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April fools!

Web

This year’s April Fools’ Day surprise for you is that there is no April Fools’ Day surprise.

This came about as a result of two problems. The first is that I’ve been inordinately busy and simply haven’t had the time to invest the time and effort required to make a half-decent parody - something worthy of being added to the Fake Whimsy roster. The second is that much of Scotland suffered a power cut yesterday afternoon and, when the electricity finally came back on again, my Internet access had gone kablooey. I’m not sure quite what happened, but it took over twenty-four hours for Virgin Media to restore access. Given that, by its very nature, a parody page requires you to be able to actually access the sites your attempting to mock, you could say I was up Shit Creek without a paddle.

If I get time later on, I might spring a surprise Fake Whimsy page on you, but I thought I should let you know in advance that there won’t be any fun and games tomorrow, just in case you were waiting on tenterhooks to see what I’d come up with. (In which case, there may very well be something wrong with you.)

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 8:28 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: General | Web
 

Suspiria BD (final) impressions

Blu-ray

This is a little later in coming than I would have liked, but I’ve been fighting off the effects of a less than pleasant cold over the last couple of days and have only just got round to catching up on the various matters needing my attention. (A post on the new Four Flies on Grey Velvet DVD from Mya is also in the pipeline.) We watched the BD release of Suspiria on the big screen on Tuesday night, and it proved to be a rather frustrating experience, on two fronts. First of all, because our attempts to synchronise the BD video with the English audio from the Image Entertainment LaserDisc weren’t entirely successful. Secondly, because of the aforementioned video unpleasantness.

Looking through the disc again today, I noticed several other problems with the master, seemingly stemming from the digital noise reduction (DNR) that was applied during the extensive restoration. Well, perhaps “extensive” is the wrong word to use, since, while the budget clearly allowed for scanning the negative, performing an automated dirt and scratch removal pass, and goosing the brightness, contrast and colour values something rotten, it evidently didn’t stretch to decent quality control. I noticed several instances of the DNR machine screwing up during the thunderstorm at the start of the film, this image showing one of the worst affected frames. Gaffes like these serve to highlight how essential it is that, if making use of automated NR tools, you carefully check the output before signing off on it.

I also came across a strange effect whereby, at the start of each new shot, the first frame is perfectly crisp, retaining all of its inherent grain. Thereafter, the second frame has had more or less all of its grain completely eroded and as a result looks like wax. By the third frame, the grain has returned again. See, for example, this instance: (Frame 1), (Frame 2), (Frame 3). Something similar generally happens at the end of each shot too, with the last two frames seeming unnaturally blurry. This process is repeated without fail throughout the entire film, and I suspect it points to yet further careless misuse of the video restoration system.

Finally, we also have that age-old favourite, the DNR machine attempting to repair a damaged frame by taking material from another frame and making matters worse in the process, usually by selecting the wrong piece of visual information. This shot shows a particularly horrific example, where information from the same or a previous frame somehow ends up on the letterboxing at the bottom of the frame. Was anyone actually checking this stuff at all or did someone just his the “Go” button and head off for a leak?

All this has only soured my attitude towards this restoration of Suspiria even more. It has its strengths, don’t get me wrong. Detail is very good indeed, at least until the swimming pool sequence, at which point the film suddenly and inexplicably drops to a lower resolution for the remainder of its duration. Furthermore, barring the almost imperceptible gaffes at the beginning and end of each shot, the grain is well maintained. However, the film has not only been screwed up something rotten by having its values knocked out of whack, it has also clearly been subjected to a botched DNR process. This is, by any stretch of the imagination, a landmark film, but the way it has been treated is utterly indefensible and beggars belief. In my opinion nothing short of a brand new scan of the negative (or access to the initial scan prior to any digital manipulation being performed) and an intensive restoration process supervised by someone who actually knows what they’re doing will suffice. 4/10

Suspiria
studio: CDE; country: Italy; region code: B; codec: VC-1;
file size: 27 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 18.8 Mbit/sec

Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria

 
Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 3:06 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | General | Technology
 

Just arrived…

DVD

Rebus (DVD, Delta, Region 0, UK)

I was pleasantly surprised to spot this in Fopp today, where I was killing time while waiting before my meeting with my supervisors. The previous DVD release (by Universal) of this series starring John Hannah as the eponymous DI Rebus was missing the fourth and final episode, which would have aired on September 11th 2001 had a nice man called Osama Bin Laden not kicked up a bit of a stink, sending the TV schedules to halfway to hell. That episode ultimately disappeared into the ether and I believe aired a couple of times on one of ITV’s cable channels. It’s present and correct on this new edition. I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly gripped by Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, but I liked this TV adaptation of them, considerably more so than the dour Ken Stott interpretation that came along later.

Blu-ray

Suspiria (Blu-ray, CDE, Region B, Italy)

Oh boy…

 
Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 at 1:47 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | General | PhD | TV
 

I’ve been busy

Writings

This evening, in advance of tomorrow’s meeting with my supervisors to discuss the recently completed Chapter 3 of my PhD thesis, I tackled the dreaded Six-Monthly Research Progress Review Report, a self-assessment form (on progress so date as well as what you intend to spend the next few months doing) which all Glasgow University research students carry out every (you guessed it) six months. The last time I did one of these, it was like pulling teeth and had to go through a good few drafts before either myself or my supervisors were satisfied with it. This time, however, it was an altogether more painless activity, which I suspect bodes well for my PhD on the whole, because it suggests that I’m now far clearer about what I want to do and how I intend to do it. Looking back at my previous report, I’ve actually achieved more in the last six months than I actually set out to, which means another feather in my cap.

Over the last couple of days I’ve taken the opportunity to turn my attention to matters of a considerably less academic variety, mainly the performing of a veritable blitzkrieg on my bedroom, which had become so untidy that simply walking from one end to the other was, frankly, a safety hazard. I’m not by nature a particularly tidy person, preferring to dump things on the nearest possible surface or, failing that, the middle of the floor. I wish I’d taken a “before picture”, but I didn’t have the presence of mind at the time. Instead, here’s the result of a good couple of days on my hands and knees, inhaling enough dust to last me several lifetimes. It will probably last oh, a week or two before once again resembling a bomb site.

You know, this actually scares me.

My other achievement this week, a considerably less pleasing one, was getting my first midge bite of 2009. Summer is, alas, definitely on the way. Can I go and hibernate until autumn, please?

 
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 7:27 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: General | PhD
 

Monitor fiasco update

Dell Ultrasharp 2709W

I received a call today from the extremely helpful Mark at Dell technical support. (Seriously, this guy has been busting a gut trying to help me, which can’t have been easy given that, due to some sort of screw-up, the company has no record of my previous communications regarding my ongoing problems.) The long and short of it is that a third monitor will be delivered to me on Monday and the second one will be uplifted.

In other news, the “pinching” I previously mentioned as occurring in three of the panel’s four corners has begun to recede. No, it’s not completely gone, and it’s still quite noticeable with a black background in a dark room, but it currently looks considerably better than it did as little as five or six hours ago. This is most heartening to me, and suggests that such problems will eventually fade once the screen has been allowed to “settle in”. Of course, dead pixels (or stuck pixels that have been given a rigorous work-out with the likes of JScreenFix) can’t be fixed, but this does mean that, should Monday’s arrival suffer from the same pinching effect, I won’t immediately be panicking and calling up tech support. This allows me to concentrate solely on faulty pixels, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, should monitor #3 suffer from a single dead or stuck pixel in a relatively inconspicuous place, I’ll put up with it in return for an end to the hassle.

(Incidentally, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the monitor I was using this time last year, the Sony MFM-HT205, had a single red stuck pixel fairly close to the centre of the panel. It actually took me over a year to become aware of it, and only because my brother, bless his perceptiveness, pointed it out to me.)

Here’s hoping the old adage of “third time’s a charm” turns out to be true.

PS. I showed my mum The Descent on BD tonight (my first gala screening of the new Australian release from beginning to end). She thought it was great. Then again, I’m not entirely surprised, because according to my dad I inherited my taste for horror movies from her.

Update, February 21st, 2009 at 08:12 PM: I’ve just noticed that the problem is now once again as bad as it has ever been. It appears to begin to show itself after the monitor has been on for a while and just gets progressively worse. Initially, it looks absolutely fine, but within a short space of time the issues begin to assert themselves.

 
Posted: Friday, February 20, 2009 at 10:03 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | General | Technology
 

A classic that never was

Blu-ray

So my copy of the upcoming Blu-ray release of The Silence of the Lambs was dispatched from MovieTyme today. At the moment, my brother is in the final stages of his work on the upcoming Mondo Vision DVD of Andrzej Zulawksi’s L’important c’est d’aimer, so I’m currently used to seeing (and hearing) Klaus Kinski ranting (in either French, German or English) on a more or less daily basis. During one of his fine tirades, we ended up speculating as to what The Silence of the Lambs would have been like had Kinski played the role of Hannibal Lecter. “Very different” is, I suspect, the answer. From there, I naturally began to wonder what the film would have been like had it been directed by one of Kinski’s most frequent collaborators, and populated by his regular cast. Here’s what I came up with:

The Silence of the Lambs
A film by Jess Franco
Written and produced by Harry Alan Towers

Soledad Miranda as Clarice Starling
Klaus Kinski as Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Herbert Lom as Jack Crawford
Christopher Lee as Dr. Frederick Chilton
Paul Muller as Jame Gumb
Lina Romay as Ardelia Mapp
Romina Power as Catherine Martin
Maria Rohm as Senator Ruth Martin

I’m still struggling to cast the all-important role of Barney. Can any Franco experts out there suggest a suitable actor?

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 8:00 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | Mondo Vision
 

The day everything went wrong

Web

On Friday evening, I placed an order with eBuyer, the contents of which will be detailed in a subsequent post. eBuyer is a supplier I’ve bought from a couple of times in the past, always with no complaints. However, as I always say, the real measure of a retailer’s quality becomes apparent not when everything goes according to plan but when something goes wrong.

On Friday night, something went wrong with a vengeance. I’m talking a “Your credit card has been declined” sort of wrong. At first, I wondered if perhaps the credit card company suspected foul play and, believing the transaction to be fraudulent, had put a stop on my card. (This has happened in the past, often when doing crazy things like buying DVDs from - gasp! - non-UK web sites.) Logging into my account, however, proved that this wasn’t the case, and that I was a long, long way from reaching my credit limit. I then, not unreasonably, assumed that I’d simply made a mistake when entering my credit card details, so I logged into my eBuyer account and re-entered them. Ten minutes later, I got another message telling me that my card had been declined again.

By this time, it was 6:30 PM, and eBuyer’s next day delivery service has an 8 PM cut-off. Rather than spend ages going round in circles, therefore, and miss the cut-off, I decided to simply go with a different payment method, in this case my debit card. The only problem with that is the eBuyer only allows you to change your payment details once for a single order before locking it. No problem, I thought, I’ll just give them a call, explain the situation and get them to change my details. After a commendably brief wait, sullied only by some incredibly annoying music and an irritatingly cheery pre-recorded announcement about all the over-priced gold-plated USB cables I could buy, I was greeted by a snippy and extremely bored-sounding woman, who listened to my problem and then, making it readily apparent via her tone of voice that this was a great inconvenience to her, took the details for my debit card and told me to expect the order to be processed within the next half-hour.

Needless to say, an hour later, nothing had changed. My order was still flagged as having a payment issue, at which point I got on the phone to eBuyer again. I ended up speaking to the same bored woman, explained the problem to her once again, and was treated to more sighs and (I would assume) eye-rolling, as this ray of sunshine then attempted to “push my order through again”, or something along those lines. Nope, she drawled, it’s been declined. “But this is a different card,” I told her, “from a different bank.” “Not working,” was the reply. At this point, with 8 o’clock rapidly approaching, I decided to call it quits, cancel the order and place it again. “You want me to cancel it or are you going to do it yourself?” she asked me. I decided that, rather than tempt fate, I’d handle this tricky task myself, and rang off. A few moments later, order #1 was cancelled and order #2 was placed, this time using my brother’s credit card, just in case, by some bizarre twist of fate, both my credit card and my debit card were up the creek.

Ten minutes later, I decided to log into my eBuyer account to check the status of the order. Sorry, the on-screen message informed me, your account has been suspended. Erm, what? By this stage, I was beginning to wonder if someone had it in for me. Yet another phone call to eBuyer once again connected me to Miss I-don’t-give-a-shit, who listened to my predicament without a care in the world, before opining “I don’t know why that happened.” Growing increasingly exasperated by the minute, I asked if there was anything she could do about it. “Don’t know,” she replied. The conversation continued like this for a couple of minutes, before she finally clicked some buttons and told me that my account had been re-activated. Just under an hour later, I finally received notification that my order had been dispatched for delivery at some point on Saturday. Hallelujah!

The next morning, I was out at work and my parents were out walking the dogs when ParcelForce tried to deliver the package. For me, the face-palm moment of the year so far. They re-delivered it on Monday. This time, thankfully, I was in.

PS. On Saturday, I successfully withdrew some cash from my bank account. So much for there being a problem with it.

 
Posted: Monday, February 09, 2009 at 10:40 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: General | Technology | Web
 

Now I’m doing joined-up writing and everything

Writings

I mentioned in a previous post that, since the start of the year, I’ve been getting sent on relief to various libraries other than the one I normally work at. The contract I signed when I accepted the job back in the Summer of 2007 stipulates that I must be willing to travel to any Glasgow library. In reality, it tends not to work this way, as broadly speaking people do their best to ensure that you get sent on relief to places you can realistically hope to reach in a timely fashion and without frittering away too much money (so, for example, employees operating on the South Side generally cover other South Side libraries), but I’ve certainly been seeing more of the city of late than I normally do. It’s not too bad, although I’m one of those people who resists change like crazy and would prefer to be going to my “own” library every day.

Old writing style

Still, one of the upsides of my travels is that, a couple of weeks back, when I was doing a shift in Woodside Library, a customer, seeing me writing in my strange and ass-backwards left-handed way (see picture opposite) said to me: “What you need is a Yoropen.” “A what?” I said. Said customer explained to me that she too was left-handed and had always had trouble with writing, but that a miraculous implement called the Yoropen had solved all her problems. She strongly recommended that I look into it, so I filed the name away for future reference and, a couple of days later, decided to order myself one of these intriguingly-shaped pens to see if they really were all they were cracked up to be.

Many left-handers have problems with writing, generally coming in the form of “hooking”, i.e. twisting your arm at an awkward angle, and often ending up smudging what you’ve written in the process, not to mention putting an incredible strain on your wrist and making the act of writing for prolonged periods painful. I’ve suffered from this ever since I learned to write, as well as the added problem of holding my pen in an utterly bizarre four-fingered grip - something which I suspect stems from the fact that, with no other left-handers in my immediate family, I had no idea what was the “proper” way of doing it and therefore invented my own less than ergonomic method. (Or, as an art teacher at school once eloquently told me, “Michael, you draw incredibly well for someone who holds his pen like a spastic.” Ah, those were the days.)

Writing with a Yoropen

I’ve now been using a Yoropen for a little over a week, and I must admit that, while I was initially sceptical, I’m definitely seeing progress. The idea of the pen, as far as I can tell (that is, ignoring the marketing talk on the company’s web site and going by my own experience), is that its shape basically forces you to write at an improved angle, reducing strain and preventing you from smearing what you’ve just written. It also, for me, has the added benefit of forcing me to hold it using the traditional two-fingered configuration, because it’s virtually impossible to write with it using my weird four-fingered clutch. As a form of enforced correction, it seems to work. Holding a pen this way now comes to me more naturally than it used to, and I don’t believe my writing is any worse than it was previously (in fact, I’d even go as far as to say that it may have improved slightly). I’m essentially having to train myself to write from scratch, so there’s probably some way still to go, but my overriding impression is that the Yoropen does indeed work as advertised. So thank you, anonymous lady.

Yoropen

 
Posted: Monday, February 09, 2009 at 11:45 AM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: General
 

Butterfly on a Wheel Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

If there’s anything good to have come out of the fact that Zammo has gone into administration, it’s that the branches that are still open are flogging their remaining goods at cut rates. Books, clothing and posters are all going for 50% of the advertised prices, and there are some fine deals to be had on DVDs and BDs as well. In the case of the latter, I picked up the UK release of Butterfly on a Wheel on Wednesday - a blind buy that didn’t pay off. (I also snagged Donkey Punch and George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead.) This suspense thriller stars Gerard Butler, he of 300 who’s good at looking constipated and emitting gutteral roars (in 300, it was “Sparrrrtaaaaaaa!”; in this film, he just bellows “Aaaaabbyyyyy!” a lot), and Pierece Brosnan, who is under the misconception that growing a couple of days’ worth of stubble and putting on a horrendously overdone Northern Irish accent makes him seem menacing. Unfortunately, it’s nothing more than a bland and improbably plotted piece of glossy, slickly-produced twaddle that should have gone straight to TV… and indeed it did in the US, where it was released under the title of Shattered. After we watched it (on Friday), my brother turned to me and said “This is the worst film I’ve ever seen on Blu-ray.” Had I had the presence of mind, I would have reminded him that we also watched Norbit, but I guess my brain had been turned to mush by preceding 95 minutes of tedium.

Oh well, at least it’s got Maria Bello in her pants. Actually, screw it, even that isn’t enough to save this train wreck.

For what it’s worth, Icon’s all-regions disc is actually pretty good, albeit with an irritating audio sync issue which affects both the lossy Dolby Digital and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. The AVC encode suffers from little if any noticeable compression issues, and detail is, for the most part, quite pleasing. The whole image has been slightly pre-filtered, with ringing visible around high contrast edges, such the letterbox bars and the on-screen credits, but, while this is less than ideal, it doesn’t affect the look of the film as negatively as something like Kung Fu Panda. On the other hand, the blacks look quite milky, although it’s unclear whether this is a fault in the original photography or a problem specific to the transfer. (I’m leaning towards the former, since the black screen against which the first few credits are overlaid is “proper” black, unlike, say, Silent Hill, where the black level is off from beginning to end.) 8/10

Butterfly on a Wheel
studio: Icon; country: UK; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 19.6 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 29.61 Mbit/sec

Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel

 
Posted: Sunday, February 08, 2009 at 5:46 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | General | TV | Technology
 

A very bloody Christmas

Television

I’m afraid there won’t be a DVD review this week. I’ve simply been too busy, both with PhD work (I need to turn in a draft of what will eventually become my first analysis chapter before the end of March) and with the day job (since the beginning of the year, I’ve been getting sent on relief to various libraries around Glasgow, with the travel cutting into my “me” time). Rather than post nothing, though (which would be bad manners after I promised a review every week), I decided to dig up a piece I’d previously started and polish it up to a standard fit to be seen by other eyes. It’s a review of the 2-parter Barbara Machin wrote for Casualty during Christmas 2006. As such, it’s a bit late coming, and it’s a little on the long-winded side, but hey - at least it allows me to avoid breaking one of my New Year resolutions.

 
Killing Me Softly and Silent Night
Series 21, Episodes 15 and 16
Written by Barbara Machin; Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence
Originally aired December 23rd and 24th, 2006

It's been too long.

It’s been too long.

A normal Christmas Eve shift in Holby City Hospital’s Accident & Emergency department: patients suffering from various ailments, minor and major, are waiting to be treated, and the staff are knuckling down while each having to juggle the demands of the job with their own personal woes. However, unbeknownst to them, two members of the team are about to come face to face with death in a very literal sense as what seems like a bog standard day turns into anything but. Nothing will ever be the same again come the end of the shift…

I’ve probably watched this two-parter more times than any other episode of Casualty made in the last decade, and with good reason: as far as I’m concerned, these are the best episodes that have been made at least since we entered the twenty-first century, and you have to go back to, oh, say, Series 12 and Love Me Tender to find an episode of comparable quality. That’s not to say that there haven’t been any great episodes between “Love Me Tender” and this two-parter - there definitely have, but the calibre of these episodes is such that they eclipse everything else made in recent years.

I think that part of what makes these episodes stand out is that they fall bang in the middle of a very rough patch in Casualty’s history. Series 21 is, as I’ve said a few times now, in my opinion the absolute worst series of all time, due to a combination of lazy writing, inconsistent characterisation, unbelievable storylines and a genuine sense that no-one on the writing staff knew or cared what they were doing. It says a lot about how bad things had got that it took an outsider to turn the show on its head and, arguably, show the regulars how it should be done. That someone, of course, is Barbara Machin, who, along with the likes of Bryan Elsley (Skins), Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise to Candleford) and Peter Bowker (Blackpool), was part of a bold, daring team of writers that joined the show when it was in the early stages of becoming Great Television (™) and helped lead it through its golden age period. Machin left Casualty after writing Series 13’s excellent episode One From the Heart, and from then went on to do Waking the Dead, of which I’m a massive fan, as you probably know.

[Continue reading "A very bloody Christmas"...]

 
Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:13 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: General | PhD | Reviews | TV
 

The lights are on but no-one’s home

Writings

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few days. I know I promised a full review of Tomb Raider: Underworld, but the three people in the world who are on tenterhooks for it will have to wait slightly longer. The fact is I’ve been under the weather lately, having picked up that brute of a cold that’s been going round. My head feels considerably clearer today than it did yesterday, but I’ve still got quite a bit of catching up to do, including read an entire PhD thesis before my next meeting with my supervisors on Tuesday 20th. I’ve also, as of today, started attention a Junior Honours class in Italian cinema, hosted by one of my supervisors. Much as I’d like to, I won’t be attending every single class, because each session is five hours long, which, when you’re studying part-time, cuts a pretty big chunk out of your week, but it should provide a good opportunity for me to fill in some of the (fairly substantial) blanks that exist in my knowledge of Italian cinema.

Oh, and I picked up a new monitor for a ridiculously low price. More on it later, hopefully, once it’s been properly calibrated and I have a better idea of its strengths and weaknesses.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 5:10 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Games | General | PhD | Reviews | Technology
 

That was the year that was

Writings

With another year been and gone, now seems like a good time to sit back and reflect on the past 365 days. I’ve experienced some highs and lows, the lowest of which would undoubtedly be losing my last two surviving grandparents in the space of a few months. On the upside, I feel that I’ve begun to make real progress with my PhD, which is finally evolving into something tangible, the process of which will no doubt continue in 2009. Otherwise, I can’t say that very much has changed for me. I continued to work part-time in my job at the library, with the various rounds of staff transfers mercifully passing me by and life continuing as before. Is it my dream job? No, I should say not, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go through periods of finding it (and the Great British public) incredibly frustrating. However, all things considered, I can think of plenty other less desirable jobs I could be doing. At least this one is convenient and, all things considered, reasonably well-paid.

 
Zeros and Ones

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

In relation to the battle between rival high definition formats Blu-ray and HD DVD, last year’s annual round-up included the statement “With no end to the format war in sight any time soon, 2008 looks set to be another interesting year.” Well, it seemed that I’d barely finished writing those words when the HD DVD camp threw in the towel. To be honest, the writing had been on the wall for some time, but several people, myself included, still adopted an “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” mentality in the early days of 2008. With Warner’s abandonment of the format only a few days later, however, the writing was well and truly on the wall. Within days, the game was up and the remaining HD DVD-supporting majors (Universal and Paramount) were pledging allegiance to the Blu flag. In any event, once the stragglers got up and running, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year for HD content, with some truly amazing transfers seeing the light of day, while the arrival of several high profile titles such as The Godfather trilogy and The Dark Knight, plus the certainty afforded by there now only being a single HD format, undoubtedly contributed to more people taking the plunge and lending their support to the platform.

I bought myself a new computer - a full tower system after my brief dalliance with the world of small form factors the previous year. After relying on my more technologically competent relatives in the past, I was quite pleased with myself for managing to build the whole thing from scratch myself - seriously, deciphering some of those poorly translated user manuals practically requires a diploma in itself. I also upgraded my PC’s aged Creative audio system with some nice new Logitech speakers and a veritable beast of a subwoofer. I also ultimately succeeded in going region-free for Blu-ray playback, thanks to SlySoft’s AnyDVD HD software, allowing me to use my system as a multi-region HD home theatre PC.

 
At the Pictures

HD DVD

This year, my brother put together a pretty impressive projection system, accompanied by a meaty sound setup, allowing us to enjoy a film-watching environment that more closely approximates the big screen experience. Despite this, however, my overall viewing figures were somewhat reduced in 2008 compared with 2007 (themselves a reduction from 2006). I maintain a log of all the films I watch, and the total tally for 2008 is 128, 67 of which were first time viewings. The increasingly wide array of available Blu-ray titles certainly led to me taking increased risks with titles I hadn’t previously seen, but at the same time caused me to be far less likely to tune in to television broadcasts of films. (I watched 56 films on Blu-ray, 44 on DVD and 14 on HD DVD, versus 7 on TV.)

I got the opportunity to see several what might be termed “significant” films, among them the great - 28 Weeks Later, Across the Universe, Atonement, Bonnie and Clyde, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dark City, Eastern Promises, Enchanted, Fight Club, The Fly (the David Cronenberg version), Juno, The Life Before Her Eyes, The Maltese Falcon, A Matter of Loaf and Death, Mean Girls, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Orphanage, Persepolis, The Plague Dogs, Rabid Dogs, The Shining, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Volver, Wall-E - the good - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Almost Famous, Blow, The Brave One, Chungking Express, La Femme Publique, Grindhouse, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Memento, My Blueberry Nights, Nikita, Resident Evil: Extinction, School of Rock, Shaun of the Dead, La Vie en Rose - the disappointing - 30 Days of Night, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Dark Knight, Doomsday, Gone Baby Gone, Running Scared, Tekkonkinkreet - and the downright dreadful - Freddy Got Fingered, Omen IV: The Awakening and, last but not least, Seytan.

Best film I saw this year? Definitely Atonement. Worst? Oh, come on, do I even have to answer that? I saw Freddy Got Fingered, for god’s sake.

 
Bibliothèque

Garnethill

Much to my chagrin, my reading this year was pretty limited. In addition to perusing a number of academic tomes as part of my PhD research, I sat down with The Field of Blood, The Last Breath, Garnethill, Exile and Resolution by Denise Mina, Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James, Demo by Alison Miller, The Deceiver and The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsythe, and Above Suspicion by Lynda La Plante. I also re-read Mercy Alexander by George Tiffin, and tucked into The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - the latter serving as my sole piece of non-fiction reading that had no direct relation to my PhD. I also started Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré, a celebrated classic that I must admit I’m making very slow progress with indeed.

 
Song and Dance

I picked up the following CDs: Atonement (Dario Marianelli), Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment (Eminence Symphony Orchestra), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Pink and the Lily (Sandi Thom) and Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez).

 
Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 5:36 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Music | PhD | Reviews | Technology
 

Happy New Year 2009!

Writings

Well, 2008 came and went a lot more quickly than I was expecting. I’ll be doing one of my usual annual summaries later, but for now I thought I’d do something completely new and write down some New Year’s resolutions. In the past, I’ve scoffed at such practices, believing that, if you want to change something, the best time to do it is now, not when you hang up the new calendar. However, I’m beginning to come round to the notion that, sometimes, we all need an extra little kick to do the things we know we should do but can’t face up to, and the start of a new year seems like as good a time as any to make an actual commitment. So, without further ado, here are my goals for 2009, in no particular order:

Write more reviews. Once upon a time, I was quite prolific as a writer at DVD Times. In 2008, however, my output slowed to a trickle. Some of this can be blamed on my workload: I’m researching a PhD and also holding down a part-time job. That said, I could definitely stand to make better use of my free time, so my first resolution for 2009 is to attempt to write one review per week. These might not all be fully-fledged, in-depth pieces like my Wall-E Blu-ray review, which was a massive undertaking, but I could at least stand to write technical reviews of BDs whose DVD counterparts have already been covered either by myself or other DVD Times reviews.

Pay off my student loan. When I did my undergraduate degree between 2001 and 2005, I took out a student loan. Given that I lived at home and was within easy travelling distance of the university, I qualified for the smallest available loan, something which I am now exceedingly glad of, having heard the figures bandied about by some former students (particularly those in the US - yikes!). In comparison, £2,500 feels quite maneagable, and, in any event, payment will be facilitated somewhat by a generous donation I received from a dead relative on Christmas Day (thanks, Gran).

Lose weight. In Spring of 2005, I lost a considerable amount of weight in a short space of time. Unfortunately, some of that has subsequently piled back on, and while I’m far from as large as I once was, I could stand to be smaller. I can also see myself ending up on the slippery slope to becoming a fatty again, something I don’t particularly want to happen. I don’t subscribe to any particularly outlandish diets: my weight loss system is basically “Three square meals a day, five portions of fruit and nothing else in between.” It worked in 2005, and it can work again in 2009. All it takes is a little willpower in the first couple of weeks, and then I don’t even miss the crisps, sweets etc.

Watch more films. I saw a number of “significant” films in 2008, some of which I’ll list in my review of 2008 post. In general, though, viewing figures were down: I saw a total of 67 films for the first time, a mere seven of which were released that year. I’m not much of a cinema-goer these days - I tend to think it’s just not worth the hassle - but I could have done better. I still can’t believe I didn’t at least go to see Quantum of Solace. I know some people try to watch a film every single day, but that’s just not possible from my point of view: as much as I’d like it to, my entire life doesn’t revolve around watching movies. I’m not going to make a pledge to watch X number of movies this year, as I surely wouldn’t be able to keep to it, so I’m simply going to say “I’ll do better.”

Post more. I definitely wrote considerably fewer posts for this site in 2008 than I did in 2007. While I wouldn’t say I neglected the site as such, I do think I could have written more. While I’m not a believer in posting something every day simply for the sake of it, on far too many occasions I neglected to post a news item that either myself or others would have found interesting simply because I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not sure what the solution to this is, but I know some people have a habit of setting aside a specific time of the day for blogging, so that’s one possible answer. In any event, expect to see more activity at Land of Whimsy in 2009.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 12:47 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | PhD | Web
 

Reap what you sow

Blu-ray Blu-ray

Zavvi, the UK version of what used to be called Virgin Megastore, has gone into administration. Now, this may have had something to do with its main supplier, Entertainment UK (which also provided the bulk of Woolworths’ goods), having recently gone down the crapper, but I’d imagine replacing the memorable Virgin brand with a name as stupid as Zavvi didn’t help either. Either way, I decided to make the most of their clearance sale on Saturday and picked up a few Blu-ray titles at reasonable prices: Hannibal Rising (the one Hannibal Lecter film I’ve yet to see - don’t worry, I’m well aware that it’s supposedly awful), George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and, because there’s no shame in watching the odd bit of mindless crap from time to time, Mr. Michael Bay’s The Island and Transformers (the latter an upgrade over my brother’s HD DVD copy, given the BD’s inclusion of lossless audio).

Blu-ray Blu-ray

I’ve already done image galleries for the HD DVD versions of The Island and Transformers, which feature the same video encodes on BD, and will be doing the other two titles before too long. However, as a little sneak preview, I must say I’m very impressed by how good Night of the Living Dead looks. I’m an unrelenting pessimist and wasn’t really expecting much, particularly given how bad some of this film’s DVD releases have been, so I was pleasantly surprised when I popped the disc in to find a transfer that is, at least based on my initial cursory examination, the equal of Warner’s Casablanca.

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 12:07 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Technology
 

Was Santa good to you?

Well, another Christmas has been and gone. I’ve decided to put my PhD work to one side until the New Year, but I’m back to work at the library tomorrow, so it doesn’t really feel like I’ve had much in the way of a festive break this year. Alas, I can’t really complain, as it’s simply the luck of the draw: I work Wednesdays and Saturdays, and, with Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, I’ve missed out on any additional days off. Next year, with Christmas on a Friday, I’ll end up with a more generous stretch of time to put my feet up.

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

Anyway, presents! In something of a change in tradition, I didn’t get any movies this year. (As it happens, I’m still waiting on the US Blu-ray releases of Planet Terror, Death Proof and the Canadian Sin City, but, seasonal postal delays being what they are, I’m not entirely surprised that they didn’t show.) Instead, I contented myself with two packets of sour flavour Jelly Bellies, as well as Tomb Raider: Underworld for PC and the 3-disc Legendary Edition of Echoes of War, a symphonic recording of compositions from Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series of games. Oh, and a copy of the From Dusk to Dawn trilogy on DVD from my work colleagues. My final gift, which I’ve actually had up and running since the middle of November (hence it not really feeling like a Christmas present as such, although technically it was), is my very nice speaker setup, which remains something of a rarity for me in that it’s one of the few pieces of computer equipment I’ve bought and had not one single complaint about.

In that past, we’ve generally had the grandparents from both sides of the family over for Christmas dinner, but this year, with all but one of them being six feet under, things were a little different. As a result, myself, my parents and my brother did something we’ve never done before and actually went out for our evening meal, to the Kama Sutra on Sauchiehall St.

A Matter of Loaf and Death

Afterwards, we trooped back home to watch the premiere of the new Wallace & Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, which aired last night on BBC1. I personally enjoyed it a lot, even if it did feel a bit, well, slight in comparison with the previous shorts. It did feel like something of a return to form after the feature-length The Curse of the Were-rabbit, however, which for all its strengths felt like it was lacking the special something which made the shorts so memorable. In any event, Nick Park’s masterpiece remains, for me, The Wrong Trousers, which is just about as perfect as storytelling can get.

 
Posted: Friday, December 26, 2008 at 2:07 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | TV | Technology
 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes of the holiday season to all Land of Whimsy visitors. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white! I’m afraid I’ve been pretty busy this December (I even drew the short straw and ended up working the Christmas Eve shift at the library) and haven’t had time to draw one of my crappy pictures this year, so I thought I’d post a picture of our Christmas tree to warm the cockles of your heart. And yes, that is a hulking great CRT television. My dad bought it close to a decade ago, and it was his pride and joy. It’s now covered with discolouration splotches and hasn’t been turned on in so long that I’ll be amazed if it still works at all.

By the way, there has been an interesting development in my quest to get to the bottom of the Profondo Rosso situation. I’m continuing to investigate the issue and hope to be able to report back on it in a couple of days, but let’s just say that an absolutely gorgeous high definition master appears to exist…

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 10:30 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | Technology
 

And on this day…

[Continue reading "And on this day…"...]

 
Posted: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 at 4:02 AM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: General
 

Honestly, nurse, I’ve no idea how it got there

Mr. Potato Head

Holy potatoes!

Forgive me for linking to the Sun newspaper’s web site. It’s not something I’d normally do, but I feel we’re in need of some light relief as we wait on tenterhooks for Barack Obama to come and restore sanity to the US of A. Lyris linked me to this current affairs piece about a reverend in Sheffield who had to undergo surgery to remove a potato that had become lodged in his anus. How did it get there, you ask? The unfortunate clergyman had a perfectly believable explanation:

The clergyman told stunned casualty nurses he fell backwards on to his kitchen table while hanging curtains.

He happened to be nude at the time of the mishap.

But of course! Why didn’t we think of that before? I personally frequently redecorate while in the nude, and I often leave vegetables lying about on the kitchen table when I do it. And who hasn’t had the unfortunate experience of falling over and conveniently landing on an item of food? Well, given the other nonsense this fellow no doubt believes in, he probably thought this was a highly convincing yarn.

 
Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 at 11:19 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: General | Web
 

All aboard the common sense bus

Flaming Mo

Attention persons of religion who insist on shoving your “faith” down our throats: this is how sick we are of your shit. Recently, an initiative was launched to place adverts on the sides of buses in London proclaiming “There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Of course, such a venture would require money - something to the tune of £11,000, to be precise. A donation page was established at JustGiving, the aim being to secure £5,500 from the general public, with The God Delusion author Richard Dawkins promising to match that out of his own pocket, bringing the total to the £11,000 target.

Within eighteen hours, more than £30,000 had been donated.

I take this as ample evidence that there is a silent but sizeable group of people in Britain that is fed up seeing religion getting an easy ride and of “faith” being seen as something that is automatically deserving of respect in and of itself. I do, of course, have no problem with people believing in whatever they wish - be it Kung-Fu Jesus, Flaming Mo(hammed) or dancing unicorns - but, as I’ve said in the past, I’m all too aware that there is a sizeable discrepancy between representations of religious and irreligious ideas in the public sphere. When I walk down Buchanan Street on a Saturday during my lunch break, I see ample evidence of the religious movement, be it banners proclaiming Jesus to be the only way (the only way of what?), the church at the corner, or that doddering old man who stands at the traffic lights every week without fail, spewing toxic hatred out of his overpowered amp. Unfortunately, all too often these displays of unpleasant nonsense go unchallenged, the notion being (I suspect) that it’s far easier to get on your soapbox and claim that something exists than to claim it doesn’t.

As of writing, nearly £90,000 has been raised. Result: the campaign has now been extended to cover the whole of the UK and will now be featured inside buses, on trains, billboards, etc. They say that he who shouts loudest gets the most attention; well, maybe it’s time we atheists started doing a bit of hollering of our own.

Donate now! Hey, if we hit £100,000, maybe we’ll get a common sense blimp or something.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 8:36 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: General | Web
 

How well do you know the world?

Web

How geographically knowledgeable are you? Do you know your Tuvalu from your Vanuatu, or are you one of those people for whom the only place called Georgia is one of the 50 United States of America? Sporcle.com has a great little game in which you have 15 minutes to name the 195 countries of the world. Regrettably, I managed a rather pitiful 116, showing that my knowledge of Central America, parts of Africa, and the South Pacific islands is shockingly bad. (I also managed to overlook a bunches of places whose names I know as well as my own, such as Croatia, Thailand, Vietnam and Egypt. There’s always at least one that you know you know but can’t immediately call to mind.)

Take the quiz and see just how much (or how little) you know about the planet you inhabit!

 
Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 7:13 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: General | Web
 
 

 
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