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You guys, it’s been swell…
…but all good things must come to an end. This blog has now been locked, meaning that no new content will be added to it, and no new comments will be posted. I’ll maintain the whole thing for archival purposes, of course.
From now on, please point your browsers to http://www.landofwhimsy.com to get your daily dose of whimsy. You’ll find the brand new blog there, along with a brand new design and a handful of brand new features. Enjoy!
BDs and DVDs I bought or received in the month of May
- May 2, 2009: Waltz with Bashir (Region ABC UK, BD)
- May 7, 2009: Weeds: Season Two (Region ABC USA, BD)
- May 7, 2009: Weeds: Season Three (Region ABC USA, BD)
- May 7, 2009: Paris, je t’aime (Region A USA, BD)
- May 7, 2009: L’important c’est d’aimer (Region 0 USA, DVD) [sample copy]
- May 8, 2009: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Region A USA, BD)
- May 14, 2009: A Bug’s Life (Region A USA, BD)
- May 26, 2009: Revolutionary Road (Region ABC USA, BD)
- May 27, 2009: Weeds: Season Four (Region A USA, BD)
No school like the old school
Every summer, Blizzard Entertainment holds a convention for fans of its games in Anaheim, California, known as BlizzCon (see what they did there?). The tickets have a habit of selling like hotcakes, so much so that they are being made available in “waves” to prevent the whole lot from disappearing in one fell swoop. Those attempting to purchase tickets during these waves have been given the chance to play a decidedly crude but incredibly addictive web browser game entitled Failoc-alypse, in which your goal is to take command of one of three characters from Blizzard’s gaming universes and preventing as many imps as possible from getting to BlizzCon.
Those who aren’t attempting to purchase tickets can play the game too by following this link. It’s certainly an enjoyable stress reliever and one that succeeds in evoking much of the feel of the sort of games Blizzard used to make for console in the early 1990s.
You’re on borrowed time…
A quick word of warning: on Sunday night, I’ll be disabling comments on this blog and permanently deactivating the database. All the pages will be maintained online for archival purposes, including any comments that have already been made, but they’ll effectively be locked. As a result, any discussion from Monday June 1st onwards will need to take place on the new site.
This may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it should actually turn out to be simpler in the long run, as it means I won’t have to go to the bother of maintaining two separate databases. I did toy with the idea of simply shifting my news posts from the past three years or so over to the new design en masse, but due to my lack of foresight, quite a lot of the design elements are hard-coded into the posts themselves, and the markup wouldn’t translate seamlessly. The new design is significantly more robust from a forward planning standpoint, however, so hopefully this upheaval won’t be necessary for future redesigns.
The countdown continues
As far as new site design goes, the whole thing is basically content-complete as of writing, meaning that all that’s left to do is finish streamlining the style sheet and track down any remaining bugs/inconsistences/dead URLs.
I’ve converted the handful of DVD reviews I wrote for Land of Whimsy (rather than DVD Times) over to the new layout (for example, see the new-look Amélie), as well as the three academic essays I’ve published on the site, but other written material, such as my cartoon reviews and DVD image comparison, still retain the design for Land of Whimsy v1 or, in many cases, Whiggles.com v9. Especially with the comparisons, there’s simply too much material to go through again. In any event, much of it no longer meets my standards as far as technical commentary goes, so it strikes me that it’s better to archive the content and revisit pertinent titles as and when I’m able.
When the new site goes live on Monday, I’ll post a complete breakdown of the changes that have been made, although you’ll probably find that most of them are purely cosmetic.
Update, May 29th, 2009 06:06 PM: Thanks to a last-minute brainwave, I’ve managed to cut the site’s load time by half and stop it from being such a CPU hog. The reason? Let’s just say that the previous (incredibly inefficient) design required a “bgbody.jpg” background image with dimensions of 956x15,000 pixels (!!). I suddenly realised how obviously this could be fixed, and the result is that the image is now a mere 940x1 pixels in dimensions, and is a fraction of the file size to boot. Who says good things don’t come in small packages?
Weeds: Season Four (BD, Lions Gate, Region A, USA)
More wackiness with Nancy Botwin and family in this terrific US series about a drug-dealing soccer mom.
The colours, man… the colours!
Last night, I went to a special screening of Suspiria at the Glasgow Film Theatre with Nick from DVD Trash, and we both had a blast. This was the first time I’d ever seen an actual print of the film, having only previously been acquainted with its DVD and BD incarnations, and it was quite the experience. The turn-out was surprisingly good, and while we did have to contend with the usual degree of tittering that accompanies any screening of an Argento film, people seemed to really get into the spirit of it. There was even one guy sitting in front of us who kept whistling along to the music and tapping his walking stick in time with it. Sometimes, the laughter seemed at odds with what was happening on the screen - for some reason, people seemed to think Suzy killing the bat near the end was just hilarious - but on other occasions, it was more justified. Seeing it in the company of new viewers and hearing their reactions reminded me of how funny some of Alida Valli’s mannerisms and reactions are - completely intentional, I’d wager.
Just to continue the never-ending debate surrounding the film’s colours (more specifically, the horribly ganked colours on the new HD master from 2007), what the GFT screened was a UK theatrical print from the 70s, complete with the old BBFC “X” card at the start. The deaths of Pat and Daniel were cut to ribbons, of course, and Sara’s murder was all but obliterated… although, in the case of the latter, I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate edit or simply the result of footage being lost to print damage. While, all things considered, the print was in reasonable shape (it must have seen nigh on three decades of use, after all), tramlines were more or less constant, and there was an abundance of splotches and speckles. There were also a handful of noticeable jumps, mainly around reel changes.
The colours were terrific, however, and it gave me a new-found appreciation for the Anchor Bay DVD, which really is very faithful to how the GFT’s print looked. The DVD may be a little undersaturated, but in terms of brightness, contrast etc. it appears to be pretty much spot on. The overall colour temperature also tallied, although the print we saw did seem to be yellowing slightly - as is only to be expected of an Eastman print of this vintage. Certainly, the lovely presentation I saw last night looked nothing at all like the the nasty Italian Blu-ray release from this year or the equally nasty French and Italian DVDs from 2007… which is what I’ve been saying all along, of course. Still, it was nice to see a genuine print with my own eyes, just so I could confirm that the Anchor Bay DVD really is how the film looked back in the 70s.
Update, May 28th, 2009 11:06 PM: I’ve gone back and rewritten the post slightly after realising that it was a semi-incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness babble. Blame that on my writing it first thing before work after a very unsettled night, in which I got about two and a half hours’ sleep!
Revolutionary Road (BD, Paramount, Region ABC, USA)
Making life easier
Often, I have a deep fear of upgrading software, whether it be my operating system or the publishing platform I use to maintain my web site. From bitter experience, I’ve learned that, if there’s a way of something going wrong, it will. In the case of Movable Type, I’ve had to relearn a lot of what I thought I knew about the platform in the process of switching versions from 3.x to 4.x as I design my new site. (The hours I put in yesterday trying to get the comments function to work would be a case in point.) Today, however, I finally got to try out one of the main reasons I decided to switch to the new edition: custom fields.
Arvind Satyanarayan originally created the Custom Fields plugin for version 3.x of Movable Type, which was then acquired by developer SixApart and fully integrated into the professional edition of Movable Type 4.x. By default, Movable Type only has a limited number of available fields for each post - e.g. title, date, entry body, extended entry, post time. These are generally sufficient if you just want to blog about your pet cat, but if like me you’re doing something slightly different, such as maintaining a DVD database, this sort of thing is woefully inadequate. In the current iteration of the site, each DVD entry essentially consists of an entry body field which contains a massive block of text and code, providing both the data itself and the layout:
<table width=”100%” border=”0” cellspacing=”0” cellpadding=”0” align=”center”>
<img src=”http://whiggles.landofwhimsy.com/images/star_1.gif” alt=”*” width=”23” height=”22”><img src=”http://whiggles.landofwhimsy.com/images/star_1.gif” alt=”*” width=”23” height=”22”><img src=”http://whiggles.landofwhimsy.com/images/star_1.gif” alt=”*” width=”23” height=”22”><img src=”http://whiggles.landofwhimsy.com/images/star_1.gif” alt=”*” width=”23” height=”22”><img src=”http://whiggles.landofwhimsy.com/images/star_0.gif” alt=”0” width=”23” height=”22”>
<p>Review: <a href=”http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content/id/70644/australia.html”>DVD Times</a></p>
<p><em>Region:</em> B (UK)
<em>Director:</em> Baz Luhrmann
<em>Label:</em> 20th Century Fox</p>
<p class=”small”><em>Added Wednesday April 29th, 2009</em></p>
<td width=”10”><p> </p></td>
<td width=”120” valign=”top”>
<a href=”http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content/id/70644/australia.html”><img src=”http://whiggles.landofwhimsy.com/images/bd-australia.jpg” alt=”BD” width=”116” height=”149” class=”left”></a>
That code is just for a single entry (the BD of Australia), which really amount to very little on screen at the end of the day. Now, imagine that code duplicated around 830 times for my entire collection. That’s just not efficient. Worse, though, it makes updating the collection to reflect a new site design an incredibly time-consuming process, because so much of the layout is hard-coded into each entry.
This is where the joy of Custom Fields comes in. Now, instead of coding the layout for each individual entry, I can simply create a master layout, give Movable Type the code telling it where to put the data for each field (corresponding to things like region code, director, cover art, rating out of 10, review link where applicable, and so on), and enter the data into the Movable Type database. Here’s the master layout code:
<mt:If tag=”EntryDataDvdcover”><img src=”http://www.landofwhimsy.com/images/dvd-<mt:EntryDataDvdcover>.jpg” alt=”DVD” width=”116” height=”165” class=”collection” /></mt:If>
<mt:If tag=”EntryDataBdcover”><img src=”http://www.landofwhimsy.com/images/bd-<mt:EntryDataBdcover>.jpg” alt=”BD” width=”116” height=”149” class=”collection” /></mt:If>
<mt:If tag=”EntryDataHddvdcover”><img src=”http://www.landofwhimsy.com/images/hd-<mt:EntryDataHddvdcover>.jpg” alt=”HD DVD” width=”116” height=”149” class=”collection” /></mt:If>
<mt:If tag=”EntryDataRating”><br />
<img src=”http://www.landofwhimsy.com/images/stars<mt:EntryDataRating>.gif” width=”118” height=”36” alt=”” /></mt:If>
<h4 class=”dvdtitle”><span class=”number”>#<mt:EntryDataNumber>.</span> <$mt:EntryTitle$> <img src=”http://www.landofwhimsy.com/images/format-<mt:EntryDataFormat>.gif” alt=”Format” width=”29” height=”8” /><span class=”dvddata”><br /><mt:EntryDataEdition></span></h4>
<p><strong>Region:</strong> <mt:EntryDataRegion><br /><strong>Directed by:</strong> <mt:EntryDataDirector><br /><strong>Label:</strong> <mt:EntryDataLabel></p>
<mt:If tag=”EntryDataAlttitle”><p class=”small”><strong>Original title:</strong> <mt:EntryDataAlttitle></p></mt:If>
<mt:If tag=”EntryDataReviewlink”><p class=”small”>Read the review at <a href=”<mt:EntryDataReviewlink>”><mt:EntryDataReviewsite></a></p></mt:If>
<mt:If tag=”EntryDataAdded”><p class=”small”><em>(Added <mt:EntryDataAdded>)</em></p></mt:If>
That’s it. Don’t worry about trying to understand the code above - the point is I entered that once and now simply add the required information into the database for each entry. “<mt:EntryDataDirector>”, for instance, tells Movable Type that I want to display the director associated with this entry, so it calls up that information from the database and places it automatically:
Hardly rocket science, but it’s streets ahead from what I was doing before. Of course, I do have to re-enter all my data, but that’s far more straightforward when you’re just copying text into the correct fields and letting the database worry about where to put it all. You can see the new system in action here (at the time of writing, I’ve entered the first 80 discs in my collection).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some serious button-mashing to do. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Hollywood’s finest thespian, Lindsay Lohan, to tide you over:
They just don’t make things easy, do they?
Current status of the new site is: after several hours of fiddling with the Movable Type code, I finally have the news system and all its main sub-pages (individual entries, archives, search results…) working properly with my layout. I switched from XHTML 1.0 Strict to XHTML 1.0 Transitional due to the severe headache that was getting Movable Type’s comment entry and search forms to validate properly. Sometimes there’s only so much bashing my head against a brick wall I can put up with.
The upside of this is that I now have a definite date for the switch-over from the old site to the new: Monday, June 1st. I decided I wanted to make the break at the start of a new month in order to provide a clear delineation between the old and the new as far as archiving was concerned, and also because this will provide me with around a week to (a) make sure any remaining kinks are ironed out and (b) get working on converting the other sections of the site to the new design. I imagine this process will be fairly straightforward, though, as most of the ground work was done on the News section. (And, luckily, I don’t have to wrangle with comments on any of the other pages.)
See you in the funny pages!
Duck and cover!
On Saturday, I picked up a copy of Fallout 3 at GAME. While I was a big fan of Black Isle Studios’ Icewind Dale and especially Planescape: Torment, for one reason or another I never really got into their Fallout series. However, after reading a lot of good things about Bethesda Softworks’ third game in the franchise (Black Isle having been unceremoniously dissolved in 2003), spotting the hefty discount at which it was being offered, and starved of any good, in-depth RPGs of late, I decided to give it a shot.
I’m glad I did, because while Fallout 3 has problems, it feels very much like a spiritual successor to the great Black Isle RPGs of yesteryear. While the game is decidedly combat-oriented (and can be very punishing if you wade in out of your depth), there’s also a decent amount of emphasis on plot development and conversations with NPC characters. The character system is pleasingly complex without being incomprehensible, with a wide array of different stats at your disposal, many of which affect your ability to bribe, intimidate or lie to characters through dialogue (if you so choose). This is not unlike Planescape, which bestowed considerable rewards to those who pumped their Intelligence and Charisma, therefore delivering a more interesting experience to players who used their brains instead of their fists.
The biggest downside is that the game is fairly ugly - a somewhat significant problem given how long you spend looking at it. I don’t mean that the graphics are technically bad, but rather that the visual style is unappealing. True, I wouldn’t expect any depiction of a post-apocalyptic wasteland to be rainbows and cherry blossom, but there’s something repetitive about the never-ending grey and brown environments in which you spend most of your time. I even decked my character out with a shock of bright red hair in an attempt to alleviate some of the monotony. The character animation is also wooden, with the pseudo-realistic designs all too often falling into that “uncanny valley” pitfall. I realise that 3D is what all the cool kids want nowadays, but personally I miss the good old days of Black Isle’s top-down 2D RPGs, with their artful, wonderfully detailed pre-rendered backgrounds.
(Oh, and the voice acting matches the animation. I found out a few moments ago that the player character’s father is voiced by Liam Neeson - yet another example of a live action actor turning out to be a poor voice-over artist.)
Another significant problem comes in the form of the game’s combat system. I’m not referring to the VATS system, whereby you can pause the game and issue orders at your leisure, targeting a specific part of the enemy for that optimal kill-shot. This is a great feature that adds a pleasing amount of tactical strategy to the action. Unfortunately, the real-time model is less than ideal, and this is really the only viable option in close quarters. You end up strafing about like a ninny, trying desperately to land a hit, with the wooden animation providing very poor visual feedback. The control system simply isn’t suited to this type of combat, and I now find myself regretting having chosen to specialise mainly in the “up close and personal” side rather pumping the abilities relating to ranged combat.
From what little I’ve experienced of it so far (preparing for the post-graduate symposium having sucked up much of my time this week), Fallout 3 is a great game and a welcome return to the glory years of PC role-playing games. Elements of it are rather clunky, but it would be unfair to say that this is any different from the old Infinity Engine games, which always struck me as being decidedly flawed when it came to the combat side of things. (One of the reasons I loved Planescape so much was the extent to which combat was downplayed in favour of dialogue, neatly circumventing the engine’s biggest failing.) On the contrary, shifting the formula into the third dimension has simply resulted in many of the same problems being present in a slightly different form. Despite these flaws, the qualities of the Baldur’s Gates and Icewind Dales of the world still managed to shine through, and I’m confident that Fallout 3 is very much in the same vein. Perhaps I’ll re-roll and start again with a more tactically-oriented character.
A test version of the main page for my new layout is now available at http://www.landofwhimsy.com/indextest.html. At the moment, the Movable Type code has been implemented for the main page, while the rest of the pages (individual entries, monthly archives, etc.) still have the default Movable Type template and style sheet. In theory, though, it should be fully functional as a blog, and you’re welcome to peruse it, and try posting a comment or two if you like. You’ll probably find that a lot of the links don’t work yet, of course. (And the meaning of the “more posts” section at the bottom of the page will become clear once there are a few more entries.) And, as always, feel free to tell me what you like and don’t like about it. I’m particularly eager to hear about any browser incompatibilities.
I’ve decided not to go with a calendar-based archive, by the way - not because of any difficulty in implementing it, but because I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a fairly pointless endeavour for a site like mine, which often has more than one entry posted to it in a single day, and operates around individual and monthly rather than daily archives.
Oh, and a quick word on fonts. I’ve selected Arial as the “main” font (with Helvetica as a fallback for those who don’t have it), and Garamond for post titles and the first paragraph of each entry. Most of the headings default to Calibri, which is currently my favourite sans serif font. Unfortunately, Calibri is only distributed with Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac and the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, so I’d imagine a lot of people won’t have it. In that case, the style sheet will fall back to Arial, then Helvetica.
When technology tries to be clever
Installed Movable Type 4 last night. The process went without a hitch, though the cheeky bugger did see fit to locate and transfer (without my say-so) all my posts from the current designer over to the new database. As a result, my old Movable Type 3 control panel isn’t working quite the way it should - for instance, it now tells me I have no blogs, although I can still navigate to them using the correct URLs. I would simply use the MT4 control panel, but due to plugin and code incompatibilities between the two versions, that won’t be possible without a lot of retooling… which I won’t be doing given that I’ll be switching to a fresh blog before too long. I don’t think this should cause any problems at the user end, but if you see any weirdness, you’ll know why.
When the new layout goes live, I’ll probably disable the comments function for the old database, in order to avoid the hassle of having to continually delete spam, approve and respond to comments in two different blogs. I’ll provide a “grace” period, though, to give people the chance to respond to any posts they want to on the old site. Alternatively, I might duplicate the last week or so of posts on the new site. We’ll see. At any rate, this is probably all still some way off.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button BD impressions
A couple of nights back, we watched the BD release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I must confess that I found it a real disappointment, considering that I’ve enjoyed everything else David Fincher has signed his name to. This is his first true misfire, a bloated, overlong and fundamentally insincere fictional biopic based on a premise that simply can’t sustain itself for its duration. The film, which was stuck in development hell for years, is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Eric “Forrest Gump” Roth’s script plods lethargically from scene to scene, failing to give us anything noteworthy beyond the central gimmick that the protagonist ages backwards. I haven’t read Fitzgerald’s short story, but I assume it must have played better in that form, because there’s nothing in the material to justify the film’s running time of almost three hours. At times, it seems more like a tech demo for digital de-ageing technology than anything else. It actually pains me to see a director of Fincher’s calibre wasting his time with a sluggish, maudlin biopic such as this. I know a lot of people felt that Panic Room was beneath him, but at least it was well-paced, engaging and, most importantly, entertaining. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will make you go “Wow, how did they do that?” a couple of times, but that’s about it.
The BD release is a joint venture from Paramount and Criterion, but from what I understand of the matter, Paramount was responsible for the lion’s share of the disc’s content, including the encode and all the extras. (Perusing the reactions to Criterion basically “whoring out” their “C” logo is actually more entertaining than watching the film.) Regardless of who was responsible for the transfer, though, they did a bang-up job. Barring a small number of 35mm-based inserts, Fincher shot the movie digitally, and while you can debate the relative merits of the technology’s aesthetics (personally I find it to be remarkably dead-looking, although this may be partly due to the sheer amount of CG manipulation), there’s no denying that the BD looks spectacular in a technical sense. Whereas Fincher’s previous film, Zodiac (also shot digitally), suffered from some slight edge enhancement in its BD/HD DVD incarnation, you won’t find any of that here - just a pin-sharp image that reproduces every single pore and wrinkle that hasn’t been airbrushed out as part of the de-ageing process. The one overt flaw that I noted in the image was some rather pronounced ringing during the sequence where Brad Bitt and Cate Blanchett cavort in the sea and on the beach (see Example 12). This could be a flaw of the original photography or it could be the result of some form of manipulation, but it distracts for less than a minute. A very solid effort all round. 9.5/10
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
studio: Criterion; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 44.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 38.18 Mbit/sec
Behind the velvet curtain
Shh! Here’s a sneak preview of the next iteration of this web site. Bear in mind that this is very much a work in progress. In other words, the whole thing could have changed by the time it goes live. Conversely, it could stay much the same as looks here. I’m pretty happy with how it looks at this moment in time, but, when it comes to things I’ve designed or written, I’m notorious for changing my mind at the drop of a hat and suddenly finding myself hating what I was previously satisfied with.
Any feedback is more than welcome.
(Click the image above to view it full size.)
By the way, today’s little doozy, which took a good couple of hours to troubleshoot, was what is known as the 1px background image shift. Basically, it affects sites that use a centred background image in conjunction with a fixed width. Because browser’s can’t calculate half pixels, elements will shift around on the page ever so slightly depending on whether your browser’s window has an odd or even pixel width. This causes things to look a little wonky… at least in Firefox and Safari; Internet Explorer 8, surprisingly, didn’t have any problems displaying it properly. The problem is fairly widespread - not even the President of the United States is immune (try resizing your browser window on the fly and watch the left hand side of the “Organizing for Health Care” banner).
Luckily, there is a partial solution (scroll down to reply #3):
To prevent this 1 pixel shift in Firefox I added margin-left: -.1px to the content div (thats a negative 0.1 px). This fixed the shift in Firefox 2 and 3 while still working for IE7. Of course this is not ideal, but it works.
This did not fix the problem for Internet Explorer 6 (IE6). I minimized it by color choice in my centered background image.
I implemented it, and it does indeed fix the problem in Firefox. The issue still persists in Safari, but let’s face it, the only people browsing in Safari are Mac users and PC users who wish they were Mac users… Just kidding, guys. Seriously, I’d like to make the site as compatible as possible with all browsers, so if anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.
A change is gonna come
Over the last week or so, in between preparing for the Postgraduate Symposium on Thursday (20-minute presentation from yours truly - eep!), I’ve been going some work on what will ultimately be the next iteration of this site. For the purpose of streamlining, I’ve decided to make a few significant changes to its structure and code.
First of all, I’ve decided to wholeheartedly embrace Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) after using them to a somewhat limited degree in previous designs. Since the very first version of this site was launched, way back in 2001, I’ve been using tables to lay out my pages, which I’m told is just sooo passé. More importantly, it also results in a lot of bloated code. I’m now going to be using CSS to control the layout, which has proven to be an absolute bitch to get to grips with. I now finally have a working shell of the front page, which isn’t much to look at right now but is at least something. However, it’s been a case of trial and error every step of the way, and I’m still not convinced I fully understand how I finally managed to get it to work the way I wanted. (Conversely, I’ve always found tables very easy to work with, even when it came to nesting tables inside tables nested in tables. Well, it all makes much more sense to me than floats and divs and negative margins and hidden overflows and…) Still, I got there eventually and the code is undeniably cleaner than in the current iteration.
The second big change in store is that I’m going to be dropping the “whiggles” subdomain and storing everything on landofwhimsy.com proper. I barely use the “whiggles” pseudonym at all nowadays (in case anyone’s wondering, it was the first thing that popped into my head when naming my first ever Diablo character back in 1997, and it just sort of stuck), and I’d quite like to be able to finally rid myself of the whiggles.com domain that costs me £23 every year and is really just a redirect to whiggles.landofwhimsy.com. This change will, unfortunately, necessitate rather a lot of upheaval, given how many URLs, both on this site and on other people’s, point to the whiggles.landofwhimsy.com subdomain. This is why I’m going to maintain what currently exists as an archive but start afresh for all subsequent content with a new install of the Movable Type publishing platform on the main landofwhimsy.com.
I’m currently weighing up whether to take the opportunity to upgrade to Movable Type 4.x. Movable Type 3.x has served me well, but it’s a bit long in the tooth now and is unsupported by a lot of the cool new plugins that I’m itching to try out. The only thing holding me back is the terrible time my brother had with MT4, even prompting him to temporarily ditch it in favour of WordPress… That said, I wonder to what extent his problems stemmed from performing an upgrade from MT3 rather than a fresh install, which is what I’ll be doing. In any event, it can’t hurt to give it a shot. The worst thing that can happen is that, if it proves to be more trouble than it’s worth, I delete it and install a new copy of MT3 instead.
Something else I’d like to attempt is to have a single blog which serves as a “hub” of sorts for the entirety of the site’s content. Currently, I’m running the main news blog (the first thing you see every time you come to this site), and then five additional blogs for each different main section of the site: DVDs, movies, reviews, image comparisons and miscellaneous pages. This is hardly the most efficient way to do things, but I’ve stuck with it until now mainly due to my own stubbornness when it comes to breaking away from the structure I created for the site way back before I used a publishing platform. In what I envision as the new structure for the site, most (if not all) content will basically be part of the new blog - everything from “significant” articles that would currently go in the Essays section (which I’ve just realised is still formatted for the previous site design - crikey!) to image comparisons. Such is the joy of the “MTEntryIfExtended” and “$MTEntryMore$” tags, which allow me to effectively have a brief summary of each essay/comparison/whatever on the main page, followed by a link to the extended entry, which will provide the full article. I actually planned to do something like this with the previous redesign, but ended up chickening out due to the amount of upheaval that would ensue. Now, however, there’s going to be so much upheaval anyway that I might as well go the whole hog.
Other miscellaneous changes that I’d like to implement include streamlining the number of categories for the news section (or alternatively switching to tags instead, comme ça), and implementing a calendar like the one on this site. It all depends how worthwhile this sort of stuff proves to be at the testing stage, and how easy to implement. There’s no current ETA for the new version of the site going live, given that I’m very much sailing in uncharted waters at the moment, and have only just got started. Still, this should provide me with an interesting little project to engage with in the next few weeks or months, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on its status.
Incidentally, as Movable Type-powered sites go, Barack Obama’s is by far the best-looking I’ve come across.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona BD impressions
When the lights came up at the end of Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona (a review copy of which I received on Friday), I was very much left with the impression that not a lot had actually transpired in its 96-minute duration. The film is pleasant, but incredibly insubstantial. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work as a comedy, as it’s not particularly funny (“You tried to kill me… with a chair!” notwithstanding), nor as a drama, as there’s no real depth to the characterisation and Allen’s observations about relationships rarely get more complicated than “love’s a bitch”. Penélope Cruz undoubtedly steals the show and, in many respects, saves it from being completely pedestrian. The rest of the cast try valiantly, but something about this film feels amazingly indifferent in its writing and direction. And, let’s face it, when it comes to giving characters distinctive voices, Woody Allen is every bit as bad as Quentin Tarantino.
Optimum’s Region B-coded UK release looks rather pleasing on the whole. Ever the classicist, Allen opted to do his colour timing in the lab rather than processing the film digitally, and, while the image does look rich for the most part, any shots involving opticals do end up taking a hit as far as detail is concerned. Unfortunately, Woody is a little too fond of fades, which means that a fair number of shots are affected in this manner. The whole film has a deliberate orange-yellow glow, which is perhaps a little on the oppressive side but is undoubtedly down to artistic intent rather than any problem with the disc itself. 7/10
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
studio: Optimum; country: UK; region code: B; codec: VC-1;
file size: 18.8 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 28.03 Mbit/sec
A Bug’s Life (BD, Buena Vista, Region ABC, USA)
Paris, je t’aime BD impressions
As a love letter to Paris with a romantic theme, Paris, je t’aime, consisting of eighteen short films about the French capital, is very much a mixed bag. Gathering together a variety of top-notch directors and actors from around the globe (ranging from the Coen brothers to Gus Van Sant to Sylvain Chomet and Bob Hoskins to Juliette Binoche to Maggie Gyllenhaal), it lurches from segment to segment with a decidedly uneven quality, transporting the audience from the very good to the spectacularly tedious in a matter of seconds. The most common failing of the weaker shorts is a tendency towards navel-gazing, a criticism often levelled against French cinema as a whole - although it’s worth pointing out that less than half of the filmmakers involved are actually French in origin. This is at its most tedious with the piece by Frédéric Auburtin and Gérard Depardieu, and the one by Richard LaGravenese, both of which languish in the sort of middle-aged cod-philosophising that is almost guaranteed to have me reaching for the fast-forward button.
These scenes of tedium mingle with the obnoxious (Gurinder Chadha’s patronising celebration of the hijab), the bafflingly incompetent (Wes Craven’s poorly written and acted Oscar Wilde piece), and even the sheer what-the-fuckery of Christopher Doyle’s downright batty piece. At the other end of the spectrum, Sylvain Chomet’s Tour Eiffel features more imagination than any of the other shorts put together (and he actually makes it entertaining, something that most of the other directors seemed to forget to do), while Vincenzo Natali’s vampire flick is stylistically and tonally so removed from the rest that I can’t help but love it. Tom Tykwer creates a superb sense of rhythm with his Natalie Portman-starring piece, evoking much of the same feel as his earlier Run Lola Run, while Alexander Payne’s closing piece just about perfectly encapsulates the bitter-sweet “happy-sad” feeling it aims for.
It’s a nice idea, but it ultimately outstays its welcome. The running time could have been tightened up significantly by excising some of the weaker pieces, which would have gone a long way towards improving my overriding impression of the film. There’s some very good stuff in there, but a lot of self-indulgent piffle too, which muddies the waters and ultimately left me feeling rather frustrated. There’s a thread on IMDB where members are listing the shorts in order of preferences, so I thought I’d do one of my own:
- 14ème Arrondisement (Alexander Payne)
- Tour Eiffel (Sylvain Chomet)
- Quartier de la Madeleine (Vincenzo Natali)
- Faubourg Saint-Denis (Tom Tykwer)
- Tuilieres (Joel & Ethan Coen)
- Quartier des Enfants Rouges (Olivier Assayas)
- Parc Monceau (Anfonso Cuarón)
- Place des Victoires (Nobuhiro Suwa)
- Place des Fêtes (Oliver Schmitz)
- Loin du 16ème (Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas)
- Le Marais (Gus Van Sant)
- Bastille (Isabel Coixet)
- Montmartre (Bruno Podalydes)
- Porte de Choisy (Christopher Doyle)
- Père-Lachaise (Wes Craven)
- Quais de Seine (Gurinder Chadha)
- Quartier Latin (Frédéric Auburtin and Gérard Depardieu)
- Pigalle (Richard LaGravenese)
For image quality, the BD is actually pretty nice, albeit hampered somewhat in the detail department by the application of unnecessary filtering. Grain density (moderately heavy) and detail levels (good to very good) remain largely the same across the board, with the notable exception of Wes Craven’s segment (Père-Lachaise), which looks unnaturally soft and underwhelming (see Example 15). Compression artefacts are a non-issue in spite of the use of a single-layer disc, and the image looks pleasingly film-like overall. 8/10
Paris, je t’aime
studio: First Look; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 20.9 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 24.85 Mbit/sec
By the way, a word of warning about subtitles on this disc: the film’s dialogue is a mixture of French in English, with the former being the predominant language. For subtitles, however, First Look have only provided an English SDH track, which subtitles everything and includes captions for music and sound effects. As a result, there’s no way of only having the French dialogue subtitled short of switching the subs on and off manually - which is an ineffective solution at best, given that some shorts (Alfonso Cuarón’s, for instance) jump between the two languages, sometimes mid-sentence.
BD review: Australia
Those already acquainted with Baz Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain” trilogy should know what to expect from Australia, a bold, sweeping epic that tugs shamelessly at the heartstrings and celebrates a type of filmmaking that has long since gone out of fashion. Fox’s BD release may seem a little limited in terms of extras but scores points for its impressive A/V presentation.
Sweeping epic melodrama or over-long sentimental tripe? I head off into the outback with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman and review Baz Luhrmann’s Australia at DVD Times.
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