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Friday, September 30, 2005

Lisa and the Devil/The House of Exorcism

DVDThis morning, as I had predicted, I woke up in the grip of a full-blown cold. That said, I still managed to haul my carcass down to the post office to pick up my delivery of Lisa and the Devil/The House of Exorcism (R2 Italy), which, for some reason, required my signature.

I finally got to see this Mario Bava curiosity in both forms - the original version, Lisa and the Devil, which Bava shot in 1972, and the mangled version, The House of Exorcism, which contains additional footage added in by producer Alfredo Leone a number of years later - and I found it quite enjoyable, but definitely not the classic some have proclaimed it to be.

Lisa and the Devil starts out promisingly enough, with some wonderfully creepy scenes in which our protagonist, Lisa (Elke Sommer), finds herself lost in a maze-like, deserted city, and is accosted by a menacing Telly Savalas (yes, Kojak himself, even armed with the trademark lollipop that he would later use in that very show). However, after Lisa arrives at the mansion in which much of the film takes place, the pace slackens and it gets bogged down too many mundane "bump in the night" horror elements. It's beautifully photographed, though, and with a great Carlo Savina score.

The House of Exorcism, meanwhile, is an Exorcist rip-off of the worst possible order. Interspersed throughout are various additional scenes which show Lisa writhing around in a hospital bed spewing green slime from her mouth and wittering on about cunts and whores, while the drippy Father Michael (Robert Alda) wrings his hands and stammers various prayers. A handful of sex scenes have also been thrown in, seemingly at random. Beat that! This film is worth seeing more for curiosity than anything else, since it completely destroys Bava's narrative and makes the whole thing virtually incomprehensible. No wonder he had his name removed from the credits (the director is now listed as "Mickey Lion" - I wonder if he's any relation to Mickey Mouse).

Overall ratings:
Lisa and the Devil: 7/10
The House of Exorcism: 5/10


The quality of both transfers leaves a lot to be desired, by the way. Although anamorphic, they are extremely lacking in detail and look extremely blocky, with a jagged, stair-stepping effect on every edge. It looks like a bad scaling job (I wonder if they were converted from the now out-of-print non-anamorphic American DVDs) and is very distracting. This is a shame after the excellent job Raro Video did on The Perfume of the Lady in Black.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

First class

I had my first proper Film Studies class today - the perfect day to develop a sore throat, which will no doubt have turned into a raging cold by tomorrow.

Anyway, it was all pretty interesting. A lot of it centred around paperwork, admittedly, but we got an introductory lecture on the concept of textualism (roughly speaking, approaching film as a text in the same way that a novel is considered a text, covering the various elements and discussing how they interrelate). Much of it sounded vaguely familiar, which suggests that either I've read enough film theory out of my own volition to have some preliminary grounding in the subject already, or else I already did this back in my first year at university, when, for a brief time, I was a Film & Television Studies student.

We also watched a screening - or rather a VHS tape - of On the Town, an all singin', all dancin' musical featuring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra running around New York dressed in sailor suits. This sort of film is pretty much diametrically opposed to the sort of thing I go in for, but it was reasonably entertaining. At the same time week, we get to watch the Bollywood film Devdas. In the meantime, my first Animation class is on Monday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Simpsons: Season 6

DVDGood god, this is a textbook case in how not to author a DVD if ever I saw one. The US DVDs of The Simpsons are hardly reference quality as it is, but this UK release of Season 6 takes everything to the next level. These grotty, analogue-sourced transfers feature the combined artefacts of both the NTSC and PAL video systems, along with compression artefacts and some of the worst examples of DVNR I've ever seen. This stuff is bordering on unwatchable at times, and I'm genuinely appalled that Fox would consider releasing this crap and charging full price for it. One consolation, of course, is that I got this as a review copy and thus didn't pay a penny for it (although I will have to take the time to review it). Another is that, as far as I'm concerned, the sixth season marked a noticeable drop in the show's quality, in many ways meaning that this was the beginning of the end and probably the last season of the show that I will actually bother with. It's still pretty damn inexcusable, though.

Hi ho, hi ho...

I started at the library again this afternoon, and discovered, to my horror, that a specialist "shelver" is now being employed full-time. Why is this a problem, you ask? Well, the problem is that it means that there aren't any books for me to shelve, because if there's someone there fulfilling just such a capacity all day, everything is kept ticking over smoothly and there's nothing for anyone else to do except tidy shelves, which, as you can probably imagine, is not the most thrilling job on earth. Ah well. I should really get into the habit of ripping DVD audio commentaries and uploading them to my Zen - they help pass the time in a way that music generally doesn't.

"Enjoy your affordable Swedish crap"

The above line is a quote from an episode of Futurama, referring to products from furniture retailer Ikea, in case anyone starts thinking that I have anything against Sweden, the Swedes, or Swedish goods. At the moment, however, I'm not best pleased. At around midday today, I heard an almight crash upstairs. Initially thinking that someone had lobbed a projectile through a window, I quickly discovered the real source of the noise upon going to investigate: one of the shelves of my new bookcase, procured just a few months ago, had collapsed, throwing books all over the room, smashing a whole bunch of Lego sets that were on the floor and leaving a number of paperbacks in less than perfect condition. Judging by the state the bookcase is in now, I would imagine it to be damaged beyond repair, but we'll see. I guess it just goes to show that these inexpensive, assemble-at-home furniture products are not all they're cracked up to be.

Nathan Barley is in da house

DVDA review copy of Nathan Barley (R2 UK) arrived this morning, containing all six episodes of the TV series, as well as the unaired 40-minute pilot and a bunch of extras. Watching it right now, it occurs to me that the pilot is actually superior to the series itself, although that may be due to the fact that it contains many of the best moments from the series (Place, the haircut incident, etc.). One thing's for sure, this is going to be a challenging title to review, since the whole thing pretty much defies criticism and was more than likely designed to screw over lofty reviewer-type people like myself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

DVD
FLORIANA
Incidentally, is it true you slept with your mother, Oliviero? When you were already grown up, I mean.

OLIVIERO
Is it true about you being a two-bit whore?

FLORIANA
Well, they might be considered two bits well spent.

Ridiculously long title aside, this is probably Sergio Martino's most interesting film. No, it's not as outright satisfying as The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, or as gleefully trippy as All the Colors of the Dark, but it contains more depth than his usual giallo offerings, and even if it ends up simply serving up the usual clichés in a slightly less familiar form, it hints at what the man was capable of if he put his mind to it.

By the way, it's good to see that NoShame Films have finally moved away from the fetid world of PAL to NTSC standards conversions, delivering a proper progressive scan transfer. The presentation is still far from ideal (it's way too filtered, and there is a noticeable stair-stepping effect to diagonal lines that suggests a rushed scaling job), but it's a big step up from their last two Martino releases.

Captain Whiggles is a slave of the system once again

CardWell, that's me an officially paid-up dragoon of the University of Glasgow once again. I had to queue for nearly two hours this afternoon, but I made it out of there in one piece, and with a brand new tacky student card as proof. As you can see by the gleeful expression on my headshot, I was absolutely thrilled after standing in the rain for the better part of the afternoon, listening to female first year students wittering on about their fit boyfriends who play guitars and are such total slackers. Still, at least I'm in the system now, and seemingly under the correct matriculation number (as I probably mentioned before, the numbskulls somehow managed to set me up with two different accounts).

DVD debacle

DVD DVD
Review copies of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (R0 USA) and The Simpsons: Season 6 (R2 UK) arrived this morning. Notes and impressions to follow.

Spooks: Season Three

DVD
Contender have once again delivered a fine package for Spooks' third season, and if this collection of episodes is not quite up to the level of those that preceded it, the quality of the presentation and exhaustive nature of the bonus materials almost make up for this. While the majority of the commentaries are really not worth bothering with, there is still plenty of interest here and fans of the show should be served well by this release.

With Spooks' fourth season currently airing on TV, Contender Home Entertainment have released the previous season on DVD. Spread over five discs, Season 3 may be a step down from previous instalments, but in terms of presentation and extras, Contender have done a great job.

Review at DVD Times.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Warcraft III

Warcraft IIII've been playing a few games of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne online, something I don't think I've ever done in the 2+ years I've had the game. Unsurprisingly, I'm not really very good, but I've won a few games (three out of seven, I think), and am finding it pretty enjoyable overall, although I'm still not really won over by the concept of online games.

My course

I've made a decision as to what my fourth option will be in my Film Studies course: an Honour module in Film Journalism, which runs during the second term. This, I think, should be pretty appropriate to my own interests, as it ties in well with my extracurricular activities writing reviews. Also, unlike the other Honours modules, it has no exam: instead, the final grade is split 50/50 between an essay and a submitted portfolio of your own writing (I wonder if I would be able to submit the same reviews I was writing for DVD Times - we'll see).

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Airplane!

DVDAirplane! was on TV tonight for the umpteenth time. Watching it again and finding it just as funny as ever reminded me that I still don't own this classic on DVD. I've now rectified it, ordering a copy of the R1 Canadian version from DVD Import.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Code fixes

I've made some minor alterations to the code of the blog pages to make sure the site appears properly in Opera - which, by the way, is now free. I downloaded it this afternoon and I must say I'm very impressed. There are a couple of oddities in the interface I need to get round (such as, for example, the complete lack of a button to take me back to my Home page), but I have to say it has some real benefits over Firefox - smoother scrolling and searchable input fields, to give a couple of examples.

Age of Empires III goes gold

Age of Empires IIISource: Gamespot

Age of Empires III has gone gold and will appear in stores from October 18th onwards! I can't wait for this game. Despite featuring only two maps, the demo is loads of fun.

Being the loon that I am, I pre-ordered the Collector's Edition, which includes the soundtrack, a making-of DVD, an art book, and all the usual jazz, from Play.com.

Closer

I've really been putting my Blockbuster account to good use over the last while, renting all sort of films that have been raved about but which I wasn't sufficiently interested in to buy blind. This afternoon, I experienced Closer.

Closer is essentially a romantic comedy about attractive Londoners getting into all sorts of messes in life and love... Pass me the sick bucket. And yet, despite essentially being the sort of film that usually sends me running from the room in disgust, and despite featuring Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen - three of the most overrated, annoying actors in the business - I quite enjoyed it. The best moments come almost entirely from Natalie Portman, who once again is highly watchable due to her idiosyncratic line delivery. I also enjoyed the net-sex scene - that was funny - and the Inferno-like lighting in the strip club. I doubt I'd ever watch it again, but it was better than the usual Richard Curtis drivel.

7/10

Home

CDHome, the latest CD from the Corrs, arrived this morning.

If In Blue accentuated the pop side of their music, then Home goes in the opposite direction, resulting in an album that is comprised almost entirely of traditional (i.e. Irish) songs. As a result, some of it sounds a bit twee, but comparing the overall ratings of the two albums, it's fairly obvious which I prefer. At its best, Home represents a return to what made their first CD, Forgiven, Not Forgotten, so great. The dreaded autotune seems to be gone, the music is layered without sounding over-produced... My one major criticism of this album is that Caroline Corr isn't drumming any more (she still provides backing vocals and the bodhrán, though), which means that on many of the songs, the beat sound different from usual (not bad, just not the same). It's a matter of personal taste, of course.

8/10

Do You Like Hitchcock?

I've just finished watching Dario Argento's latest film, the TV movie Do You Like Hitchcock? (thanks to Thomas for sending me a copy from Danish TV). As is always the case with Argento's films, opinions have been split right down the middle. So far, I don't think anyone has called it a masterpiece, but many have labelled it a complete failure. As usual, you'll have to watch the film for yourself to make up your mind about it, but as far as I am concerned, it is most decidedly not a failure. Hitchcock is an insubstantial film, but it's a very enjoyable one.

The most striking element of the film is its fluid cinematography. The camera goes everywhere, and during the night scenes, Argento plays with light, shadow and colour in much the same way as he did during his golden period in the late 1970s and early 80s. During the day scenes, the cinematography looks a little flatter, and comes to resemble more closely Non Ho Sonno. In a sense, though, that's not really a fair comparison, as to my eyes Hitchcock is a much more visually impressive product. A handful of dodgy video edit effects do show up the film's low budget and made for TV origins, but overall I was struck by how much like a theatrical movie it looked. Oh, and contrary to the rumours I have been hearing, it was in fact shot on film, not digi-beta.

Do You Like Hitchcock?

This is a slower-paced film than many that Argento has directed, and the scale is smaller, but this isn't a bad thing, as it allows him to explore his characters more and even indulge in some comedy moments. It doesn't always work, true, but a number of exchanges are pretty amusing, including an angry exchange between Giulio and his girlfriend Arianna, which involves them each punctuating their sentences by opening or closing the elevator door. That scene made me laugh out loud, which is not a reaction I often have to Argento's attempts at comedy. The performances are good across the board, although the dubbing doesn't do it any favours (more on that later). In particular, I was impressed by Elio Germano (Giulio), Elisabetta Rocchetti (Sasha) and Cristina Brondo (Arianna).

Do You Like Hitchcock?

Overall, Do You Like Hitchcock? is far from the best thing Argento has ever directed, and it continues in much the same vein of "good but not great" that characterized his two previous films, Non Ho Sonno and The Card Player. Still, if you got any enjoyment out of them, I would think you'll like Hitchcock. The maestro has still got it.

7/10

PS. The version I saw was the English dub rather than the Italian variant, which is essentially both good and bad. The good part is that the dialogue fits with the actors' lip movements. The downside is that none of them have their own voices - the dubbing was done in London and at times sounds completely ludicrous. That's part and parcel of Argento's films, I suppose, but I had hoped, after he got such good results from his leads in The Card Player, that he would be moving more in the direction of using production sound. Ah well.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Star Wars

I've just seen Star Wars (the modified version with the title Episode IV: A New Hope, that is). I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting to. After all the hype and fan wankery surrounding it, I didn't think it could possibly live up to its reputation. In a sense, I was right: I didn't think it was as amazing as some people have made out, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Like so many self-conciously epic films, it did at times feel a little too pompous for its own good, but this was countered quite well by the sense of humour that was visible throughout, especially with regard to the English metal man and his short robotic sidekick. I'll seek out the other two films in the original trilogy (not so sure about the recent Episodes 1-3, though).

8/10

The Black Belly of the Tarantula

DVDI watched the film this afternoon and really enjoyed it. It's a pleasure to see a giallo with a genuinely human person for a lead, and Giancarlo Giannini provides an excellent performance (and is it just me, or did he play exactly the same character 30 years later in Hannibal?). While it may not have the outlandish stylings of Dario Argento's best work or even that of lesser counterparts like Sergio Martino, it is a solid story well told and with engaging performances. This was the first time I'd seen this film, and I'm glad I got to experience it on a decent DVD instead of one of the second-rate bootlegs that have been floating about.

8/10

University

Well, I've now enrolled in my class, and I have a slightly better idea of what the course will be comprised of. As I previously said, there are four modules: the Core Course, Animation, Screen Bodies, and another that I get to choose. I've now found out that this can either be a 3rd or 4th year undergraduate paper, or else a postgraduate option from another department in the Arts faculty. I've been given a list of the 3rd and 4th year Film & TV papers open, and of the available options, Screen Violence and Italian Cinema seem the most interesting to me, although Television Drama is probably not without its charm. Screen Violence runs during the first term, whereas the other two run during the second term, so if I chose to take it, it would mean doing three papers in one term and one in the other instead of the more normal equal split of two in each term.

I'm not really sure which option I would prefer to go with, but I'll need to make up my mind before too long. I suspect that it would make more sense to go with a Term 2 paper simply because it would make more sense logistically, but we'll see.

The Black Belly of the Tarantula

DVDLa Tarantola dal Ventre Nero (The Black Belly of the Tarantula, R0 Italy) arrived this morning before I left for the university.

I've only watched a few minutes of it so far, but the DVD looks to be a decent effort from RHV. This is the first time the film has been released in its original aspect ratio and uncut, and the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is quite impressive: a bit murky, perhaps, although this could well be a stylistic choice.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

John K interview

The Hollywood Reporter has a new interview with John K, where he talks about direct to DVD projects, advertising, executives, and much more.

L'université

Well, I'm back. Frankly I'm glad I went in after all, as it seems that admin know fuck all about what they were doing. For some reason, I was listed twice in their system with two different matriculation numbers, marked "pre-registered" for one and "registered" for the other. Furthermore, it seems the system had put me down for a completely different adviser, and the folder containing my information was nowhere to be seen. Oh yeah, and I was able to advise someone doing the same course as me that the enrollment meeting is tomorrow - unlike me, she hadn't received any contact from the Department of Film and Television Studies and would probably have missed enrollment if we hadn't coincidentally been meeting [Dr. Tarantino] at the same time.

It seems that monkeys are running the admin services at the University of Glasgow. No offence or anything.

Arrrrgh!

Your Uncle Whiggles is not a happy bunny. He has just been into the university to pay a visit to his adviser of studies who, it turns out, was not around. After waiting around for half an hour, I paid a visit to the departmental office, who informed me that this was most unlike her, and that no, they had no idea where she was. I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for this (or if not, one will be conveniently fabricated), but this is pretty typical of the Department of English Literature. I left a note impressing the need to reschedule before Tuesday, when I'm supposed to matriculate (by the rules of the idiotic system put in place for registration this year, you can't matriculate until you've seen your adviser). What makes this so annoying is that I'm sure whatever will be said to me when I finally do get to see the elusive [Dr. Tarantino] could just as easily have been said via a phone call or email. In fact, given that tomorrow I have to enroll in my course, no-one will be in at the weekend, and Monday is a holiday, I'll suggest that we do just that once (if) she finally gets back to me.

Update, 13:23: Apparently, [Dr. Tarantino] was in a different room from what was communicated to me. I don't know about you, but when I receive a list of advisers, I generally assume that the room given on the list is the one I should go to, not some other room that no-one has bothered to tell me about. Well, I'm off into university again in another 45 minutes. What fun!

Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition

DVD
To be brutally honest, there is not a whole lot in this new 2-disc set that viewers who previously bought the Ultimate Toy Box will not already have seen. While the new featurettes are mostly interesting, and in audio-visual terms there has been an incremental increase in quality, on the whole the changes are not really noticeable enough to justify a repurchase for casual viewers. While this is admittedly a very nice package, it is on the whole incomplete, and, despite the claims of Lasseter and co, screams "cash-in". Taken on its own terms, though (i.e. ignoring the existence of previous versions), it constitutes an excellent release.

To cash in on... sorry, celebrate... the tenth anniversary of the release of Toy Story, the film that changed the landscape of animation forever, Buena Vista have put together a new 2-disc special edition release combining past extras from the earlier Ultimate Toy Box release with new materials produced specially for this set, including a new transfer and DTS audio mix. I find out whether or not this is actually a worthwhile upgrade over previous releases or just a cynical money-grabbing ploy.

Review at DVD Times.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

And thus it ends...

Tomorrow, I'm off to the university to see my adviser of studies. I guess this is essentially the end of my extremely long summer holiday, since although my actual classes don't begin for another week, I also have commitments on Friday and Tuesday (course enrollment and matriculation respectively).

Criterion conundrum

DVD DVD
I haven't made any impulse purchases (or alliterating titles) for some time, but I decided to order the recent Criterion releases of Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Féminin and Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing from DVD Pacific.

New French Fulci releases

DVD DVD
Source: Mobius

Warner's French DVD distribution wing is releasing 2-disc special editions of two Lucio Fulci films, The New York Ripper and Seven Notes in Black, on October 8th. Judging by an early review of the former at DeVilDead, it sounds as if these are going to be really nice packages, with a decent array of bonus materials, nice transfers and English and Italian audio options. I currently have a copy of Seven Notes in Black, the recent grey-market US release by Alfa Digital, which features a standards converted transfer, so I'm considering picking up copies of both of these titles... especially considering that The New York Ripper is supposedly pretty much an essential for any European horror fan.

PS. Ignore the fact that the specs listed at the Mobius link don't include English audio options - they have in fact been confirmed, both in the DeVilDead review and elsewhere.

Update, 17:04: I pre-ordered them both from Amazon.fr, which is offering a discount if you buy the two of them together.

Rebus

DVDRebus (R2 UK) arrived this morning.

As I suspected, only three of the four episodes that were produced are present and correct, and in fact the first two episodes are in the reverse order from how they originally aired (the one in which Rebus' daughter is hit by a car was definitely the first one I saw, and I'm sure I saw all four episodes, but it is the second on the disc), and the third episode looks like a cheap analogue broadcast recording with dot crawl, colour bleeding, mosquito noise and macro-blocking everywhere. Still, I'm looking forward to revisiting these shows again. A lot of people didn't like John Hannah as Rebus, but I thought he was pretty good. Then again, not having read any of the original books until after I had seen the TV series, I have no idea what sort of a mental image I would have created for the character myself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Very special German Card Player release

Source: Dark Discussion

An extra special limited edition release of Dario Argento's The Card Player, including a T-shirt, a deck of cards and an exclusive wooden box, has been released in Germany. While I doubt I would want to buy yet another copy of the film, especially at €39, this does look like an extremely nice set, and personally I would love another Argento-themed T-shirt. But no, at this one I will have to draw the line.

If you're interested, you can buy this hulking great package at D&T Mailorder Shop.

Latest Review back

You've probably noticed that the "Latest Review" section is back. I've hit on an ingenious solution to the old "rebuilding the whole site takes an hour" conundrum: the "Latest Review" section will, from now on, appear on the index only. This means that only one page has to be updated every time a new review goes online, which you'll probably agree means a lot less hassle overall...

Tenebre analysis

Looked at entirely superficially, Tenebre is flashy but empty, violent and sexist. It features little character development, bad dubbing, a character who shows her nipples even when dressed, and lots and lots of blood, usually from sliced-up women. Most of Tenebre's cast gets slaughtered by the end of the film, and in such a way as to land the film on the British video nasties list (DPP list) in the 1980's, banning it from being shown in Britain.

Those who compiled the DPP list were not known for their cinematic taste, though. Dig deeper and you can find a surprising amount of substance in Tenebre which is rarely matched by most other similar films. Argento uses the film as a response to accusations of sexism and as a break with giallo and slasher film convention. Tenebre very rapidly pushed its way into my head without warning, simply because it throws so many elements at the audience and fuses style with thematic substance in a way that few other gialli have been capable of matching. This essay is my attempt to explain why Tenebre is a great thriller, unfairly overlooked by the majority of cinema goers.

I should have linked to this before, but Baron Scarpia has written an excellent analysis of Argento's Tenebre, which is published here at Dark Dreams.

Fuitadnet update

It's as bad as ever. Here is what happened this lunchtime when I tried to rebuild my Movie Checklist section. The Blogger.com system, for those who don't know, transfers the data via FTP. On each occasion I waited for over one minute after the timer stopped to ensure that it did not suddenly start again.

Attempt 1: 56%
Attempt 2: failed to start at all
Attempt 3: 9%
Attempt 4: 28%
Attempt 5: 3%
Attempt 6: 1%
Attempt 7: failed to start at all
Attempt 8: 63%
Attempt 9: 45%
Attempt 10: 4%
Attempt 11: 6%
Attempt 12: 25%
Attempt 13: 5%
Attempt 14: 5%
Attempt 15: 50%
Attempt 16: 100%

This should provide some idea of the level of disconnections I am experiencing. In total, it took me nearly 50 minutes to actually get all the way to 100%, given the number of times I had to start the process over again.

Also, please bear in mind that the Movie Checklist is significantly smaller than the main News blog. Imagine the problems I have outlined above multiplied many times over. Uploading the odd news post is borderline doable (although even this can take multiple attempts), but I don't think it's too much to ask for an FTP service that opens reliably and then remains open, rather than closing whenever it takes its fancy.

Warcraft III patch

Blizzard has released patch version 1.19 for Warcraft III. Click here for the release notes or connect to Battle.net to update.

The changes seem mostly to be slight modifications to various maps, although there have been a few balance changes to nerf Towers, Bat Riders etc.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fuitadnet shit

Because Fuitadnet's FTP support is so pathetic, frequently losing the connection mid-upload, I've temporarily removed the "Latest Review" section in the side-panel. The simple process of updating all my news pages to reflect the latest review tends to take upwards of half an hour because the FTP connection keeps dying. Once I've moved to a half-decent host (yep, we're moving again), I'll probably reinstate it.

To give you some idea of the problems I have been experiencing, it took more than an hour for me to finally get all the news pages updated with the section in question removed. That is not normal operation for a web server.

I have now given Fuitadnet an ultimatum to either fix this problem or lose a customer.

Update, 22:41: I've been moved to a different server. We'll see if things improve. At the moment logging in still takes a long time, but I'll give them a chance and see if the disconnects and downtime have been fixed.

The Ren & Stimpy Show: Season Five and Some More of Four

DVD
With this 3-disc set, The Ren & Stimpy Show finally comes to an end, and sadly, the most positive thing I can say about it that at least we can now look forward to the upcoming DVD release of the fantastic Adult Party Cartoon. Watching this entire series, from its groundbreaking start, through its amazing peak, through its steady decline, to its dire end, is a depressing experience to say the least, but at least now fans of the show have the opportunity to collect all the episodes together and watch the deterioration for themselves. A classic case of a missed opportunity, for a while it looked like Ren & Stimpy could have gone down in history as the best made-for-TV cartoon ever created - a label that could still be applied to its first and second seasons - but having now witnessed its disintegration in chronological order, I just wish Nickelodeon had cancelled it sooner.

The Ren & Stimpy Show finally concludes its painful demise as I step into the festering swamps of its final one and a half seasons. Paramount have done an acceptable job with Season Five and Some More of Four, but the old adage applies: you can't polish a turd.

Review at DVD Times.

I Spit on Your Grave

DVDI Spit on Your Grave finally arrived this morning. I doesn't appear to have been tampered with by Thieves and Excise, which surprises me given how long it took to get here. I assume it was simply lying around on the floor in a post office somewhere. Ah well, it's here now, and having just finished watching it, I'm going to take the time to try and sum up my opinions of it.

I Spit on Your Grave (or Day of the Woman, to use the title its director originally intended it to be known by) is arguably the most notorious exploitation movie ever made, and it seems that everyone, whether they have seen it or not, has an opinion about it. Torn to shreds by Roger Ebert, among others, this so-called film critic called it a "vile bag of garbage" that was "without a shred of artistic distinction". He also said that he felt "unclean" after having seen it. Ebert, and others, have been at pains to claim, as frequently as possible, that the film not only dwells on rape but actively encourages it. Having now seen it for myself, I am willing to go so far as to say that anyone who believes that this film glorifies rape is mentally ill. I Spit shows rape in all its protracted horror, but I honestly can't believe that any sane person could reasonably claim that it takes the side of the rapist. Whether or not the film is badly made (I'll get on to the in a moment) is another matter, but I am in no doubt that the director's intentions were genuine and that, far from setting out to make a film that relished the degradation of a woman, he wanted to make one that allowed people to see, as close as possible, the full barbarity of such acts.

I Spit on Your Grave

Many parts of the film are badly done, it's true. The dialogue is mostly risible (although thankfully fairly minimal), several moments require more suspension of disbelief than I am willing to give, and the second half, chronicling the "revenge" part of the "rape-revenge" paradigm, could have been handled significantly better. The first half, however, is just brutal. It's extremely hard to watch, and is shot in such a way that there is no question as to who the audience is meant to side with. As Joe Bob Briggs says in his commentary, if this film was meant to glorify rape, the rape scenes would have been shot in a fetishistic manner, using close-ups lingering on Camille Keaton's body. In I Spit, the camera spends most of its time either in long shots, or lingering on the ugly, sweaty faces of the rednecks who assault her, showing Keaton mainly from the neck up and focusing on her character's terror and pain, filling the soundtrack with nothing but her screaming. I'll reiterate: if you watch this and think it's meant to be a turn-on, then you're a sick fuck.

The second half, as I said before, is handled less well. Essentially, the woman, having been left for dead, slowly recovers, and one by one lures her attackers to their deaths, capitalizing on the way in which sexist pigs such as themselves commonly view women (e.g. that she was asking for it, or that she enjoyed it really). The problems with the execution of these scenes, however, are twofold: first, she does go a little further than I found credible in her attempts to "seduce" her first two victims. On both occasions she presents herself as a willing participant who wants "another go". While I don't doubt the director's good intentions, elements of these scenes could provide ample fodder for those who believe the movie to be pro-rape. However, I believe that these scenes can be partially justified by pointing out that the film is essentially pointing just how stupid these common rape myths are. That the two men honestly believe, after what they did to her, that she could possibly want to have sex with them, draws attention to this and makes it clear just what an idiotic notion it is. It could have been handled much better, though.

I Spit on Your Grave

The second problem is the ordering of the scenes. The ringleader of the goons, the one whose guilt is the strongest, and the one who receives the most agonizing death, is only the second to die. The two deaths that follow this one are more perfunctory and the men who are killed are significantly more ill-defined. It would have worked better, I think, if they had been the first to die. Still, the final death does feature the immortal line of "Suck it, bitch!" (a wonderful turning of the tables) as she grinds him to a pulp with a motor boat engine.

So, I Spit on Your Grave. A sick piece of filth or a misunderstood gem? In my opinion, "misunderstood" definitely sums it up, but at the same time it is no gem. It is a flawed, often incompetently-made film, but an extremely well-intentioned one and definitely the most hard-hitting of all the exploitation movies I've seen. I can't honestly say that I have much desire to watch it again for a long time (although I suspect that I will at least listen to the director's commentary), but I'm glad I've now seen it and formed my own opinions on it. Take that, censors.

7/10

PS. There's something quite amusing about the fact that this film comes with THX certification and a DTS soundtrack.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Citizen Kane

I saw Citizen Kane for the first time today. I really wasn't all that into it, although I know movie buffs and critics alike around the world will burn me at the stake for saying this. I actually really enjoyed the first 20 minutes, but after that I just kind of lost interest.

In a sense, I reacted to it in precisely the way I had expected to. Citizen Kane carries with it so much baggage that it must be virtually impossible to appreciate it based on its own merits. It's been so praised to death that it was always going to fall short. It's weird, because my expectations weren't even that high to begin with. To tell you the truth, I don't really think I could ever have appreciated in the same way as an audience seeing it for the first time back when it was originally released. The funny thing is, now that I think of it, Fritz Lang's M, made around a decade before Citizen Kane, achieved many of the technical innovations for which Orson Welles' film is so often lauded.

Because of this complex and infuriating situation, I've decided to abstain from giving Citizen Kane a rating. Sorry, guys.

DVD debacle

DVD DVD
The Ren & Stimpy Show: Season Five and Some More of Four (R1 USA, review copy) and Waking the Dead: The Complete Series One & Pilot Episode (R2 UK) both arrived this morning.

Ren & Stimpy first. As fans of the show will know, after John K. and Spumco were fired from the production, the decline was pretty steady, with the whole thing disintegrating into a hideous mess by the end of its five-season run. There are a few decent moments in this 3-disc set, but they are few and far between. Sadly, this time round, not even the commentaries are all that hot, as more often than not the participants don't have much of interest to say. They try, I'll give them their due, but there's only so many times you can discuss background colours and make it interesting. I hope the Adult Party Cartoon DVD comes out soon, because these Games episodes are bordering depressing.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Peep Show: Season 2

It's outrageous... it's contageous... Play.com have Peep Show: Season 2 up for pre-order on DVD. I've been reacquainting myself with this hilarious show over the past couple of days and can't wait for it to get an official DVD release.

By the way, I've been informed that a US remake will be appearing on Fox at some point this season. In fact, there's even a picture of the cast members. Check it out, and have a good cringe. What an embarrassment!

Giallo

DVD
Giallo, by Lebanese filmmaker Antoine Waked, is a 25-minute short film that pays homage to the particular brand of Italian thriller from which it takes its name. Shot over the course of 10 days on a budget of only $800, In particular, Waked's work is inspired by the films of Dario Argento, whose signature style is all over this effort. Streets bathed in primary colours, half-remembered clues and a pounding, Goblin-esque score conspire to create a film reminiscent of the Maestro of Horror's golden age of late 1970s to early 1980s.

Long overdue, I've finally reviewed Giallo, a 25-minute short film by Antoine Waked that pays homage to the lurid murder mystery stories from which it takes its name.

DVD debacle

DVD DVD
Secure in the knowledge that I will be starting work soon and once again able to pay for my vices (although I actually still have a decent amount of money in the bank), I ordered two DVDS:

Rebus (R2 UK), which I believe contains three of the four episodes of this detective series. The fourth episode was pulled because its scheduled air date coincided with the September 11th attacks and painted a less than positive portrait of our American brothers in arms, although it actually showed up earlier this year when the cable/digital channel ITV3 was launched. It's pretty disappointing that it isn't included on the DVD, to tell you the truth, as it was a decent episode.

Howl's Moving Castle (R2 Japan 4-disc Special Edition). Hoo-boy. This one will set me back by 85 American dollars. I hope it's worth it.

Incidentally, I want to know where I Spit on Your Grave is. I fear the worst: that Thieves and Excise have impounded it. If so, it'll be the first time I've ever had an order confiscated, and I will not be particularly happy at having a spotless track record spoiled by these goons. If a letter shows up declaring that it has been deemed unfit for my wholesome eyes to consume, I will have to re-order it from one of the UK-based import stores so as to bypass Thieves and Excise. I'm still hoping it comes, because I don't particularly want to have lost 12 British pounds, but in my experience, orders from DVD Pacific are usually much quicker at arriving than this.

Old skool

I now have some definite information regarding my university course, including starting dates. As it turns out, there is less choice in terms of modules than was originally implied, which means that the three choices that were listed are actually mandatory. This doesn't particularly bother me, as the two "optional" modules, Animation and Screen Bodies, are both of interest to me. Alongside the Core Course section, Animation will run during the first term while Screen Bodies and another module, to be discussed at a later date, will run during the second term.

On Thursday, September 22nd, I go to meet my adviser of studies, the point of which is a mystery to me, as I already know what I'm doing. I suspect I'll end up hearing a bunch of things I already know about and be given a form that could have been posted to me.

On Friday, September 23rd, I enroll in my course.

On Tuesday, September 27th, I matriculate. This, I assume, means standing in a queue for a long time clutching an envelope that contains my payment, then getting my photograph taken and being presented with a laminated card that gives me discounts at Burger King and Optical Express.

On Thursday, September 29th, I have my first Core Course class. Classes for this module run on Thursdays at 9.30am to 1.30pm.

On Monday, October 3rd, I have my first Animation class. Classes for this module run on Mondays at 12pm to 5pm.

And that would appear to be it. Personally I'm more than happy to have a few long classes rather than a whole bunch of short ones. Oh yeah, I should also be starting work at the library again fairly soon.

Howl's Moving Castle

DVDSource: DVD Times

The specs have been announced for the R2 Japanese releases of Hayao Miyazaki's latest feature, Howl's Moving Castle. Separate 2-disc and 4-disc versions are due to be released on November 16th, the latter of which looks especially appealing. Interestingly enough, despite this being the Japanese release, a number of the extras pertain specifically to the English-language dub of the film.

Alas for the expensive nature of Japanese DVDs! Still, I'll be working again by then, so I guess I can deal with it.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Toy Story 2 SE specs

Source: DVD Times

Disney have released the specifications for their inevitable upcoming Special Edition release of Toy Story 2 (scheduled for a December 26th release in the US). It looks like a pretty disappointing line-up of extras, really. Aside from a new "Making Toy Story 2" featurette, and of course the Cars preview (no doubt the reason the whole thing is being released in the first place), there doesn't seem to be anything else new. At least the Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition has a few additional featurettes.

Death Carries a Cane

DVD
Poor DVD, average film - there really is nothing much to recommend here. If you're a fan of Nieves Navarro's performances or are a comprehensive giallo collector, you might want to give this release a look, but bear in mind that Death Carries a Cane is not a very good example of either. Either way, you'd be far better served with one of the more critically acclaimed offerings from the likes of Dario Argento or Sergio Martino, all of which are available on far better discs than this.

I've reviewed the recent R2 German release of Death Carries a Cane, a routine 1972 giallo from Maurizio Pradeaux starring Nieves Navarro and Robert Hoffmann, given shoddy treatment by X-Rated Kult DVD.

Anchor Bay's Dellamorte Dellamore cancelled?

Since its announcement in 2003, Anchor Bay's US DVD release of Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore (under the lug-headed title of "Cemetery Man") has been pushed back again and again. Last we heard it was due to be released two days ago, on September 13th. As of now, it has disappeared altogether from Anchor Bay's future releases section according to this post at Mobius.

While I can't say that I mourn this loss greatly (I already have the excellent Italian DVD, and Anchor Bay's track record of late has been far from great), it'll be a shame if the studio has decided simply to sit on this release after repeatedly promising it to people still trapped in R1-only land.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Waking the Dead

DVDI ordered the R2 UK release of Waking the Dead: The Complete Series One & Pilot Episode from Play.com.

The fifth season starts on TV (on the dreaded BBC1) on Sunday, by the way.

Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition

DVDMy review copy of Toy Story (R1 USA, 10th Anniversary Edition) arrived this morning.

Looking at the back cover, I notice that two major elements are listed as bonus features: "Disney/Pixar's first ever DTS 5.1 audio track", and "highest digital 'bit rate' ever used for a Disney/Pixar film". Let's take a look at what this means.

The easy one first: A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo have all received DTS tracks in PAL territories. If the message on the back cover had said "Disney/Pixar's first ever DTS 5.1 audio track on a Region 1 release" then it would have been correct. As it is, the inclusion of DTS here is hardly groundbreaking.

Numero two: "highest digital 'bit rate' ever used for a Disney/Pixar film". The bit rate for this DVD averages 8.93 Mbit/sec, whereas bit rate on the earlier release in the 3-disc Ultimate Toy Box release averaged 7.9 Mbit/sec. Numerically, they're correct, and indeed, playing the two side by side, I can see that some improvements have been made, both to the level of detail and to the encoding. Alas, however, there are still some noticeable compression artefacts, particularly during the sequence at the end where Woody and Buzz chase after the moving van. It's an improvement, but it's still a long way from looking as good as the PAL releases of The Incredibles. The opening credits also look very odd - blurry and discoloured, as if they had been transferred from a bleached film print.

That said, though, I can't deny that some improvements have been made to the presentation, however minor. I notice that a 2-dis special edition of Toy Story 2 is due out on December 26th, and I suspect I'll end up picking up a copy of that too, especially if I can get it via the "free route" (a.k.a. review copy).

Suspiria commentary

Suspiria

DVDThe commentary for Suspiria is now complete! This was very much a learning experience for me, and although there are a couple of moments that don't work quite as I planned, I am overall very happy with the results. The commentary does become slightly desynchronized in the last few minutes, so I call attention to a couple of shots around 10 seconds after they have appeared, but overall this doesn't cause too much of a problem. People should still be able to follow it just fine.

The version used, unsurprisingly, is the full 98-minute uncut version (94 minutes for PAL releases). The commentary is split into two sections, so that those who wish to burn audio CDs of the tracks will not have to split the commentary themselves.

I would recommend running the film at a low level of volume in the background when you listen to this commentary. The audio files themselves contain full instructions on how to synchronize the commentary with the film.

Here are the relevant files:

I've also set up a new Commentaries page in the Writings and Musings section of the site.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The French like Hitchcock

DVDAlthough it was originally announced that Dario Argento's Do You Like Hitchcock? would be coming to DVD in Italy on September 4th, this has clearly not happened, with none of the usual outlets carrying the DVD or even offering it for pre-order. However, according to Dark Dreams, Canal+ is releasing the DVD in France (under the title Vous Aimez Hitchcock?) on October 13th. Language options are limited to Italian and French, with French subtitles, but I suspect I'll be buying this anyway. Hey, I was going to buy the Italian release, which would probably have been in Italian only, and I think I stand at least some chance of understanding what's going on if French subtitles are in the offering.

Anchor Bay, by the way, will be releasing it in the US at some point next year.

Alias: Season 4

DVDI pre-ordered the R2 UK release of Alias: Season 4 from Play.com. Originally I assumed that there would be a year-long wait between the US and UK releases, as was the case with Season 3, but the UK version is due out on November 21st - "only" a month behind the US set. I was just going to buy the US version, but I've decided instead to hold out these extra four weeks for the UK release: I have hte UK versions of the previous three versions, so I may as well stick with Brit-world so my covers match up.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Suspiria commentary

I don't want to promise anything, but there's a good chance that the Suspiria commentary will be ready by Wednesday night, or failing that Thursday. I currently only have around 15 more minutes to get through, and although I'm beginning to run out of things to say about the film, I'm going to crack open the usual tomes (Profondo Argento and Art of Darkness) and look for inspiration. The problem is, I still have things I would like to say, but they don't really fit with what's happening on the screen. Don't ever let anyone tell you that commenting on a film - especially in a critical sense, as is the case here - is easy. It's a constant battle of finding something relevant to say, making it interesting and making sure it's as scene-specific as possible. That said, once this is done, I'm still up for an Opera commentary. I'll probably take a break in between, though.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Gladiator: Extended Special Edition

DVD
Universal have delivered an excellent selection of extras for this 3-disc re-release of Gladiator. While the extended cut may not improve the film in any significant way, those with an interest in its production will no doubt still wish to pick up a copy so they can dive into its lavish array of bonus features.

Released today in the UK, Universal have dredged Gladiator out of the archives and retooled a special extended cut for its fifth anniversary (what an achievement!). While the new edit is nothing to write home about, it boasts more extras than you can shake a stick at and should be of interest to those who are fascinated by the behind the scenes process.

Review at DVD Times.

The university beckons

The specifications for the various papers open to me in my Film & TV course have finally appeared online. In addition to the standard "core course" paper, I have to select three other modules - normally one in Term 1 and two in Term 2. The Term 1 options are Animation (self-explanatory) and Screen Bodies (a look at the way the body is portrayed on screen, including censorship issues). Both sound pretty interesting, and I think that if my dissertation is going to cover the work of Argento or gialli in any way, the Screen Bodies option would be the most relevant, but I'd also very much like to do the Animation option. I suppose it would be possible to do both, meaning that I would end up doing three papers in Term 1 and one in Term 2, but I'm not sure how feasible it would be. I guess it depends on whether either paper will be rerun in Term 2. We'll see.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Age of Empires III demo

Age of Empires III demoI'm starting to get the hang of this game, and in fact, I think it has the potential to be every bit as good as Age of Empires II, which to me has been Ensemble's best game so far. There are a number of changes, it's true, but fundamentally it still looks, feels and plays like the same game, which is good enough for me: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The basic changes I've noticed so far are:

  • Home cities are the biggest difference. Essentially, you play a force that is colonizing part of America, and every time you accumulate enough experience, you can send a "shipment" (reinforcements, goods etc.) from your home city back in Europe to help you out.
  • You get experience, which is gained by killing enemies, finding treasure, establishing settlements, and so on.
  • Gathering units no longer have to return the resources they've picked up to a building. Sure, it's unrealistic, but it simplifies things a great deal.
  • You get a "settler" type unit, who can build settlements (and later, town centres), and who seems to be pretty much unkillable. If he loses all his hit points, he is knocked out, but he regenerates slowly, and once he's back to full health he's as good as new.
  • You can now train up to five of the same type of combat unit at once.
That's about it. If it doesn't sound like a massive list of new features, then that's because the changes that have been made to the game are minimal. Essentially, in the last seven years (or thereabouts), very little has changed. Most of the additions alter the game in subtle ways or make it more intuitive at performing menial tasks, but fundamentally this is essentially Age of Empires II in 3D a few hundred years later. That's exactly what I was hoping for, and despite my initial apprehensions about it, I think Microsoft have a winner on their hands. I'll definitely be buying the retail version when it comes out.

Sin City Recut & Extended coming in December

Source: DVD Times

Is anyone really surprised? I guess I won't bother replacing my Hong Kong copy if a special edition is coming out so soon. The review copy of the R2 that I'm expecting, although it will have to be returned, will probably tide me over till December 13th. The specs on this release look pretty decent, and the fact that it allows you to watch the original theatrical cut, as well as the extended version, is a big plus in my book.

Spooks: Season 3

DVDMy review copy of Spooks: Season 3 arrived this morning. First impressions are good: the menus, while cheesy, are a big step up over those of the previous two releases, in that the transitions are much shorter and the various options are actually labelled this time round. The extras also look pretty good and this time round are spread across the five discs in something approaching a sensible manner.

Of course, Season 4 starts on BBC1 on Monday night, but any hope of getting the review of Season 3 up to coincide with that has been pretty much dashed given how long it took Contender to send us a copy.

What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

DVD
If you previously enjoyed What Have They Done to Your Daughters? on Salvation's now out of print UK DVD, then treasure that release no more, and pick up a copy of this vastly superior new edition from Koch Media. And if you've never seen the film before, do your self a favour - bypass the crummy bootlegs that are doing the rounds on eBay and snatch a copy of Koch's DVD. The film has undoubtedly never looked and sounded better on home video.

I've reviewed the recent R2 German release of What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, Massimo Dallamano's loose follow-up to his classic What Have You Done to Solange?, which sees him departing from giallo territory to deliver a tense police procedural. This review also compares this new release to the earlier UK version by Salvation Films.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Age of Empires III demo

Age of Empires III demoWell, it's different, I'll give you that. I played a brief skirmish map and ended up quitting because I wasn't able to figure out how home cities, trading, colonies and the like worked. I guess I'll have to do some reading up on it. It's a shame the demo doesn't feature the tutorials that the finished version will include, as they would have been extremely helpful in getting me up and running.

Graphically, the game is pretty nice. It's not as good as the screenshots make it out to be, but it's suitably colourful and is definitely a big step up over Age of Mythology with its ugly low-poly units. It also runs pretty well too, although on a 3.4 GHz machine with a Radeon X850XT video card, it damn well ought to. My biggest complaint so far is that the user interface looks unfinished (hopefully they'll give it a final polish before the release date) and takes up way too much space on the screen (I'm less confident of them fixing that).

Other than that, I'm sorry these initial impressions have been so sketchy, but I want to hold off saying anything more in-depth before I've got a better handle on how the game actually plays. I wouldn't want to look stupid or anything, hur hur hur.

Nathan Barley coming to DVD!

Play.com has Nathan Barley listed as coming out on DVD on September 26th! I didn't think this would come out so soon, if indeed at all. As you can probably guess, I'm insanely pleased.

By the way, it hasn't escaped my attention that the broken-line text used for the title is not a world away from Lyris' Pretentious Entertainers spoof. How troublesome!

Age of Empires III demo

Microsoft has released a demo for its upcoming RTS Age of Empires III. Head over to the official site and check it out. Downloading now...

DVD debacle

DVD DVD DVD
I was at Braehead Shopping Centre today, and I decided to pick up some DVDs in HMV's "3 for £20" deal. I came away with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Others. I realized a little too late that the version of Sky Captain I had bought was the bare-bones single-disc release rather than the 2-disc special edition, but then again, if I'd bought the 2-discer I wouldn't have got such a good deal, and indeed I very much doubt I would ever have made my way through even a small portion of the extras. I've just finished ploughing through the 3-disc Gladiator extended edition and I doubt fancy yet another exhaustive extras trawl just yet.

MPAA boycott

Source: Melon Farmers

Following the news that the MPAA had ordered cuts to Atom Egoyan's upcoming film Where The Truth Lies, producer Robert Lantos has effectively stated that his company, Serendipity Point Films, will from now on be boycotting the censorship board entirely and releasing their films unrated.

As a protest against the U.S. film rating system, Atom Egoyan's Where The Truth Lies may be released "unrated" in America despite the risk of being banned in many theatre chains, producer Robert Lantos said yesterday. "It makes a statement that we are bailing out of the whole ratings system, as opposed to accepting this punitive rating," a bitter Lantos told the Sun from his Toronto office.

That decision came after Egoyan lost an appeal in Los Angeles of an NC-17 rating on his dramatic murder mystery by the MPAA The rating was imposed in August for the film's graphic sexuality, especially in scenes involving co-stars Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth and Rachel Blanchard. The same film, uncut, will be screened at the Toronto filmfest as a Gala on Tuesday.

"It's absurd," Lantos said. "People should be able to make their own decisions. It's not like it's compulsory viewing. No one has to go. We're talking about making it available. That's it."

An NC-17 rating dooms a film to a commercial purgatory in the U.S. because many theatres refuse to show it and many media outlets refuse to advertise it. The same thing may happen with an "unrated" film, but Lantos said he and ThinkFilm, the distributor, want to make their protest statement.

The bitter irony of the appeal process is that Egoyan, after trimming a few seconds out of several scenes, actually won the vote -- six to four -- but a two-thirds majority is required to overturn an earlier decision on appeal. "So we are stuck with the NC-17," Lantos said. "This is the end of the road with the MPAA."

The trims Egoyan had made will now be restored, Lantos said. "They gave us a long litany of 'offensive' material. We reluctantly took out some things we thought we could live without -- a few seconds here and a few seconds there -- but that wasn't enough. So we'll put everything back in. The upside is that we'll just go out with the original film."

Lantos said U.S. censorship "seems to mirror the political climate of the current administration" and he considers it repressive. "It is also perverse because you can brutally rape and torture and murder (in a movie) and not get an NC-17. That is the troubling part. It is amazing the difference today between the U.S. and Canada, and it wasn't always thus. In fact, we used to be more conservative 25 years ago. Boy, has the pendulum swung."

I applaud this decision, and I only wish that more distributors would follow this path as opposed to going through the ridiculous process of getting films approved by the idiotic MPAA. If more companies did this, the MPAA would lose its monopoly over the entertainment business (you can blame them, at least partially, for the upcoming HDCP debacle with high-definition video content) and it's likely that more cinemas would start allowing unrated material to be shown. All it takes is a producer with a pair of working testicles.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Blue Underground gialli

Source: 10K Bullets Forum

Blue Underground have finally updated their web site with pages pertaining to their three October giallo releases:

- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
- Strip Nude for Your Killer
- Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye

Dario Argento, 1940-

Happy 65th birthday to Dario Argento!

Hurry up with The Third Mother!

Suspiria commentary

I've decided to split the commentary for Suspiria into two sections, which should be useful for people who want to burn the files as audio CDs (given that a CD can only hold 70 minutes of Redbook audio, and Suspiria is 98 minutes in length). The first disc, comprised of the for 43 minutes of the film, is now complete. I was going to upload it here and now, but I think it would make more sense for me to wait till both parts are ready, so I don't have people listening to Part 1 and then twiddling their thumbs while I finish writing and recording Part 2.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Giallo gala

What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and Death Carries a Cane (both R2 Germany) arrived this morning. Incidentally, this package was, for once, not opened by the customs officials at Mount Unpleasant. Perhaps Xploited Cinema is no longer on their watch list? Or perhaps they just don't care any more.

DVDFirst, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? For once, I'm very pleased with the image quality. Koch Media have done a decent remaster of the print, which has nice colour saturation and, for the most part, a decent level of detail. The opening credits (in Italian, his time) seem to have been reset (there is some background print damage in the first couple of minutes, but the text itself seems to be overlaid on top of the various hairs that are visible), and a handful of shots look a little soft, but overall this is a great release - a big step up from the old out of print Salvation disc. Oddly enough, though, the English track features the same clumsily censored "go fuck yourself" (which becomes "go [silence]ck yourself") and jump in the music at the end of the film.

DVDI'm afraid I can't say the same about Death Carries a Cane. This transfer is an absolute mess. It's framed at approximately 1.66:1, which I assume is the original aspect ratio, but it's non-anamorphic, and has been sourced from a beat-up old print with faded colours, extreme softness, flecks galore and visible hairs running the length of the screen for more or less the entire duration of its running time. A handful of gore shots also appear to have been sourced from VHS, and even more annoyingly, the transfer keeps jumping in and out of interlaced mode. Some scenes are in progressive scan, but at other times, for entire stretches of the film, there is combing and ghosting galore. The film itself is not really all that good anyway - that other Nieves Navarro vehicle, Death Walks at Midnight, which has some similarities with this film, is much more fun and makes better use of its leading lady.

PS. I've now hit 400 DVDs. How very, very sad. Or cool, depending on your disposition.

Whiggles commits a crime

Source: various, including Melon Farmers

I used to rag on the BBFC a lot on this site. I even had a parody of them, The Society of Cutting Up Movies. These days, I'm of the opinion that the BBFC would pass uncut everything if they could, but they are now being hamstrung by the government. The days of the Ferman era are over - politicians are the new censors.

The article I linked to above refers to new laws drawn up by the government to cash in on the murder of a woman by a man who may or may not have visited porn sites involving images of strangulation and rape (whether simulated or not is not specified). The text, therefore, relates specifically to the downloading of violent porn or images of bestiality on the internet, but this sort of legislation could have far wider-reaching results than simply preventing a few randy old men downloading pictures of goats being molested. Essentially, the government wants to make "violent pornography" illegal in the same way that child porn is illegal. The problem is, how do you define "violent", how do you define "pornography", and how do you define the combining of the two?

In a sense, it paves the way for the criminalization of any sort of material that features a combination of sex and violence. Just looking through my library of DVDs, I can see plenty of titles that could easily fall foul of this legislation - Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, What Have You Done to Solange?, Videodrome... Oh, that'll never happen, you might think, but when you actually look at how vague this law is, you can see that the wording of "extreme material" could be applied to just about anything the law enforcer in question wants it to.

Oh yeah, you can go to jail for up to three years for simply having seen "extreme material" too.

This is, in a sense, thought-crime of the level that George Orwell predicted in 1984. It's now possible to be banged up not for having committed any actual harm, but simply for having cast your eyes over an image that might or might not be classed as "extreme".

This consultation suggests that the government has a pretty low opinion of the public. Despite its self-confessed lack of evidence that extreme porn provokes extreme behaviour, it still justifies its proposal as an attempt to 'protect society' from material 'which may encourage interest in violent or aberrant sexual activity' (7). In short, we are rapists-in-the-making, who might be excited into committing a terrible act if we happen upon degrading pictures or videos (but not text or cartoons, apparently). They see us as perverts or potential perverts - which is a bit rich coming from those who made violent and extreme porn into a big issue in the first place. Who knows, they might even have inadvertently encouraged some individuals to go looking for such material.

DVDI've decided to celebrate by ordering a copy of I Spit on Your Grave (R1 USA) which, in the extremely narrow minds of the lawmakers, would certainly contravene these laws. Now it's quite possible that the film is a hideous pile of cack, much like The Last House on the Left, and has only achieved the reputation it has due to the idiotic drivelling of the likes of Roger Ebert, but fuck it, I'm damn well going to see this film whether Blair's idiots want me to or not. So hey, if I suddenly disappear, you'll know the police have done their civic duty and thrown me in the clink.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Suspiria commentary

I've now recorded a little over 28 minutes' worth of my commentary for Suspiria. There is no ETA on which the finished piece will be completed, but judging by the progress I've made so far, it shouldn't take too long. Once I'm done with Suspiria, I'd actually quite like to try my hand at recording a similar commentary for Opera. Hey, I could create an industry out of this.

Spooks: Season Two

DVD
Contender have served up a very impressive package for Spooks' second season, with decent audio-visual quality and enough insightful extras to make this a tempting purchase even for those not normally won over by the concept of buying television series on DVD. With Season 3 now available on DVD and the broadcast of Season 4 imminent, what better time to catch up on what have so far been the show's finest hours?

To coincide with the DVD release of the third season of the popular espionage drama, I cast my eye over last year's R2 UK release of Spooks: Season Two, featuring more lies, more terrorist plots and, yes, subtitles.

Review at DVD Times.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Suspiria commentary

DVDAt the moment, I'm in the process of recording my own full-length audio commentary for Suspiria. A lot of people, myself included, have decried the fact that many of Dario Argento's films don't come with audio commentaries on DVD. There are a number of reasons for this, not least Argento's own reluctance to go into any detail about the meaning behind his films. Watching Trauma and The Card Player with Alan Jones' commentaries got me wondering, though, and eventually I thought, "Why don't I do a commentary?"

There are quite a few fan-made commentaries available on the net. In particular, I've listened to one on Mulholland Dr. that was very informative. I thought I might do something similar: record a commentary and put it online for people to download and play alongside the film. I can't claim to have the same knowledge as Alan Jones (for one thing, I haven't met Argento or seen first-hand any of his films being shot like Jones has), but I've got a few ideas and I've decided to have a go at collecting some trivia and interpretations and trying to "explain" the film.

You can download a sample of the first five minutes:
For the NTSC version (MP3, 2.05 MB)
For the PAL version (MP3, 1.97 MB)

If you're going to play it alongside the film itself, it's important that you download the version that corresponds to your copy, because of the differences in running time. I recorded it using the NTSC version as a reference, so the PAL version runs 4% faster (and as a result my voice sounds noticeably higher pitched). I'd be very curious to know what people think of this. There's also an ongoing thread at Dark Discussion regarding this project.

Update, Monday, October 10 at 09:44: These work in progress files have now been removed.

Total ban on smoking?

Source: BBC News

No, alas, the act of smoking itself would not become illegal, but a group of nurses are pushing for a total ban on smoking in public places. The wording is extremely misleading, however, as "public places", it seems, is classed as the likes of pubs and restaurants, not outdoor areas, where the most damage is, in my opinion, done. The thing is, you can choose not to go into a restaurant that allows smoking. However, if (as so often happens to me) you're waiting at the bus stop and some fishwife parks herself next to you and lights up, there's not really much you can do about it. Personally, I'd be much more in favour of the government establishing special "smoking zones", where smokers can congregate and give each other lung cancer rather than non-smokers.

Update, 12:23: Due to sloppy journalism on BBC's web site (what else is new?), I didn't realize that this applies only to England and Wales and not to Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland at least, a full ban on smoking in all pubs and restaurants is going ahead.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

New Orleans

Surprisingly, I haven't made a post about the disaster in New Orleans yet. I suppose it's due to the fact that I'm not so much shocked by the absolute chaos as the US government has done practically nothing as I am shaking my head in resigned sadness. Bush and co have done exactly what I expected them to do: nothing. And of course, we're seeing the results as gun-totin', God-worshippin' southerners, with no Iraqis or terrorists to blame this time round, have resorted to looting, pillaging and gang-raping passers-by. I try to wonder what kind of a society breeds people like that, and then I remember that it's the same society, that, time and again, has shown that it's not as advanced or civilized as it would like to believe it is.

If anything good can come out of this, it will hopefully be the final nail in the coffin for George Dubya, who has handled not one, not two, but three such disasters with such an appalling level of incompetence that I can't believe he's still allowed to sit in the Oval Office.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Melvin Live

CDThis afternoon, while visiting Melanie Doane's web site, I discovered that she had released a live album back in 2001, entitled Melvin Live. She hasn't released a new CD since 2003 (although I gather that she may be working on something now, and has a new single coming out soon), so I decided to scoop up this hitherto unknown slice of pie, from Maple Music. I don't think I've ever heard one of her live performances, although judging by those of other singers I like, I tend to prefer the sound of live concerts to studio recordings with their autotunes, synthesizers and other such razzmatazz.

Redbird is excellent, by the way. There are no real dud tracks and it includes a number of genuine standouts. The only song I'm not all that keen on is the Dido co-written opening track, "Welcome".

Music mania

I finally got around to updating my CD Collection pages, inserting a handful of titles that I hadn't bothered to add. I notice that there are a lot of CDs there that are devoid of a rating and/or a review, and I'm going to get round to sorting this out ASAP. Music, much more than movies, really does require multiple listenings in order for the strengths and weaknesses to become readily apparent.

Orders galore

CDRedbird, Heather Nova's new CD, showed up this morning, after being on order at Play.com for just under two weeks. As far as I can tell, the album hasn't actually been released in the UK (Amazon.co.uk are charging £16.99 for it, listing it as an import and advising a dispatch time of up to two weeks), so it's anyone's guess where the swashbuckling Jersey rapscallions at Play got it from. The packaging is in English, but the copyright is to BMG Netherlands, so I'm guessing it probably came from the land of cannabis cafés and non-censorship.

DVDGarden State (R2 UK) also arrived.

By the way, my finger seems to have shrunk slightly overnight, although it's still far from what you would class as normal. The goop I'm meant to stick on it until something happens (I assume it's meant to extract the sting, if indeed the sting is in there) isn't doing anything, and I spent most of yesterday evening applying and reapplying it. I think I'll just give up on that and keep taking the pills.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Fuitadnet price increase

I got a delightful email this morning from the host of my web site, Fuitadnet, informing me that the price of all services will be raised as of October 1st. For the package I have, this will mean paying an extra $2.50 per month (on top of the $5 per month I'm already paying). Look, I know that the US dollar ain't worth buttons right now, but that's not the point. Considering the quality of FTP service I'm receiving (despite their repeated claims that everything is A-OK at their end), I'm not sure I can stomach a price increase. It may be time for me to look elsewhere yet again.

Ah, bollocks!

I woke up this morning to find my finger swollen to almost twice its normal size and the whole left side of my hand red and puffy. I'm just back from the doctor, where I've been informed that I (a) have had an allergic reaction to the sting or (b) the sting is still inside my finger, or most likely both of the above. Cue a container of pills that I have to take four times a day and a disgusting sticky paste that I have to slap on to the affected area until, and I quote, "something interesting happens". Thankfully, I'm managing to type, after a fashion, because my finger is currently lodged in an unusual position pointing away from the rest of my hand, which means that at least it keeps out of the way. Still, doing any activity involving my hand for an extended period of time is somewhat painful (and yes, I did spot the hi-larious double entendre there, so don't bother pointing it out).