 resolution become available before too long, because I’m itching to subject some HD DVDs to the same in-depth comparisons as I currently do for standard definition material.

The UK disc also includes an additional bonus feature not found on the US release: the 20-minute A Filmmaker’s Journey, which is not particularly substantial - but hey, the more the merrier!

Serenity

A minor point, true, but the UK release has a much nicer cover. The US version, for some reason, has been designed to look like it houses some sort of intergalactic space porno, while the UK edition, while still a bit cluttered, looks considerably less embarrassing.

Serenity

CD

Oddly enough, the UK release comes in a different type of case from what I’ve been used to seeing for HD DVD so far. The spine, this time, is much wider - the same width as a normal amaray DVD case, in fact. The reason for this seems to be to allow UK stores to fit those special plastic security tags that can only be removed by a dedicated machine. Oddly enough, the other UK HD DVD release I own, Warner’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, uses the same size of case as its US counterparts, so it may be that only Universal has opted to use this alternate design. Either way, if I end up buying more of them, my HD shelf, already almost full, is going to be filled up a lot more quickly!

Oh, and I also received, in the same order from Amazon UK, the ominous score to V for Vendetta by Dario Marianelli.

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 6:29 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Music | Technology
 

Contract terminated

Today was my last day with Fuitadnet, the web service that had hosted me since August 20th 2005. Several factors led to me deciding to jump ship, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the server move I mentioned earlier. Basically, Fuitadnet decided to invest in new equipment, meaning that all of their customers’ data had to be transferred to new servers. With a decent web host, such a transition should be largely smooth, and perhaps result in a few hours of downtime at most. Not so with Fuitadnet. When they originally announced their intentions back at the end of October, I panicked. I knew from experience that there was no way they would be able to pull this off without some major hiccups. They’ve been going down the tubes in the last year or so, and my experience with them has always been that the staff are all very polite but completely clueless. But still I waited, deciding that it was more trouble than it was worth to look for alternative hosting. Besides, I had been told that the server on which my site was hosted wouldn’t be affected until after Christmas.

As it happens, however, Fuitadnet decided to migrate my data without any forewarning, and, on December 3rd and 4th, the problem began to manifest itself in the form of “file not found” errors, depending on whether or not your ISP had updated its DNS listings. Eventually, I was able to access my site, only to discover that, to my horror, Fuitadnet had used a backup dating back to November 20th, meaning that two weeks’ worth of posts, comments and uploads were now missing (so much for the daily backups they promise). Luckily, I keep a conscientious backup of all my site’s data, so I was able to restore it to more or less its intended state, with only a couple of comments being lost. So far, so good.

Then, at around midday on December 5th, my FTP access died. Gone, kaput. This, coupled with the fact that my site’s control panel, which allows you to upload data one item at a time, now displayed a “500 internal server error” and booted me back to the login screen every time I tried to access it, left me with no way of uploading anything to my site. I spent much of the afternoon talking to various technical support representatives, each of whom had his or her own half-baked theory as to what was causing the problem. Eventually, I ended up in a chat channel with Sharon Koifman, the company’s president, who spent one hour and seven minutes faffing about before finally asking me for my login details. He/she(?) then told me, after much more waiting, that the problem was “missing quota information”, and that both problems - FTP and control panel - would be fixed in a maximum of two hours.

Donym

Needless to say, the next morning I still couldn’t log in (and in fact, as of 2:30 PM, I still can’t). Luckily, I’d been preparing for the worst, and, late last night, had signed up with a new host, Donym, whose $3.99 US per month hosting deal, for 5 GB of space and 250 GB of bandwidth, seemed too good to be true. After transferring all my old data (from various backups on my hard drive) to the new address and updating the DNS records to point the Landofwhimsy.com URL to Donym rather than Fuitadnet (instantaneous), I set about trying to enable Movable Type. It was at this point that I discovered that Donym’s $3.99 a month service doesn’t support Perl, which is required in order for Movable Type to work (I know, I know, silly me for not making sure - there had to be a catch somewhere, I suppose). Luckily, upgrading to the Perl-enabled $6.99 a month Deluxe Plan took only five minutes, and increased my disc space and bandwidth capacities to 100 GB and 1 Terabyte, respectively, into the bargain.

The site is now fully functional, and I doubt there will be any further problems. Already things seem to be running much more smoothly than they did on Fuitadnet, with significantly faster FTP access and a much less cumbersome control panel for me to work with. A couple of things still need to be corrected, however: I need to alter the Search Results form from its default skin (unfortunately, this is one piece of code that I hadn’t managed to back up), and I need to change the 404 page from its rather plain default. Also, because I performed a fresh install of Movable Type version 3.32 instead of upgrading from version 2.661, most of the URLs for individual news post entries have changed, so if you have any links to individual posts, I’m afraid you’ll need to update your bookmarks. (The two have different default settings, with 2.661 generating seemingly random numerical URLs, whereas 3.32 uses the title of the post in question as a basis. I could have gone back to random numbers, but they would be different from the originals ones. To make things more straightforward in the future, therefore, it seems to me prudent to go with something more static.)

Still, whether or not you see any difference to the service at your end, the move to Donym should mean much less of a headache in the long run for me. Sayonara, Fuitadnet! (PS. Don’t under any circumstances use them.)

Update, December 6, 2006 06:39 PM: The correct search layout is now displaying. Unfortunately, custom 404 pages are not supported for subdomains on Donym, so we’ll have to make do with old blankety-blank.

Update #2, December 6, 2006 09:34 PM: Looks like my custom 404 page is working for subdomains after all!

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 2:56 PM
Categories: Web
 

We’re moving…

Whiggles.com will shortly be changing lodgings. There should be no downtime of the site proper, but the News, Movies and DVDs sections will, at some point, be unavailable as I install Movable Type at the new location. Full details to follow when everything is up and running.

Update, December 6, 2006 02:29 PM: The move is now complete, and, although there are probably still a few kinks to iron out here and there, the site should be working as intended.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 11:59 PM
Categories: Web
 

Mulholland Dr. HD DVD confirmed for March 2007

HD DVD

Source: Resetmag

Studio Canal have announced their second wave of HD DVD releases. A slew of titles, including one of my favourite films ever, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., have been confirmed for release in France with a street date of March 5th 2007. Other titles include Lynch’s The Elephant Man, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, a title that, in the US, is a Blu-ray exclusive. The RRP for each title should be around €25.

A word of warning, though: this will be a very limited release, with the first run being comprised of only 4,000 copies for the four countries included in the release plans (i.e. only 1,000 copies for France). If you want any of these titles, therefore, get your pre-orders in as soon as they’re listed!

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 10:44 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

V for Vendetta

HD DVD
For all its flaws, I admire V for Vendetta for being ballsy enough to tell a mainstream audience that blowing up buildings can be a legitimate means to an end. Warner’s HD DVD release is far from the top echelon of high definition releases, but it constitutes a solid package overall, and the improvements to image, audio and extras should be enough to convince those who already own the DVD to upgrade.

Remember, remember… Okay, so it’s the 5th of December rather than the 5th of November, but I’ve reviewed the recent HD DVD release of V for Vendetta anyway.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 12:05 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Alias Season 5: there’s only one Sydney Bristow

Alias: Season 5

Half-way through the fifth and final season of Alias, the entire show had to be put on hold in order to accommodate the pregnancy of star/producer Jennifer Garner, resulting in a shorter than usual run of 17 episodes. The compressed length, in addition to having to write the first half of the season around Garner’s ballooning stomach (fairly straightforwardly, the writers had her character become pregnant too), not to mention the fact that creator JJ Abrams was busy directing Mission Impossible 3, should have spelled disaster for the show… But they didn’t. Indeed, after a thoroughly disappointing fourth season, Alias Season 5 is a welcome return to form.

Due to Garner’s pregnancy, the first half of the season necessitates something of a change of format, given that the show’s mainstay was always the sight of Sydney Bristow performing energetic stunts in exotic attire. To compensate for the increasingly chair-bound Sydney, the writers draft in a bunch of new recruits, one of whom, Rachel Gibson (Rachel Nichols), finds herself in much the same situation that Sydney was during Season 1. As such, despite signalling something of a departure, Season 5 also recalls the old glory days, with the wide-eyed, naive Rachel serving as a suitable stand-in for the increasingly worldly-wise Sydney. The best of the new characters, however, is the feisty French criminal Renée Rienne (Élodie Bouchez), who ends up helping Team Alias out on several occasions. I would happily have watched an entire show centred around Renée (a spin-off would have been great), but unfortunately the writers make little use for her, and she drops out of the show some time before the end.

Alias: Season 5

There are a few bum notes, and one of these is the third new major character, the moody agent Thomas Grace (Balthazzar Getty). To put it bluntly, he isn’t interesting, and a rather pointless subplot involving his dead wife distracts from the main points of interest, and seems to have been developed before the writers were aware that they wouldn’t be getting another season. Elsewhere, several of the show’s mainstays are becoming rather repetitive and predictable, including the is-he-or-is-he-not-evil Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), who has been kept around for so long and has changed sides so many times, and yet always given another chance, that it’s got to the point of being ludicrous. By far the worst mistake, however, is

Highlight below to reveal spoiler text:

the apparent death of Sydney’s fiancé, long-term regular Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan). In the first episode of the season, he is pumped full of lead and, shortly afterwards, pronounced dead. Several episodes into the season, however, it is revealed that he has in fact been secretly alive all along, in hiding for his own safety, and that Sydney’s apparent grief has been nothing more than an act. This plot twist is ridiculous even by this show’s standards, and, in my opinion, was engineered after the fact only to deal with the outbreak of fan anger after he was killed off.

Otherwise, though, this is a fine season. It’s not as good as Seasons 1 and 2, but it’s a major improvement on Season 4. Alias was always one of the most impressive-looking shows on television, and this one is no exception, with slick cinematography and a single Los Angeles back-lot standing in convincingly for every location from Cambodia to Siberia. Unlike so many shows, Alias goes out with a bang, and manages not to disgrace itself as it does so.

 
Posted: Monday, December 04, 2006 at 11:13 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Site problems

If you’ve been having trouble accessing this site in the last few hours, it’s because my host, Fuitadnet, are currently upgrading their service, and in doing so are transferring all of the data over to new servers. Depending on your web host, you may or may not be able to see the site.

Unfortunately, the backups Fuitadnet used were decidedly out of date - going back to around November 20th. Luckily, Movable Type managed to maintain an archive of all my news posts, so restoring them was a simple matter of hitting the “Rebuild Site” button. Unfortunately, it does mean that a number of the files uploaded to the site in the last couple of weeks have to be uploaded again, including my Profondo Rosso commentary. As such, the commentary is currently not accessible, but should be back online in the next hour or so (curse my slow upload speed!).

Update, December 4, 2006 09:12 PM: Everything should now be in its proper place once again, although a number of web hosts still seem to be unable to access the site.

Update #2, December 4, 2006 11:42 PM: A couple of comments seem to have been lost in the resulting chaos, including one may in the New Lizard DVD on its way (buy it!!!) thread.

Update #3, December 19, 2006 06:17 PM: Fixed dead link.

 
Posted: Monday, December 04, 2006 at 6:11 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | Technology | Web
 

New Lizard DVD on its way (buy it!!!)

DVD

Over the past few days, I have been in correspondence with Richard York of Media Blasters, who is supervising the company’s upcoming re-release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Since I’m apparently “the most vocal critic” of their previous release (which both alarms and thrills me in equal measure), he wanted to give me the opportunity to ask any questions that I might have about the version they were putting together, and, having discussed the matter with him, I am now supremely confident that the upcoming release will not only blow away the existing Media Blasters version, but should finally be the definitive release of the film that fans have been waiting for for years.

First of all, this will not simply be a straight copy of the Italian release by Federal Video. Richard is aware of and has viewed this release, but instead Media Blasters have created their own transfer from the same film elements used for that DVD. In doing so, they have been able to identify and avoid a number of the problems affecting that release, including material missing from the opening sex scene and Julia Durer’s party, as well as the mangled “rippled/unrippled” dream sequence and the dodgy splice where the same footage of Jean Sorel’s character appears in two different places. The running time of the final version will be 103 minutes, making this a proper NTSC presentation rather than a PAL to NTSC standards conversion.

Currently, Richard feels that it is unlikely that the new DVD will be ready in time to hit its announced December 19th release date, expecting a late December/early January release instead, but an official statement should be forthcoming as soon as the entire package is assembled and the final specifications are known.

One thing’s for sure, with this and One on Top of the Other (from Severin Films) on their way, early 2007 looks as if it will be an exciting time indeed for Fulci fans.

 
Posted: Monday, December 04, 2006 at 6:09 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Dario Argento film rankings

Updated to include Pelts and to reflect my own personal changes in taste since I last did one of these.

  • 1. Suspiria (1977) 10/10
  • 2. Profondo Rosso (1975) 10/10
  • 3. Opera (1987) 10/10
  • 4. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) 9/10
  • 5. Inferno (1980) 9/10
  • 6. The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) 9/10
  • 7. Tenebre (1982) 9/10
  • 8. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) 8/10
  • 9. Phenomena (1985) 8/10
  • 10. The Card Player (2004) 7/10
  • 11. The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) 7/10
  • 12. Non Ho Sonno (2001) 7/10
  • 13. Trauma (1993) 6/10
  • 14. Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005, TV) 6/10
  • 15. Door into Darkness: Eyewitness (1973) 6/10
  • 16. Masters of Horror: Pelts (2006, TV) 5/10
  • 17. Door into Darkness: The Tram (1973, TV) 4/10
  • 18. The Phantom of the Opera (1998) 4/10
  • 19. Masters of Horror: Jenifer (2005, TV) 3/10

Who knows where The Third Mother will end up?

 
Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2006 at 10:16 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | TV
 

Pelts: an Argento/PETA co-production

Pelts

It’s no secret that I didn’t think much of Jenifer, Dario Argento’s first episode in the Masters of Horror anthology series. Actually, that’s something of an understatement: I thought it was phenomenally bad, dethroning The Phantom of the Opera from its position as the worst thing he’d ever directed. Its problem, for me, was that it could have been directed by anyone - and by that I don’t mean that it didn’t “look like an Argento film” (whatever that means), which is what the episode’s defenders invariably try to twist my words into. Rather, it was the sort of bland, anonymous point-and-shoot affair that any semi-competent director for hire could have pulled off. Basically, if it hadn’t said “a film by Dario Argento” at the start, virtually no-one would have paid it a blind bit of notice, making the decision to fly Argento over from Italy to direct it a rather pointless endeavour. Jenifer was more a vehicle for its star/writer Steven Weber than for Argento, making the decision to market the episode around Argento’s name rather than Weber’s disingenuous at best, downright dishonest at worst.

As such, I was prepared for more of the same with Pelts, his contribution to the show’s second season. My expectations were so low that I couldn’t possibly have been disappointed, and as such it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that Pelts is better than I expected. Certainly, it’s still pretty clear that Argento is slumming it, calling “cut” and “action” and picking up a pay-cheque for his efforts, and it’s still pretty near the bottom of the barrel as far as his impressive filmography goes, but it’s nowhere near as embarrassing as Jenifer. Heavily flawed, sure; ultimately pointless, of course; but this time at least there are a few hints to suggest that a filmmaker with actual talent is behind the lens.

Pelts

The plot, this time, is somewhat more suited to the tastes of Argento, a vegetarian who has owned several cats and believes we should be doing more to protect the rights of insects. Basically, a poacher (John Saxon, who previously appeared in Argento’s classic Tenebre - that’s two big names slumming it) and his dimwitted hick son butcher a bunch of raccoons (or “coons”, as they call them, in one of the script’s less than subtle racism allegories), with an eye to making a tidy profit on what they both agree are the finest pelts ever seen. Junior bashes in Papa’s head with a baseball bat, however, prior to mashing his own face in one of the loathsome pair’s own gin-traps. Enter Jake (Meat Loaf - yes, Meat Loaf), the furrier to whom the pair intended to sell their goods. Seemingly unconcerned by the two dead bodies in front of him, Jake pockets the pelts and, stricken by their beauty, plots to make the finest coat known to man - with an eye to convincing his favourite lap-dancer, Shanna (Ellen Ewusie), to let him fuck her in the ass (I’m not making this up).

The film’s most impressive moments come during the opening titles, which are set against moody shots of the furrier’s various pieces of equipment, most of them dripping with blood. Argento certainly lays on the gore thick and fast here, some of it successfully, some of it not. Of the various extended death scenes, the best is that of a seamstress who sews up her own eyes, nostrils and mouth (nearly all of the deaths are self-inflicted). Less impressive is that of a man who tears out his own innards: it’s just the same Z-grade schlock peddled by Troma, only with more convincing effects. Likewise, the cinematography, by Attila Szalay (who also shot Jenifer), is highly variable: the scenes in the strip-club are the best, with copious amounts of red, blue and purple back-lighting that at times manages to evoke that of Suspiria, albeit greatly toned down; many of the exteriors, however, look flat and lifeless, with Jake’s visit to the poachers’ hut looking as bad as Jenifer in terms of lack of imagination. By and large, though, this “film’s” look is a massive step up from that of its predecessor.

Pelts

Script and acting are another story, however. The plot was adapted by first-timer Matt Venne from a short story by F. Paul Wilson. I’ve not read the source material, but I can’t imagine it being particularly inspiring, given that it’s essentially just a series of grisly suicides, seemingly stemming from coming into contact with the pelts. As such, you can find the same themes of transferral and infection of the mind that are present in Jenifer if you want to attach an auteurist reading to these episodes - personally, I don’t. These are not “Dario Argento films” in the traditional sense, given that he receives no writing credits on them, instead seemingly having picked his favourite from a list of pre-existing screenplays. The performances, meanwhile, verge on embarrassing. Meat Loaf chews the scenery like nothing on earth, screaming, slavering and stomping around with a face that could curdle milk, while even the reliable John Saxon struggles to make anything of his one-dimensional role. The characters are all flat in the extreme, as it happens, and Argento, presumably realising he wasn’t going to get anything approaching a decent performance out of Ellen Ewusie, instead has her spend the bulk of her screen-time with her breasts out. Oh, and there’s a good old-fashioned gratuitous girl-on-girl sex scene too - the Masters of Horror team presumably think that this sort of thing, in addition to gallons of karo syrup, can be considered “pushing the boundaries”, but it all reeks a little of desperation. The two women look so uncomfortable during their sex scene that it’s hard not to feel sorry for them.

I don’t really have much else to say. It’s better than Jenifer, but once again it uses the Argento name to market a generic, poorly-written splatterfest that any number of no-name directors for hire could have pulled off. The Argento of old would have been able to direct this sort of thing blindfolded and with one arm behind his back, but at least there are a handful glimpses of the old spirit, even if they are present here in a greatly dumbed down form. Pelts is ultimately really just a means to an end - apparently it is thanks to his Masters of Horror work that The Third Mother is being made at all. Them’s the breaks, I guess, and, as such, I’m willing to accept half-baked Argento if it ultimately leads to some sort of a return to form. 5/10.

PS. PETA did not in fact have anything to do with the making of Pelts, in case anyone was under any false impressions. I’m sure Argento has more sense than to associate with such an organisation.

 
Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2006 at 2:03 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Dario Argento | Reviews | TV
 
 

 
 
Archive

 

Monthly Post Index