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Monday, October 31, 2005

Suspiria commentary

As a special Halloween treat, my Suspiria commentary has been linked to at DVD Times!

Bond bargain

On November 14th, the James Bond: Complete Collection box set is being re-released in the UK, containing all 20 films so far... all for only £66.99 at HMV. At such a low price (the RRP is £199.99, meaning that this constitutes a saving of £133), I'm semi-tempted to buy a copy. I'm hardly the world's biggest Bond fan, but there are a few titles (especially the two Timothy Dalton ones) that I wouldn't mind owning, and, while I understand that a couple of the later titles are cut in the UK, these films aren't exactly up to snuff anyway so I probably wouldn't be particularly bothered. We'll see. Might make a neat Christmas present.

Update, 12:25 on Tuesday, November 01, 2005: HMV's price has now gone up to £129.99. At that price, I won't bother.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Cat People

HalloweenDVD
Interesting but flawed, Paul Schrader's version of Cat People isn't really sure what it wants to be, and as a result is not as satisfying as it could have been. Universal have put together a nice package for this release, and although the transfer is not particularly hot, the extras are well-produced and informative.

This year's Halloween fun concludes with a review of Cat People, Paul Schrader's 1982 remake of the 1942 transformation horror movie by Jacques Tourneur. While the film is a little uneven and doesn't accomplish everything it sets out to achieve, it is an interesting piece of work here augmented by some excellent extras.

Review at DVD Times.

PS. I haven't been able to get round to doing The Ninth Gate. Sorry, folks - maybe next year.

Internet connection woes

My Internet connection keeps cutting out. In the course of the last hour and a half, I've managed to lose eight games of Warcraft III due to disconnects. I was almost at Level 14, now I'm back in the middle of Level 13 due to my losses now outnumbering my wins. I'm sick and tired of NTL and their third-rate excuse for a broadband service (assuming it's their fault, and I can't think who else could be to blame). This happened too over the Summer, and it took quite some time for it to sort itself out.

May

HalloweenDVD
May is one of the finest examples of independent American genre filmmaking in recent years. Too character-oriented to fit comfortably into the horror genre, and too gory to be labeled a straightforward character study, May is, much like its title character, a quirky but strangely appealing mixture of emotions that gets under your skin and stays with you long after the final credits have rolled.

As part of DVD Times' continuing Halloween special, I've reviewed May, a wonderfully inventive portrait of loneliness and insanity and easily one of the best American horror films to appear in the last 10 years. Lions Gate's R0 US DVD features a decent transfer and a couple of nice commentaries, but that's as far as it goes.

The Collingswood Story

HalloweenDVD
I wish I could find something more to say about The Collingswood Story, even if it was only to trash it some more. Sadly, though, there just isn't much of any real interest on offer here. While I can't fault those involved for having the guts to make this film on such a miniscule budget, the simple fact is that the webcam format is not conducive to effective or interesting storytelling. Take my advice and give this one a miss.

I've reviewed the R1 USA release of The Collingswood Story, a micro-budget independent movie that takes place entirely over web-cam and owes much inspiration to The Blair Witch Project. If that hasn't already scared you away, take a look...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Jeepers Creepers

HalloweenDVD
It's undeniably a step above the likes of Urban Legends and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, but saying that is merely damning Jeepers Creepers with faint praise. A missed opportunity, it fails to live up to the promise of its opening scenes and as a result is probably best suited to a rental. The audio-visual presentation is adequate and the extras, while a bit plodding, are mostly informative. Overall, a nice package, but given the film hardly an essential purchase.

Continuing this year's line-up of Halloween reviews, I take a look at the R1 US release of Jeepers Creepers. Clive Barker says it's "the most scary, stylish horror movie" he's seen in years. I... disagree.

Review at DVD Times.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

HalloweenDVD
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a better film than most people are willing to give it credit for, and Momentum have disappointed by providing a sub-standard transfer. The extras, however, are interesting, and differ in a number of ways from the US release, so there might still be something of value in this 2-disc set. If it's the film you want, though, I advise you to go for the Region 1 release.

I take the stand in defence of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, an unfairly maligned horror movie that succeeds in going in the opposite direction from the original Blair Witch Project. Momentum have delivered a featured-packed 2-disc set for this underrated film, although the transfer is unfortunately a standards conversion.

Review at DVD Times.

Deep in the Woods

HalloweenDVD
Deep in the Woods is a flawed but interesting attempt at a Scream-esque horror movie with a Gallic flair and a more literary backbone than your average slasher, presented here on a DVD that fares well in terms of presentation but suffers when it comes to the extras. The French release, in contrast, looks to be a much meatier affair, featuring a commentary by the director and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes, as well as DTS audio. Its lack of English subtitles, however, means that this US release is probably the best option for those without a decent grasp of French.

As part of this year's DVD Times Halloween special, I take a look at Deep in the Woods, a French horror movie seemingly intent on copying the American Scream-esque slasher, but with more interesting ideas going on than initially meets the eye. Artisan's R1 DVD features a pleasing audio-visual presentation but falls short on bonus materials.

Review at DVD Times.

Friday, October 28, 2005

World of Warcraft Expansion announced

As expected...

It looks pretty neat, although I strongly doubt I'll be getting it. Then again, I said the same about the original World of Warcraft.

Sky Blue

DVDThis morning I received a review copy of Sky Blue (R0 UK). Sky Blue, for those of you who have not heard of it, is the English version of Wonderful Days, a Korean animated film which I reviewed back in 2003. The UK release features only the English dub, although I guess that's not particularly surprising, as it appears that a considerable amount of work has been done on the film, reordering and even altering sequences in an attempt to improve what I considered to be a very weak script. Whether all this tinkering has had any effect, for better or for worse, remains to be seen, of course.

Strip Nude for Your Killer

DVDI broke my earlier promise and watched Strip Nude for Your Killer before getting through all my Halloween reviews. As a result, I'm not sure that I'll be able to get The Ninth Gate done in time for Monday, but at least I managed to finish writing May this afternoon and will have a crack at Cat People tonight.

Strip Nude for Your Killer is not a very good giallo, but I was expecting as much. Produced in 1975, it attempts to leap on the bandwagon following the success of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, but does so a little too late to take full advantage of the giallo craze of the early 70s. Instead, it attempts to dredge up more interest by shoehorning in a very tame soft-core porn aesthetic (the title is fairly appropriate), but without much success. Interestingly, after watching the interview with co-writer Massimo Felisatti on the DVD, I came away with the impression that the film's writers didn't think much of it either. "Second-rate" he calls it - he's not wrong.

Strip Nude for Your Killer

Still, there is some material of interest here. In particular, the cinematography of Franco Delli Colli (who also shot What Have They Done to Your Daughters?), which employs darkness illuminated by the occasional splash of primary colour to great effect, gives it a classier appearance than the script would suggest. Also, I wasn't able to guess the identity of the villain before it was unveiled - although that's not necessarily much of an endorsement, as many gialli do tend to cheat the audience, not offering up much in the way of clues. Berto Pisano's score is pretty neat too.

I'd put this on about the same level of The Case of the Bloody Iris - it's fun enough to watch, and it's certainly not boring, but there's really nothing to warrant a repeat viewing, and you get the impression that no-one who was involved over-exerted themselves.

5/10

Strip Nude for Your Killer

Disappointing DVD from Blue Underground, by the way. The transfer has been filtered and noise-reduced to hell, resulting in a lot of obvious frozen grain patterns (the source material is pretty rough) and very little fine detail. There is some fairly prominent edge enhancement too. Maybe I've been spoiled by the Italian releases of What Have You Done to Solange?, Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight, but I was expecting much better. Let's hope The Bird With the Crystal Plumage looks superior to this.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

DVD debacle

DVD DVD DVD
This morning, on my way to university, I popped into the local Fopp and picked up a copy of Michelangelo Antoniono's Blow Up, a film I've been meaning to check out for some time.

When I got back this afternoon, I found that two review copies were waiting for me from DVD Pacific: House of Voices (R1 USA), a French horror film from 2004 originally titled Saint Ange; and Strip Nude for Your Killer (R0 USA), the first of three giallo releases from Blue Underground. I'm assuming that the other two, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, will be with me soon.

In the meantime, no thoughts on any of them for the next couple of days, as I still have to get through three of my Halloween-themed reviews before Sunday.

Jenifer trailer now available

Over at the official Masters of Horror web site, the trailer for Dario Argento's instalment, Jenifer, has finally been posted. Jenifer looks... freaky.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Masters of Horror starts this Friday

Source: Mobius

Just a quick heads-up to all you US horror aficionados out there: Anchor Bay's Masters of Horror series begins airing this Friday on Showtime, just in time for Halloween. The schedule for the next few weeks looks like this:

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road by Don Coscarelli
Dreams in the Witch House by Stuart Gordon
Jenifer by Dario Argento
Deer Woman by John Landis
Chocolate by Mick Garris

This is shaping up to be a great-looking series. I hope it gets an airing in the UK at some point, but I have my doubts. Oh well - the title that's of most relevance to me, Jenifer, has (I believe) already been confirmed for a 2006 DVD release by Anchor Bay.

What Have You Done to Solange?

DVDThe courier dropped off the new Italian release of What Have You Done to Solange? this afternoon.

This new version is a vast improvement over the previous two releases I've seen (R1 USA from Shriek Show, R2 Japan from Trash Mountain Video) in every way as far as image quality goes. For the first time ever, we get a progressive scan, HD-sourced transfer derived from a brand new restoration partially funded by Quentin Tarantino (thanks, Mr. T!). It's infinitely crisper and shows improved clarity, with far less details being lost in the overly dark shadows of the previous releases. An extremely high average bit rate of 9.68 Mbps ensures that there are no compression artefacts to speak of - the bit rate is essentially pushed as high as it will go 99% of the time. My only concern is that the opening title sequence seems overly pink, resulting in some details being bleached out. That, and the fact that the end credits cut out early - very odd. Other than that, though, this is a fabulous transfer in every sense of the word. Finally, the crême de la crême of the giallo genre has a transfer that does it justice.

The Italian release features both the English and Italian tracks, with subtitles in both languages (corresponding to the Italian dialogue). This alone puts it a step ahead of the other two releases. However, unfortunately, the audio quality of the English release is a bit suspect, with a slight echo effect to the dialogue. It's not a huge problem, but it doesn't sound as good as the US Shriek Show release. That said, I still favour this new release in terms of audio, because it offers subtitles and the opportunity to watch the film in Italian.

Bottom line: the only reason to keep the US release is for the excellent Robert Marcucci liner notes. In every other way, the Italian release is a major improvement. Well done, 01 Distribution!

Naturally, I've updated my comparison to reflect the changed state of affairs.

Between Your Legs

DVDI received a free copy of Between Your Legs (R0 UK) today (much appreciated, Anthony).

Originally titled Entre las Piernas, this 1999 Spanish film noir-styled thriller piqued my interest after reading Anthony's review. I've got quite a lot on my plate at the moment, what with reviews needing to be done in time for Halloween and reading to do for my course, but I'll be checking this out as soon as I get the chance.

Nadja

DVDLast night I had the pleasure of watching the most deliciously fucked-up vampire movie I've ever come into contact with. Nadja aired in the wee hours of the morning on Channel 4, who are showing a horror movie every night this week in the run-up to Halloween, and right from the start it was clear to me that this David Lynch-produced 1994 effort was something special. Shot in black and white with inserts photographed using the Fisher-Price PixelVision camera, this trippy, baffling affair features Nadja, the daughter of Dracula (the sublimely disturbing Romanian actress Elina Löwensohn), swanning around New York during Christmas as she tries to track down her brother, Edgar. Meanwhile, the aged and senile Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Fonda) keeps on ranting and raving about Dracula to his estranged son (Martin Donovan), whose wife (the bafflingly-named Galaxy Craze) has already been corrupted by Nadja.

This is what you might call a pretentious art movie, but it's a bloody good one. The whole vibe of the piece is extremely unsettling, and I can't quite put my finger on it. It has a sense of humour too, although this plays second fiddle to the brilliantly creepy mood that is maintained throughout. The experience of watching this film is, I would imagine, not unlike how it feels to be incredibly drunk or high - it feels as if you're only half awake, and everything seems deeply profound and deeply nonsensical at the same time. It has its faults, to be sure, not least the fact that the PixelVision effect is damned annoying, but overall this is, in my opinion, an absolutely brilliant piece of work, and so, when I discovered that Pioneer had released it on DVD back in the early days of the format, I just had to pick up a copy (£3.40 at DVD Pacific).

The New York Ripper

DVDThe R2 French Collector's Edition of Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper arrived this morning.

I'm afraid it's bad news. The transfer is an NTSC to PAL conversion and doesn't look very good at all. (I suspect they sourced it from the Anchor Bay release.) It's soft and has quite a bit of ghosting. On the plus side, though, the colours seem pretty good.

Audio options are French, Italian and English, all mono. However, if you want to watch it in English or Italian, French subtitles are forced. I can defeat this on my PC using DVD Region Free, which allows me to turn off things like forced subtitles, but for most people this will be a major problem.

I haven't had a chance to look at the extras yet. There are a lot of them, but unsurprisingly they're all in French.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Warcraft III

Hey, I think I might actually be getting quite good at this game! I've been playing Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne online quite a bit recently (on the European realm, where the players are generally quite polite), and although I'm far from a pro (or "gosu", as the best Warcraft III players are known in online circles - it comes from Korean, I believe), I feel that my win/loss ratio is finally beginning to shift in favour of the former. I'm Level 10 at the moment, and I think that, for once, the automatic match-up system employed for this game actually works quite well in terms of pitting players of around equal skill level against each other. Naturally, you do get some seasoned professionals creating new accounts and then running rings round newbies like myself, but most of the games I've played have been satisfying by virtue of the fact that I've been playing games that have been tough without being impossible. Even when I lose, it's pretty good fun, as it's not like I've been tending to get completely trashed.

Warcraft III

My favourite strategy, at the moment, is to use an Archmage/Blood Mage combo for my heroes, researching the Blizzard and Flame Strike as my primary abilities (yes, I actually do play Humans, despite them having the reputation of being the weakest race). At Level 3, it's amazing how quickly a combination of these two area of effect spells can cut through swathes of enemy units. My primary combat units tend to be Spellbreakers (there's nothing better than having a magic-immune front line and being able to throw down the aforementioned AOE spells without worrying about killing your own units) and Riflemen (to take care of those pesky flying units, mainly). Throw in a couple of Priests and Sorceresses and you have a force to be reckoned with. This strat seems to work pretty well against most of the forces I've come up against, although it takes a while to pull off because it's fairly cost-intensive, meaning that I need to be able to maintain an expansion and have enough gold to be constantly producing units from three Arcane Sanctums. That, of course, leaves me fairly vulnerable early on, but I've found that if I've been able to survive the initial harrassment and rushes from the enemy, I stand a pretty good chance of winning the game.

If all that sounded like double-Dutch to you, don't worry. I probably won't subject you to my Warcraft III ramblings too often. But this is definitely a great game and, when competing online against players who are actually civil to you (unlike, say, many of those on the US servers), it's even more fun. GG

"Religious hatred" bill smacked down

Source: BBC News

The government has been heavily defeated in the Lords over plans to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.

Peers voted by a majority of 149 in favour of a cross-bench move to put freedom of speech safeguards into the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

Opponents say proposed legislation is drawn too widely and could outlaw criticisms of beliefs.

This is wonderful news in my opinion. While it's not quite as good as a complete dismissal of the bill, the news that it will now go forward in a significantly watered-down version is heartening. Rowan Atkinson are others are quite right in labelling the sort of measures proposed in the bill "draconian" - surely only in a police state could it be possible to have a situation were people are forbidden to criticise religion.

Ren & Stimpy cover art

The Lost Episodes cover art

Over at former Spumco artist Nick Cross' Flickr account, high quality versions of the finished artwork for the upcoming Ren & Stimpy DVD releases - The Lost Episodes (a.k.a. Adult Party Cartoon) and the Ultimate box set - have appeared. Take a gander at these fine paintings which, if you have a Flickr account, are available in super-high quality large editions.

Hopefully these DVDs will be released soon so we can all relaaaaax!

The Bloodstained Shadow

DVD
The Bloodstained Shadow is one of the more mature and thought-provoking gialli to be produced, and while it has its flaws, it is definitely one that fans should seek out, as it provides a welcome change of pace from the usual flashy excess of the genre. Anchor Bay's DVD is not perfect, but probably represents the best that could be achieved from the available materials.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. In my review of the final disc in Anchor Bay's Giallo Collection, I look at The Bloodstained Shadow, a late entry into the genre and something of an unexpected gem.

The Case of the Bloody Iris

DVD
The Case of the Bloody Iris is a rather silly and slight giallo, and I very much doubt that anyone involved in its production over-exerted themselves. As such, it is a very traditional and unsurprising effort, but remains good fun to watch. The DVD presentation and extras are not up to the same standard as the other titles in the Giallo Collection, but as it is the weakest film in the set this may not be a huge disappointment.

I continue my coverage of Anchor Bay's Giallo Collection with a review of the third film in the box. While The Case of the Bloody Iris is high neither on originality nor on subtlety, it is an entertaining camp romp featuring a number of the genre's stalwarts.

Who Saw Her Die?

DVD
The majority of gialli focus either on sex, on violence, or on both. While Who Saw Her Die? features both, it is that rare example of a film of this genre that uses story rather than either of these traits as its selling point. Lado's one true entry into the genre, it may not live up to his best work but it is itself no lightweight, and remains one of the strongest gialli produced to date.

Continuing my coverage of Anchor Bay's excellent Giallo Collection box set, I've reviewed Who Saw Her Die?, Aldo Lado's second directorial entry into genre cinema and his one true giallo film.

Short Night of Glass Dolls

DVD
Short Night of Glass Dolls is a rare gem in European genre cinema and it is criminal that is has received so little attention over the years. Anchor Bay's DVD features a fine transfer and some solid (albeit limited) extras, but it suffers in terms of its audio presentation.

To coincide with the release of the first titles in Blue Underground's new line-up of giallo titles, I've re-appraised Short Night of Glass Dolls, the first title in Anchor Bay's original Giallo Collection.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Captain Whiggles takes a tumble

Did I tell you about my exciting misadventure this morning? On my way out the front gate, I skidded on a very slippery patch of ground and went flying. I hit the ground with a sickening crunch, doing unknown damage to both legs. Over the course of the day, wandering around the university campus, going about my merry way, moving became more and more difficult until, by the time I hauled my weary carcass to the bus stop at the end of the day, I could barely walk. Seriously, it took me 20 minutes to get through what is normally a 5-minute walk. I'm not really sure what happened, but I wouldn't have expected a pretty standard fall on the ground to practically paralyse me. Still, it could have been worse - it could have been my skull that got cracked. Woe is me!

I have to admit, though, that if I'd seen this happen to someone, I'd have found it pretty funny.

Google bar

You'll probably have noticed that the Google search bar, for some time now a permanent fixture at the top of the news pages, has now vanished. Actually, it's still very much around, only I've moved it to the bottom of the main news page, to keep it out of the way of important things like the latest DVDs I've bought, and I've also removed it from the monthly archive and individual post pages. The FTP connection is pretty bad this evening, so these changes haven't propagated to every single page, so if you happen to see some rogue Google search bars on various pages, don't get too concerned. I'll finish removing the rest of them once the FTP (or Blogger - I'm not entirely sure which is to blame) starts behaving itself again.

Post index

Thanks to an article I discovered at Blogger Help, the monthly index pages now each contain a list of all posts made that month. Clicking on the title will take you to that post. Have a look! It's pretty cool. (Here, for example, is October's listing.)

I've also done the same for the Movie Checklist.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Links

I have a handful of new links for all you budding net-surfers to check out:

First, my good friend Baron Scarpia, who I had the excellent fortune of meeting via the Dark Discussion message board. The Baron has proven himself to be an extremely astute film connoisseur whose opinions are always worth reading. His journal contains many examples of his fine work.

Secondly, the Blogger Forum. As its name suggests, this is a forum dedicated to the wacky world of blogging (still hate that word, though), relating to the various platforms - Blogger, WordPress, Movable Type, etc. It's a great source for solving technical problems, getting the latest news on updates to your favourite blogging services, and generally shooting the shit about which system is the best.

Up next, Hi-Def Horror. This is a blog run by a horror aficionado, with a decidedly technical perspective. This makes a change, since I've found that the majority of horror fans aren't really all that interested in the technical aspects of home video presentation, so it comes as something of a pleasant surprise for me to find a site where the writer seems to share some of the same interests as me both in terms of films and technology. The writer, Steven MacDiarmid, has a nice review of the new UK release of Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso (even if the heathen prefers the bowdlerised English-language cut of the film rather than the full-length Italian original!).

Finally, we have Video WatchBlog. This is another blog (notice a trend here?) run by Tim Lucas, editor of the Video Watchdog magazine and an all-round fount of knowledge on horror cinema. Those of you with an interest in European horror may remember his excellent commentary on VCI's Blood and Black Lace DVD. His blog is of the same high level as his journalistic work elsewhere, with a refreshingly thorough and balanced look at all manner of movies.

New playable races in WoW expansion?

Source: Infoceptor

Voodoo Extreme brings news that the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, which will be unveiled at Blizzard's BlizzCon convention on October 28th/29th, will feature a new playable race, the Blood Elves. I haven't played World of Warcraft for a few months now - I got fed up with it (yet again) and came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the monthly fee (yet again) - but this is pretty interesting news, even from my perspective.

The New York Ripper

DVDMy copy of the French special edition of Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper is finally on its way from Amazon.fr. It seems that copies of the other Fulci release I ordered at the same time, Seven Notes in Black, still haven't showed up, so no doubt they'll be ferrying that on to me when they become available... at no extra cost, I would hope.

Kennedy on censorship

Source: Melon Farmers

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has weighed into the censorship debate, with particular emphasis on the attempts by the moral minority to make the act itself of viewing acts of simulated sexual violence a prosecutable offence:

There are some who argue that sexually explicit material leads people to commit acts of violence, but these claims are flawed. They are based on misleading evidence. Almost every major official study in the United States, Canada and the UK has shown that it is simply not possible to establish a direct causal link between sexually explicit material and violent behaviour.

It's refreshing, in this climate of kneejerk reactionary behaviour and the advocation of nanny state regulation, to see that at least some politicians have their heads screwed on right and aren't resorting to idiotic cries of "Porn turns people into murderers!"

Saturday, October 22, 2005

New DVD image comparison

DVD DVD
I've added a new DVD image comparison, this time looking at the R1 US Special Edition and R2 UK (out of print) releases of Mulan.

Pocahontas comparison at Lyris Lite

DVDLyris has open a new section devoted to DVD image comparisons at his site. The first title to go under the magnifying glass is Pocahontas, where the R1 USA 10th Anniversary Edition, R2 UK Special Edition and original R2 UK release are compared, all thanks to the latest JavaScript tomfoolery. You'd be a fool not to check out this thorough and revealing look at (IMO) one of Disney's weakest efforts.

Update, 17:01: For the time being, you'll need to use Firefox, Mozilla, Safari or some other compliant browser to view this, as the roll-over code currently isn't working properly for Internet Explorer or Opera.

The Hall of Fame spreads

While browsing the stats Fuitadnet provides for my site, including hit counts, popular pages and external pages linking to the site, I came across this thread at the Film-Talk.com forums. It seems that people are impressed by my DVD Transfer Hall of Fame. One comment, however, made me chuckle:

Wow, those captures on Suspira are the best images I've ever seen. What software is he using?

That's right - apparently it's not the DVDs themselves that are good, it's the software! The fact that people genuinely believe this sort of thing never ceases to amaze me. Sorry, guys, it's not that you can run a magical program that will magically add extra details to a DVD: these DVDs are themselves the cream of the crop, and they don't need some sort of special algorithm to make them look good. They just do. To prevent any further inclusion, I've added a special disclaimer to the page:

I don't use any special software to take these screen captures - just the screen capture facility in PowerDVD 6 Deluxe. Beyond resizing the images to maintain their correct aspect ratio, and cropping off any letterboxing, there is no manipulation of these images.

Hopefully that will clear up any potential confusion.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Interesting article on bad DVD encoding

Despite their ever increasing numbers, post houses seem to struggle when it comes to handling the everyday "onslaught". Technically, the developing trend is ironic: although encoders have improved dramatically in the last five years, have become much faster and can produce an MPEG-2 image of near perfect precision within the limitations of the format the quality on most discs is actually on the decrease. And this trend is noticeable in most studios and labels.

That makes it so aggravating to many viewers, especially those with better equipment. The knowledge that there is such a thing as better mastering has resulted in a growing number of critical comments also from the side of the "makers". By now, the effects of a more lacklustre mastering and encoding are even visible on normal screens - and thus moving into the domain of the mainstream viewer. [...] But why ? In many cases, the answer appears to lie in the massive workload, paired with a steadily declining profit margins resulting in less time for a project and less investments in the best equipment.

The Laser Examiner, one of the most accurate and thorough sites out there for reviews of DVD image and audio quality, has put together a fascinating article on a worrying trend in DVD releases: an attempt to maximise productivity by cutting corners at the encoding stage. Even if you know next to nothing about the production of DVD transfers, this should be of interest to you.

Site update

You may have noticed that some minor changes have been made to the layout for the individual news post and monthly archive pages. Basically, I've removed a bunch of the items from the right-hand column for these pages, including links, recent posts and some other minor fluff. This is part of a drive to make the site a bit more streamlined and to minimize the amount of material that has to be rebuilt whenever I tweak the site design. This also pertains to the individual entries and monthly archives in the Movie Checklist section.

Halloween schedule update

Blade and Blade II are no longer on the menu, as I'm not convinced I would be able to get them finished in time for Halloween or have anything particularly insightful to say about them. This just leaves May and The Ninth Gate to be written about.

Update, 17:45: Oops! I totally forgot I was going to review Cat People. I'll have to somehow make time to do that one.

Email

If anyone's been trying to email me, chances are I haven't received it. NTL's email service has been down for the last 16 hours (or thereabouts).

Update, 22:20: No problems in the last few hours, although NTL's Service Status page lists the fault as ongoing.

Update, 23:29: It's screwing up again. Damn you to hell, NTL!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

DVD subtitling hits a snag

DVDI got to the 23-minute mark today in my quest to subtitle Death Walks at Midnight. As of now, though, I've run into a slight snag: the program I use, Sony DVD Architect 3.0, now crashes whenever I attempt to import my subtitles. I can't progress any further. It's okay if I remove the latest subtitle, but adding anything else causes a crash. I'm going to investigate the cause of this problem and see if I can work round it somehow. Most likely, it's a conflict between the subtitling software and the DVD authoring software, but subtitle formats are a tricky business: the subtitling software is picky about what it outputs, and the authoring software is picky about what it accepts. Damn.

Update, 20:15: I've managed to work around it for the time being by replacing a full stop with an exclamation mark. Go figure!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Death Walks at Midnight

DVDI've now managed to subtitle the first 15 minutes (or thereabouts) of the Italian release of Death Walks at Midnight. It's quite hard going, partly because the audio quality of the English language version I'm using as reference is less than stellar and thus sometimes renders snatches of dialogue incomprehensible, and partly because subtitling software is notoriously unintuitive. I'm currently using a program called Subtitle Workshop by URUSoft, which works reasonably well apart from the fact that its frame rate counts don't seem to correspond with those of the film itself. In effect, this means that every time I change the time placement of a subtitle, I have to reload the whole thing into DVD Architect and make sure its positioning is correct. It's essentially a case of trial and error, but now that I've made some headway, I think I'm going to keep going. Watching this film with nice image quality and the decent Italian audio track is far superior to watching the grimy, cropped UK DVD with its atrocious English dubbing.

Once I've finished with this one, I must try to get a hold of an English language copy of Death Walks on High Heels so I can do the same with it. It's in even more dire need of subtitling as I currently have virtually no idea of what is being said in it.

Crimes of the Black Cat

DVDAmong all the great gialli that have been released on DVD in the last few years, I suppose it's only natural that there would be some stinkers. So far I've managed to avoid any truly awful ones (although The Cat With the Jade Eyes and Death Carries a Cane were skirting it fairly close), but today I finally sat down to watch Crimes of the Black Cat and found myself almost wishing I hadn't.

As you may remember, I picked this DVD up back at the beginning of June and was shocked to discover that it had been pulled off a badly aged VHS tape. That almost put me off watching it altogether, but I finally sat down today and made my way through it. I'm not sure what was worse: the image quality or the film itself. This dull and uninvolving effort involves a killer murdering fashion models in Copenhagen. Apart from the unique setting, which I don't think I've seen used in any other giallo, this film is so by-the-numbers that the director might as well have made it in his sleep. Borrowing liberally from the likes of Blood and Black Lace, The Cat O' Nine Tails and The Black Belly of Tarantula (all far superior products), there is really nothing here to recommend. Even the customary outlandish camerawork and architecture are absent here. 3/10

Blogger's CAPTCHA chutzpah

BloggerFor the better part of today, I wasn't able to post anything to my site. Blogger had taken steps to combat spam bots and instigated what they call the CAPTCHA system, which identifies certain blogs as "spammy" and then asks the user to enter in a confirmation key (based on an image showing a randomly generated string of letters) to prove that they are a real person. For some reason, my main blog was identified as such (although none of my secondary blogs were affected). The only problem was that, due to some sort of error in the system, it wouldn't actually recognize the entered keys as correct. This problem, it seems, was fairly widespread, resulting in some rather unhappy campers making their opinions known on various message boards. The problem now seems to have gone away (either Blogger have disabled it until it's working properly, or it is working properly already), so fingers crossed that this is the end of it.

You can read more about the spam barriers at Blogger Buzz.

Halloween schedule update

Finished The Collingswood Story last night. I've also decided to abandon my review of Resident Evil (I don't think my opinions differ from it enough from those expressed in the two reviews of this film already available at DVD Times for it to be worthwhile) and replace it with a rewrite of May. May was the first review I did for DVD Times - in fact, it was the review that got me the job there - but I feel that nowadays I'm capable of much better work.

Solange screen captures

DVDSource: DVD Maniacs Forum

Screen captures for the new Italian release of What Have You Done to Solange? have been posted at DVD Freak. I must say that they look infinitely better than I could ever have hoped, a phenomenal improvement on the Shriek Show release and clearly making this release well worth the upgrade. Fingers crossed my copy arrives soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Halloween reviews

Mwuhahahahahaha!With Halloween just round the corner, I'll be doing my usual and contributing to DVD Times' Halloween special, doing a number of horror-themed reviews. A little while ago, I set myself a target of eight films, three of which have so far been completed. If I can do them all, I will, but time and inspiration can be fickle things, so I won't promise anything.

So far, in the can, are:

  • Deep in the Woods (R1 USA)
  • Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (R2 UK)
  • Jeepers Creepers (R1 USA)
Still to do:

  • The Collingswood Story (R1 USA)
  • Blade (R1 Canada)
  • Blade II (R1 Canada)
  • Resident Evil (R2 Germany SE)
  • The Ninth Gate (R2 UK)
I also have reviews of the four Anchor Bay Giallo Collection releases (Short Night of Glass Dolls, Who Saw Her Die?, The Case of the Bloody Iris and The Bloodstained Shadow) ready to go live on October 25th, to coincide with the release of the three Blue Underground giallo releases. Who says I haven't been busy?

Hall of Fame updated

The DVD Transfer Hall of Fame has been updated to include La Morte Cammina Con i Tacchi Alti (Death Walks on High Heels, R2 Italy).

What Have You Done to Solange?

DVDWhat Have You Done to Solange? has been released on DVD in Italy!

This new release, by 01 Distribution, the same company responsible for the excellent Occhi di Cristallo DVD, boasts an HD-sourced, remastered transfer as well as both English and Italian audio tracks and subtitles in both languages. I've placed an order, at Internet Bookshop Italia, and will be letting you know what it's like as soon as it arrives. Ever since I got the disappointing Shriek Show R1 release, I've been hoping someone else would release it and do it the justice it deserves. Now, fingers crossed, 01 Distribution will have done just that.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Random brainfart

Fuitadnet seems to have improved dramatically over the last couple of weeks. Logging into my FTP still seems to take a while, but it hasn't been completely inaccessible in a while, and my Blogger.com updates are now taking place almost instantaneously. I'm not sure if the change is at Fuitadnet's end or at Blogger's, but I really can't complain either way. I'm going to be sticking with these people for the foreseeable future. I've had nothing but problems from them so far, but now that most of the problems seem to have been ironed out, I'm going to take this as a sign of things to come and stick with them.

By the way, we watched a whole bunch of "studio" cartoons (Warner, MGM, UPA) today at Film & TV. I've come to the conclusion that Tex Avery's cartoons are my favourites of the classic era (of his output, we saw Swing Shift Cinderella and Lucky Ducky). The energy of his work, the unpredictability and barrage of gags is just unbeatable in my opinion.

I've also come to the conclusion that many of the people in the class haven't got the faintest interest in animation. I sympathise, to some extent. I try to picture myself in a situation where I've taken a post graduate course and one of the modules is in a type of filmmaking that is of no interest to me - costume dramas, for example - and it's not a pleasant prospect. In a sense, I think that the way the course is structured is flawed, because I know very well that animation isn't for everyone, and that making such a specific focus a mandatory part of a course pitched at such a specialised level is a bit problematic. I would have thought that, at this level, the teaching part of the course would have been general enough for it to be worthwhile to everyone, not just people who happen to like a specific subject. From my perspective, it's not a problem, since I find all the things we're doing interesting, but I can see why some people would be a bit miffed.

Music mania

CD CD
Enemy of the State (Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams) and The Rescuers Down Under (Bruce Broughton) are now both in my possession. Enemy of the State actually arrived on Saturday but I didn't bother to tell you because I am lazy.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Death Walks on High Heels

DVDI watched the other half of my Luciano Ercoli/Nieves Navarro double bill last night. Death Walks on High Heels was made a year before Death Walks at Midnight, and it is just as interesting as its stable-mate, although for different reasons. I must point out once again that this DVD was in Italian only, and my grasp of Italian is pretty much non-existant, so I can't claim to have understood every single intricacy of the plot. Like many gialli, though, this is definitely a visually-driven film, so I think I more or less know what was going on.

The story goes something like this: Nicole (Navarro) is an exotic dancer working in Paris. Her father is stabbed to death by a masked assailant with piercing blue eyes, and soon afterwards she is menaced by the same killer. Believing her attacker to be her boyfriend Michel (Simon Andreu) - he has a pair of blue contact lenses in his bathroom - she elopes to England with surgeon Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff), with whom she begins an affair. All is not well in the quaint little village where they hide out, though, as seemingly everyone has an agenda of their own (and a pair of blue contacts, naturally), and Nicole is quickly found dead at the bottom of the sea. Inspector Matthews (Carlo Gentili) is called in to head up the case, and he vows to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Death Walks on High Heels

While Death Walks at Midnight set about establishing Navarro as a completely different type of giallo heroine - a feisty, determined, larger than life character unlikely to take anything lying down - Death Walks on High Heels positions here more in the traditional Edwige Fenech role, meaning that she has little to do except flutter her eyelashes, take off her clothes and fall into the arms of the nearest man. She manages to do this with a certain air of class, though, and brings her own flavour to it, but this is a less interesting role than what she played in Death Walks at Midnight. It also doesn't help that she is killed only 40 minutes into the film, meaning that the focus then falls on the detectives - rarely an interesting prospect in a giallo.

Still, while the film feels a bit over-long once it becomes more of a police procedural than a giallo, I can't fault it for its intelligence. While it initially may seem to be a bit mundane, all the pieces fall into the place in the end, with seemingly everyone harbouring a guilty secret and the killer just being one of many people who could have had a reason to do Nicole in. The final denouement is very satisfying and almost makes up for the relatively lanquid pacing of the material that preceded it. This is also an extremely attractive film, with superb camerawork and rich, saturated colours. Elements of this film's visuals actually reminded me of some of the best work by Argento and Bava, which is high praise indeed.

Death Walks on High Heels

Ultimately, Death Walks on High Heels may outstay its welcome, and overall it doesn't manage to establish its own vibe in the way that Death Walks at Midnight later did, but it is an effective and well-made giallo with a decent cast and a suitably surprising conclusion. 7/10

By the way, this is quite possibly the best-looking transfer I have ever seen for a giallo. The colours look incredible and the level of detail is nothing short of astounding. Expect this to be added to my DVD Transfer Hall of Fame before too long.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

New DVD image comparison

DVD DVD
I haven't done any DVD image comparisons in absolutely ages, so if they're you're thing you'll be glad to see that they are making a comeback: I've compared the UK and Italian releases of Death Walks at Midnight.

Oh Asterix, what have they done to you?

Asterix: The Falling SkyMy copy of the latest Asterix adventure, Asterix and the Falling Sky, arrived this morning. Having now read it from cover to cover, I'm disappointed to say that it's worse than I could ever have predicted. The artwork is great, it's true, perhaps the best yet, but the story is just an embarrassment. It feels like no other Asterix story before it, but not in a good way.

Essentially, the book deals with aliens coming down from far-off planets because they want to learn the secret of the magic potion. No, I'm not kidding - aliens. When Albert Uderzo took over the writing duties after René Goscinny's death, the world in which the stories were set immediately became more fantasy-oriented, but the dragon of Asterix and the Secret Weapon and the inflating Romans of Asterix and the Great Divide are nothing compared to the idea of extra-terrestrials visiting the Gaulish village. The whole thing left a sickly taste in my mouth, and worse still, the obvious social commentary (the two different sets of aliens are stand-ins for American cartoons and Japanese anime respectively, impinging on the French way of life) is about as unsubtle as you can get. Still, I'll give Uderzo credit for managing to work in a dig at George W. Bush.

I would have to say that this is the worst Asterix story to date. The phrase "jumping the shark" springs to mind. Maybe I'll warm to it over time, but it's clear to me that the series is now well past its prime. The quality of the artwork is not a problem, but I really think the series could do with a new writer - maybe someone like Pierre Tchernia, who in his scripts for the film adaptations seem to "get" this universe much better than Uderzo has.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Death Walks at Midnight

DVDAfter watching some more of Death Walks at Midnight, I came to the conclusion that the audio synchronization issue was too big to ignore (it absolutely ruins the timing of the climactic fight scene), so I took it upon myself to rectify the situation. I ripped the DVD, demuxed the audio and extracted around half a second's worth of it at a conveniently placed scene transition just before the problem appeared at around the 31 minute mark. I then recombined the audio and video and now have a very watchable version (the film was on a single layer DVD so no recompression was necessary). It sucks that this problem was allowed to make it on to the final master, but at least I now have a version at my disposal that I'm happy with.

By the way, I'm also considering creating English subtitles for this film, based on the dialogue found on my UK copy. It will be a fairly large and tedious project, so I'm not sure if I can be bothered seeing it through, but I'll try doing a bit of it and see if I have the resolve to complete it.

Nathan Barley

DVD
It's not Chris Morris' best work by a long shot, but Nathan Barley is an amusing enough if one-note show for those who "get it". Those who don't will wonder what all the fuss is about, but those who do should be more than happy with both the presentation of the episodes themselves and the array of bonus features. Peace and fucking.

I've reviewed Channel 4's release of Nathan Barley. Released on Monday on DVD in the UK, Nathan Barley is the latest creation from Chris Morris, the man behind The Day Today and Brass Eye, and a show that has divided even his most ardent followers. Keep it livid.

Luciano Ercoli double pack

DVDMy Luciano Ercoli double pack, containing Death Walks in High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight, arrived this morning from the land of Italy.

Despite not featuring any English audio or subtitle options, I am very pleased with this set. The transfers are incredible - borderline 10/10 material - and they certainly put NoShame's US output in the shade (these efforts, from their Italian wing, are what I can only describe as what their US transfers would look like if they had been done properly). Of course, it goes without saying that the transfer of Death Walks at Midnight is miles ahead of the analogue-sourced, cropped UK release from Mondo Macabro.

Death Walks at Midnight

The image above is just a crop of a frame from Death Walks at Midnight - it only features about half of the shot - but it illustrates just how good these transfers are. Detail, detail, detail... and grain! Actual film grain! Something that NoShame's US technicians seemingly believe does not belong in a film.

On the downside, like I said before, there are no English options on either disc, and more noticeably, the soundtrack on Death Walks at Midnight drifts noticeably out of sync with the video at around the 40 minute mark (and, as far as I can tell, remains so for the duration of its running time), so I suspect that most people will probably end up holding out for the US versions of these films, due for release in 2006. Still, given NoShame's US track record, I don't expect them to look anywhere near as good as these Italian versions, which is a damn shame.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Vertigo audio

DVDThere's an interesting debate raging regarding the audio of Robert Harris and James Katz's 1990s restoration of the Hitchcock classic Vertigo (a film that I still haven't sat down to watch fully) at Mobius. For those who don't know, the original audio masters for the film were junked back in the 1960s at the request of Hitchcock's production company, so until recently all that survived were nth generation copies - for example, decayed release prints. When Harris and Katz undertook their restoration, they created a completely new 5.1 DTS audio mix - a mix which, for various reasons, included completely new sound effects. Purists, unsurprisingly, were not best pleased by these decidedly modern-sounding effects, and based on my brief sampling of the 5.1 track on the DVD, I'd have to agree.

I guess it's all moot now anyway, as the new DVD in the Masterpiece Collection includes a reproduction of the original mono, taken from a worn but serviceable release print, so people can decide for themselves which version to listen to. Still, the debate itself is interesting and worth reading if you have an interest in the film and/or film restoration and preservation.

Almost Blue

DVDI ordered the R2 Italian release of Almost Blue, an extremely highly regarded giallo from 2000 that I still haven't seen yet. Alan Jones raves about it on a couple of occasions in Profondo Argento, and I've heard good things about it from a number of people online. This one should be interesting: modern-day gialli are few and far between, and I thought Eros Puglielli's Occhi di Cristallo did a great job of adapting the format to work in the 21st century. I have high hopes for Almost Blue.

The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season

DVD
Fans of The Simpsons will no doubt be rushing to pick up copies of the sixth season in droves, but I strongly advise that this UK release is definitely not the way to see it. The thoroughly incompetent visual presentation makes this version an unwise option for anyone, but particularly those with large and/or progressive scan displays. The US release, available from many of our affiliates for a very reasonable price, undoubtedly constitutes a far better way to spend your money.

The sixth season of The Simpsons arrives on DVD in a feature-packed 4-disc release. I investigate what I consider the beginning of the show's steady decline and recoil in horror when I discover that the Region 2 UK release of this set features one of the worst video transfers I have ever seen!

Special notice to the goons at Fox who prevented me from posting screenshots: I know your game, and you won't stop me from exposing your filthy scam. Don't toy with me, Murdoch. I will personally make it my business to dissuade as many people as possible from buying this shit.

Peep Show

DVDI've pre-ordered the upcoming R2 UK release of Peep Show: Series Two, released on the unsuspecting public on November 14th.

Speaking of which, when does Series 3 start airing? And when will the *snigger* US remake make its debut on that paragon of quality television, Fox?

Bad news regarding Asterix

(Thanks to Anthony for the heads-up)

The 1989 film Asterix and the Big Fight has just been passed at the BBFC for the upcoming Optimum 6-film box set... full-frame and dubbed into English. Why even bother?

DVDIn other news, the French box set featuring Asterix vs. Caesar, Asterix in Britain and Asterix and the Big Fight has been delayed, again. This time, it's been pushed back to December 6th, meaning that it has been delayed for over a year now. Given that UMD releases of these films are also scheduled for release, and cover art for two of the three titles has appeared online within the last couple of months, I doubt that this release has been cancelled. It's infuriating, though. When it was scheduled to be released tomorrow, alongside the new book, I did think that it stood a genuine chance of making it to store shelves in a cash-in ploy, but it looks like I was wrong once again. By the time it finally comes out, the credit card I used to order it will probably have expired.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Music mania

CD CD
I've been trawling the seediest of auction houses... okay, eBay and Amazon.co.uk, but that's pretty damn seedy... and bought a couple of hard to find score CDs: The Rescuers Down Under, which normally goes for about $100 (I got it for $15), and Enemy of the State.

Ads, ads, ads

USA Today has an interesting story concerning the amount of advertising appearing these days on US network TV. In the UK, people tend to feel aggrieved about the inclusion of three commercial breaks over the course of an hour, so I shudder to think how they would cope with the new system being implemented on a number of key American networks, including ABC, NBC and CBS: six commercial breaks per hour.

A typical “one-hour” prime-time series clocks in at less than 42 minutes, down from 44 minutes several years ago and nearly 48 minutes in the 1980s.

And shaving off the “previously on …” recap, opening credits and a teaser for next week's episode, Sunday's [Desperate] Housewives ran 40 minutes and 30 seconds, meaning for every two minutes of programming, there's a minute of commercials or promos for other network shows. On cable, MTV has even more so-called clutter, with USA and Lifetime close behind.

Yeesh! Why don't they just run wall-to-wall commercials and have the episode running in a little window in the corner? You'd think that was the way they were heading. I'm not one to sing the BBC's praises, but I have to confess that it's sometimes nice to be able to watch an entire show without any interruptions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Do you like Hitchcock?

DVDOver the past few days I've been re-acquainting myself with some Alfred Hitchcock classics and discovering some new ones, all thanks to the Masterpiece Collection DVD box set. So far I've rewatched Rear Window and The Birds and seen The Trouble With Harry and Frenzy for the first time. The former two are, in my opinion, the best of the four, but the other two are nothing to be sniffed at either. Frenzy in particular was a hell of a lot of fun: a vicious, blackly comic romp through early 1970s London in the grip of a sadistic serial killer. The Trouble With Harry, on the other hand, is a minor entry into Hitchcock's filmography but an amusing if ultimately insubstantial one: a comedy about a group of people trying to hide a dead body.

I also tried to half-watch Vertigo (while writing reviews for the upcoming DVD Times Halloween special), but around half-way through I decided to stop and wait till I can give it my full attention. The film is so highly regarded that I feel I must give it every possible chance to wow me, and you can't do that when you're busy staring at a computer screen.

My Hitchcock "report card", as it currently stands, looks like this:

The Birds 10/10
North by Northwest 10/10
Rear Window 10/10
Rebecca 10/10
Dial M for Murder 9/10
Frenzy 9/10
The 39 Steps 8/10
The Lady Vanishes 8/10
Notorious 8/10
The Trouble With Harry 8/10
Spellbound 7/10

Blue Underground "Bird" menus

Zeta Minor has some screengrabs of the nice-looking menus for the upcoming Blue Underground special edition release of Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.

When studios are pricks

DVD20th Century Fox is one of the less popular of the major Hollywood studios. Quite apart from the fact that more people hate Rupert Murdoch than almost any other media tycoon (and with good reason, it would seem), their lawyers have a history of harassing their customers for seemingly no reason. Back in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was first taking off for the masses, Fox made a habit of sending cease and desist orders to the webmasters of fan sites for their shows, among them The Simpsons. Fox, it seemed, saw the discussion and appreciation of their property to be a bad thing rather than a good thing. In recent years, however, they seem to have adopted a lighter touch, permitting fans to like their shows and actually talk about them. In other areas, however, they remain strangely draconian.

What they didn't want you to see

Yesterday the good admins of DVD Times forwarded an email to me from Greenroom Digital, the company in charge of sending out reviews copies of DVDs from, among other studios, Fox. Fox, it seems, has mandated that my upcoming review of The Simpsons: Season 6 not contain any images apart from the pack shot image they have sent me (you know, the ridiculous one featuring Homer's head that looks like a Halloween mask). That's right, no screenshots, no nothing. If we don't comply with this bizarre mandate, "Gracie Films/The Simpsons may take legal action, and "Greenroom and/or Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will no longer be able to provide materials for any future release of The Simpsons". Fair enough. In the grand scheme of things it's probably not a big deal, but this heavy-handed approach comes across as bizarre and unneccessary, and prompts the obvious question: "What have they got to hide?" As you'll see, that is a pretty reasonable thing to ask.

What they didn't want you to see

These DVDs contain some of the worst examples of DVNR (digital video noise reduction) artefacts I have ever seen on a DVD. Usually, when this sort of thing crops up, it is on a cartoon at least half a century old (Betty Boop, The Flintstones, Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry have all suffered from this sort of vandalism at one point or another), but these episodes of The Simpsons have been around for just over a decade! DVNR is traditionally applied to material that has suffered from a great deal of print damage, the intention being that it will be a cheap and non-labour intensive means of cleaning it up (although, as you can see from the examples I have linked to, the software has a nasty habit of messing up, mistaking the think black outlines of cel animation for print damage and subsequently eroding it). These episodes, however, were more or less spotless to begin with, which gives a clear indication that whoever was in charge of mastering these discs didn't have the first clue about how to use the software at their disposal.

What they didn't want you to see

That's not all, though. The source materials used for these DVDs were obviously the show's NTSC master tapes rather than original film prints (a fairly common practice in television, given how much post production is done on video), which understandably suffered from the usual problems associated with analogue video: namely, dot crawl, colour bleed and head noise. These materials were then run through a standards converter to produce PAL masters, and in doing so, a whole other set of artefacts, this time relating to the PAL system, seem to have been introduced. The end result is that the episodes in this set display the combines failings of both PAL and NTSC, as well as a judicious amount of DVNR artefacting.

What they didn't want you to see

I must point out that this is the first Region 2 DVD release of The Simpsons that I have owned - I bought the Region 1 releases of the previous five seasons and found them to be pretty pleasing quality-wise, although constrained by the usual failings of analogue NTSC video. Therefore, I have no way of knowing if the artefacts present on this release also affected the UK versions of the previous five seasons. I know what I'm seeing here, though, and I'm not afraid to call it what it is: grade-A crap.

First Blue Underground "Bird" review

DVDSource: 10K Bullets Forum

The first review for Blue Underground's upcoming 2-disc special edition of Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage has appeared online. Tim Lucas, of Video Watchdog, writes:

In my VW 108:68 review of Medusa Home Entertainment’s Italian import disc of Dario Argento’s directorial debut, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970), I wrote, after encapsulating the movie’s long history of mishandling on home video, that “Medusa’s new Italian DVD release is as near to perfection is as likely to occur, wedding the perfect visual presentation – wider 2.34:1 image with more picture information, warmer color and richer detailing – to fine English and Italian mono tracks… and also a brand new Dolby 5.1 mix [only on the Italian soundtrack] that adds a scary new spaciousness to Ennio Morricone’s stalk-and-sigh score.”

On October 25, Blue Underground will make me eat those words by releasing a spectacular two-disc “Special Edition” of the film that eclipses the Medusa disc in every single way. The disc's executive producer William Lustig credits THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE with being the movie that initially inspired him to become a filmmaker. [...] Lustig has repaid his debt to Argento in full by giving BIRD “the full Criterion-style treatment.” Blue Underground’s DVD marks the first time any company has utilized the film’s original two-perf Cromoscope camera negative in the creation of its master, and in this case, it’s also the first-ever high definition master of this title. [...] The disc has an impressively high bit rate (it almost never dips below 9.2!) and looks remarkably vivid, yielding an extraordinarily enhanced perception of depth and detail, which Lustig credits in part to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's use of spherical lenses.

Bring it on!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Aardman up in flames

Source: BBC News

In a cruel twist of irony, on the same day that Bristol-based Aardman Animation's latest feature, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, had reached #1 in the US box office, the building housing the models, sets and most of their archives went up in flames in what, it has been speculated, was a work of arson. Of course, the usual media headlines have been making out that the films themselves have been lost, which in fact is a load of nonsense. The negatives for these films would certainly not have been stored there: these are safe. It's undeniably a shame that so much archival material and hard work has been destroyed, though.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

New Argento in 2006

Source: Dark Discussion

Witchstory brings news that Dario Argento will be shooting a new film in the Summer of 2006. The title is currently top secret, and the only known details are that, sadly, it is not The Third Mother.

The Movies

I've been reading up on this very interesting-sounding game called The Movies. Released on November 8th, it is a Rollercoaster Tycoon type game in which you create and manage a Hollywood movie studio, including making movies, hiring staff and expanding your corporate empire. The whole thing sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm definitely going to be keeping my eye on this one.

You can read more about it at Gamespot.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Jenifer screening

Source: Dark Dreams

Jenifer, Dario Argento's latest film and the first instalment in the upcoming Masters of Horror series from Anchor Bay, is to be screened at a special FrightFest event in Brighton (UK) on November 26th. Meanwhile, its European premiere will be in Turin on November 10th. The buzz surrounding this film is extremely positive (Asia Argento says it's the best thing her father has directed in ages), so I have high hopes for this one.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection

DVDAlfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (R1 USA) just arrived. The exterior packaging - a velvet-coated box - is extremely nice, and looks more like the kind of thing you'd expect to find on a release ten times more expensive than what I paid for this. However, the way the discs are stored themselves - four digipacks, each containing four discs (except the last, which houses only three) - leaves a little to be desired. Oh well, off to watch. I'll report back later.

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

DVD
With Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, all five of Sergio Martino's gialli are now available on DVD, and while it may not be his best film, it is one of his most interesting. If the audio-visual presentation is still not perfect, it is better than NoShame's earlier efforts by leaps and bounds, and if they are able to continue this upward spiral, the results here bode well for their future releases.

I've reviewed Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, an intriguing but flawed 1972 giallo from Sergio Martino. NoShame Films have finally switched to progressive scan transfers with their R0 USA release of the film, but the presentation still leaves something to be desired.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Battle.net

The mystery has now been solved. Blizzard has unveiled its newly re-designed Battle.net web site, a very polished but overly Flash-centric affair, the primary goal of which seems to be to better serve the community via mods, journals, level editing tutorials and the like. I must say it looks like a very nice piece of work, if a little overloaded on the graphical front.

Chicken Little clip

AOL has provided a clip for the first four minutes of Chicken Little, Disney's first fully CG-animated feature. Based on these four minutes, I for one will not be going to see it.

They shut down their 2D department for... this?

Chicken Little


Choses Secrètes

DVDI watched Choses Secrètes this afternoon.

It's an intriguing affair, to be sure, and I'm not entirely convinced that I know what to make of it. The essential premise is that two women team up to use their sexuality in order to manipulate all manner of people in order to climb the social ladder. At first, they keep it simple, doing such everyday things as giving each other hand-jobs in public - not, it would seem, because they actually find each other attractive ("Je ne suis pas une lesbienne" pretty much sets down the ground rules early on - not that this stops them indulging in all manner of saucy games together), but because they want to cause a reaction from onlookers. However, as they become better at their game, they decide to use these abilities to get cushy jobs, running rings round the poor, deluded menfolk of the bureau where they work. Eventually, however, they bite off more than they can chew with the son of the company's boss, a manipulative loon who plays the same game as them, even better than they do.

Choses Secrètes

Overall, I enjoyed what I saw, but I wasn't quite sure exactly what I saw, and I'm not sure whether the film is saying something extremely profound or nothing at all. It's very well acted and photographed, to be sure, and in terms both of its visual style and its cold, detached look at sex and relationships reminds me of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, but that comparison may be a bit superficial. In a sense, its coldness and refusal to reach any sort of real conclusion its its biggest hurdle, and as such it can be a little difficult to get into. Still, I liked the film overall and would watch it again. The Daily Mail-esque quote on the cover, however (from the Guardian of all publications), does it no favours:

Lesbian sex, public masturbation, orgies and worse!

Good god, what could be worse than lesbian sex? Help!

7/10

PS. An extremely nice transfer from Tartan, by the way.

DVNR debacle

Now that's what I call a reference quality transfer!

Lyris' site has an exposé on the hideous DVNR present in the UK release of The Simpsons Season 6.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Upcoming commentaries

I've added a list to my Commentaries page detailing upcoming films that I plan on recording tracks for. I can't promise that they will all see the light of day, but they are very much on my "to-do" list. At the moment, my current goal is to do a track on Opera, but I haven't really given it much thought yet, nor looked all that far ahead beyond it.

Battle.net

http://www.battle.net

What's going on?

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection

DVDI ordered Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (R1 USA) from Loaded247.com. The price of £57.99 seems pretty steep, but which you consider that the set contains 14 titles, that's actually an average of £4.14 per film. Luckily, as a UK-based supplier, the customs fees are already paid so my bank balance won't suffer as much as it would if I was ordering from one of the US-based retailers.

Of the films included in this set, I've only seen Rear Window and The Birds, so I'm looking forward to trawling through all these highly-regarded pieces of work (I tried watching Psycho late last year, but I wasn't really in the mood for it and found the standards converted transfer of the Danish DVD to be pretty off-putting). Of course, as my recent experience with Citizen Kane has shown, my own reactions to celebrated movies are not always in step with those of the majority, so we'll have to wait and see just what I think of these titles. As a rule, though, I like Hitchcock, especially his colour work (not that I have anything against black and white - it's just that I think his switch to colour coincided with a move to the sort of films and topics that appeal to me).

Choses Secrètes

DVDChoses Secrètes (R0 UK) arrived today. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but it looks like a very interesting piece of work. I'm quickly developing something of a penchant for what I would dub 21st century French psychosexual cinema. (How about that? I coined a new marketing term! Wonder how successful that will be.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Age of Empires III delayed

Age of Empires IIII notice that, at Play.com, Age of Empires III's release date has changed from October 18th to November 4th. Odd, considering that the game has gone gold (i.e. the content has been locked and the master disc has been sent out for replication).

Sin City

DVD
If simply seeing the film with the best possible sound and image quality is what you're looking for, you should be more than happy with this release of Sin City. Those who want something a little more in-depth in terms of bonus features than an 8-minute EPK, however, are advised to hold out for the upcoming special edition, which includes both the theatrical cut and an extended version of the film, as well as a host of extras.

I step into the shadows of Sin City and review the recent R2 UK release of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's noir-esque comic book adaptation, which features a great transfer and audio but falls short in the extras department.

Delivery deluge, chapter the second

DVDSin City (R2 UK) arrived this morning. Originally I wasn't going to buy another copy of the bare-bones release, despite the crappy nature of the interlaced Hong Kong release, but as was waiting for Disney to send me a review copy of the UK release. To cut a long story short, they, well, decided not to bother, but because I am a selfless individual, I made the decision to buy a copy of it myself, so the DVD Times readership wouldn't be left in the dark.

I'm glad I bought this, actually. The UK release drops the DTS track that the American and Hong Kong releases had, but gains a good transfer (at least in comparison to the Hong Kong DVD - I haven't seen the American version). It's progressive, well-encoded (mostly), and reasonably detailed, although it does have its share of filtering and edge enhancement. Still, I finished my review in record quick timing and it goes live in just over 25 minutes, so you may as well wait till then so you can read the whole thing for yourselves.
DVD DVD
Oh, and the soundtracks for Il Tuo Vizio É Una Stanza Chiusa E Solo Io Ho La Chiave and La Chiesa arrived too. I shall give them a listen while performing my mind-numbing menial duties at the library this afternoon.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Luciano Ercoli double pack

DVDI ordered, from DVDLand.it, the R2 Italian release Luciano Ercoli De Mortis Collectione, a double-pack containing two gialli directed by Luciano Ercoli and starring his wife, the wacky Nieves Navarro: Death Walks at Midnight and Death Walks in High Heels. Both discs feature only Italian audio options alas, and I am aware that NoShame will be releasing them in the US at some point next year, but what can I say? I'm incredibly impatient.

I already own the UK release of Death Walks at Midnight, but it's a pretty nasty affair, cropped down to 1.85:1 from its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looking decidedly orange in hue - definitely not the way in which this wacky, offbeat giallo deserves to be treated. Who knows? I may have a go at syncing up its English audio with the Italian transfer. Then again, the English dub for that film was pretty cringe-worthy.

Delivery deluge

CDI received a number of parcels this morning. Firstly, Melvin Live, Melanie Doane's live album, which I had been waiting for since the beginning of September, finally arrived. I've listened to a few tracks, and once again it occurs to me just how superior these songs sound when performed live in comparison with the studio recordings. I think they should do all CDs this way: it means they can't go back and fix mistakes so easily, and as a result the music has a more raw, "real" feel to it.

By the way, I managed to use up all the space on my Zen. I'm going to offload this soon, I think, and replace it with something that has a larger storage capacity. I quite like the look of Lyris' Sony HD5, which has the added benefit of featuring actual buttons instead of the idiotic touchpads that the Zen and iPod both have. Still, since I've got used to Creative's system, I'm half-thinking I would rather stick with them, warts and all. We'll see.
DVD DVD
Bad Timing and Masculin Féminin also arrived. I've not really had much of a chance to look at them, but both seem to feature pretty good transfers, with Masculin Féminin having the slight edge. Bad Timing looks softer, but not unwatchable, although it seems to me that part of the final half of the film has a flagging error which causes mild interlacing artefacts every few seconds. Tut, tut, Criterion.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The world of animation

I had my first Animation class today, and it turned out to be pretty damn good. Certainly, it didn't feel like a five-hour class (or rather, four and a half hours, since we had a half-hour break in between). We were going to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which I must confess I've never seen, but the lecturer forgot to bring the tape, so we ended up watching Pinocchio instead, with Snow White shelved for a later date.

I must say that I enjoyed this class thoroughly, and for once found myself able to talk a great deal (after the screening, the class was mostly discussion-based) while a number of other people said absolutely nothing. I get the impression that a lot of people in the class had no real interest in animation - something the lecturer acknowledged, as she pointed out that a lot of people approach this class thinking that "studying cartoons" is in some way silly and less important than studying live action. Personally, this stuff is right up my street. We had a great mix of material today: from the schmalzy pomposity (and some of the most wonderful schmalzy pomposity ever struck to celluloid, as far as I'm concerned) of Pinocchio to the inanity of Betty Boop and her rubber-hose animation to the wackiness of Road Runner. This was probably the most enjoyable class I've had in years, and this is why I find animation so much more interesting than live action.

Music mania

CD CD
I ordered two soundtrack CDs from MovieGrooves: Il Tuo Vizio É Una Stanza Chiusa E Solo Io Ho La Chiave (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) by Bruno Nicolai and La Chiesa (The Church) by Keith Emerson and Goblin.

New Asterix soon

Asterix: The Falling SkyAfter what seems like an eternity, the title and cover art for the next Asterix book, due to be released in less than two weeks, have been revealed. Asterix and the Falling Sky/Le Ciel lui Tombe sur la Tête comes out on October 14th, hopefully the same day as the much-delayed 4-disc DVD set, and while the title and cover art don't exactly fill me with glee (the last two books were pretty silly affairs, and this looks like it could easily be more of the same), I'll reserve judgement until I'm actually holding a copy of it in my hands.

Paramount to Blu-ray

Source: DVD Times

In a surprise move, Paramount Pictures have jumped out of the HD-DVD camp and are now also backing the rival Blu-Ray format. The first of the studios to pledge to release titles on both formats, Paramount will bring a number of high-profile titles to help bolster Blu-Ray's catalogue including the massive Star Trek franchise.

Excellent news, in my opinion. Every day it seems that there's less and less reason to go anywhere near HD-DVD.

The Black Belly of the Tarantula

DVD
Long the domain of dodgy grey-market bootlegs, usually in uncomfortable fullscreen and heavily censored to boot, The Black Belly of the Tarantula has finally been given the good release it deserves, and giallo aficionados will now have no excuse not to own a copy of this little-seen gem.

I've reviewed the recent R0 Italian release of The Black Belly of the Tarantula, an erotically-charged 1971 giallo featuring an excellent central performance by Giancarlo Giannini. RHV have provided a decent audio-visual presentation and have included both English and Italian audio options.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Fan commentaries

(Thanks to Doran Gaston at Mobius for the link)

Listology has an archive of links to downloadable fan commentaries, similar to the one I did for Suspiria, which also rates the various tracks and discusses their content. A number of them sound very interesting, and I'm currently downloading a handful of them. Who knows? Maybe I'll get some ideas for my next commentary (which, by the way, will be on Opera).

DVD debacle

DVD DVD DVD
I ordered a few DVDs yesterday: Choses Secrètes (R0 UK), Sin City (R2 UK - to replace the disappointing Hong Kong release), and the upcoming Collector's Edition re-release of Blood and Black Lace (R1 USA). Too bad about the awful cover for Blood and Black Lace: it virtually defines the word "tacky", and did you notice that it's in "widescream"? Haw, haw, haw.

By the way, I suspect I'll be having another DVD clear-out before too long.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Update

Sorry for the lack of updates. I'm still in the throes of a particularly unpleasant cold, and am not really feeling up to much at all. See you soon...