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Murder to the tune of standards conversion

DVD

Update, January 5th, 2008 07:03 PM: Although many of the points expressed in this post remain valid, it has been brought to my attention that I made certain technical errors, and as such would like to clarify my points and apologise for any confusion. I have added a new post which will hopefully set the record straight on the matter.

Update, December 29th, 2007 07:19 PM: My mistake - it seems that Fangoria did notice that this was a standards conversion. They appear to be the only ones.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 29, 2007 at 7:08 PM | Comments: 15 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | General | Technology
 

Post turkey syndrome

Well, Christmas has come and gone once again. The dust has settled, the unruly guests have left the house and things are beginning to get back to normal. I previously posted about the games, HD DVDs and DVDs I had ordered for Christmas, so I’ll simply link you to that rather than repeat myself. To my surprise, I also ended up with a new comfy chair and a pair of headphones from my parents. Oh, and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

HD DVD

Of the movies I received, the only one I’ve had a chance to watch yet is Tideland, and I’m still trying to work out how I felt about it. Like virtually every movie released these days (and I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here), it’s at least half an hour too long. In many ways it feels like a less impressive version of Pan’s Labyrinth, infused with the touch of Terry Gilliam rather than Guillermo Del Toro. Rather predictably, it starts out better than it ends, as I felt was also the case with Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it’s nowhere near the stinker that the critics suggest. Transfer-wise, Concorde’s HD DVD is relatively good, but suffers from noticeable filtering and edge enhancement. In fact, it looks decidedly similar to second-tier Warner titles like The Matrix Trilogy and V for Vendetta. Most reviewers will probably rate it highly.

Oh, and continuing in the Gilliam vein, Lyris got the Blu-ray release of Life of Brian. We watched it on Christmas Day itself, which seemed strangely appropriate, but were less than enthused by its transfer. You can read his thoughts at the NTSC-UK forum, and I’m sure he’ll do a more in-depth post on his site at a later date.

The Witcher Unreal Tournament III

I’ve also been dabbling with the two games I got, The Witcher and Unreal Tournament III. The former looks like it could be a very strong game, but I haven’t been able to devote sufficient time to it yet in order to really get into it, while I must confess that I’m having a lot more fun with Unreal Tournament III’s level editor and the hours of video-based tutorials that come with the Collector’s Edition than I am with the game. Don’t get me wrong, it seems to be a solid enough package, and I’m happy to report that not every level is as colour-free as the ones included in the demo (although there has been a definite tendency to dull things down across the board in comparison with its predecessors), but the whole thing is too mode-based for my liking. I’ve never really enjoyed the more mission-based modes like Capture The Flag and Warfare in FPS games, so the fact that there are far fewer Deathmatch maps this time around, and the single player campaign seems to consist almost exclusively of non-Deathmatch missions, means that I don’t think I’ll be retiring Unreal Tournament 2004 from my hard drive any time soon.

 
Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007 at 11:12 AM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Games | General | HD DVD | Technology
 

It’s an Argento kind of Christmas

Mother of Tears (or La Terza Madre, or The Third Mother) is, as most of you probably know by now, the third entry in Dario Argento’s loose “Three Mothers” trilogy, the first two instalments of which, Suspiria in 1977 and Inferno in 1980, constitute two of the finest horror films ever made. Arriving in 2007, Mother of Tears shows up a good 25 years later than most of us would have liked, but the question is, has the wait been worth it? Argento, after all, has famously stated on numerous occasions that the reason for the extended delay was that he didn’t feel ready to tackle the final part. Therefore, either the end result is something he really believed in, or he simply got tired of putting off the inevitable.

Mother of Tears

The answer to the question, if what you’re looking for is a natural conclusion to what was begun with the previous two films is “No.” Mother of Tears is a very different beast - unsurprisingly, given the 27-year gap between this and Inferno. If you view it as a standalone film, or at least a different twist on the same material, it starts to look a bit better, but, even so, Argento makes a number of decisions that are questionable at best, downright baffling at worst.

Mother of Tears

The plot involves student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento), an intern at the Museum of Antique Art in Rome. She and co-worker Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) find themselves in the possession of a coffin containing various artefacts: an ancient dagger, various demon statues and a shroud imprinted with strange symbols. A drop of blood and an ill-advised incantation unleashes the demons and a screeching monkey on the unwitting Giselle, who meets a particularly bloody end. Sarah elopes but finds the police incredulous, while, below the streets of Rome, the Mother of Tears (Moran Atias), awakened after hundreds of years of slumber, unleashes a campaign of madness and destruction.

Mother of Tears

It’s pretty clear from the outset that Mother of Tears doesn’t exist in the same fairytale world as its predecessors. Gone is the lush primary colour scheme, as is the strange, indescribable sense of otherworldliness with which every frame of these films was infused. This third outing takes place very much in our own world, continuing that same realistic look that Argento has continued to explore since the 90s. Frederic Fasano’s cinematography reminds me very much of Benoit Debie’s work on The Card Player crossed with the blander look created by Ronnie Taylor for Sleepless. It’s strange that Argento claimed this film to have the style of his 70s outings, because nothing could be further from the truth. The colours do begin to creep in, in a decidedly subdued form, during the climax, but they are generally restricted to a handful of brief shots.

Mother of Tears

At least the film has the Italian flair that was sorely missed in Argento’s Masters of Horror episodes, his most recent directorial projects prior to this. Lush architecture and classy ladies abound… although that most definitely does not apply to the gaggle of witches who fly into Rome aboard a jet liner and look more like a group of goth posers on their way to a late night rave than evil incarnate. The scenes in which they menace various fellow passengers really do rank among the most risible that Argento has ever directed, and that includes anything in The Phantom of the Opera, Jenifer and Pelts. What’s worse, though, is the utter banality of Mater Lacrimarum, who is talked up as an ancient evil but turns out to basically be a Page 3 girl with too much make-up. In Inferno, Mark Elliot encountered her in a lecture theatre as an alluring, mysterious presence who whispered silent words to him, causing his perception of time and reality to be altered. Here, she’s a plastic-breasted, cackling joke with bad hair who struts around in the nude with her shaved pubic region on display while her followers enjoy a rampant orgy.

Mother of Tears

I wonder perhaps if what hurts the film most is the budget. The mystical shroud worn by Mater Lacrimarum (when she’s wearing anything at all) is basically a red T-shirt with glitter writing on it, while the various vignettes showing Rome’s inhabitants going crazy, committing rape, murder, vandalism and the like, are on too small a scale for us to really believe that the whole city is in chaos. That, too, might explain the overly conventional colour palette, although I find it hard to believe that some of the look of Suspiria and Inferno couldn’t have been achieved digitally. Speaking of computer effects, there is some really bad CGI on display, the worst being a demon that suddenly appears in the lens of a photographer’s camera in the opening scene, accompanied by an obvious musical stinger. And the last said about the film’s final shot, the better…

Mother of Tears

Ignoring all that, though, there’s plenty to appreciate provided you can get over the overwhelming sense of disappointment that this really isn’t a patch on its predecessors. Asia Argento turns in a good performance and makes for an engaging and reasonably resourceful protagonist, while Valeria Cavalli is sympathetic as the white witch who helps Sarah realise her inner potential. I also have no problem admitting that the reappearance of Varelli’s book on the Three Mothers and its familiar opening narration (complete with Emereson-esque music) sent a chill down my spine and evoked a wonderful sense of nostalgia in me. Most of all, there’s a certain sense of infectious glee to the film’s complete lack of restraint. Unfortunately, there’s a feeling of leering sadism to the death scenes (case in point: a lesbian character dies by having a spear rammed into her nether regions and out through her mouth) that I just didn’t get from Suspiria or Inferno, which had a far more artistic bent to their killings, while the lingering on Sergio Stivaletti’s not entirely convincing prosthetic effects is dangerously close to latter day Fulci. Still, if you like over the top gore, there’s much to appreciate, with an opening murder in which a character is strangled by her own intestines particularly standing out. There are fewer great set-pieces than in most of Argento’s films, but an extended sequence in which Sarah has to evade both the police and the aforementioned goth witches, hopping from train to train, is definitely memorable.

Mother of Tears

Compared to its predecessors, Mother of Tears is crude and in many respects sloppy. I suspect it was always a foregone conclusion that it would fail to live up to the grandeur of Suspiria and Inferno, but even so I think it could have been better than it is. It’s fun while it lasts, but it doesn’t really stick with you. Essentially, it’s more of a thrill ride in the vein of the Final Destination films (now there’s something I never thought I’d say) than the mesmerising experience of the first two films, but I had fun and I can’t say it bored me for a second.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 25, 2007 at 11:19 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews
 

DVD image comparison: Four Flies on Grey Velvet

DVD

I’ve put together an in-depth comparison between the various releases of Four Flies on Grey Velvet that I own: two VHS-sourced copies and the recent film-sourced release put out by Retrofilm.

I’ve decided to do things slightly differently for this comparison. Given that there is yet to be an authorised release of the film on DVD, several copies are floating around, with various bootleggers repackaging the same versions and putting them out under their own labels. As such, this is less a comparison between specific releases and more one between the various different “editions” that are floating about.

Until recently, it was generally accepted that there were three major versions doing the rounds:

1. A truncated English language version, presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This release is very dark and, during the climax, it becomes virtually impossible to see what is happening. I refer to this as the OAR English version.
2. A composite version, taken from a French print with English audio overlaid in most instances. This release is cropped to approximately 1.85:1 and is much brighter, but with the whites blown out. This version carries a Luminous Film & Video Works watermark during the opening credits, so I refer to this as the Luminous version.
3. An English language version cropped to 1.33:1. This verion supposedly features the best quality out of these three releases, but, as I haven’t seen it for myself, I can’t comment.

A fourth version, a Region 0 PAL DVD, surfaced in December 2007 from German label Retrofilm. The first release of the film to be taken from a film source rather than an nth generation video copy, there was initially some speculation that this was a legitimate release, but, although there have been arguments on both sides of the fence, it does at this point seem that Retrofilm’s copy is unauthorised. It is, however, quite clearly the best available version by some considerable margin, as you will be able to see from the screen captures here.

 
Posted: Monday, December 24, 2007 at 2:44 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

FedEx flies

Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet

That’s right, it’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet. This particular order actually came from Xploited Cinema, not D&T. I ordered a second copy for two reasons. First of all, my impatient side got the better of me and I decided that I wanted to order from a supplier that had a courier shipping option, to ensure that it reached me before Christmas. Secondly, there was at one point a rumour doing the rounds that D&T had already sold their entire allocated stock and wouldn’t be getting any more, so I decided to hedge my bets and order from a supplier which had already stated that it would be getting a decent number of copies. As it turns out, my D&T order shipped only slightly after the Xploited one, but all that this means is that I’ll have an extra copy to pass on to a lucky duck… for a price, of course.

You’re probably looking for my opinion on the quality of this release, and I’ll start out by categorically stating what it is not. It is not, by any means, a bells and whistles, zim-zam, whizz-bang, no holds barred restoration of the film. The materials used, an English language print (presumably theatrical), show no small amount of wear and tear, with speckles, scratches and tramlines visible for the duration of its running time. The colours and black level are also inconsistent, with several scenes looking overly pink and the overall saturation level seeming too high most of the time. Additionally, given that the English language print is a few minutes shorter than its Italian counterpart, some material has been spliced in from a VHS source, and at these points the quality is much poorer than the rest of the film (although still, by my estimation, an improvement on the two bootlegs I own). A handful of other minor flaws, including the title card being misplaced (it appears at the very start of the film here, rather than in its proper place after Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer and Jean-Pierre Marielle’s names have been displayed), and the occasional instance of the entire frame floating slightly too high or low, resulting in the top or bottom of the next frame being visible, show that this is release is very much rough around the edges.

With all that on board, let’s move on to the positives, and luckily, there are many. Although the detail is far from spectacular, I’ll be absolutely honest and say that it compares favourably to many giallo releases I’ve seen from Blue Underground and NoShame in terms of overall sharpness, and it exhibits none of the obvious edge enhancement that the former go in for. Provided you lower your explanations slightly and don’t expect a flawless, crystal clear image, I can’t imagine you being disappointed by this release, which is by far the best the film has ever looked outside of an actual cinema. The sound is not bad either - noticeably strained, but once again a lot better than my previous copies. You can actually see and hear what is going on throughout, particularly in the second half of the film, which, in many copies, was virtually incomprehensible due to it being so dark and fuzzy.

I’ll be doing an in-depth comparison between this and the two other releases I own before too long, in addition to a fully-fledged review (this, The Five Days of Milan, Jenifer and Mother of Tears are the only Argento films about which I have yet to write in depth), but for the time being, feast your eyes on these screen captures:

Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Four Flies on Grey Velvet

 
Posted: Friday, December 21, 2007 at 5:18 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | Technology
 

DVD debacle

DVD DVD

One of the neat things about writing for DVD Times is that, every so often, we have a disc clear-out, where unclaimed or spare review copies are given away for free to any reviewer who wants them, without the need to review them. This morning, I ended up with sealed retail copies of 28 Weeks Later and Tekkonkinkreet. I know that both these titles are available on Blu-ray, but given that I have no idea whether I’ll consider them to be worth the asking price (I’m in the minority that didn’t think much of Weeks’ predecessor, 28 Days Later), I figured this would be a good opportunity to sample them before deciding whether to commit to buying their high definition variants.

*cough* I also ended up with a check disc of Jackass Number 2. *cough*

 
Posted: Friday, December 21, 2007 at 1:38 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 

Bourne again

HD DVD

My review copy of the HD DVD release of The Bourne Ultimatum arrived yesterday. My brother had actually bought the UK version about a week earlier, so we’d already watched the film, but will be doing so before I write my final review, for two reasons. First of all, I haven’t seen this film on the projector yet, and the experience is always better when the image fills your entire field of vision. Secondly, it features a different encode: the transfer for the UK version comes without any burned-in location type or subtitles (for non-English dialogue) to facilitate international distribution. These are then generated by the player in your language of choice. As a result, the two discs feature different encodes, so it could be that the US release has flaws not apparent in the UK one (the UK transfer scored a perfect 10/10, as it happens). Either way, I vastly prefer the “burned-in” location type and subtitles: it’s more authentic, and the UK version ends up looking rather stupid due to a few minor timing errors and the fact that the “typing in” sound effect accompanying the location type is still present, despite the text itself merely flashing on to the middle of the screen, subtitle-style. It’s a shoddy practice that happens all too often with European DVD (and now, it would seem HD) releases, and it just cheapens the whole package. There will be a review soon, hopefully before Christmas.

HD DVD

We watched the first film in the trilogy, The Bourne Identity, tonight, and I was once again reminded of the fact that it is, in my opinion, by far the best instalment in the series. Much of this comes from Franka Potente’s character, who gives the audience a point of identification that it just doesn’t have in the stone-faced Matt Damon, but a lot of it also has to do with the photography and editing. I’m not a fan of Paul Greengrass’ trademark “shakycam” and rapid cutting, which is all over The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and, watching Identity, I found myself wishing that Doug Liman’s comparatively restrained touch had been extended to the entire trilogy.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 9:39 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Tinkering till perfection

HD DVD

Yesterday, my order of the HD DVD release of Blade Runner (5-disc Complete Collector’s Edition - whew!) arrived from DVD Pacific. Considering the plethora of material contained in this release, including five different cuts of the film and a wealth of bonus features, the asking price of £15.90 seemed like a steal.

Anyway, last night, we watched the Final Cut on the wall. I was very impressed by the presentation - I think this is one of the few film-sourced (as opposed to digital intermediate) high definition transfers I’ve seen without edge enhancement. A handful of shots do appear to have been over-sharpened, but by and large the image looks very film-like and untreated. There are some astoundingly detailed shots, and the colours are eye-popping. Okay, so it’s not as consistently amazing as something like Casino Royale or Ratatouille, but, given the film’s age and the number of effects shots done the old fashioned way, it seems churlish to complain about what are more than likely faults inherent in the source material.

Some direct screen captures are provided below.

Blade Runner: Final Cut
(Warner, USA, VC-1)

Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut

I’ve also thrown in a few comparative shots to demonstrate the visual differences between the various different cuts included in this release. The Final Cut and Workprint both come on their own discs, while the three “Archival Versions”, on a single disc, are essentially a stand-alone version of the film with the differences between the US, international and 1992’s Director’s Cut editions achieved through seamless branching (which the Blu-ray camp at one point claimed wasn’t possible on HD DVD). As you can probably tell, some colour work has been done on the Final Cut, subtly changing the overall look. Oddly enough, though, in some cases, there appears to have been a reduction in detail at the same time (look at Example 2, and see how much crisper the Archival version looks than the Final Cut). Of course, the Workprint is not in the best of shape and, oddly enough, has been cropped to a ratio of 2.20:1, but it does appear that Ridley Scott and his production team went out of their way to find the best possible elements for this presentation. I look forward to further investigating the differences at a later date.

Example 1
(Left: Final Cut; Right: Archival Version; shot not contained in Workprint)
Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut

Example 2
(Left: Final Cut; Middle: Archival Version; Right: Workprint)
Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut

Example 3
(Left: Final Cut; Middle: Archival Version; Right: Workprint)
Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut Blade Runner: Final Cut

 
Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 3:11 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Shame on you, Rob Zombie

DVD

Of all the pointless, gratuitous remakes that have come pouring out of Hollywood in the last few years, the only one I had any real hope for was Rob Zombie’s re-envisioning of Halloween. While his first film, House of 1000 Corpses, was a bit of a mess, it had a sort of quirky charm to it, and its follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects, boasted a more consistent tone and showed that Zombie was growing as a filmmaker. The original Halloween is also not a sacred cow for me (I like it, but I don’t consider it the best slasher movie ever made by any stretch), and, in any event, I don’t see the notion of remaking a classic film as being a complete act of blasphemy. If a director with his own vision steps up to the task, then “Go nuts!” is my response. Zombie, an offbeat and unpredictable filmmaker, is nothing if not unique, so I genuinely did think he might do something interesting with this remake.

How wrong I was. I got a copy of the Region 1 Unrated Director’s Cut release to review, and my only consolation is the fact that I didn’t pay for it. This is essentially a film of two halves, neither or which works on its own and which fail to gel together into anything meaningful. The first half is Zombie’s usual “grungy 70s hillbilly hicks saying ‘fuck’ a lot and acting despicable to each other” shtick, and it actually manages to be quite engaging. I certainly won’t pretend that I didn’t laugh out loud on several occasions, although you get the sense that Zombie is going for easy laughs. It’s also irritatingly smug in its use of stars from Zombie’s previous films. Oh look, there’s Sheri Moon. Hark, it’s Bill Moseley. Is that Sid Haig? Wah-hey, William Forsythe. Howdy, Danny Trejo. Most directors take at least a couple of decades before becoming this self-referential. Zombie has managed it after less than five years.

Initially, the film tries to give something of a psychological backdrop to Michael Myers, but then promptly throws this away in the second half when it becomes a straight remake of the original, making him the same soulless, faceless shape as in the original film - which leads me to wonder what the point was of the first half, other than to fill time. As a remake of Halloween, this second half is particularly embarrassing, cribbing entire set-pieces without any of Carpenters skill. This film is really, and I mean really, badly photographed, with more or less every second shot looking as if it has been misframed, almost as if it was filmed for the 1.85:1 ratio and then matted to 2.39:1 at the last minute. The best I can say about it is that Scout Taylor-Compton does her absolute best as Laurie Strode, but even with her screaming her guts out, the whole thing just falls flat. Malcolm McDowell, on the other hand, ransacks all of his credibility in the Dr. Loomis role.

Expect a full review in the not too distant future. Mr. Zombie has an awful lot of making up to do.

Oh, and my rental of Omen IV: The Awakening has arrived. Crumbs.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 10:18 PM | Comments: 19 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

O Weinstein, where art thou?

HD DVD HD DVD

When DVDs of Planet Terror and Death Proof, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s respect entries in the Grindhouse double feature, were released in the US this year, I made a point of not buying them, as I assumed that the Weinstein Company would release both on HD DVD before too long. Unfortunately, with no new Weinstein HD releases since June, one can only assume that, unhappy with the low sales, they got cold feet and decided not to release anything further on the format.

Worry not, however, for German distributor Senator are picking up the slack with separate HD DVD releases of both films in the New Year. Death Proof will be out first on January 7th, with Planet Terror to follow on March 10th. Both films will feature 1080p VC-1 encodes (Death Proof will be in its original theatrical ratio of 2.39:1, while Planet Terror will, like the DVD, be reframed to 1.85:1, as per Rodriguez’s intentions) and English and German audio tracks (DTS-HD 5.1 and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 for both), with optional German subtitles. No word yet on the extras for Planet Terror, but Death Proof appears to include everything from the DVD, so I don’t see why its stablemate will be any different. In addition, both will come in a nifty “steelbook” case, presumably similar to Europacorp’s Ultimate Edition DVD of Danny the Dog, Dark Sky’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and that horrible “Definitive Edition” of Suspiria.

 
Posted: Monday, December 17, 2007 at 1:56 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD
 

All I want for Christmas is you

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but it will soon be Christmas - a mere eight days to go. While virtually everyone I know is running around in a flap, braving the cold winds of Glasgow in December, not to mention the bustling crowds of like-minded last minute shoppers, I find myself sitting back with a look of rather smug self-satisfaction on my face. I, you see, have discovered the wonders of Internet shopping, and the savings in time, money and worry that come with it. With more or less everyone else’s gifts accounted for, I decided it was time to give some thought to myself and what I would like to receive for Mithras’ birthday.

The Witcher Unreal Tournament III

First up, a couple of games: the Collector’s Edition of Unreal Tournament III and The Witcher. Unreal Tournament III you already know about, from my previous complaint about the desaturated visuals in its pre-release demo. It’s undeniably a fun game, though, and the saturation control can, to some extent, be used to compensate for the predominance of grey and brown. The Collector’s Edition, in any event, looks somewhat interesting, given that it comes with an art book and a DVD exploring the history of the franchise and the making of this instalment, not to mention ten hours’ worth of tutorials for the Unreal Editor.

The Witcher, meanwhile, is not a game that I’ve had an opportunity to experience for myself, but it sounds like an interesting attempt to do a complex, non-linear single player RPG that eschews traditional notions of good vs. evil and allows the player’s choices to impact the story and world in a very noticeable sense. Ironically, the game’s qualities seem to have been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the publisher’s decision to censor female nudity from its American release (the European versions are intact), calling into question all sorts of debates regarding the games industry’s bizarre relationship within the human body (you can dismember it as much as you like, but God help you if you happen to spot a nipple).

HD DVD HD DVD

I also picked up a couple of German HD DVD releases from Amazon.de: Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared and Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. The former is a film I know next to nothing about, but the transfer appears to be extremely good, and I do like to take the odd risk now and then with my movie watching (Inside Man certainly paid dividends, and I liked Kramer’s previous film, The Cooler). Tideland, meanwhile, I’ve wanted to see for a while, even if the word of mouth has been largely negative so far. Interestingly, it is also, as far as I can tell, the only release of the film to present it in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1: most DVD releases are open matte at 1.78:1, while the UK release is in a ratio of 2.25:1, which is supposedly Gilliam’s preferred ratio. (It may turn out that the HD DVD is also 2.25:1, despite what the packaging claims, but I figure that either is preferable to having an open matte 1.78:1 presentation, so I won’t be too fussed either way.)

DVD DVD

Oh, and, surprising as it might seem, I haven’t yet completely given up on the world of standard definition. I ordered the Region 1 US releases of Michael Moore’s Sicko and, carrying on a tradition that was started back at Christmas 2003, the latest release in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series, Volume 5. I actually have no idea which cartoons are included in this line-up - I like to be pleasantly surprised, although I’m not holding out too much hope for Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs making an appearance any time soon.

 
Posted: Monday, December 17, 2007 at 1:32 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Games | General | HD DVD | Technology
 

100% genuine animation!

Blu-ray

We watched the Blu-ray release of Ratatouille on the wall this evening. Given that we decided not to see it at the cinema, due to the fact that Jamie Oliver overdubbed a character for the UK release (an annoying trend with CGI movies that seems to have started with Shrek 2, getting British celebrities and other non-entities to replace the voices of minor characters, presumably because all the kids will say “Hey, mummy, I want to see Shrek 2! It’s got Jonathan Ross and Kate Thornton’s voices in it for ten whole seconds!”), this was the closest we were able to get to a genuine theatrical screening of the film, and I must say it definitely benefits from the big(gish) screen treatment. I also spotted the image below during the end credits crawl, and it certainly make me chortle.

Quality assurance guarantee

 
Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2007 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

You’re a magnificent c…odec

HD DVD

This is a superlative transfer with a magnificent amount of detail and superb encoding across the board. The contents of the disc, including the film, a TrueHD track, several Dolby Digital-Plus tracks and a handful of extras, uses a mere 22 GB. I was told that a new version of the VC-1 encoder made its debut with the HD DVD release of Shrek the Third, and I wonder if it was also used for this film, because, given its running time of more than two hours and emphasis on tight, fast, hand-held photography, I would have expected to see at least some mild blocking in still frames. When Universal are at their best, they are almost unparalleled in the field of high definition. If only all their transfers were this good.

Shot 6 is included as a prime example of the rampant product placement that can be found in this film. I just love how the monitor, and more importantly, the manufacturer’s logo, gets as much prominence in the frame as Jodie Foster.

Inside Man
(Universal, USA, VC-1)

Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man Inside Man

 
Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007 at 10:48 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

HD heist hyjinks

HD DVD

As you’ll know if you’ve been reading my brother’s site, his 1080p projector arrived yesterday. Currently, the screen on which it is intended to project its images is noticeably absent, so for the time being we are making do with a crumpled sheet that has been attached to the wall with drawing pins. It really isn’t anything like as bad as it sounds, although the fact that the image is split up by three long horizontal folds, and the image has a tendency to ripple and distort against the less than perfectly flat surface, is slightly distracting.

Anyway, tonight we had our first feature-length screening on the projector, and I’m happy to report that it was something better than Norbit. It was the HD DVD of Spike Lee’s Inside Man, which arrived the other day and which I was originally planning on keeping for a Christmas present. I slightly overspent, however, and decided to pay for this one myself (I’ll do a post on the other titles I ordered, which I will be saving for Christmas Day, at a later point).

I’m not much of a Lee scholar (actually, I know next to nothing about him), but I understand that this is one of his more conventional and easily accessible outings. It’s a solid, engaging and at times decidedly inventive heist movie that, like so many films these days, is a good 45 minutes longer than it needs to be, but, although I did find myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat towards the end, I had a blast for the most part, and found myself being reminded on several occasions of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, another New York-based thriller dealing with a gang of crooks holding a group of hostages to ransom. It must be admitted that Denzel Washington is not a patch on Walter Mathau,* nor is Clive Owen on Robert Shaw, but I enjoyed their performances thought that the film’s only major failings, apart from its length, were a handful of ham-fisted attempts at social commentary, focusing on racial prejudice and, in one laughable scene, violence and “gangsta” culture in video games.

Oh, and it looks as if this is yet another stellar HD release from Universal, who can really do great work when they put their minds to it (they’ve also churned out some absolute garbage, though, and are to date, to the best of my knowledge, the only studio who have had the audacity to put out a 480i upconvert and sell it as a full 1080p HD release). Of course, moving from a 40” LCD screen to a projected image of over 100” takes some getting used to (everything immediately looks considerably less detailed, unsurprisingly enough), and at the moment I don’t have much of a frame of reference for what a superb transfer looks like at this size compared with one that is merely very good, but I found the whole experience surprisingly cinematic and was never distracted by any unpleasant artefacts. I hope to do some screen captures before too long.

And I’m sorry, but I can’t not like a film that includes the line “You’re a magnificent cunt.”

* As I was typing this, I happened to take a look at IMDB, and was somewhat surprised to discover that Tony Scott is directing a remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, due for release in 2009. Guess who’s filling Walter Mathau’s shoes? That’s right: Denzel Washington.

 
Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007 at 9:58 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

I know where you got those peepers

DVD

Source: Mobius Home Video Forum

You know, after his earlier run-in with the law, I would have thought that filmmaker Victor Salva would have been more careful to avoid indulging in any more suspect behaviour. Not so, however, for it turns out that we can add “plagiarism” to his roster of unsavoury deeds.

On YouTube, there is a very interesting video highlighting the undeniable similarities between the first act of Salva’s film, Jeepers Creepers, and an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, a 1980s US television series that re-enacted various true crimes. After watching the clips, I think you’ll agree that this is not mere coincidence but a case of outright theft. It’s certainly given me cause to reconsider just why the first act of Jeepers Creepers was so much better than what followed it.

 
Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007 at 9:29 PM
Categories: Cinema | TV | Web
 

Tight, emphatic close ups, framed under the hairline and above the chin

Blu-ray

This is some of the best detail I’ve seen in an HD release taken from a print source rather than a digital intermediate. The best-looking discs invariably tend to be the ones that have come from the digital domain, but Buena Vista shows with The Rock that you can still get very good results indeed from an interpositive. There’s a bit of what looks like edge enhancement (see especially Shot 15, below), but I’m not sure whether this is a result of deliberate sharpening or a side effect of using a film-sourced master. Detail is exemplary, barring a few shots featuring location type, which have been taken from a poorer quality source, and the compression is extremely well handled, as it was on the Criterion standard definition DVD.

The Rock
(Buena Vista, France, AVC)

The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock The Rock

 
Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 11:28 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Cruisin’

HD DVD

I love the colour palette of this film. Given that so many action movies tend to go with dingy, desaturated visuals, I’m glad J.J. Abrams went down the opposite route and pumped the saturation to an almost ridiculous level. Somehow it seems more befitting of a big, dumb blockbuster than the near black and white moroseness we usually get. Paramount have done a really nice job of the HD DVD release, too. It was quite difficult to get decent captures due to the fact that the camera shakes around almost as much as it does in a Michael Bay film, but the images below should at least give some idea of the disc’s look. There are some visible compression artefacts here and there - the only flaw preventing this disc from being a 10/10 affair.

Mission Impossible III
(Paramount, USA, VC-1)

Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III Mission Impossible III

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 11:36 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Glamourama

HD DVD

This is such a sumptuously photographed film that I couldn’t whittle it down to a mere nine images, as is my standard (I took over 60 captures), so I decided to throw in a whole bunch more than usual and select 15. Mulholland Drive is a naturally soft-looking film, shot with a lot of filters and with a definite glow in its daylight scenes, and as such, on HD DVD it doesn’t have the pop of something like King Kong or The Bourne Ultimatum, but the look is totally in keeping with its source materials. There is a lot of very fine grain present in the image (this is one of these films that gains most of its detail from the densely moving particles, and as such can sometimes look quite a bit softer in still frame form), which is rendered very well during the brighter scenes, although those shot in low light tend to lead to some artefacting on this release. Still, it’s a solid 8 out of 10 title and one that will no doubt be unfairly ignored by many viewers simply because it doesn’t have any explosions or car chases in it.

Mulholland Drive
(Studio Canal, France, VC-1)

Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive Mulholland Drive

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 11:07 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Four flies on shiny plastic

DVD

Get your kreditkarten at the ready, check your email for your benutzername und kennwort and hurry over to D&T Mailorder Shop, because they’re taking pre-orders for the German DVD release of Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Due to ship on December 21st, this obscure piece of Argento history can be had for a mere €24.99.

In other Argento-related news, DesertRain at Dark Discussion reports that the man himself is already working on his next project. Entitled Giallo, it will be shot in Turin and star Asia Argento, Ray Liotta and Vincent Gallo. Filming will take place between January and March. Some brief early information on the project is available at Shock Till You Drop - unfortunately, it seems that, as with his Masters of Horror entries, he will be working from someone else’s script.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 11:01 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

HD DVD review: Wolf Creek

HD DVD
Over a year later and Optimum have delivered a version of Wolf Creek that fails to improve on the older US release from the Weinstein Company and, in many ways, constitutes a step back. For what it is, it’s not a bad disc, but, unless you absolutely feel the need to own the original shorter cut, my advice would be to avoid this one and pick up the US version.

Optimum continues to serve fans whose interests lie slightly off the beaten track with an HD DVD release of Wolf Creek, Greg McLean’s nasty and effective shocker. Review at DVD Times.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 10:41 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 
 

 
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